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The Adulterous Woman (Lorenzo Lotto, circa 1527-1529) One of the most unusual aspects of being a Christian in the 21st century is reading what seems to be a constant barrage of biblical reinterpretation by modern ‘experts’.

The Puritan Board forum has lively discussions on Scripture. A recent one concerned the verses John 7:53 (‘They each went to his own house’) through to John 8:11, about which I wrote in 2011.

Bibles often have a notation saying that these verses were not in early editions of the New Testament. I’ll explore that below.

However, in general, it is galling to run across so many modern ‘expert’ opinions on the Bible, as if everyone from the early doctors of the Church to, say, clergy of the mid-20th century were talking out of their collective hat. Atheists often make good use of this modern ‘research’ to discredit Christianity.

In reading through the aforementioned Puritan Board forum thread, I nearly applauded when I read this comment by the Revd Bruce G Buchanan of the ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church in Central Lake, Michigan (emphases mine):

I, for one, will not abdicate my mature discernment to the opinions of “experts,” many of whom are not even believers (no matter how practically reliable their overall ability, or pure their intention). Why should a group of modern scholars–them[selves] not especially cognizant of standing in a long historic line of men equally dedicated to accuracy in transmission–determine for me that I should begin with suspicion of Jn.7:53-8:11 as coming from the Spirit of Christ; when 40-50 generations of my fathers heard Him very well in those same words? Perhaps even decline to share that testimony with me?

A Puritan Board entry from 2007 on the same passage explores these concerns. Admittedly, some ‘modern’ scholarship is actually quite old. That said, it has only been circulated widely in recent years.

As Steve ‘Jerusalem Blade’ Rafalsky, member of a Presbyterian church in Queens, NY, says:

This is a case in point, the destruction and confusion engendered by the secular antichristian criticism that came out of Germany (and Rome as well) some centuries ago. Now even genuine believers are in doubt as to what belongs and what does not belong in their Bibles!

And it will not get better, but worse as the years – and generations, should the Lord tarry a while – pass. Better a sure Bible with some antiquated words than an unsure one. It comes down to this, we have a “Critics’ Bible” and a “believers’ Bible”, the former torn to shreds by a methodology alien to faith, and the latter intact, though suffering ill-repute due to a concerted attack of slander. She remains pure nonetheless.

Rafalsky has spent years studying the Bible and the scholarship connected with it.

The contentious passage from John’s Gospel under discussion contains the story of Jesus forgiving the adulteress, telling her to go and sin no more.

Theologically, the passage is known as the pericope de adultera.

In supporting the pericope de adultera Rafalsky cites Edward F Hills’ The King James Version Defended, 4th Edition (Des Moines: Christian Research Press, 1984).  Excerpts follow:

The story of the woman taken in adultery (called the pericope de adultera) has been rather harshly treated by the modern English versions. The R.V. and the A.S.V. put it in brackets; the R.S.V. relegates it to the footnotes; the N.E.B. follows Westcott and Hort in removing it from its customary place altogether and printing it at the end of the Gospel of John as an independent fragment of unknown origin. The N.E.B. even gives this familiar narrative a new name, to wit, An Incident In the Temple. But as [John William] Burgon has reminded us long ago [1896], this general rejection of these precious verses is unjustifiable.

(a) Ancient Testimony Concerning the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11)

The story of the woman taken in adultery was a problem also in ancient times. Early Christians had trouble with this passage. The forgiveness which Christ vouchsafed to the adulteress was contrary to their conviction that the punishment for adultery ought to be very severe. As late as the time of Ambrose (c. 374), bishop of Milan, there were still many Christians who felt such scruples against this portion of John’s Gospel. This is clear from the remarks which Ambrose makes in a sermon on David’s sin. “In the same way also the Gospel lesson which has been read, may have caused no small offense to the unskilled, in which you have noticed that an adulteress was brought to Christ and dismissed without condemnation . . . Did Christ err that He did not judge righteously? It is not right that such a thought should come to our minds etc.” (32)

According to Augustine (c. 400), it was this moralistic objection to the pericope de adultera which was responsible for its omission in some of the New Testament manuscripts known to him. “Certain persons of little faith,” he wrote, “or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if He who had said ‘sin no more’ had granted permission to sin.” (33) Also, in the 10th century a Greek named Nikon accused the Armenians of “casting out the account which teaches us how the adulteress was taken to Jesus . . . saying that it was harmful for most persons to listen to such things.” (34)

That early Greek manuscripts contained this pericope de adultera is proved by the presence of it in the 5th-century Greek manuscript D. That early Latin manuscripts also contained it is indicated by its actual appearance in the Old Latin codices b and e. And both these conclusions are confirmed by the statement of Jerome (c. 415) that “in the Gospel according to John in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, is found the story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord.” (35) There is no reason to question the accuracy of Jerome’s statement, especially since another statement of his concerning an addition made to the ending of Mark has been proved to have been correct by the actual discovery of the additional material in W. And that Jerome personally accepted the pericope de adultera as genuine is shown by the fact that he included it in the Latin Vulgate.

Rafalsky also cites John William Burgon’s The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, by John William Burgon, Edward Miller, ed. (London: George Bell And Sons, 1896), pages 247-249.

Here is a brief excerpt from Burgon demonstrating how widely the early Doctors of the Church cited this passage:

We are thus carried back to the second century of our era: beyond which, testimony does not reach. The pericope is observed to stand in situ [in the same place] in Codd. [Codexes] b c e ff g h j. Jerome (A.D. 385), after a careful survey of older Greek copies, did not hesitate to retain it in the Vulgate. It is freely referred to and commented on by himself in Palestine: while Ambrose at Milan (374) quotes it at least nine times; as well as Augustine in North Africa (396) about twice as often. It is quoted besides by Pacian, in the north of Spain,—by Faustus the African (400),—by Rufinus at Aquileia (400),—by Chrysologus at Ravenna (433),—by Sedulius a Scot (434). The unknown authors of two famous treatises written at the same period, largely quote this portion of the narrative. It is referred to by Victorius or Victorinus (457),—by Vigilius of Tapsus (484) in North Africa,—by Gelasius, bp. of Rome (492),—by Cassiodorus in Southern Italy,—by Gregory the Great, and by other Fathers of the Western Church.

Today’s revisionism regarding this passage and other reinterpretations of the Bible is some of the Devil’s finest work. We would do well to ignore it and read Holy Scripture as it is, being assured that it is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit.

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