Why is John 7:53-8:11 in the Bible?
I read that this passage was not in the earliest manuscripts of John and that it was not written my John. So I’m wondering why it is in the Bible?
Thank you for your service, God bless.
Why is John 7:53-8:11 in the Bible?
Well, the simplest explanation is that the Church (guided by the Holy Spirit) has accepted it as part of the canonical Scriptures.
On a more detailed level, you are correct that there is much debate about whether the story of the woman caught in adultery is part of the original Gospel of John.
It does not appear in any surviving text of the Gospel of John prior to the 5th century. Some scholars also claim that it seems to fit better into the Gospel of Luke rather than John. In that case the question is not whether it is canonical but whether its in the proper place in the Gospels.
There is historical evidence that even if the story is not originally part of the Gospel of John it was a fairly well circulated story of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is mentioned in the preaching of Pope Leo the Great and was written about by St. Augustine.
A 3rd century work Didascalia Apostolorum makes what seems to be a passing reference to this passage:
But if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art without mercy, thou shalt sin against the Lord God; for thou obeyest not our Saviour and our God, to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgement in His hands, departed. But He, the Searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her: Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter. She saith to him: Nay, Lord. And he said unto her: Go thy way neither do I condemn thee.
Didymus the Blind in the 4th century also made mention of it:
We find, therefore, in certain gospels [the following story]. A woman, it says, was condemned by the Jews for a sin and was being sent to be stoned in the place where that was customary to happen. The Saviour, it says, when he saw her and observed that they were ready to stone her, said to those who were about to cast stones, “He who has not sinned, let him take a stone and cast it. If anyone is conscious in himself not to have sinned, let him take up a stone and smite her.” And no one dared. Since they knew in themselves and perceived that they themselves were guilty in some things, they did not dare to strike her
- Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 558-59
So while there is plenty of room for debate about whether this passage was originally part of the canonical Gospels, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to debate its historicity. The story appears in the oral tradition of the Church and contains historically realistic and consistent elements. There is no evidence the story was created at some point but rather it appears to have been a fairly well known incident from the life and ministry of Jesus.
As Catholics we do not believe that the books of the Bible simply fell out of the sky whole and entire. The books of Scripture were composed over periods of time and even appear to have undergone some forms of editing. As such it is essentially irrelevant to discuss any “original” form of any book of Scripture.
So whether it is original to Luke or John, whether it was in either in their early forms, are rather academic questions that can’t be definitely answered. We can’t definitely say what is “original” since no surviving originals have been found. What we can say is that the story appears to be historically true and has been accepted by the Church into the canon of Scripture and therefore it is in the Bible because the Holy Spirit wants it there.