Biblical Inerrancy and Historical Reliability (Part 2)

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By Jana White 
Staff writer for The Daily Grace Co. 

In the previous post we have affirmed inerrancy and established grounds for the historical reliability of the Scriptures. So that brings us to the passage before us in John 7:53-8:11. There is no evidence that this passage was a part of John’s Gospel when he wrote it. I want to be clear about something. No one is trying to hide this information. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Because of the evidence, they have made in clear in our copies of the Word that this story wasn’t included in the earliest manuscripts. So no one is trying to hide anything. And this isn’t a conservative/liberal thing; it’s recognized by faithful, Bible-believing, conservative evangelical scholars. And so quickly, here are some of the reasons this text was probably not in the original Gospel of John.  

  • It’s not just the Greek manuscripts it’s absent from, but from ancient Syriac, Coptic, and Old Latin translations as well. 
  • I mentioned the church Fathers, and all of the early ones, when they’re commenting on John, go immediately from 7:52 to 8:12 as if the story weren’t there. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the 10th century.  
  • When the story does begin appearing in manuscripts, it often has an asterisk or other mark by it, indicating that the copyist has some doubts about its authenticity.  
  • It shows up in three different places other than here (after John 7:36; 7:44; 21:25), and in one manuscript of Luke, it shows up after 21:38. That’s usually a sign that it’s not original.  
  • The text flows very nicely from 7:52 to 8:12 if you leave out the story and just read the passage as though the story were not there. 
  • It’s style and vocabulary are unlike the rest of John’s Gospel 

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D.A. Carson concludes, “Despite the best efforts . . . to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against [them], and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV)” (John, 333). Further, Metzger, one of the world’s great authorities on the text of the New Testament, says: The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the [story] of the adulteress is overwhelming” (Textual Commentary, 219). 

With that said, there are two things we can walk away with. First of all, even if this story is not original, it probably represents a real event in Jesus’ life. The reason we love this story is because doesn’t it just sound like Jesus? Showing up the scribes and Pharisees? Putting them in their place? Showing mercy and grace to a woman accused of sin. It has the ring of truth. That’s what the scholars think. Bruce Metzger says, “The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity” (Textual Commentary, 220). And Carson says, “There is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred” (John, 333). This was likely a story that was passed around orally and eventually was written down and placed into John’s Gospel. 

Even still, this is a beautiful story and within the story, there is an incredible truth found all throughout the Bible. The Pharisees and scribes bring a woman who was caught in adultery. They are trying to trap Jesus. Either he will pardon the woman and they will accuse him of rejecting the law of Moses or he will agree that she should be killed and do something Roman law did not give them the right to do. But here we see Jesus stoop down and write something in the sand. They are persistent in their questions. And Jesus then stands up and declares, “—“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.The Pharisee’s wicked hearts are exposed, and they walk away one by one. Once Jesus is left alone with the women, he asks her, ““Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” And then we hear the Lord’s sweet words full of mercy and grace, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 

What a beautiful picture of grace and truth! He is merciful to her to release her without judgment, and then gives her a challenge to flee sin and live in holiness. He does not condemn her and nothing was required from her to merit his pardon. He has extended mercy and grace to her because of his very nature. This is exactly what he does for us—he extends grace, mercy, and love before we’ve even made the first step toward him. This is the grace of the gospel and this is the same grace of the gospel we see in Romans 8. 

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“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4 

The goal of Jesus’ ministry was to bring freedom and righteousness and life. He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. The same offer that he gave to the adulteress woman is the same offer extended to us in the redeeming hope of the gospel. If we turn from our sins and believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection—trusting in Him as our mediator with God—Jesus becomes the fulfillment of the law’s requirement that we be holy. Instead of condemnation we know only acceptance before God—not on the basis of our performance, but as a permanent position. And once we are accepted by God, it doesn’t matter who wants to throw rocks at us.  

31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8:31-34 

Even as Jesus is for the adulteress woman, we have God who is relentlessly for us. What won’t he give if he already gave us the most costly gift of all—the gift of his own dear Son? If God has declared us right with him—who can declare us wrong, whether it’s friends or enemies or our own fearful hearts?! And through it all, Jesus—the very one who paid our debt and became condemned in our place—he is the one, now raised in victorious life, who speaks for us—reminding the Father that he has paid for all our sins and forever insuring that the condemnation will never come back. 

In response to his boundless mercy, let us go and sin no more for the glory of his great name and in a way that displays the shocking mercy and boundless grace of our loving Lord. 

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