Before we turn to our text for today, I want to read two sections of Scripture that have been running through my mind this week.
- 2 Timothy 4:1-2 - “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word”
- Acts 20:27 - “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Preaching the Word is the obligation for every Pastor. We are to do this week in and week out. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after decade. Pastors are called and commanded to preach the Word, the whole counsel of God. If you are visiting today and your Church does not preach the Word Sunday after Sunday then you need to leave and find a Church that does. For it is the Word of God that builds up His people.
Now with that said, let me pose a question that I have been wrestling with this week, “What is the Word of God?” If I am required to preach the whole counsel of God, how am I to know what is his counsel and what is not his counsel? Many of you are thinking, “That is easy...the Bible is the Word of God.” And I would agree with you, but what is included in the Bible?
For example, a common question I receive is what is the difference between the Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible? Is there a difference? The answer to that question is yes. The difference is that the Catholic Bibles has more books in it. These books are called the Apocrypha. They include: Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. Are these books the Word of God? Are these books Scripture? If they are then I am called to preach them. To answer this question, we must do some research.
First, the Jews during Jesus' time did not consider the Apocrypha to be Scripture. Second, Jesus nor the apostles ever quoted from the Apocrypha. Third, the early Church fathers did not believe that the Apocrypha was scripture. Fourth, it contains errors and obvious false teachings that are inconsistent to the rest of Scripture. Fifth, it was not until 400 A.D When Pope Damasus I commissioned a man named Jerome to produce a Latin text of the Bible was the Aporcrypha actually added to the Bible. Jerome himself disagreed with the decision to add it, but succumbed to the pressure of the Pope and included in the Latin Vulgate. Sixth, the Roman Catholic Church did not officially adopt the Apocrypha until 1526 at the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. And one of the reasons, if not the primary reason was because the Apocrypha supported the false teaching that you could purchase a relative out of a fictional place they named purgatory, and the Catholic Church wanted to keep the money flowing into the coffers.
So with that said, I believe the evidence is quite clear that the Apocrypha is not the Word of God. It does not belong in the Bible, and therefore, I should not preach from those books, nor should anyone else. In fact, if today I would have walked into Church and asked you to turn to Tobit 2:1, some of you would have walked out on me, and rightfully so.
So this leads us to the question, are there other passages that are in the Bible, that do not belong there? And this leads us to our text for today, John 7:53-8:11. Turn with me to that section. This section of the Bible is a very famous portion of Scripture. It is the story of the women who was caught in the act of adultery and was about to be stone and Jesus saved her and said “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” My guess is that almost all of you are familiar with this text because it is commonly used by people who do not want to be held accountable for their sinful life. This passage has been named by scholars the pericope de adultera, which merely means the passage about the adulteress.
If you have a ESV or NIV your Bible will have a bracket at the beginning of this section and inside the brackets of the ESV it says, “The Earliest Manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” For some of you, this may cause you to wonder what these means, and if you have the ESV Study Bible you might drop down to the bottom of the page and read the foot notes. If you did you would read this:
“There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John's original Gospel, for it is absent from all the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus' ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore, it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed by Scripture.”
In light of these comments, I am going to give you a brief overview of what is called textual criticism. Today's sermon will be unique. John Piper when he preached on this passage stated that his sermon was a one in every ten years type of sermon. This morning, I would echo that sentiment. Today, what I am doing is teaching, not preaching. I am not expositing the living word of God, but in my opinion, it is necessary in light of the passage. So if you are visiting, you picked an unique day to attend.
Some of you today, will find this sermon extremely fascinating, others of you will find it extremely boring. But as I wrestled with what to do, I came to the conclusion that approaching this text in this way would best increase your foundational understanding and trust in the Word of God, and equip all of you to contend for the faith. My goal today is not to hit a home run with this teaching, it is merely to advance your faith one degree and to potentially spark some of your interest in becoming students of this realm of discipline for the benefit of our local church. It is good for us to have several of you well versed in the study of how we came to have the Bible and why we believe it to be authentic, for authenticity is a common argument we run into in the world, especially with the younger generation.
So let us begin at the beginning. The Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John between 70-100 A.D. When John wrote this Gospel he would have most likely written it on papyrus, a dried plant. This original document is called an autograph. The autograph is the actual papyrus that John would have written on. Needless to say, this original document on papyrus did not last, therefore the original writing, the autograph, no longer exists. You can't go to some museum and examine the original document of John.
However, God, in his infinite wisdom, and sovereign plan, caused in his Church a longing for the Word of God. Therefore, the Gospel of John, along with all the other 26 books of the New Testament were fervently copied. One of the authors I read said, “The New Testament experienced explosive duplication and distribution, unprecedented in the ancient or modern world.” Someone would sit down and read the Autograph, the original, and would hand write a copy. Then copies were made of copies. This would happened over and over and over again so that the people of God would have in their churches the Word of God. These copies are called manuscripts. Manuscripts are ancient copies of the original text. God by explosive duplication was preserving his word generation after generation through the hands of his people.
This duplication of God's Word took a variety of different approaches. These approaches are categorized into three general families: Western Manuscripts, Alexandrian Manuscripts, Byzantine Manuscripts. The Western manuscripts consisted of copies produced in Rome and outlying regions, and were copied without any form of quality control. For example, if I had all of you go home and make a copy of the Gospel of John and bring it back next week with no rules, no scrutiny, just go and make copies. Because of this the western manuscripts are less consistent and are prone to human error. The Alexandrian manuscripts, on the other hand, are of substantially high caliber. This group of manuscripts has very few errors, there is a consistency and appear to be very true to the original autographs. The reason for this is that the Greek Scholars in Alexandria were very serious about preservation, and did put in place some form of quality control. The Byzantine manuscripts are viewed to be older copies, and these manuscripts appear to attempt to merge and create harmony when discrepancies when they found. These manuscripts are the one that the Textus Receptus comes from, which is the basis for the German Bible, the First English Bible produced by William Tyndale, and the King James Version of the Bible.
So once again these three Western, Alexandra and Byzantine groups are different in their dates and in their strictness in copying and their end goal. However, what is amazing is that in total, there exists today over 5,800 Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament. And the earliest manuscript that we have dates back to 100—150 A.D. In the scholarly world, this amount of ancient text is unheard of. They amount of manuscripts we have of the New Testament is miraculous to say that least.
Just to give you some comparison, Livy, a historian who wrote around the time of Christ, there exists only 27 manuscripts of his writing and the earliest copy dates to the 4th century. Tacitus wrote around the same time as the Apostle Paul. There are currently only three manuscripts that still exist and the earliest one is from the 9th century. Suetonius also wrote around the time of John and around 200 manuscripts of his exist, but once again the earliest only dating back to the 9th century. So in comparison to other ancient writings during the times of the Apostles, the Bible dwarfs its competition. But that is not all.
In addition to the 5,800 Greek manuscripts there are also exists Latin Manuscripts that came to take form around the 4th century. And it was the Latin manuscripts that Jerome created the Vulgate that I mentioned earlier. The Latin manuscripts that still exist today is over 10,000. And if that was not enough there also exists manuscripts in Syriac, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. Thereby the total number of ancient manuscripts that exist for the New Testament is over 24,000.
Why is this important? Because with so many ancient copies still in existence scholars can determine the exact Greek words used by the original author to a 99.5% accuracy. And this is important, the remaining 0.5% relates to specific text that scholars are aware of and they are agree that the uncertainty is inconsequential to general teachings of the Bible. So if someone comes up to you and says, how can we trust the Bible, you can tell them that we have 24,000 ancient manuscripts of the Bible with the earliest copy dating back the same generation as the authors, therefore all legitimate scholars agree that the Greek Bible is 99.5 percent identical to the original text. So is this book trustworthy? Yes. More than any other book every has been or ever will be. By God's infinite wisdom he preserved his Word so that we can be sanctified in it today, 2000 years later.
So what does this half to do with John 7:53-8:11? The problem is that these twelve verses, the Pericope De Adultera, do not exist in the earliest and most trustworthy Greek manuscripts. In those manuscripts dating back closest in time to when John would have written the original document, the copies goes from John 7:52 right into John 8:12. This leads most scholars to believe that the Pericope De Adultera was added later and was not written by John himself.
But it is not just the earliest Greek manuscripts, the earliest versions of the Bible in different languages that would have originated from the Greek do not have the Pericope De Adultera. These include the Old Syriac, Arabic edition of Tatians Diatessaron, old Coptic versions, some of the earliest Armenian manuscripts, the Old Gregorian versions, the Gothic versions, and several Old Latin versions.
If that wasn't enough, the Pericope De Adultera is not found in the earliest of the ancient lectionaries. Lectionaries are documents created for Church services with scripture written on them. We have found numerous ancient manuscripts of these lectionaries used by the early Church and Pericope De Adultera is no where to be found.
If that wasn't enough, the early Church father's who wrote commentaries on the Gospel of John showed no signs of knowing the Pericope De Adultera existed. These early church fathers include Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Theodore, Irenaues, Tertullian, and Cyprian. They all appear to be oblivious to this passage. In fact, no Eastern Church commentator cites this passage until the tenth century and no Greek commentator of the Bible mentions this passage until the 12th century.
If that wasn't enough, once that text does start to show up in some of the later manuscripts it is marked with what is called obeli. Obeli is the equivalent to our brackets today. It is telling the reader that there is some doubt as to whether the text is authentic.
If that wasn't enough, in some of the old manuscripts that do include it, it is found in different locations in the BIble. Sometimes this story follows John 7:52 like it does in our text, sometimes it follows John 7:44, sometimes it follows John 7:36, sometimes it follows John 21:25 and sometimes it is found in the Gospel of Luke after 21:38.
If that wasn't enough, not only does it vary in location, but it also varies in content. Merill Tenney who served on the translation board for the New American Standard Bible states, “its text contains a disproportionately large number of variants, which is generally a sure sign that it has received less than average care in transmission.” An example is that in some manuscripts it describes that Jesus wrote on the ground the sins of each man.
If that wasn't enough, the Pericope De Adultera contains vocabulary that does not match the rest of John's writing. Many of the words used in this passage are found no where else in the Gospel of John. For those of you who are going through the Study, Mining God's Word, you know how uncommon that is. Most New Testament authors are very repetitive in their language. In addition, the linguistic style, scholars say, does not match the style of the Apostle John. Scholars who examine these things say that it matches the style of Luke more than John.
If that wasn't enough, if you take out the Pericope De Adultera, 7:52 and 8:12 flow together perfectly. If you recall, in John 7 Jesus is at the feast of the booths and on the last day he cries out ““If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” The Pericope De Adultera has him then leaving and coming back to the temple. At the end of the story, Jesus and the women are left alone and then in verse 12 it says, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” If Jesus was alone with the women, who is the “them”? In addition, most, if not all scholars believe this statement, “I am the light of the world.” would have also occurred on the last day of the feast of booths due to the giant pillars of fire that were lit during this festival. If the Percipe De Adultera is truly written by John and truly where it belongs, then Jesus statement is more random and not connected to the great pillars of light during the feast.
Based on all of this, many pastors and theologians agree that the Pericope De Adultera is not original to the Gospel of John. Almost everyone agrees that it was inserted at a later time. The evidence is just too overwhelming. In preparation for this sermon I listened to two sermons by John MacArthur, one by John Piper, and one by Allister Begg to get a grasp on how other pastors handled this text. In 1980 John MacArthor preached on this text as if it was Scripture. In 2014 he deliberately skipped over it and said it was not the inspired Word of God, so it cannot be trusted, therefore he skipped it. John Piper did not believe John wrote it, and is not totally convinced that the story even happened. He then spent the majority of his sermon speaking about textual criticism, but then unpacked some of the themes the story highlights. Allister Begg likewise does not believe John wrote this, however, he preached on it nonetheless, but stated throughout the week he waivered back and forth.
Other well know theologians also had great doubt. John Calvin did not argue for its authenticity but merely stated that the text could be used “to our advantage.” DA Carson, the commentary that I have been reading through while preaching the Gospel of John, does not believe that John wrote it, but believes that the event occurred, hence why it was added by means of oral tradition. Andreas Kostenberger, who wrote God's Design for Many and Women, states, “the fact remains that the account almost certainly was not part of the original Gospel and therefore should not be regarded as part of the Christian cannon.” J.C. Ryle states, “it was written by an uninspired hand, and probably at a later date, and that it has no lawful claim to be regarded as a part of canoncical Scripture.” And lastly, a guy by the name of Bruce Metzger, who is seen as the foremost authority on manuscripts of the Greek New Testament states, “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 ar various places.”
Why is it in Our Bible
At this point, many of you may be wondering, if the evidence is so clear, why do translators continue to allow it to be in the Bible? The answer is probably two fold, one they do not want to be wrong and therefore remove God's Word. Two, they may be afraid of bucking tradition. The way they sit the fence, is that they keep it in the Bible and put brackets around it and say in a footnote like the ESV does, “it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed by Scripture.”
So where does this leave us? For me, I am not convinced that the Pericpe De Adultera is God's Word. If an apostle did not write it, then it cannot be inspired. John was the last of the living apostle's and if his hand did not pen this passage, then it is not the inspired Word of God. Oral tradition and Church acceptance is not enough for me to attribute these words to the mouth of God. If I do not believe the Apocraypha is God's Word, I do not see how I can believe this is God's Word.
What I am most concerned with, however, is how does this honest and open teaching about how we have the Bible affect you? It could possibly have two results, it could cause you to doubt the Bible and make you wonder if all Scripture is flawed? Or it could increase your faith in the preservation of God's Word. The fact that we can even have this type of discussion 2000 years after this book was first written is a testimony to the seriousness that God takes in preserving his Word and true Christians desire to rightly handle that Word.
The Bible is like no other book on the planet. It has toppled and established nations, restored marriages, given hope in times of despair, enriched lives, provided clarity, but most importantly it has given eternal life to billions of people, in which I am one. I cherish this book, I pray that you do to. Your life literally depends on the words on these pages. And after this week of substantial study regarding this topic I can sing more confidently, “How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,. Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!”