from: The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7,53-8,11) Reconsidered - Biblica 72 (1991): pg 182-191, provided courtesy of John Paul Heil, Professor of New Testament, Curley Hall, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Last Updated: Feb 21, 2009
There are explicit linguistic links of vocabulary and style as well as thematic literary links between the story of Jesus and the adulteress (John 7,53-8,11) and John's gospel which demonstrate that the story contributes to rather than detracts from the narrative flow in John 7-8. This reconsideration of the internal evidence may lead to a reconsideration of the external textual evidence for including this story within the original gospel of John.
The current consensus that the story of Jesus and the adulteress in John 7,53-8,11 was originally not part of the gospel of John is based on both external and internal evidence. According to the consensus opinion the external textual evidence appears to be overwhelming, since the pericope is absent from many of the early and best manuscript traditions. On internal grounds it is often maintained that the pericope not only exhibits non-Johannine style and vocabulary but also interrupts an otherwise smooth narrative flow from 7,52 to 8,12.1
Without entering into the external evidence we wish to call into question the internal evidence for the non-Johannine character of the story. We propose, first, that there are striking linguistic links between the story and the Johannine narrative that previous scholars have neglected or undervalued.2 Second, we will demonstrate through a close reading a remarkable literary linkage indicating that the story contributes to rather than detracts from the narrative progression in John 7-8.3
To argue, as is commonly done, that our story is non- Johannine because it contains words or stylistic features not found elsewhere in John is extremely precarious for such a brief passage of only twelve verses.4 The use of unusual vocabulary may simply be due to the uniqueness of the story. There are other short Johannine passages, such as the healing of the man at the pool in Jerusalem (5,1-11) and the miraculous feeding (6,1- 15), which also contain a number of words not found elsewhere in the gospel, yet their Johannine character is unquestioned.5 But beyond that we would like to draw attention to the following significant linguistic links of style and vocabulary between our story and the rest of the gospel.6
A. Teaching in the Temple in 8,2 and 7,14.
After spending the night on the Mount of Olives (8,1), Jesus returned on the next day "to the temple" (ιες το ιερον) and sat down and "taught" (εδιδασκεν) all the people who came to him in 8,2. The same vocabulary was used previously in 7,14 when, with the feast of Tabernacles already half over, Jesus went up "to the temple" (ιες το ιερον) and "taught" (εδιδασκεν).7
B. The Narrator's Asides in John 8,6 and 6,6.
After the scribes and Pharisees have presented the woman they have caught in the act of adultery to Jesus (8,3-4) and asked what he has to say about the case in view of the fact that the Mosaic law commands such women to be stoned (8,5), the narrator interrupts the story with an aside to the reader in 8,6: "They said this to test him, so that they may be able to accuse him." This parenthetical aside is remarkably similar in vocabulary, style and function to the one that occurs in the miraculous feeding story (6,1-15). After Jesus asks Philip where they can buy enough food for the crowd to eat (6,5), the narrator interrupts with an aside in 6,6: "He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do." The introductions to these asides are nearly identical in vocabulary and style:
6,6 - τουτο δε ελεγεν πειραζον αυτον
8,6 - τουτο δε ελεγον πειραζοντες αυτον
The literary function of both asides is to inform the reader of the motivation of a previous questioner, creating the suspense of whether or how the motivation will succeed. The difference is that Jesus is the one who "tests" Philip in 6,6 whereas the scribes and Pharisees "test" Jesus in 8,6. Such asides are quite characteristic of the narrative style of the gospel of John.8
C. "To Throw a Stone" in John 8,7 and 8,59.
After the scribes and Pharisees have tested Jesus as to whether or not the adulteress should be stoned, he utters the powerful words which will extricate both him and the woman from their trap in 8,7: "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her ( επ αυτην βαλετο λιθον )." At the conclusion of the chapter the same vocabulary is used for the attempt of the Jews to kill Jesus in 8,59: "Then they took up stones to throw at him ( λιθους ινα βαλωσιν επ αυτον) ."9 The relation between these passages is not merely external or coincidental, but is an important part of the inner dynamics of the narrative. When the Jews finally take up stones to throw at Jesus, they attempt to do to Jesus what they did not dare to do to the adulteress because of their own sinfulness (8,7-9). They ironically reveal that their true intent with regard to stoning the woman was actually to kill Jesus, as he had accused them both before (7,19) and after the case of the adulteress (8,37.40).
D. "Sin No Longer" in John 8,11 and 5,14.
After no one, including Jesus, has condemned the adulteress, Jesus dismisses her in 8,11: "Go, and from now on sin no longer ( μηκετι αμαρτανε )." Jesus thus repeats to the woman the same command he had issued to the man he healed at the pool in 5,14: "Look, you have become well; sin no longer ( μηκετι αμαρτανε ), so that nothing worse may happen to you." This explicit linguistic link between our story and the gospel involves significant Johannine terminology. These commands to "sin no longer" are in Johannine terms virtual appeals to believe in the profound identity of Jesus in order to have eternal life, the main purpose of the gospel (20,31). This becomes especially evident in a negative way in 8,24 when Jesus tells the Jews, "you will die in your sins, for if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins."10
In addition to the above noteworthy linguistic links between our story and the gospel there are literary considerations which indicate that our story is indeed not disruptive but actually plays a significant role in the narrative flow of John 7-8.
A. The Narrative Sequence.
Does the narrative of John 7-8 flow better with or without the story of Jesus and the adulteress? Without the story the transition between 7,52 and 8,12 appears rather awkward. Jesus is not present in the scene of 7,45-52, which concludes with a reply of the Pharisees to Nicodemus. In 8,12, however, Jesus is speaking "again" ( παλιν ) to an indefinite "them" ( αυτοις ), saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The Pharisees then reply in 8,13. Without our story the "them" to whom Jesus is again speaking in 8,12 would logically refer to those present the last time Jesus spoke, which was in the scene of 7,37-44. This is possible but more awkward than with our story, in which case the "them" of 8,12 could simply refer directly to the "them" ( αυτους ), that is "all the people," whom Jesus is teaching in 8,2 and indirectly to the adulteress and the Pharisees, who presumably left in 8,9 but are present in 8,13.11
Furthermore, with the story the transition from 7,52 to 7,53 and the introduction to the story appears quite smooth. When 7,53 states that "each went to his own house," the reference for "each" would be the guards, the chief priests, the Pharisees and Nicodemus, thus bringing the preceding scene (7,45-52) to a conclusion. Then, in contrast to those who went to their homes, "Jesus went to the Mount of Olives" in 8,1, thus bringing to a conclusion the scene of his teaching on the last great day of the feast of Tabernacles (7,37-44). A new scene then begins in 8,2 when Jesus returns to the temple on the next day and continues to teach (see 7,14).
B. The Plot to Arrest and Kill Jesus.
Within the narrative progression of John 7-8 the story of Jesus and the adulteress plays a distinctive role in the plot to arrest and kill Jesus. The ominous tone of this plot is established at the outset with the notice that Jesus did not wish to travel in Judea because the Jews "were seeking" ( εζητουν ) to kill him (7,1). When Jesus finally does go secretly to Judea (7,10), the threat intensifies as the Jews "were seeking" ( εζητουν ) him (7,11). During his teaching in the temple Jesus confronts the Jews with their death plot against him: "Why are you seeking to kill me?" (7,19). And later some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem ask whether Jesus is not the one "they are seeking to kill" (7,25).
In 7,30 the attempt to kill Jesus becomes the attempt to first arrest him: "They then sought to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come." After many of the crowd began to believe in him (7,31), "the chief priests and the Pharisees sent guards to arrest him" (7,32). Eventually even some of the crowd "wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him" (7,44). In 7,45-46 it becomes evident that the sending of the guards by the chief priests and the Pharisees has failed. At this point the story of Jesus and the adulteress, in which the scribes and the Pharisees "test" Jesus in order to "accuse" him (8,6), takes its place within the narrative progression as a renewed attempt to arrest and kill Jesus after previous failures.
Although this attempt likewise fails because the powerful words of Jesus free both himself and the woman from their trap (8,7-9), the plot to arrest and kill Jesus continues in the succeeding narrative. After Jesus taught in the temple treasury, "no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come" (8,20). In 8,37 Jesus again confronts the Jews with their attempt to kill him: "But you are seeking to kill me, because my word has no room among you." And in 8,40 Jesus repeats: "But now you are seeking to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God."
The Jews' plot to arrest and kill Jesus in John 7-8 comes to a climax after Jesus announces that "before Abraham came to be, I am" (8,58). The Jews then "took up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid and went out of the temple" (8,59). A further connection between the story of the adulteress and the narrative progression involving the plot to kill Jesus now becomes evident. As we have already noted, when the Jews "took up stones to throw at him" they tried to do to Jesus what he had prevented them from doing to the adulteress (8,7-9). It becomes obvious that they were more interested in stoning and killing Jesus than the woman. Rather than succeeding in their "test" to "accuse" Jesus (8,6), they ironically indict themselves of the murderous accusations Jesus brought against them (7,19; 8,37.40). Without the story of the adulteress the overall narrative of John 7-8, especially the irony involved in the attempt to kill Jesus, is the poorer.12
C. The Test of Jesus Teaching as a Prophet.
Another issue running through John 7-8 is that of Jesus as a prophetic teacher and the relation of his teaching to the law of Moses. After Jesus began teaching in the temple (7,14), the Jews question how it is possible for him to "know scripture without having studied" (7,15). Jesus explains that his "teaching" comes not from himself but directly from God who sent him (7,16) and can be recognized as coming from God by those who do God's will (7,17). He goes on to accuse them of not doing the law Moses gave them, because they seek to kill him (7,19) for healing a man on the sabbath (see John 5). He then demonstrates his superior knowledge of Mosaic law by explaining that since it permits a man to be circumcised on the sabbath, he surely has not broken the law by healing a whole person on the sabbath (7,21-23).
Jesus continues his teaching in the temple (7,28), and after his impressive exclamation on the last great day of the feast of Tabernacles (7,37-39), some of the crowd who heard these words of his teaching proclaim, "This is truly the prophet!" (7,40). They thus suggest that Jesus is the prophet-like-Moses whom Moses promised that God would raise up to be an authentic prophetic teacher of God's words (Deut 18,15-18). Even the guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees to arrest Jesus (7,32.45) are impressed by his prophetic teaching: "Never before has a man spoken like this!" (7,46). After the Pharisees point out that none of the authorities or the Pharisees have believed in Jesus, but only the accursed crowd ignorant of the law (7,47-49), Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees who had been earlier impressed with Jesus as a teacher (3,1-15), defends him with reference to the law (7,50): "Does our law judge a person without first hearing from him and knowing what he does?" (7,51). In reply the Pharisees contradict the prophetic character of Jesus' teaching because of his Galilean origin: "Search (the scriptures) and see that no prophet arises from Galilee" (7,52).
At this point the story of Jesus and the adulteress takes its place within the narrative flow as the hearing before the law requested by Nicodemus, which serves to vindicate Jesus as a prophetic teacher. As Jesus continues his teaching in the temple (8,2), it is quite appropriate that now the scribes rather than the chief priests join the Pharisees in trying to trap Jesus, since the Jews had earlier questioned Jesus' knowledge of "scripture" (γραμματα, 7,15) and the "scribes" (γραμματεις) are scriptural experts. Presenting the adulteress (8,3) and purposefully addressing Jesus as "teacher" (8,4; see 7,220.127.116.11), the scribes and the Pharisees test the teaching of Jesus with explicit reference to the law of Moses: "In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" (8,5). Jesus overcomes the test with a powerful prophetic teaching: "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (8,7). After the Jewish leaders have departed (8,9) and Jesus has dismissed the adulteress with a command to sin no longer (8,10-11), the reader realizes that the crowd was correct (7,40) and the Pharisees wrong (7,52) about Jesus being a prophetic teacher in relation to Mosaic law.13
As the narrative progresses through John 8 Jesus continues his prophetic teaching (8,20) with reference to "your law" (8,17). Through the disbelieving questions of the Jews in 8,53 the reader experiences the irony that Jesus is indeed "greater than Abraham" and the "prophets" who died.14
D. The Appeal from Sin to Faith.
Another prominent theme in John 7-8 is the appeal to believe in Jesus. After many of the crowd "believed" in him (7,31), the chief priests and the Pharisees sent guards to arrest him (7,32). But on the last great day of the feast Jesus makes a dramatic plea for faith in him (7,37-39). Nevertheless, as the Pharisees point out, neither they nor the authorities have "believed" in him (7,48).
The story of the adulteress contributes to the theme of Jesus' appeal for faith. At the end of the story Jesus appeals for the adulteress to "sin no longer" (8,11), which also functions as an indirect appeal to the Jewish leaders who have been forced by the powerful word of Jesus to realize they are as sinful as the woman (8,7). The sinful woman who remains before Jesus thus serves as a representative for her sinful Jewish leaders in much the same way as the adulterous situation of the Samaritan woman served to represent the idolatry and false belief of her people (4,16-30.39-42).15 As we mentioned above, the command to "sin no longer" (8,11; 5,14) is in Johannine terms a virtual appeal for faith, as is confirmed in 8,24 when Jesus urges the Pharisees to "believe" in him rather than die in their "sins" (see also 8,21).
The theme of the appeal from sin (8,7.11) to faith continues as Jesus warns those Jews who have "believed" him (8,30-31) that everyone who commits "sin" is a slave of "sin" (8,34). He points out that although he has spoken the truth, they do not really "believe" him (8,45). Then, as the story of the adulteress has made especially evident, Jesus asserts that no one can convict him of "sin" and appeals for them to "believe" him (8,46). But they remain in their sin of unbelief as they tragically try to stone Jesus (8,59).
E. Judging and Condemning.
Finally, the story of the adulteress plays a role in the theme of judging and condemning in John 7-8. While teaching in the temple in 7,24 Jesus commands the Jews not to "judge" by appearances, but to "judge" with right "judgment." Later Nicodemus defends Jesus by asking the Pharisees if our law "judges" or "condemns" a person without first hearing from him (7,51). Then, in the story of the adulteress, after the Jewish leaders are unable to condemn with the help of the law either Jesus or the woman, Jesus says to her, "Neither do I condemn you" (8,11).16 Jesus' refusal to condemn the adulteress confirms his later statement to the Pharisees in 8,15: "You judge according to the flesh, but I judge no one." After warning them that they will die in their sins unless they believe in him (8,24), Jesus declares that he has many things to say and "judge" or "condemn" about them (8,26).
We have attempted to demonstrate that based on the internal evidence the story of Jesus and the adulteress in John 7,53-8,11 fits perfectly well within its narrative context in John's gospel. There are explicit linguistic links of vocabulary and style as well as thematic literary links between the story and the Johannine narrative. The story contributes to rather than detracts from the narrative flow in John 7-8.
It is our hope that this reconsideration of the internal evidence may lead to a reconsideration of the external textual evidence. Most of those who maintain the non-Johannine origin of the story acknowledge that it is a unique case in textual criticism and that the story appears to be an early and authentic part of the gospel traditions. Is it possible that an interpolator has shaped the story to fit the narrative flow of John 7-8 as well as we have argued that it does? Or is it more likely that it was part of the original gospel of John? Is it possible that the external evidence is not so overwhelming after all and that the story could have been omitted very early on in the manuscript traditions?17
1 For various discussions of the pericope, including both the external and internal evidence, see
P. Sacchi, "La pericope dell' adultera," Alle origini del Nuovo Testamento (Firenze 1956) 43-51;
U. Becker, Jesus und die Ehebrecherin: Untersuchungen zur Text- und *berlieferungsgeschichte von Joh. 7 53-8 11 (BZNW 28; Berlin 1963);
B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York 1971) 219-222;
H. F. von Campenhausen, "Zur Perikope von der Ehebrecherin (Joh 7:53-8:11)," ZNW 68 (1977) 164-175;
F. Rousseau, "La femme adult*re: Structure de Jn 7,53-8,11," Bib 59 (1978) 463-480;
Z. C. Hodges, "Problem Passages in the Gospel of John. Part 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text," BSac 136 (1979) 318-332;
G. M. Burge, "A Specific Problem in the New Testament Text and Canon: The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)," JETS 27 (1984) 141-148;
B. D. Ehrman, "Jesus and the Adulteress," NTS 34 (1988) 24-44;
P. Comfort, "The Pericope of the Adulteress," BT 40 (1989) 145-147.
2 For a recent treatment which undervalues the Johannine character of the story in favor of its Lucan character because of its style and theology, see M. Gourgues, "`Moi non plus je ne te condamne pas': Les mots et la th*ologie de Luc en Jean 8,1-11 (la femme adult*re)," ScRel 19 (1990) 305-318.
3 In our attempt to argue for the Johannine character of the story we will present evidence not considered in some previous attempts, e.g. Z. C. Hodges, "Problem Passages in the Gospel of John. Part 9: The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): Exposition," BSac 137 (1980) 41-53; C. P. Baylis, "The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet," BSac 146 (1989) 171-184.
4 Becker, Ehebrecherin, 43-74; Metzger, Textual Commentary, 220.
5 The unique Johannine words in John 5,1-11 include in v 2: προβατικε (sheep gate), επιλεγομενε (called), Βεθζαθα;
v 3: χολον (lame), χερον (crippled);
vv 8-11: κραβαττον (mat); and in John 6:1-15:
v 7: βραχυ (little);
v 9: παιδαριον (boy), κριθινους (barley, also v 13);
v 10: χορτος (grass), αριθμον (number), pentakischilioi (five thousand);
vv 12-13: περισσευσαντα (left over), κλασματα (fragments);
v 13: κοφινους (baskets), βεβροκοσιν (eaten);
v 15: ανεχορεσεν (withdrew).
6 In what follows we will concentrate exclusively on the impressive positive linguistic and literary evidence for considering the story of the adulteress to be an authentic part of John's gospel. We feel that this is a new presentation of the evidence that needs to be considered and that it overrides the negative argumentation. For a detailed discussion of the negative evidence, see Becker, Ehebrecherin, 43-91.
7 Becker (Ehebrecherin, 47-49) points out similarities between John 8,2 and various passages in the synoptic gospels, but fails to note the more direct connection to John 7,14.
8 Becker (Ehebrecherin, 57) dismisses the aside in 8,6 as an interpolation because it disrupts the flow of the narrative. But such interruptive asides occur frequently in the gospel and are an important indication of Johannine style. For a discussion and listings of the asides in John, see M. C. Tenney, "The Footnotes of John's Gospel," BSac 117 (1960) 350-364; J. J. O'Rourke, "Asides in the Gospel of John," NT 21 (1979) 210-219; R. A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia 1983) 16-18.
9 See also 10,31.
10 See also 8,21.
11 Comfort ("Adulteress," 146) interprets 8,12 as Jesus' indirect response to the Pharisees of 7,45-52, despite Jesus' absence from that scene. This is possible but more awkward than interpreting 8,12 as an indirect response to the Pharisees Jesus would have just addressed in 8,7 if the story of the adulteress is included.
12 On Johannine irony, see P. D. Duke, Irony in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta 1985); G. R. O'Day, Revelation in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Mode and Theological Claim (Philadelphia 1986).
13 The Samaritan adulteress also experienced the knowledge and teaching of Jesus (4,16-26) and acknowledged him as a "prophet" (4,19).
14 For a different explanation of John 7,53-8,11 as the test of Jesus as a prophet, see Baylis, "Woman Caught in Adultery," 176-184.
15 On John 4, see O'Day, Revelation, 49-92; L. Eslinger, "The Wooing of the Woman at the Well: Jesus, the Reader and Reader- Response Criticism," Journal of Literature and Theology 1 (1987) 167-183; H. Boers, Neither on this Mountain Nor in Jerusalem: A Study of John 4 (SBLMS 35; Atlanta 1988); T. Okure, The Johannine Approach to Mission: A Contextual Study of John 4:1-42 (WUNT 2/31; T*bingen 1988).
16 Perhaps the form κατακρινω is used exclusively in John in the story of the adulteress (8,10-11) because it appropriately expresses a stronger sense of condemnation than κρινω, which is used elsewhere in John, but can mean both "judge" and "condemn." See BAGD, 412, 451-452.
17 For more on this suggestion and a possible reconstruction of the external evidence, see Hodges, "The Text," 318-332.
JOHN PAUL HEIL
Professor of New Testament
Catholic University of America
The following is taken from J. P. Heil, "A Rejoinder to 'Reconsidering 'The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress Reconsidered' (Jn 7:53-8:11)" Eglise et Theologie 25 (1994): pg 361-366, provided courtesy of the author.
Recently D. B. Wallace, "Reconsidering ‘The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress Reconsidered,’" NTS 39 (1993) 290-96, attempted to refute our argument that linguistic and literary links indicate how the story of Jesus and the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11 contributes to rather than disrupts the narrative flow in John 7-8.1 We would like to address his objections since some of them introduce new evidence that advances our argument for the Johannine character of the story. Also, although more concerned with the meaning of the story in itself rather than with its Johannine narrative context, G. R. O’Day’s recent article contributes to the discussion.2
We suggested that the unusual vocabulary of the story may be due to the uniqueness of the story, similar to the unusual vocabulary in other short Johannine passages, such as the healing of the man in Jerusalem (5:1-11) and the miraculous feeding (6:1- 15). Wallace, however, claims that "John 7.53-8.11 has unusual syntactical features, wholly absent from the rest of the gospel."3 But the example he suggests introduces new evidence that strengthens our position. He offers that "only here are verses continuously [his italics] connected by δε (vv. 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11)."4 This example is misleading, implying that the verses of our story are syntactically connected in a way unlike other Johannine stories. But verses of both the healing story in 5:1-11 (vv. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11) and the feeding story in 6:1-15 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 6, 10) are nearly as connected by δε as is our story. At any rate, the verses of both these Johannine stories are continuously connected, whether by δε or by ουν (5:10; 6:5, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15).
Wallace declares that our vocabulary argument fails because the feeding story in John 6:1-15 is found in all four gospels and that "six of the eleven hapax legomena in this pericope are employed in the synoptic parallels."5 But our point is that the feeding story in 6:1-15 as well as the healing story in 5:1-11 exhibit vocabulary unique within the gospel of John, as does the story in 7:53-8:11. Wallace’s further argumentation about the uniqueness of our story does not detract from our point that it is precarious to use stylistic features to prove the non- Johannine character of such a short passage, especially when there are other short passages with unique vocabulary.
That Wallace finds parallels to the theme of Jesus teaching in the temple in the synoptic gospels does not undermine the close linguistic parallel within John between 7:14 and 8:2. Wallace suggests that Luke 21:37ff. offers a closer parallel to John 8:2 than does John 7:14.6 But is this the case? John 7:14 and 8:2 employ identical prepositional phrases (εις το ιερον) and the same imperfect form of the verb (εδιδασκεν) for Jesus’ teaching in the temple. Luke 21:37, however, uses a different prepositional phrase ( εν τω ιερω) and the participial form of the verb (διδασκων ) for Jesus’ teaching in the temple.
Wallace thinks that the linguistic parallel we have pointed out between the narrator’s asides in 6:6 and 8:6 seems a bit far- fetched. He suggests that this particular aside is found also in Matt 4:3 and 19:3.7 But this is not entirely accurate. First, although Jesus is tested in Matt 4:3 and 19:3, neither of these verses functions as an aside of the narrator, as do both John 6:6 and 8:6. Second, as we have illustrated,8 the introductions to the asides in 6:6 and 8:6 are nearly identical in vocabulary and style:
John 6:6 τουτο δε ελεγε πειραζων αυτον
John 8:6 τουτο δε ελεγον πειραζοντες αυτον
Neither Matt 4:3 or 19:3 comes close to John 6:6 or 8:6 as a linguistic parallel, both lacking the introductory phrase, "He/they said this," before the testing. The problem that Wallace finds in the difference between these two Johannine asides--Jesus tests Philip in 6:6, while the Pharisees test Jesus in 8:6--is answered by their different narrative functions.
Indeed, attention to the narrative function of the aside in John 8:6 that the Jews were testing Jesus in order to have some charge to bring against him explains the parallel between the throwing of a stone in 8:7 and 8:59. If the Jews "were unwilling to ‘cast the first stone’ at an adulteress because of their own sinfulness, why would they suddenly be eager to do so to a righteous man?"9 First, the Jews are testing Jesus (8:6) because they are trying to kill him (5:18; 7:1, 19, 20, 25; 8:37, 40). They are not "suddenly" eager to stone him in 8:59. Second, the Jews consider Jesus to be anything but a "righteous man." According to them, Jesus has not only violated the sabbath, but he has called God his Father, making himself equal to God (5:18). After Jesus declares his preeminence over Abraham, the father of the Jews, a claim that a righteous man in their eyes would not make, they take up stones to throw at him (8:58-59).
Wallace next questions the exact linguistic parallel we point out between Jesus’ words "sin no longer" (mhkti mptane) in John 5:14 and 8:11. He maintains that on a broader conceptual and linguistic level, Jesus’ command to sin no longer in 5:14 finds a closer parallel in Matt 12:45 and Luke 11:26, because of the statements about something worse happening to the sinner. 10 This is not an accurate assertion for a linguistic parallel, since neither the word "sin" nor the word "no longer" is found in either Matt 12:45 or Luke 11:26. It is difficult to deny that the words "sin no longer" are identical in John 5:14 and 8:11, and that is our point.
With regard to the narrative sequence of John 7-8 we pointed out that without the story in 7:53-8:11 the transition between 7:52 and 8:12 appears rather awkward. Jesus is absent from the scene in 7:45-52, which ends with a reply of the Pharisees to Nicodemus. In 8:12, however, Jesus is speaking "again" (παλιν) to the Pharisees (see 8:13).11 According to Wallace, there is no more awkwardness between 7:52 and 8:12 than between 8:20 and 8:21, for in both places ‘again’ (παλιν) is used in a resumptive manner. In fact, the use of παλιν to resume dialogue or to show continuity with previously mentioned characters appears to be a Johannine feature (cf. 1:35; 8:21; 9:15; 10:7; 18:7; 20:21).12
In all of the examples mentioned by Wallace of this Johannine feature, the dialogue is resumed by the same speaker or group of speakers: John the Baptist is the speaker in 1:34 and 1:35; Jesus is the speaker in 8:20 and 8:21; the Pharisees in 9:15 resume the questioning of the man born blind begun by other Jews in 9:8-14; Jesus is the speaker in 10:6 and 10:7, in 18:4-6 and 18:7, and in 20:19-20 and 20:21. Without the story in 7:53- 8:11 Jesus is the speaker in 8:12 resuming a dialogue in which the Pharisees are speaking to Nicodemus and Jesus is absent in 7:52, a non-Johannine feature according to Wallace’s examples. But with the story in 7:53-8:11 Jesus is the speaker in 8:11 and 8:12, just as in all of the other examples Wallace gives of this Johannine feature.
We demonstrated that the testing of Jesus as a prophetic teacher in relation to the Mosaic law fits within the narrative flow of John 7-8. 13 Wallace objects that this confrontation does not have anything to do with the argument of John 7-8. 14
But the testing of Jesus in relation to the Mosaic law takes its place within the narrative sequence of John 7-8 as the hearing before the Mosaic law requested by Nicodemus (7:51). The relation of Jesus’ teaching to the law of Moses is at issue throughout John 7-8 (7:15, 19, 22, 23, 49, 51; 8:17). And our story contributes to this argument as the scribes and the Pharisees test the teaching of Jesus with explicit reference to the law of Moses (8:5). 15
We argued that Jesus’ command to sin no longer (8:11) functions as a virtual appeal for faith not only to the sinful woman but to the Jewish leaders who have been forced by the powerful word of Jesus to realize they are as sinful as the woman (8:7). 16 Jesus’ command thus contributes to the appeal from sin to faith that is a prominent theme in John 7-8. Wallace claims that Jesus’ words imply neither that the woman is forgiven nor that she has believed.17 We are not saying that the woman has already believed, only that Jesus has made a virtual appeal for her and the Jews to believe in him. By failing to recognize what Jesus is offering to both the Jews and the woman, Wallace seems to succumb to the kind of misreading of the story that focuses exclusively on the woman to the neglect of the Jewish opponents. O’Day decries such misreadings and shows how Jesus offers to both the Jews and the woman forgiveness or acquittal and a new way of life. 18 By offering the woman and the Jews acquittal, Jesus opens the way for them to believe in him in order to experience a new way of life, an appeal in accord not only with John 7-8 (7:31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46) but with the purpose of the entire gospel of John (20:31).
Wallace claims that "from 7.31 to 8.59 (C)[faith] is used nine times, and the concept of belief is seen throughout this section by the metaphors employed by Jesus." He goes on to maintain that 7:53-8:11 is the largest section of material from 7:31-8:59 in which neither the word for faith nor any synonym occurs, "rendering these twelve verses somewhat disruptive to the flow of thought."19 But this identical phenomenon occurs in the unquestionably Johannine stories in 5:1-11 and 6:1-15. No word for faith is found in 5:1-11, but (πιστος) occurs twelve times in the surrounding context (4:39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46, 47 [bis]). Similarly, no word for faith is found in 6:1-15, but (πιστος) occurs nine times in the succeeding context (6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64[bis], 69).20 No one would claim that either 5:1-11 or 6:1-15 is disruptive to the flow of thought in their respective contexts because they lack the word for faith, and neither is 7:53-8:11 disruptive to the flow of thought in 7:31-8:59.
With regard to our point that the story in 7:53-8:11 contributes to the theme of judging and condemning in John 7-8, we suggested that the form (κατακρινω), although found only in 8:10-11 in John, is employed here because it appropriately expresses a stronger sense of condemnation than the form (κρινω), which occurs elsewhere in John, but can mean both "judge" and "condemn."21 Wallace objects: "Ironically, neither the Saviour of the world nor those who explicitly put their faith in him are said to be without condemnation as strongly as is this woman who does not even evidence faith!"22 Since the story deals not just with the encounter between Jesus and the woman, but also with the encounter between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees, the Saviour of the world is said to be without condemnation just as strongly as is the woman. The Jews are testing Jesus to find some evidence with which to charge or condemn him (8:6). When no one has condemned the woman (8:10), it also means that no one has condemned Jesus.
We are grateful to D. B. Wallace for his painstaking attempt to refute our argumentation that there is excellent linguistic and literary evidence for the Johannine character and placement of John 7:53-8:11 within John 7-8. But after examining his objections and the new evidence that they raise, we remain convinced that 7:53-8:11 fits nicely within the Fourth Gospel in its primary location in the manuscript tradition. Indeed, this masterfully dramatic story adeptly contributes to rather than disrupts the narrative flow in John 7-8.
1 J. P. Heil, “
The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7,53-8,11) Reconsidered,” Bib 72 (1991) 182-91.
2 G. R. O’Day, “John 7:53-8:11: A Study in Misreading,” JBL 111 (1992) 631-40.
3 Wallace, 291.
4 Ibid.; note that the w in v. 5 is not listed.
6 Ibid., 292.
8 Heil, 184.
9 Wallace, 293.
11 Heil, 186.
12 Wallace, 294.
13 Heil, 188-89.
14 Wallace, 294.
15 Heil, 189.
16 Ibid, 190.
17 Wallace, 295.
18 O’Day, 637-38.
19 Wallace, 295.
20 See also J. P. Heil,
Jesus Walking on the Sea: Meaning and Gospel Functions of Matt 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:15b-21 (AnBib 87; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1981) 144-70.
21 Heil, “The Story,” 190-91.
22 Wallace, 295.
JOHN PAUL HEIL
Professor of New Testament
Catholic University of America