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Meditation 953
Throwing stones at the Bible

by: JT

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One the best known stories about Jesus is the tale about the adulterous woman brought before him in the Temple. And Jesus saved her life by saying Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” You'll find it at John 8 verses 1-11.

I went looking for this passage in my Bible (Revised Standard Edition, 1952) and noticed something I had not noticed before. Here's an image of the appropriate section:

John 8 1-11

As you can see, the verses are missing. This entire incident has been removed from the text. They are not totally gone, they appear, along with John 8:53 in a footnote. And for the record, here are the missing verses from that footnote.

53 They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Why has this passage been removed from the text, and placed in a footnote?

The answer is really on the title page of the RSV where it states:

REVISED AD 1881-1885 AND AD 1901

The key words there are "compared with the most ancient authorities." Then, and still now the oldest surviving New Testaments did not include this passage. It is not in the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, or the Codex Alexandrinus. Nor is it in the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, though that is missing a larger section of John, possibly due to lost pages. Thus we can be well assured that the passage was not part of the New Testament in the fourth Century. It is reasonable to conclude it is a later insertion.

Interestingly, pressure (not scholarship) led the passage to be restored in the second edition of the RSV, and all the English versions online at Bible Gateway currently include it. Some of the versions do put the passages in italics to differentiate it; other versions place it in brackets with an annotation such as [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11], most just ignore the issue entirely. After all, why stir up an issue that might cause Christians to question the accuracy and validity of their holy book?

And yet, as my RSV (presented to me back in 1956 for exemplary Sunday School attendance) clearly shows, the accuracy and validity of the Christian holy book surely should be questioned. And clearly, the Bible cannot be considered inerrant.