Is the 'Woman Caught in Adultery' Really Part of Scripture?

It’s a famous passage in Scripture, the story of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees and religious leaders have dragged her before Jesus in an attempt to trap him, and they ask if she should be stoned to death, in accordance with the law of Moses. The Bible notes she was “caught” in adultery, which presumes she was seen with a man. Yet no man is present when the religious leaders stand her before Jesus in the temple courts.

When the leaders persist in questioning him, Jesus says, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” At these words, the accusing crowd melts away. “Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asks the woman.

“No one, sir,” she says.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus says. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The passage is so well-known, and such a striking example of Jesus’ forgiveness and call to lead a godly life, that it has its own name—the pericope adulterae.

But is it really inspired Scripture?

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a New Testament Studies professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has found evidence in Albania that suggests to him it is not, according to a Web-only story in Christianity Today. While photographing ancient New Testament manuscripts in Tirana, Albania, including many that were previously unknown to Western scholars, Wallace found that the story of the woman caught in adultery “was missing from three of the texts, and was out of place in a fourth, tacked on to the end of John's Gospel.”

Most translations of the Bible—including the NIV, which is linked to above—note the problems with this much-loved text yet still include it. It is certainly consistent with Jesus’ teachings. But is it the “inspired,” inerrant Word of God?

In a related Q&A, Wallace says:

“One of the Albanian manuscripts that lacked the story was 'fixed' by a later scribe who hastily stitched a sheet of paper to the following parchment page, scribbling the text of the pericope adulterae on the paper! Even though most manuscripts of the fourth gospel have the story, the earliest and best manuscripts do not.”
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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

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