I am looking for a possible source and early references for John 8:1-11. There is evidence that this story was not part of the original Gospel of John as the oldest manuscripts do not contain it.

In the question Details on “Western Unical D”? , the accepted answer quotes a link to here, where the Gospel of the Hebrews is mentioned as a possible origin but it is lacking a reference.

Does anybody know the writing where this evidence may come from?

Other hints to sources on this topic are welcome, too.

  • 1
    St Augustine affirms the authenticity of the passage, even though he knows that some mss omit it; he thinks that the reason of omission on the part of early Christian clergy was that this passage could be misunderstood and misused by Christian parishioners don that they could consider adultery a light matter and not enough seriously as to avoid it thoroughly. Which makes a logic as a matter of fact. Jun 12, 2021 at 13:32

3 Answers 3


I would like to add 2 details in addition to the very helpful answer already given by Perry Webb.

  1. Papias fragment VI includes this statement by Eusebius, based on the writings of Papias: "he also gives another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is to be found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews". Some take this to refer to the woman taken in adultery. If so, Eusebius is attesting that there was a Gospel (a non-canonical one) that told this story and the story was multiply attested, by Papias.

  2. It is often thought that the Gospel of John was published in at least 2 editions--chapter 21 being the most obvious addition in a 2nd edition (see discussion on the site here). If, per Papias, this moving story was circulating orally, it is a plausible candidate for one of those passages that wasn't in the first edition but was added at the end of the second. This story appears at the end of John's Gospel in several manuscripts, which has the benefit/detriment that it can neither be proved nor disproved by the early manuscript evidence--P75, the most important early manuscript of John, lacks the very end of the Gospel. If this story was at the end of the manuscript, we wouldn't know it.

My own speculation

If John told this story--and Papias at least hints he may have--a disciple of John may have written this story as a P.S. or marginal note into an early manuscript of the Gospel of John, because they thought the story was so powerful and didn't want to leave it out. The prevalence of the story does suggest it was an early addition.

If an early disciple of John heard this story from John and later added it to John's Gospel, it is possible that both of these statements are true:

A. This story was not part of the Gospel written by John

B. This story really happened

Some even conclude that Papias was the scribe who wrote some/all of the Gospel of John (see here). If so, he could have added the story himself!

  • The James Bond of "Octopussy" and the Bond of "Skyfall" are quite different. That's what's going on here.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 2 at 15:52

K. E. Bailey, K. E. (2008). (Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 230). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000) argues for the inclusion of 7:53-8:11 along the same lines as St. Augustine. He argues that at that time people hire copyists. if they didn't want the copyist to include the story because they didn't want their daughters to read it, they could tell the copyist to leave it out.

However, if you read 7:53-8:11 in the original language, the Greek is different and more difficult than the Greek in the rest of the Gospel of John. That along with the overwhelming lack of inclusion in the early manuscripts make it unlikely that this passage was originally in the Gospel of John. Most likely it was a true story preserved by oral tradition before being added to the Gospel of John.


This quote from Bruce Metzger's commentary is in the Appendix because of the length of technical information.

 7:53–8:11      Pericope of the Adulteress

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as 𝔓66, א B L N T W X Y Δ Θ Ψ 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc, and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the Old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita, *, ). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7:52 and 8:12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7:52 (D E (F) G H K M U Γ Π 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7:36 (ms. 225) or after 7:44 (several Georgian mss) or after 21:25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Lk 21:38 (f ). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses that contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because Jesus’ words at the close were liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1–2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of c. viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

Although the Committee was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following Jn 7:52.

Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the level of certainty ({A}) is within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole. -- Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (pp. 187–189). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

  • Very helpful summary, +1 Jun 12, 2021 at 15:13
  • 'Overwhelming lack of inclusion in the early manuscripts' does not mean complete lack of inclusion(old latin, Bezae).
    – user21676
    Jun 12, 2021 at 18:25

There is little doubt that the pericope on adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is not part of the original gospel of John as Perry Webb has correctly pointed out for two main reasons:

  • It is absent from all the earliest copies of John
  • the style, language and subject matter are all quite different from that of John - the language is far more polished and the vocabulary is different - more similar to that of Luke. Indeed, the same pericope appears in the Gospel of Luke in some early MSS.

About the actual source, let me quote David Bentley Hart in his comments from his translation, "The New Testament" about this pericope:

... This does not mean, however, that the episode is some late invention inserted into the text to make Jesus appear more compassionate ... For one thing, in late antiquity - Jewish, Christian, or pagan - it would have been far more scandalous than commendable in most eyes to have allowed an adulteress to go away unpunished, but entirely without rebuke. For another, there is good reason to think the episode may in fact be drawn from an older narrative source than the Gospel itself:

  • there is a tale of a very sinful woman that the early second-century Papias mentioned as being part of the lost Gospel of the Hebrews;
  • the Syrian Didascalia (from the third century) cites "the story of the adulteress";
  • the Constitutions of the Apostles (in a portion also from the third century) relates a story of a sinful woman whom Jesus refused to condemn;
  • and both Didymus and the blind Jerome mention the tale as appearing in many manuscripts before the end of the fourth century.

Moreover, the earliest texts of John do not entirely lack the story; in its place are diacritical marks indicating that something (maybe the story, maybe something else)has been omitted. Augustine, in fact, aware of the story's absence from many texts of the Gospel, opined that perhaps it had been removed because of the offense it might give to pious souls unable understand Christ could excuse so grave a transgression with no more than an exhortation to sin no more. It seems that the story was something of a freely floating tradition, perhaps with very deep roots in Christian memory, one that was not originally firmly associated with any particular Gospel text, but was inserted in various versions of Luke or John because it was too beautiful and too illuminating of Christ's ministry and person to be left out of the Church's lectionary cycle (and hence out of scripture).

  • Thanks for this helpful summary. I'm having a hard time following Hart's comment about Papias--Papias didn't say anything (that we know of) about the Gospel to the Hebrews (GtH), rather, Eusebius did (HE 3.39). Eusebius' comment is interesting because it cites both Papias & GtH as witnesses to this story...but doesn't cite John. Jun 13, 2021 at 1:32
  • @HoldToTheRod - agreed - the material of Papias is notoriously fragmentary. It might be possible that he quotes someone who quotes Papias when that part of his writings were still extant.
    – Dottard
    Jun 13, 2021 at 3:54

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