Last modified on 7 July 2014, at 00:51

Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 8

Things to look for in John 8

  • The textual issue of whether the first 11 verses are original and what connection there is between them and the rest of the narrative.
  • The meaning of "I am" on the lips of Jesus, and how (if it represents the divine name) this fits with the emphasis on obedience throughout John in General and in this chapter in particular.


The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 7:59-8:11)Edit

The Pericope de Adultera (or Pericope Adulterae) means "the story of the adulteress". It is the name given to versus 7:53- 8:11 of the Gospel of John in scholarly literature.

It is the story of woman who was either married or was with a married man and the angry mob wanting to stone her in the name of Moses. Jesus tells them that the one without sin may cast the first stone, and since nobody throws a stone, Jesus does not judge her either at this time, but tells her to leave her life of sin. Many people attribute this scene to Mary Magdalene, but there is no evidence to this belief.

The forgiveness of an adulteress is not the kind of thing you would expect the early church to create. The debate about forgiveness was a major one in the 2nd and 3rd CE.[citation needed]

Its purpose was to provide a portrait of Jesus' words in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh, but I judge no one”.

This narrative is a reminder that no individual is without sin. We aren’t capable of passing judgment on an individual only God is capable of passing judgment. Jesus ends capital punishment with this story. Each one of us needs the forgiveness of God and we need to forgive the sinner. Forgiveness, not executions, is God's expectation from us.

Jesus was presented with a question designed to trap him -- the Jewish leaders brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery. They reminded Jesus, that according to the Law a woman should be stoned to death (see Leviticus 20:10; conveniently, the leaders seem to have forgotten that the Law called for the same penalty for the male partner in the adulterous relationship, but interestingly the Pharisees bring only the woman and not the man, which means the man set the woman up to be caught and brought to Jesus.)

This caused a dilemma: If Jesus deferred to the Romans, He discredited Himself as a Teacher of the Law. If he said, "no" he would be going against Mosaic code; if he said, "yes", he condoned the stoning and the Romans would consider him a rioter and arrest him. Either way, they thought, Jesus couldn't win.

Jesus brought to their attention a third option. This option invited his opponents to comply with the ancient codes, but in order for them to do so they themselves had to be without sin and guilt.

Jesus shows in this instance that he knows and understands what he is going up against with the Jewish leaders of his time. When they present Jesus with what they believe is an unwinnable situation for Jesus, he responds to their trap with a wise answer that they did not expect or know how to respond to. By answering their challenge in this way Jesus showed those with him that he had a knowledge and understanding much greater than they could have imagined.

When approached about the interaction with the woman, Jesus confronts the Jewish authorities on their questioning.

Textual Evidence for 7:53-8:11Edit

The first story in this chapter is not found in the two earliest surviving Egyptian papyri (P66 and P75). It is also absent from the two famous 4th century bibles prepared for Ecclesiastical use (apparently by Eusebius for Emperor Constantine), Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

Most 'modern' translations (produced in the 1960s to 1980s) include the passage but enclose it in brackets, with a note to the effect that it is "not found in the oldest and best manuscripts", or a similar statement.

However, this statement is extremely misleading on its own, since the passage was known to exist in some manuscripts of John long before Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were made (St. Jerome, circa 382 A.D. tells us that he found the passage "in many copies, both Greek and Latin", which shows it was popular long before his time.)

Secondly, although the four oldest manuscripts omit the passage, none of them does so without acknowledging their existence by a set of critical marks in their texts. (see [1]The Top Ten Early MSS for John )


Smith even mentions in his commentary on John that "there is no question it was not a part of the original Gospel. In fact, a few manuscripts place it elsewhere, for example, at the end of the Gospel, or after Luke 21:38" (179).

In one 'ancient' manuscript (12th cent. A.D.) the story even appears in Luke, just after Luke 21:38. This placement does seem more natural and fitting for the story than it's placement in John.

However,this Lukan placement only exists in about a half dozen late manuscripts (Family 13 circa 12th century). It is unlikely that Luke's Gospel was its original place. The story's inclusion in Luke merely reveals that this story has been battled over for centuries.


What should we conclude about John 7:59 – 8:11? Some feel it was not originally a part of this gospel.

Internal Evidence for 7:53-8:11Edit

Although, it does not imply that these verses are fraudulent, these verses interrupt the flow of the Feast of Tabernacles dialogs from v7:52 to 8:12.

However, many scholars (e.g. Bultmann,J.P. Heil, A.W. Wilson, A. Pink) take the opposite view, and find that omitting the verses creates a difficult seam that cannot be original.

Most likely, this was a well circulated story among the first century Christians which was told orally.[citation needed]

Most of the early Christians would not have been able to read Greek or even Aramaic, so everything they knew about Jesus was due to oral tradition. [citation needed]

This story was probably very popular, but it had no home in any of the canonical gospels; this is why later on the scribes decided to begin including it here in John's Gospel. [evidence needed]

Even the language of the story, some scholars have suggested, is closer to that of Luke, but no new work in this area has been done since the early 1900s. For instance, Cadbury(1917)was the last scholar to attempt to assemble a case for Lukan authorship. The current consensus is that there is more evidence generally for later scribes 'standardizing' the text to a general Greek style than there is for the passage being composed by Luke.

"The obviously later insertion of this pericope [in John] makes a certain sense, however, for it provides an episode, an encounter of Jesus with a sinful woman and Jewish authorities, which can be viewed as a springboard for the ensuing discussion," (Smith 179).

John 8:12-59Edit

Jesus, still in the temple area, begins to testify about himself and the one who sent him. Throughout the rest of the chapter Jesus will use the phrase "I am he. He tells the Jews I am he (the Messiah) He tells the Jews in the temple that they are the sons of Satan and they will die in their sins if they don't receive him as the Messiah. They claim that Abraham is their father and Jesus says he rejoice to see the day of Jesus. He is referring to Abraham seeing him prophetically in the future. The Jews misunderstand him and think he is saying he saw Abraham. What he says is I was already in God plan and chosen to be the Messiah before Abraham was born. To be consistent the translators should have translated the line "Before Abraham was I am he". By leaving of the word "he" meaning the Messiah, they give the impression that Jesus is saying "I am."(John 8:58)

In the 4th Century Jerome mistranslated the conversation between God and Moses where Abraham asks for God's name and he says EHYEH ASHER EHYEH (I will be what I will be Yah is my name. Jerome translated it SUM QUI SUM I am what I am.

Down through the ages commentators have thought God's name was "I AM" and that Jesus was claiming to be God. It is all based on a bad translation. When Jesus said before Abraham was I am he the temple crowd picked-up stones to execute him but Jesus escaped. They were furious for being called sons of the devil and they thought he was now worthy of death for claiming to have seen Abraham and claiming to thousands of years old. Naturally they wanted to kill him for being a false prophet.

An interesting point to consider is Jesus' statement in verse 15b: "I judge no one." This seems like a contradiction to not only later verses in this chapter (such as verse 26), but also in 5:22, where Jesus tells us that the Father gives all judgment to the Son. Later he explains that the words he speaks will judge everyone. That's why you must learn his words and obey them in a loving manner.

Throughout John, there has been quite an emphasis on obedience. After Jesus says "I am he" in verse 28 he says "I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father has instructed me." If we take "I am" to mean "I am God," then it wouldn't make sense for the full verse to read, "I am God and do as I'm told."

Some believe that this phrase would simply mean "I am, right now, and forever will be, better than Abraham." Then the word "before" just simply refers to Abraham's lack of importance when compared to Jesus. The Jews thought there was no greater father than Abraham so this is why they become hostile with misunderstanding in verse 59 with intentions to stone Jesus then. In addition to this Jesus was the promised descendant of Abraham. With that said, God's promise to Abraham would not be fulfilled if Jesus existed before him. (Gen.17:17) So in conclusion, some believed that Jesus was not physically present in the time of Abraham, but that God did plan Jesus before the creation of the world and was now made flesh. (John 1:13)


I Am the Light of the World We all know that when Jesus refers to himself being the "Light of the World" he is saying that he is the savior. If people turn to him they will come out of the dark and walk in the light. "Thus the typical Johannine dualism is invoked"(Smith, 180). Also, this idea of light works well with the Festival of Hanukkah because it was a winter solstice festival and celebrated the light in the temple that burned for 8 days when the oil was gone.(180).

The Mystery of "The Jews" in John Chapter 8 The phrase “the Jews” appears many times in the Johannine text, something that distinguishes the Gospel of John from the synoptic gospels. It should be noted that many Jews believed in Jesus and became disciples so it is best to translated , or paraphrase it as certain rogues among the Jews.

For Further ReadingEdit

On The Textual Issues in the First Eleven Verses


[2]The Pericope De Adultera Homepage [3]


The Pericope de Adultera (in a Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels)[[4]]

The Adulteress and Her Accusers: A Study in Intrinsic Probability [5]

The Jesus Seminar on John 8:1-11[6]

Pericope de Adultera: Statistical Analysis of the New Testament[7]

Jesus and the Woman Taken In Adultery (on Wikipedia)[8]

Textual Evidence for John 8:1-11[9]

Wilbur N. Pickering, "A DIFFERENT STEMMA FOR JOHN 7:53-8:11"[10]


On the Interpretation of John 8:1-11

A. Watson, "Jesus and the Adulteress" (Biblica Vol.80, 1999)[11]


On the Christology of John 8

James F. McGrath, "Are Christians Monotheists? The Evidence of St. John's Gospel"[12]