Is the story of the woman being stoned for adultery in John 7-8 authentic?

Here’s the leading conservative New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace to explain.


One hundred and forty years ago, conservative biblical scholar and Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, advocated a new translation to replace the King James Bible. One of his reasons was the inferior textual basis of the KJV. Alford argued that “a translator of Holy Scripture must be…ready to sacrifice the choicest text, and the plainest proof of doctrine, if the words are not those of what he is constrained in his conscience to receive as God’s testimony.” He was speaking about the Trinitarian formula found in the KJV rendering of 1 John 5:7–8. Twenty years later, two Cambridge scholars came to the firm conclusion that John 7:53–8:11 also was not part of the original text of scripture. But Westcott and Hort’s view has not had nearly the impact that Alford’s did.

For a long time, biblical scholars have recognized the poor textual credentials of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). The evidence against its authenticity is overwhelming: The earliest manuscripts with substantial portions of John’s Gospel (P66 and P75) lack these verses. They skip from John 7:52to 8:12. The oldest large codices of the Bible also lack these verses: codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, are normally considered to be the most important biblical manuscripts of the NT extant today. Neither of them has these verses. Codex Alexandrinus, from the fifth century, lacks several leaves in the middle of John. But because of the consistency of the letter size, width of lines, and lines per page, the evidence is conclusive that this manuscript also lacked the pericope adulterae. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptusalso from the fifth century, apparently lacked these verses as well (it is similar to Alexandrinus in that some leaves are missing). The earliest extant manuscript to have these verses is codex Bezae, an eccentric text once in the possession of Theodore Beza. He gave this manuscript to the University of Cambridge in 1581 as a gift, telling the school that he was confident that the scholars there would be able to figure out its significance. He washed his hands of the document. Bezae is indeed the most eccentric NT manuscript extant today, yet it is the chief representative of the Western text-type (the text-form that became dominant in Rome and the Latin West).

When P66, P75, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus agree, their combined testimony is overwhelmingly strong that a particular reading is not authentic. But it is not only the early Greek manuscripts that lack this text. The great majority of Greek manuscripts through the first eight centuries lack this pericope. And except for Bezae (or codex D), virtually all of the most important Greek witnesses through the first eight centuries do not have the verses. Of the three most important early versions of the New Testament (Coptic, Latin, Syriac), two of them lack the story in their earliest and best witnesses. The Latin alone has the story in its best early witnesses.

Even patristic writers seemed to overlook this text. Bruce Metzger, arguably the greatest textual critic of the twentieth century, argued that “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” (Textual Commentary, 2nd ed., loc. cit.).

It is an important point to note that although the story of the woman caught in adultery is found in most of our printed Bibles today, the evidence suggests that the majority of Bibles during the first eight centuries of the Christian faith did not contain the story. Externally, most scholars would say that the evidence for it not being an authentic part of John’s Gospel is rock solid.

But textual criticism is not based on external evidence alone; there is also the internal evidence to consider. This is comprised of two parts: intrinsic evidence has to do with what an author is likely to have written;transcriptional evidence has to do with how and why a scribe would have changed the text.

Intrinsically, the vocabulary, syntax, and style look far more like Luke than they do John. There is almost nothing in these twelve verses that has a Johannine flavor. And transcriptionally, scribes were almost always prone to add material rather than omit it—especially a big block of text such as this, rich in its description of Jesus’ mercy. One of the remarkable things about this passage, in fact, is that it is found in multiple locations. Most manuscripts that have it place it in its now traditional location: between John 7:52 and 8:12. But an entire family of manuscripts has the passage at the end of Luke 21, while another family places it at the end of John’s Gospel. Other manuscripts place it at the end of Luke or in various places in John 7.

The pericope adulterae has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home. It took up permanent residence, in the ninth century, in the middle of the fourth gospel.

Wallace teaches at the ultra-conservative fundamentalist Dallas Theological Seminary:

Daniel B. Wallace

Professor of New Testament Studies

B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It has become the standard textbook in the English-speaking world on that subject. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Wallace is also the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and coeditor of the NET-Nestle Greek-English diglot. He has been a consultant on four different Bible translations. Recently his scholarship has begun to focus on John, Mark, and nascent Christology. He works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (, an institute with an initial purpose of preserving Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. He has traveled the world in search of biblical manuscripts. His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, textual criticism studies at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, and the Universität Tübingen, Germany.

He also blogs at Parchment & Pen and has been linked as an authority at Gospel Coalition, Monergism, Christian Research Journal, etc. He is the absolute best we have, he has debated liberals like Bart Ehrman many times, and his skepticism of John 7-8 has been written up in Christianity Today. (Note: I am not necessarily endorsing reformed theology, but they are conservative and generally quite correct, in my view). And if that were not enough, he has been interviewed by Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.

Why is this important? I think it is important because this story is very prominent for a great many Christians, especially Christian women, who use this to justify a variety of positions that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. These Christians do not like the idea of anyone being judged and so they are naturally inclined to blow this disputed passage into an entire theology that repudiates making moral judgments on such things as capital punishment. In fact, in another post, I was accused of being the equivalent of one of the people who wanted to stone the woman taken for adultery because I oppose fornication and single motherhood. That’s how far this has gone, where some Christians, especially Christian feminists, have leveraged this passage to redefine the Bible so that women are no longer responsible to the Bible’s moral rules and can never be blamed for acting irresponsibly.

Is WK a big liberal?

As this debate between Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman shows, there are only TWO disputed passages in the entire NT that are theologically significant. The long ending of Mark and this adultery passage. A good case can be made for the long ending of Mark, but it’s best not to assume it in a debate. The adultery passage is difficult to defend as authentic. Dr. Wallace talks about both passages in this Parchment & Pen article ( Wallace has also debated Bart Ehrman in the Greer-Heard Forum. What that debate showed is that the New Testament text is actually quite reliable except for those two passages, but it’s important to be honest about the two places that are not well supported.

The other other NT passages that are a concern are the earthquake passage and the guard story in Matthew. I think that the earthquake is apocalyptic language and the guard is more likely historical than not.

For a closer look at what the Bible says about capital punishment, look here.

15 thoughts on “Is the story of the woman being stoned for adultery in John 7-8 authentic?”

  1. “Christian feminists”

    Can not exist-you’re either one or the other. You can’t adulterate the Faith with the poisons of modernity. The Book is very, very clear about patriarchy.

    As for Reformed Theology… I know quite a few Reformed men(Will S. is one of them). They are, just like with other High-Church Protestants like the traditional Anglicans and the Lutherans as well as Catholics and Orthodox, very, very conservative in their theology. Which of course, is a good thing, tradition is developed for a reason, after all.


  2. John elsewhere (18:31) states that the Romans had prohibited Jews from executing people. So it makes sense for it to appear in John. The passage does not contradict the death penalty. It only supports due process and the equal protection and application of the law. It would be like stoning some random woman in America today.


      1. Could you have said any more “no”s?

        There is no reason to get all hissy over the One True Church ;) Besides, better a traditionalist Roman Papist like me than some fruity, tooty Christian Egalitarian(i.e. Heretic).

        I assume, WK, that you’re not Reformed, Anglican, or Lutheran either. What exactly is your denomination?


  3. I certainly don’t (and will not here) make a huge deal about the passage. I’m not entirely sure where I myself stand on its authenticity. (Hey, I’m still looking at the various text-critical theories: reasoned eclecticism, western priority, byzantine priority (for this last one see the excellent defense by textual scholar Maurice Robinson here: (second article down) and note particularly how he grounds his text-critical change of mind in his re-evalutaion of the “transmissional history” of the NT MSS.

    But for any wishing to look at the other side of the Adulterous Woman passage before coming to a certain conclusion, you could look here: It’s an long article which presents in its entirety a post made by James Snapp at another board. Note in particular that Snapp is NOT a defender of the passage’s authenticiy, but he is well-known for his thorough research and for his defense of the long ending of Mark, e.g. here Note his summary and evaluation of the MS evidence therein !

    FWIW, any interested parties might want to peruse the main Pericope Adulterae site ( or the blog site ( and read the various articles there. Warning: there may be KJV defenders at that site (a view which I most certainly do not share in the least). However, as one will see from the articles there, the writers’ intent is to analyze *evidence*.

    And since this site (WK’s blog) often highlights and promotes the debate-style format for Christian apologetics (i.e. looking at the evidence presented by different sides *before* coming to one’s conclusion [cf. Prov. 18.17]), I thought I’d offer the online resources above from more academically oriented defenders of the passage (or, in Snapp’s case, an academic but fair *opponent* of the passage’s authenticity) for your consideration and study.


  4. Hmm the famous ravi zacharias uses the adultery story quite a lot in his speeches.I wonder if he knows it isn’t authentic !


  5. This debate seems to open a can of worms, namely how could God allow a passage that is not inspired by the Holy Spirit to eventually be included in millions of bibles that Christians use today?

    Can’t God protect the integrity of His Word?

    This seems to open the door to “Da Vinci Code” style accusations that certain scribes controlled the message of the Bible.

    Also, what was the point of adding the adulteress woman story then…what were the conspirators trying to accomplish?


    1. Inerrancy applies to the original writings (autographs), Jay. Not to the copies we have today. God has protected the integrity of his Word, and this verse is not part of that Word. The millions of Bibles that Christians use today clearly state that this verse is not in the earliest manuscripts. Because Christians aren’t liars, nor are they stupid.

      Evangelical inerrantists
      Evangelical Christians generally accept the findings of textual criticism, and nearly all modern translations, including the popular New International Version, work from a Greek New Testament based on modern textual criticism.

      Since this means that the manuscript copies are not perfect, inerrancy is only applied to the original autographs (the manuscripts written by the original authors) rather than the copies.[1] For instance, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says, “We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture.”[22]

      1 Grudem, Wayne A. (1994). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-85110-652-6. OCLC 29952151.


  6. The passage is certainly authentic from a theological point of view, because it accords exactly with Jesus’ view of the law, namely, that the law was to be fulfilled in Him, and that “love is the fulfilment of the law” (Matthew 22:37-40). The Lord was careful not to undermine the prescribed punishment as laid down in the Torah, but went beyond it to enquire as to the real purpose of the law. (There is nothing in the passage to suggest that if the crowd had gone ahead and stoned the woman, that Jesus would have tried to intervene to prevent that). This is totally in keeping with the idea that the law would be written on people’s hearts under the New Covenant. Of course, forgiveness is consistent with the teaching of the gospel, as if anyone could doubt that! The idea that this is a fabricated story is very difficult to swallow, given the unusual and unpredictable comment Jesus made that caused such moral conviction in the crowd. In no way is this event undermining morality, but rather hypocrisy – another prominent theme in the teaching of Jesus. Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that there were many works which Jesus did which are not recorded – and could not be recorded (John 21:25). This suggests that many accounts could have existed “on the fringes” of the canon of Scripture, and therefore it is highly plausible that one, two or a few of these accounts could find their way into some manuscripts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s