N.T. Wright on the Pericope of the Adulteress

I decided to peruse several commentaries I have on the book of John to see what they have said about the pericope of the adulteress. Do they say it’s original or not, and what are the reasons offered for their decisions?

What I found, as you might have already guessed, is that virtually every single one of them claim that the pericope was a later addition to the Gospel and provide two reasons for this conclusion: 1) it is not included in many of the earliest extant manuscripts of the Gospel, appearing first in the Greek-Latin diglot of the fifth century Codex Bezae and 2) it disrupts the Tabernacles discourse which would be remedied with no lose to the narrative/discourse if omitted.

But, and here’s where one might find himself or herself frustrated to no end, none of these commentaries provide any sustained reason for why or how it interrupts the discourse, only that it does.

I found it interesting, however, that N. T. Wright provides arguments in favor of its omission due to its interruption of the Tabernacles discourse as well as arguments in favor of its inclusion due to the fact that, if omitted, the discourse suffers when interpreters look for a reason for the character change Jesus undergoes later in chapter eight. He writes:

There is a puzzle about this story. It doesn’t really seem to fit here. Chapters 7 and 8—omitting this passage—seem to flow on reasonably well. And, tellingly, the earliest copies of John’s gospel do in fact run straight on from 7:52 to 8:12, missing this story out altogether. At the same time, some manuscripts put it in, but in a different place. Some have it as an extra story after the end of the gospel. Some even place it in Luke’s gospel (and it has to be said that the way the story is told is, if anything, more like Luke than like John). That’s why some translations of the Bible put the story in brackets, or add it to the end as an ‘appendix’.

At the same time, there is something to be said for reading it here, where a lot of manuscripts do have it. John 7 has Jesus teaching in the Temple during the festival of Tabernacles, and the crowds and authorities getting increasingly interested in asking who he is and what he’s about. John 8 has an altogether darker tone, with Jesus accusing the Judaeans of wilfully misunderstanding him, failing to grasp what he’s saying, and wanting to kill him, because they are following the dictates of ‘their father, the devil’. Chapter 8 contains some of the harshest things Jesus is ever recorded as saying. What has happened?

It is as though Jesus has come face to face with the real problem at the heart of the Judaean attitude—to him, to God, to themselves, to their national vocation. We won’t understand the chapter if we think of the Judaeans as simply interested bystanders trying to make sense of a curious teacher newly arrived in town. If we read it like that, Jesus appears irrationally angry and dismissive, and indeed that’s what they seem to have thought too (see verses 48 and 52). John, writing the chapter, is well aware of the impression Jesus was making.

The chapter fits, in other words, with a change of mood brought on by something which has caught Jesus’ attention, and has made him realize just how steeped in their own patterns of thinking his Judaean contemporaries had become—and how devastatingly unlike God’s patterns of thinking they were. So, whether or not the story of the woman and her accusers originally belonged here, it certainly helps us to understand the chapter which it now introduces. The chapter as it now stands begins with people wanting to stone a woman to death; it ends with them wanting to stone Jesus. Perhaps that, too, is trying to tell us something.*

Whatever one concludes about the originality of the pericope of the adulteress to John’s Gospel, it does not suffice to say that omitting the story remedies all problems within the discourse of the Gospel. We should investigate what ties, themes, and elements are developed and strengthened by its inclusion, what elements become more difficult to explain upon its removal, and what elements are easier to explain and make more sense when excluded.

Just because everyone else says it’s so don’t mean you proved it!

Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 11–112.

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Book Announcement

pericopeadulteraeLast April, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a conference on the  Pericope Adulterae. Conference participants discussed whether or not the passage of the woman caught in adultery was original to John’s Gospel or if it was a later interpolation.

I’m pleased to announce that the essays from the conference will be published by Bloomsbury’s Library of New Testament Studies!

The book will be titled The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research and will be co-edited by David Alan Black and Jacob N. Cerone (!). The contents of the volume with their tentative titles are below:

Foreword:  Gail O’Day

Preface: David Alan Black

Introduction: Jacob N. Cerone

Chapter 1: John David Punch – “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae

Chapter 2: Jennifer Knust – ” ‘Taking Away From': Patristic Evidence and the Omission of the Pericope Adulterae from John’s Gospel”

Chapter 3: Tommy Wasserman – “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress”

Chapter 4:  Chris Keith – “The Pericope Adulterae: A Theory of Attentive Insertion”

Chapter 5: Maurice Robinson – “The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock”

Chapter 6: Larry Hurtado – “The Pericope Adulterae: Where from Here?

Make sure to keep an eye out for its release. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as it gets closer to publication.

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Greek Morphology of the Afternoon

Yesterday I mentioned that the ω and ουσιν endings of the first singular and third plural respectively were not as straight forward as we might like to believe. Instead of overloading the few that made it through the post, I decided to save this discussion for a different day. Today is that day.

Technically, according to Smyth’s Greek Grammar for Colleges, the present active indicative first singular has no ending. This might seem odd since λυω has the stem form λυ. But why the ω? The ω comes from the omicron, the thematic vowel.

Since there is no ending, the thematic vowel, omicron, lengthens, becoming ω. Thus:

λυ + ο + ø ending
λυ + 0
λυω <– lengthened omicron becomes omega

Now that we’ve solved the case of the lengthened omicron, we can turn our attention to the enigmatic ου in the third person plural of λυουσι(ν).

Would it surprise you to know that the third person plural ending is actually νσι(ν)? Here’s how we get λυουσιν:

λυ + ο + νσι(ν)
λυ + ο – ν + σι(ν)
λυ + ο + σι(ν)
λυ + ου + σι(ν)
λυ + ουσι(ν)

When the ν combines with the σ, the ν drops out. Greek makes up for the loss of the ν through compensatory lengthening. Thus, the thematic vowel omicron becomes the diphthong ου.

The more you know!

(nb: The original third plural ending was οντι and is retained as such in Doric Greek. In Attic Greek, τ very often becomes σ. Thus, οντι becomes ονσι, which drops the ν because of the νσ combination, and then lengthens the thematic vowel to ου and producing the final form ουσιν)

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Greek Morphology Lesson of the Evening

If you’ve learned Greek, you know that the present active indicative paradigm for λυω is:

λυω      λυομεν
λυεις    λυετε
λυει      λυουσιν

You also learned that the ε and the ο are not a part of the “true” person-number endings of the verb.

λυω      λυομεν
λυεις    λυετε
λυει      λυουσιν

(nb: I haven’t bolded the ω and ου because I don’t want to overwhelm you by telling you that more is involved in the formation of those forms. So…just disregard that for now).

Have you ever wondered why we have ει instead of ε for λυεις and λυει?  I, for one, just accepted it as being a part of the person number suffix endings. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Let’s take the third person singular λυει for example. It comes from the verb λυω, which means that the stem of this verb is λυ. But it’s “true” ending isn’t ει. It’s σι. Whence comes σι?

Well, the theme vowel (ε, ο), which comes between the stem and the ending would be, in this example, an ε. This is according to the rule that says ο is the theme vowel when before μ or ν, and an ε before any other letter.

That gives us the following form:

λυ + ε + σι

But Greek doesn’t like having an intervocalic (between two vowels) sigma. Thus, the sigma drops out:

λυ + ε – σ + ι

That leaves us with:

λυ + ε + ι

And, according to the rules of contraction, the epsilon contracts with the iota to form the diphthong ει, giving us the final form:


Stay tuned to find an explanation for why we have ω in the first singular and ουσιν for the third plural.

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Greek Morphology Lesson of the Evening

Have you ever wondered whence comes the nominative singular for ear, οὖς, when the genitive is ὠτός?

Well, with third declension nouns, it is best to find the stem of the word by going to the genitive singular and removing the ος ending. That leaves us with ωτ.

But why the ου and where did the τ go?

Well, when we add the nominative singular ending σ to the τ  on the stem of the word, the τ drops off because the combination τσ is not permitted within Greek. This leaves us with ως. But why ου?

Often, though not always, when a word loses a consonant or consonants, a vowel is lengthened to make up for the loss. This is called compensatory lengthening. Thus, ως becomes οὖς.


ωτ + ς [stem + ending]
ω – τ + ς [stem – τ (because dentals and sibilants don’t play well with each other + ending]
ω + ς [stem + ending]
οὖς [stem (compensatory lengthening due to loss of τ) + ending]

ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω (translated “he who has ears, let him hear”)

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Free Book of the Month: Logos

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.01.01 AMLogos has a great free book of the month. Bervard Childs’ Isaiah commentary in the Old Testament Library is completely free…and you can add Leslie Allen’s Jeremiah commentary in the same series for only .99.

Just go to Logos, click on the Free Book of the Month banner, and get yours.

(Edit: the product page won’t be live until tomorrow. The link above will put both volumes in your cart. If you want more details about each commentary, here are the links to their individual product pages: Isaiah and Jeremiah.)

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Public Shaming of Christ


AD 200–250 image of a man kneeling before and worshipping the crucified Christ depicted as a donkey.

Earlier this afternoon I was reading along in the book of Hebrews and came across Hebrews 6:4–6:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Now, these verses are among some of the most debated passages within the New Testament. To whom does the author refer? What does it mean they have tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit? While these are all pertinent and necessary questions, I have no intention of addressing any of them. Instead, I want to take a look at the word παραδειγματίζοντας, “holding him up to contempt.”

It is a well known fact that the Romans would use crucifixion as a means of not only publicly shaming the victim but as an advertisement throughout that region that Rome didn’t mess around. If you are found guilty of the same crime, the same punishment would fall upon you.

This is precisely what the word παραδειγματίζω “hold up to contempt” or “disgrace publicly” is getting at. As we look through the LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament, we find it used in a number of places. Though crucifixion isn’t in view in these instances [[Edit: As J. K. Gayle has pointed out over at BLT, crucifixion is indeed in view in the Esther passage cited below. My apologizes for this oversight.]], the punishment that befalls these individuals is meant to serve as a warning to the larger community:

  • Num. 25:4 “And the Lord said to Moyses, “Take the chiefs of the people, and make an example of them to the Lord before the sun, and the anger of the Lord’s wrath shall be turned away from Israel.”

  • Esth. 14:11 “O Lord, do not surrender your scepter to those who don’t exist, and do not let them laugh at our downfall, but turn their plan against them, and make a public example of him who began this against us.”

  • Dan. 2:5 “Then the king said in reply to the Chaldeans, “Unless you tell me the dream with certainty and disclose its sense, you will be made an example, and your possessions will be expropriated into the royal treasury.”

In Numbers, those who were initiated into Beel-Phegor (idolatry) were to be made an example of, as was Hammond for his plot against Mordecai in Esther and the Chaldeans if they failed to interpret the king’s dreams.

On Hebrews 6:6, Guthrie writes in his NIV Application Commentary:

The language of crucifixion and public shaming is both potent and ironic. Instead of being blessed by accepting the forgiveness found in the crucified Christ, the ones who have fallen away identify with those who used the cross as an ultimate expression of rejection. Instead of being shamed in the eyes of the world by identification with the Son, “bearing the disgrace he bore” (13:13), the apostates stand with those before the cross who cast insults, disparaging Christ’s claims as the true Messiah (p. 220).

Now, I’d like to offer an inter-textual addition to this interpretation. [[Nota Bene:  I’m not suggesting that the author of Hebrews is drawing upon this text or even that he had it in mind. That is to say, the following observation is not offered on the basis of the Hebrews’ awareness of Colossians or vice versa.]]

In Colossians 2:13–15 we find an interesting understanding of Christ’s crucifixion:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Colossians 2:15 [widescreen]The word used in Colossians is the uncompounded form of παραδειγματίζω and is similar to the usage found in Hebrews. Paul, in Colossians, is saying that, though the rulers and authorities intended to put Christ to public shame by crucifying him, Jesus transforms that shame into his exaltation, the forgiveness of sins, and the shame of the rulers and leaders.

Now, here’s a tentative suggestion I would like to offer. If the Christian community at large understood Jesus’ crucifixion as an act that transforms an inherently shameful form of capital punishment into a means of exaltation and glorification that functions as the salvation of his people, then one’s rejection of Christ after having participated in the covenant community (however one defines that in the context of Hebrews) in effect denies that Christ’s death had any transformative function. Though they once would have seen Christ’s death as a reversal of the shame it was meant to be, they are now confirming that Christ died a shameful death at the hands of the Romans and should, thus, be disgraced and regarded as no better than the criminals and seditionists that experienced a similar fate at the hands of the Roman empire.

As I noted above, these are only some preliminary thoughts based upon the similarity of the two passages and I would love to hear any input you might have.

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