If you look at your Bible right before 7:53, you should see something in brackets that says something like [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11] (ESV) or [The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11] (HCSB). The reason that some KJV Bibles do not write this in brackets is because the KJV was translated from Greek & Hebrew in 1611 when they only had a small number of ancient manuscripts many of which were less reliable. It is now extremely clear that John did not write this section of the book because it was added much later by a scribe. This means that this section of John is not scripture and the author was not “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21). The events in this section very well may have happened, but they were not recorded by the apostle John. There are two types of evidence that point to this reality. There is external manuscript evidence and internal evidence in the context.
- Evidence in Manuscripts – a manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. When we look at all of the many manuscripts that we have of the book of John dating back to the 2nd century and following, we see that this section of John is not recorded at all in the manuscripts that date back near when John wrote it. The story of the woman caught in adultery does not appear in any documents prior to the 5th century and it often appears in other places in John and even in Luke. Several early Christians also recorded the end of John 7 and the start of John 8 but skipped right over the story of the woman caught in adultery because this section was not added until later.
- Evidence in the Context- John always refers those in Jerusalem as “the Jews” and never calls them “scribes”, yet in this section he calls them scribes. In fact there are 14 words in John 7:53–8:11 that occur nowhere else in John’s Gospel. Also, if you look at the context, John 8:12 and following fit right onto John 7 while the story of the woman caught in adultery does not fit but breaks up what happened at the Feast of Booths.
Can we still trust the Bible? Yes! The fact that we have enough manuscripts to tell when a portion of scripture is trustworthy, gives us confidence in God’s word. Our modern translations are based off of over 25,000 manuscripts of the Bible, some of them with only short portions of the biblical text and some with much longer portions. Scholars study these manuscripts and compare them so that we can have confidence that our English Bibles are God’s word for us to read and enjoy with trust.