Michael Boling – Aporia: The Story of the Adulteress, John 7:53-8:11


As noted by author Gary Burge, the concept of aporia was developed by theologian Edward Schwartz in 1907 in an attempt to categorize what have been labeled as literary seams in the Gospel of John. These aporias, more commonly known as literary seams, are located throughout John’s Gospel creating for many scholars a conundrum as to their exact purpose and arrangement within the gospel text. Many esteemed theologians have sought to establish sound hermeneutical raison d’être for the aporias found in John’s Gospel, in particular why they have been assimilated over time into the Johannine text. One particular aporia, the story of the adulteress or pericope de adultera, located in John 7:53-8:11, is a story that lucidly evinces the divinity and compassion of Christ compared with the legalistic coldness of the Jewish religious leaders. There are admitted difficulties in ascertaining the original source of this aporia, most notably the glaring absence of this particular text in many of the oldest and respected manuscripts. Nevertheless, the story of the adulteress is an integral part of the surrounding context and thus is not in conflict with the holistic purpose of John’s Gospel.

Scholars D.A. Carson, Sir Edwyn Hoskins and William Hendrikson have contributed exceptional exposition on the story of the adulteress. These three renowned theologians clearly explain to their readers why the story of the adulteress has continued to be an accepted part of the canon throughout church history with diminutive argumentation on the part of the theological community. Their exposition chiefly revolves around addressing the exclusion of this text by ancient manuscripts and the early church fathers, its diverse placement within the context of John’s Gospel, and the atypical Johannine flavor of this aporia.

As noted by Carson, the efforts of theologians such as Zane Hodges to prove the merits of the inclusion of the story of the adulteress in the original Johannine autograph have been confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Carson rightly denotes that John 7:53-8:11 is “present in most of the Medieval Greek miniscule manuscripts”, but is “absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions.” Hoskins avers the recent inclusion of this pericope in the Latin Vulgate but recognizes its omission from much earlier manuscripts. He notes that “in the Greek Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and in the Washington and Koridethi manuscripts, the text of the Fourth Gospel runs continuously from 7:52 to 8:12, without any sign of a break.” Additionally, he asserts that “no Greek commentator on the gospel before Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) makes any reference to the passage, and even Euthymius judges it to be an insertion, since the accurate copies either omitted it or marked it with obelisks.” Hendrikson states that the “oldest and best manuscripts do not have this story. It makes its first appearance in Codex Bezae. It is found in the later uncials (the so-called Koine text) and the cursives based upon them.” Hoskins lucidly notes that “whereas the passage is authentic in the theological and doctrinal sense of the word, its authenticity as part of the original Gospel of Saint John is a matter of free critical investigation.” But wait, there’s more!

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