One of the most moving of all biblical occurrences is Jesus’ interaction with the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). The story appears only in the Gospel of John. A number of persons asked me why the study notes in their Bibles made reference to the fact that this story does not appear in some of the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. So, let me explain.
The oldest New Testament manuscripts we have date back between the fourth to sixth centuries (AD). The scholars hand-copied from the originals. We call them the Uncial manuscripts, because they are written in all capital letters. The story of the woman who had been caught in adultery only appears in one of the earliest while six omit it completely and two leave a blank where it should appear. However, it emerges strongly in the later manuscripts of the medieval times.
Jerome included the story in his Latin translation of the Bible (AD 400) and Augustine and Ambrose comment on it in their writings. It appears in all the later manuscripts. It is quoted in a third century book called The Apostolic Constitutions, where it was given as a warning to bishops who were too strict. Eusebius, the church historian, traced its origin back as far as AD 100. Why was it omitted in early manuscripts? Augustine says some removed it because of its scandalous nature. Some thought the story showed Jesus being too soft on sin and thought that people might use it as a justification for sin. After all, the early church was a small island in the ocean of paganism, and needed to learn how to live a holy life. But over time, the story arrived by word of mouth, confirmed by one early manuscript and found its way back into the Gospel of John where it rightly belongs.
The story teaches us how to handle matters of judgment. The story underscores Jesus’ statement that follows: “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me” (John 8:15-16).
There will always be those among us who try to make Christianity too strict and rigid, so that we always feel like we fall short of the mark. But the good news of Jesus is the message of grace. This magnificent story of grace reminds us that, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Scripture Of The Day: “Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” – James 2:13 (NIV)