Is the "woman caught in adultery" story canonical?

ATLacasse's picture

I'm sure some or many have noticed the notation in the ESV version on John 7:53-8:11 which covers the woman caught in adultery. This section is taught on very often in the circles I travel in but I am unsure what to make of the ESV's note. If you do not have that version the note says: "The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53–8:11," and "Some manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text." Would anyone have any knowledge on this?

define 'canonical' :-)

I'm facilitating a study at CCEL on John's Gospel, and we've just reached John 7. Every time we get to this question we run into trouble. My personal opinion is that the story is an interruption within the very careful flow of the original Johannine gospel, but that the interruption matches the author's allegorical methods and fits well thematically where it is now traditionally placed.

I often ask people "Is our faith in the original text, or in the intention of the authors?" This helps me in my twofold approach to the episode in question. I believe, on the one hand, that the text of John's Gospel should be considered complete WITHOUT the story, since the "woman caught in adultery" interrupts an otherwise continuous discourse which presents Jesus as the incarnation of prophetic expectation, evidenced by the very similar language and concern of the conversation on either side of the passage. Because of it's disruptive placement, recognizing subsequent parts of the Gospel as part of a coherent typological presentation of Jesus becomes complicated, a definite drawback to an otherwise popular and uplifting scene.

On the other hand, the "woman caught in adultery" episode survived as a part of John's Gospel for good reason. The typology behind the scene is consistent with John's broad presentation of Jesus as the One redeeming an unfaithful nation from its captivity, as God the Bridegroom redeems the unfaithful Bride, Israel. As is also a persistent concern of John's Gospel, the scene portrays Jesus' authority as superseding Mosaic authority. And, perhaps most importantly, the heavy Pauline influence which characterizes Johannine theology is clearly evident within the inserted section--I often remind myself that Paul's shadow falls both upon Luke and John alike, and so it should not be a surprise to find such a Pauline episode supplementing either gospel. Is it part of the original Johannine manuscript? The historical and rhetorical evidence suggests that it is not. But is it canonical? The consistent New Testament theology backing the scene itself insists that the episode is consistent and trustworthy as a liturgical source of information for the church--so it IS canonical, and valuable precisely for the hermeneutical ambiguities the passage presents.

Those at least are my thoughts as I prepare to approach the passage and its counterparts again--perhaps another look will lead me to other conclusions, but somehow I think that I will continue to see the passage not as a textual corruption but as 'supplemental' canonical material, so to speak.