I HAVE purposely reserved for the last the most difficult problem of all: viz. those twelve famous verses of St. John's Gospel (chap. vii.53 to viii.11) which contain the history of the woman taken in adultery,' -- the pericope de adultera, as it is called. Altogether indispensable is it that the reader should approach this portion of the Gospel with the greatest amount of experience and the largest preparation. Convenient would it be, no doubt, if he could further divest himself of prejudice; but that is perhaps impossible. Let him at least endeavour to weigh the evidence which shall now be laid before him in impartial scales. He must do so perforce, if he would judge rightly: for the matter to be discussed is confessedly very peculiar: in some respects, even unique. Let me convince him at once of the truth of what has been so far spoken.
It is a singular circumstance that at the end of eighteen centuries two instances, and but two, should exist of a considerable portion of Scripture left to the mercy, so to speak, of Textual Criticism.' Twelve consecutive Verses in the second Gospel -- as many consecutive Verses in the fourth -- are in this predicament. It is singular, I say, that the Providence which has watched so marvellously over the fortunes of the, Deposit, -- the Divine Wisdom which has made such ample provision for its security all down the ages, should have so ordered the matter, that these two co-extensive problems have survived to our times to be tests of human sagacity, -- trials of human faithfulness and skill. They present some striking features of correspondence, but far more of contrast, -- as will presently appear. And yet the most important circumstance of all cannot be too soon mentioned: viz. that both alike have experienced the same calamitous treatment at the hands of some critics. By common consent the most recent editors deny that either set of Verses can have formed part of the Gospel as it proceeded from the hands of its inspired author. How mistaken is this opinion of theirs in respect of the Last twelve verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark,' has been already demonstrated in a separate treatise. I must be content in this place to deal in a far less ceremonious manner with the hostile verdict of many critics concerning St. John vii.53-viii.11. That I shall be able to satisfy those persons who profess themselves unconvinced by what was offered concerning St. Mark's last twelve verses, I am not so simple as to expect. But I trust that I shall have with me all candid readers who are capable of weighing evidence impartially, and understanding the nature of logical proof, when it is fully drawn out before them, -- which indeed is the very qualification that I require of them.
And first, the case of the pericope de adultera requires to be placed before the reader in its true bearings. For those who have hitherto discussed it are observed to have ignored certain preliminary considerations which, once clearly apprehended, are all but decisive of the point vat issue. There is a fundamental obstacle, I mean, in the way of any attempt to dislodge this portion of the sacred narrative from the context in which it stands, which they seem to have overlooked. I proceed to explain.
Sufficient prominence has never yet been given to the fact that in the present discussion the burden of proof rests entirely with those who challenge the genuineness of the Pericope under review. In other words, the question before us is not by any means, -- Shall these Twelve Verses be admitted -- or, Must they be refused admission -- into the Sacred Text? That point has been settled long, long ago. St. John's Twelve verses are in possession. Let those eject them who can. They are known to have occupied their present position for full seventeen hundred years. There never was a time -- as far as is known -- when they were not where, -- and to all intents and purposes what -- they now are. Is it not evident, that no merely ordinary method of proof, -- no merely common argument, -- will avail to dislodge Twelve such Verses as these?
Twelve such Verses,' I say. For it is the extent of the subject-matter which makes the case so formidable. We have here to do with no dubious clause, concerning which ancient testimony is divided; no seeming gloss, which is suspected to have overstepped its proper limits, and to have crept in as from the margin; no importation from another Gospel; no verse of Scripture which has lost its way; no weak amplification of the Evangelical meaning; no tasteless appendix, which encumbers the narrative and almost condemns itself. Nothing of the sort. If it were some inconsiderable portion of Scripture which it was proposed to get rid of by shewing that it is disallowed by a vast amount of ancient evidence, the proceeding would be intelligible. But I take leave to point out that a highly complex and very important incident -- as related in twelve consecutive verses of the Gospel -- cannot be so dealt with. Squatters on the waste are liable at any moment to be served with a notice of ejectment: but the owner of a mansion surrounded by broad acres which his ancestors are known to have owned before the Heptarchy, may on no account be dispossessed by any such summary process. This -- to speak without a figure -- is a connected and very striking portion of the sacred narrative: -- the description of a considerable incident, complete in itself, full of serious teaching, and of a kind which no one would have ever dared to invent. Those who would assail it successfully must come forward with weapons of a very different kind from those usually employed in textual warfare.
It shall be presently shewn that these Twelve Verses hold their actual place by a more extraordinary right of tenure than any other twelve verses which can be named in the Gospel: but it would be premature to enter upon the proof of that circumstance now. I prefer to invite the reader's attention, next to the actual texture of the pericope de adultera, by which name (as already explained) the last verse of St. John vii. together with verses 1-11 of ch. viii. are familiarly designated. Although external testimony supplies the sole proof of genuineness, it is nevertheless reasonable to inquire what the verses in question may have to say for themselves. Do they carry on their front the tokens of that baseness of origin which their impugners so Confidently seek to fasten upon them? Or do they, on the contrary, unmistakably bear the impress of Truth?
The first thing which strikes me in them is that the actual narrative concerning the woman taken in adultery' is entirely contained in the last nine of these verses: being preceded by two short paragraphs of an entirely different character and complexion. Let these be first produced and studied:
and every man went to his own house: but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.' And again, very early in the morning, He presented Himself in the Temple; and all the people came unto Him: and He sat down and taught them.'
Now as every one must see, the former of these two paragraphs is unmistakably not the beginning but the end of a narrative. It purports to be the conclusion of something which went before, not to introduce something which conies after. Without any sort of doubt, it is St. John's account of what occurred at the close of the debate between certain members of the Sanhedrin which terminates his history of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The verse in question marks the conclusion of the Feast, -- implies in short that all is already finished. Remove it, and the antecedent narrative ends abruptly. Retain it, and all proceeds methodically; while an affecting contrast is established, which is recognized to be strictly in the manner of Scripture . Each one had gone to his home: but the homeless One had repaired to the Mount of Olives. In other words, the paragraph under discussion is found to be an integral part of the immediately antecedent narrative: proves to be a fragment of what is universally admitted to be genuine Scripture. By consequence, itself must needs be genuine also .
It is vain for any one to remind us that these two verses are in the same predicament as those which follow: are as ill supported by MS. evidence as the other ten: and must therefore share the same fate as the rest. The statement is incorrect, to begin with; as shall presently be shewn. But, what is even better deserving of attention, since confessedly these twelve verses are either to stand or else to fall together, it must be candidly admitted that whatever begets a suspicion that certain of them, at all events, must needs be genuine, throws real doubt on the justice of the sentence of condemnation which has been passed in a lump upon all the rest.
I proceed to call attention to another inconvenient circumstance which some Critics in their eagerness have overlooked.
The reader will bear in mind that -- contending, as I do, that the entire Pericope under discussion is genuine Scripture which has been forcibly wrenched away from its lawful context, -- I began by examining the upper extremity, with a view to ascertaining whether it bore any traces of being a fractured edge. The result is just what might have been anticipated. The first two of the verses which it is the fashion to brand with ignominy were found to carry on their front clear evidence that they are genuine Scripture. How then about the other extremity?
Note, that in the oracular Codexes B and ' immediate transition is made from the words out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,' in ch. vii.52, to the words Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying,' in ch. viii.12. And we are invited by all the adverse Critics alike to believe that so the place stood in the inspired autograph of the Evangelist.
But the thing is incredible. Look back at what is contained between ch. vii.37 and 52, and note -- (a) That two hostile parties crowded the Temple courts (ver.40-42): (b) That some were for laying violent hands on our LORD (ver.44): (c) That the Sanhedrin, being assembled in debate, were reproaching their servants for not having brought Him prisoner, and disputing one against another (ver.45-52). How can the Evangelist have proceeded, -- Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world'? What is it supposed then that St. John meant when he wrote such words?
But on the contrary, survey the context in any ordinary copy of the New Testament, and his meaning is perfectly clear. The last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles is ended. It is the morrow and very early in the morning.' The Holy One has again presented Himself in the Temple' where on the previous night He so narrowly escaped violence at the hands of His enemies, and He teaches the people. While thus engaged, -- the time, the place, His own occupation suggesting thoughts of peace and holiness and love, -- a rabble rout, headed by the Scribes and Pharisees, enter on the foulest of errands; and we all remember with how little success. Such an interruption need not have occupied much time. The Woman's accusers having departed, our Saviour resumes His discourse which had been broken off. Again therefore' it is said in ver.12, with clear and frequent reference to what had preceded in ver.2 -- Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world.' And had not that saying of His reference as well to the thick cloud of moral darkness which His words, a few moments before, had succeeded in dispelling, as to the orb of glory which already flooded the Temple Court with the effulgence of its rising, -- His own visible emblem and image in the Heavens? . . . I protest that with the incident of the woman taken in adultery,' -- so introduced, so dismissed, -- all is lucid and coherent: without those connecting links, the story is scarcely intelligible. These twelve disputed verses, so far from fatally interrupting the course of St. John's Gospel, if retained in the text ,' prove to be even necessary for the logical coherency of the entire context in which they stand.
But even that is not all. On close and careful inspection, the mysterious texture of the narrative, no less than its edifying and eminently Christian' character, vindicates for the Pericope de adultera a right to its place in the Gospel. Let me endeavour to explain what seems to be its spiritual significancy: in other words, to interpret the transaction.
The Scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to our Saviour on a charge of adultery. The sin prevailed to such an extent among the Jews that the Divine enactments concerning one so accused had long since fallen into practical oblivion. On the present occasion our Lord is observed to revive His own ancient ordinance after a hitherto unheard of fashion. The trial by the bitter water, or water of conviction , was a species of ordeal, intended for the vindication of innocence, the conviction of guilt. But according to the traditional belief the test proved inefficacious, unless the husband was himself innocent of the crime whereof he accused his wife.
Let the provisions of the law, contained in Num. v.16 to 24, be now considered. The accused Woman having been brought near, and set before the Lord, the priest took holy water in an earthen vessel,' and put of the dust of the, floor of the tabernacle into the water.' Then, with the bitter water that causeth the curse in his hand, he charged the woman by an oath. Next, he wrote the curses in a book and blotted them out with the bitter water; causing the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse. Whereupon if she were guilty, she fell under a terrible penalty, -- her body testifying visibly to her sin. If she was innocent, nothing followed.
And now, who sees not that the Holy One dealt with His hypocritical assailants, as if they had been the accused parties? Into the presence of incarnate Jehovah verily they had been brought: and perhaps when He stooped down and wrote upon the ground, it was a bitter sentence against the adulterer and adulteress which He wrote. We have but to assume some connexion between the curse which He thus traced in the dust of the floor of the tabernacle' and the words which He uttered with His lips, and He may with truth be declared to have taken of the dust and put in on the water,' and caused them to drink of the bitter water which causeth the curse.' For when, by His Holy Spirit, our great High Priest in His human flesh addressed these adulterers, -- what did He but present them with living water in an earthen vessel '? Did He not further charge them with an oath of cursing, saying, If ye have not gone aside to uncleanness, be ye free from this bitter water: but if ye be defiled -- On being presented with which alternative, did they not, self-convicted, go out one by one? And what else was this but their own acquittal of the sinful woman, for whose condemnation they shewed themselves so impatient? Surely it was the water of conviction' (to hudor tou elegmou) as it is six times called, which they had been compelled to drink; whereupon, convicted (elenchomenoi) by their own conscience,' as St. John relates, they had pronounced the other's acquittal. Finally, note that by Himself declining to condemn' the accused woman, our Lord also did in effect blot out those curses which He had already written against her in the dust, -- when He made the floor of the sanctuary His book.'
Whatever may be thought of the foregoing exposition -- and I am not concerned to defend it in every detail, -- on turning to the opposite contention, we are struck with the slender amount of actual proof with which the assailants of this passage seem to be furnished. Their evidence is mostly negative -- a proceeding which is constantly observed to attend a bad cause: and they are prone to make up for the feebleness of their facts by the strength of their assertions. But my experience, as one who has given a considerable amount of attention to such subjects, tells me that the narrative before us carries on its front the impress of Divine origin. I venture to think that it vindicates for itself a high, unearthly meaning. It seems to me that it cannot be the work of a fabricator. The more I study it, the more I am impressed with its Divinity. And in what goes before I have been trying to make the reader a partaker of my own conviction.
To come now to particulars, we may readily see from its very texture that it must needs have been woven in a heavenly loom. Only too obvious is the remark that the very subject-matter of the chief transaction recorded in these twelve verses, would be sufficient in and by itself to preclude the suspicion that these twelve verses are a spurious addition to the genuine Gospel. And then we note how entirely in St. John's manner is the little explanatory clause in ver.6, -- This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him .' We are struck besides by the prominence given in verses 6 and 8 to the act of writing, -- allusions to which, are met with in every work of the last Evangelist . It does not of course escape us how utterly beyond the reach of a Western interpolator would have been the insertion of the article so faithfully retained to this hour before lithon in ver.7. On completing our survey, as to the assertions that the pericope de adultera has no right to a place in the text of the four Gospels,' -- is clearly a Western interpolation, though not Western of the earliest type ,' (whatever that may mean), and so forth, -- we can but suspect that the authors very imperfectly realize the difficulty of the problem with which they have to deal. Dr. Hort finally assures us that no accompanying marks would prevent' this portion of Scripture from fatally interrupting the course of St. John's Gospel if retained in the text': and when they relegate it accordingly to a blank page at the end of the Gospels within double brackets,' in order to shew its inferior authority'; -- we can but read and wonder at the want of perception, not to speak of the coolness, which they display. Quousque tandem?
But it is time to turn from such considerations as the foregoing, and to inquire for the direct testimony, which is assumed by recent Editors and Critics to be fatal to these twelve verses. Tischendorf pronounces it absolutely certain that this narrative was not written by St. John .' One, vastly his superior in judgement (Dr. Scrivener) declares that on all intelligent principles of mere Criticism, the passage must needs be abandoned .' Tregelles is fully satisfied that this narrative is not a genuine part of St. John's Gospel .' Alford shuts it up in brackets, and like Tregelles puts it into his footnotes. Westcott and Hort, harsher than any of their predecessors, will not, as we have seen, allow it to appear even at the foot of the page. To reproduce all that has been written in disparagement of this precious portion of God's written Word would be a joyless and an unprofitable task. According to Green, the genuineness of the passage cannot be maintained .' Hammond is of opinion that it would be more satisfactory to separate it from its present context, and place it by itself as an appendix to the Gospel .' A yet more recent critic sums up,' that the external evidence must be held fatal to the genuineness of the passage .' The opinions of Bishops Wordsworth, Ellicott, and Lightfoot, shall be respectfully commented upon by-and-by. In the meantime, I venture to join issue with every one of these learned persons. I contend that on all intelligent principles of sound Criticism the passage before us must be maintained to be genuine Scripture; and that without a particle of doubt. I cannot even admit that it has been transmitted to us under circumstances widely different from those connected with any other passage of Scripture whatever .' I contend that it has been transmitted in precisely the same way as all the rest of Scripture, and therefore exhibits the same notes of genuineness as any other twelve verses of the same Gospel which can be named: but -- like countless other places -- it is found for whatever reason to have given offence in certain quarters: and in consequence has experienced very ill usage at the hands of the ancients and of the moderns also: -- but especially of the latter. In other words, these twelve verses exhibit the required notes of genuineness less conspicuously than any other twelve consecutive verses in the same Gospel. But that is all. The one only question to be decided is the following: -- On a review of the whole of the evidence, -- is it more reasonable to stigmatize these twelve verses as a spurious accretion to the Gospel? Or to admit that they must needs be accounted to be genuine? . . . I shall shew that they are at this hour supported by a weight of testimony which is absolutely overwhelming. I read with satisfaction that my own convictions were shared by Mill, Matthaei, Adler, Scholz, Vercellone. I have also the learned Ceriani on my side. I should have been just as confident had I stood alone: -- such is the imperative strength of the evidence.
To begin then. Tischendorf -- (who may be taken as a fair sample of the assailants of this passage) -- commences by stating roundly that the Pericope is omitted by 'ABCLTXD, and about seventy cursives. I will say at once, that no sincere inquirer after truth could so state the evidence. It is in fact not a true statement. A and C are hereabout defective. No longer possible therefore is it to know with certainty what they either did, or did not, contain. But this is not merely all. I proceed to offer a few words concerning Cod. A.
Woide, the learned and accurate editor of the Codex Alexandrinus, remarked (in 1785) -- Historia adulterae videtur in hoc codice defuisse.' But this modest inference of his, subsequent Critics have represented as an ascertained fact, Tischendorf announces it as certissimum.' Let me be allowed to investigate the problem for myself. Woide's calculation, -- (which has passed unchallenged for nearly a hundred years, and on the strength of which it is now-a-days assumed that Cod. A must have exactly resembled Codd. 'B in omitting the pericope de adultera,) -- was far too roughly made to be of any critical use .
Two leaves of Cod. A have been here lost: viz. from the word katabainon in vi.50 to the word legeis in viii.52: a lacuna (as I find by counting the letters in a copy of the ordinary text) of as nearly as possible 8,805 letters, -- allowing for contractions, and of course not reckoning St. John vii.53 to viii.11. Now, in order to estimate fairly how many letters the two lost leaves actually contained, I have inquired for the sums of the letters on the leaf immediately preceding, and also on the leaf immediately succeeding the hiatus; and I find them to be respectively 4,337 and 4,303: together, 8,640 letters. But this, it will be seen, is insufficient by 165 letters, or eight lines, for the assumed contents of these two missing leaves. Are we then to suppose that one leaf exhibited somewhere a blank space equivalent to eight lines? Impossible, I answer. There existed, on the contrary, a considerable redundancy of matter in at least the second of those two lost leaves. This is proved by the circumstance that the first column on the next ensuing leaf exhibits the unique phenomenon of being encumbered, at its summit, by two very long lines (containing together fifty-eight letters), for which evidently no room could be found on the page which immediately preceded. But why should there have been any redundancy of matter at all? Something extraordinary must have produced it. What if the Pericope de adultera, without being actually inserted in full, was recognized by Cod. A? What if the scribe had proceeded as far as the fourth word of St. John viii.3, and then had suddenly checked himself? We cannot tell what appearance St. John vii.53-viii.11 presented in Codex A, simply because the entire leaf which should have contained it is lost. Enough however has been said already to prove that it is incorrect and unfair to throw 'AB into one and the same category, -- with a certissimum,' -- as Tischendorf does.
As for L and D, they exhibit a vacant space after St. John vii.52, -- which testifies to the consciousness of the copyists that they were leaving out something. These are therefore witnesses for, -- not witnesses against, -- the passage under discussion. -- X being a Commentary on the Gospel as it was read in Church, of course leaves the passage out. -- The only uncial MSS. therefore which simply leave out the pericope, are the three following -- 'BT: and the degree of attention to which such an amount of evidence is entitled, has been already proved to be wondrous small. We cannot forget moreover that the two former of these copies enjoy the unenviable distinction of standing alone on a memorable occasion: -- they alone exhibit St. Mark's Gospel mutilated in respect of its twelve concluding verses.
But I shall be reminded that about seventy MSS. of later date are without the pericope de adultera: that the first Greek Father who quotes the pericope is Euthymius in the twelfth century: that Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Nonnus, Cosmas, Theophylact, knew nothing of it: and that it is not contained in the Syriac, the Gothic, or the Egyptian versions. Concerning every one of which statements I remark over again that no sincere lover of Truth, supposing him to understand the matter about which he is disputing, could so exhibit the evidence for this particular problem. First, because so to state it is to misrepresent the entire case. Next, because some of the articles of indictment are only half true: -- in fact are untrue. But chiefly, because in the foregoing enumeration certain considerations are actually suppressed which, had they been fairly stated, would have been found to reverse the issue. Let me now be permitted to conduct this inquiry in my own way.
The first thing to be done is to enable the reader clearly to understand what the problem before him actually is. Twelve verses then, which, as a matter of fact, are found dovetailed into a certain context of St. John's Gospel, the Critics insist must now be dislodged. But do the Critics in question prove that they must? For unless they do, there is no help for it but the pericope de adultera must be left where it is. I proceed to shew first, that it is im possible, on any rational principle to dislodge these twelve verses from their actual context. -- Next, I shall point out that the facts adduced in evidence and relied on by the assailants of the passage, do not by any means prove the point they are intended to prove; but admit of a sufficient and satisfactory explanation. -- Thirdly, it shall be shewn that the said explanation carries with it, and implies, a weight of testimony in support of the twelve verses in dispute, which is absolutely overwhelming. -- Lastly, the positive evidence in favour of these twelve verses shall be proved to outweigh largely the negative evidence, which is relied upon by those who contend for their removal. To some people I may seem to express myself with too much confidence. Let it then be said once for all, that my confidence is inspired by the strength of the arguments which are now to be unfolded. When the Author of Holy Scripture supplies such proofs of His intentions, I cannot do otherwise than rest implicit confidence in them.
Now I begin by establishing as my firtt proposition that,
(1) These twelve verses occupied precisely the same position which they now occupy from the earliest period to which evidence concerning the Gospels reaches.
And this, because it is a mere matter of fact, is sufficiently established by reference to the ancient Latin version of St. John's Gospel. We are thus carried back to the second century of our era: beyond which, testimony does not reach. The pericope is observed to stand in situ in Codd. b c e ff^2 g h j. Jerome (A.D.385), after a careful survey of older Greek copies, did not hesitate to retain it in the Vulgate. It is freely referred to and commented on by himself in Palestine: while Ambrose at Milan (374) quotes it at least nine times ; as well as Augustine in North Africa (396) about twice as often . It is quoted besides by Pacian , in the north of Spain (370), -- by Faustus the African (400), -- by Rufinus at Aquileia (400), -- by Chrysologus at Ravenna (433), -- by Sedulius a Scot (434). The unknown authors of two famous treatises written at the same period, largely quote this portion of the narrative. It is referred to by Victorius or Victorinus (457), -- by Vigilius of Tapsus (484) in North Africa, -- by Gelasius , bp. of Rome (492), -- by Cassiodorus in Southern Italy, -- by Gregory the Great , and by other Fathers of the Western Church.
To this it is idle to object that the authors cited all wrote in Latin. For the purpose in hand their evidence is every bit as conclusive as if they had written in Greek, -- from which language no one doubts that they derived their knowledge, through a translation. But in fact we are not left to Latin authorities. [Out of thirty-eight copies of the Bohairic version the pericope de adultera is read in fifteen, but in three forms which will be printed in the Oxford edition. In the remaining twenty-three, it is left out.] How is it intelligible that this passage is thus found in nearly half the copies -- except on the hypothesis that they formed an integral part of the Memphitic version? They might have been easily omitted: but how could they have been inserted?
Once more. The Ethiopic version (fifth century), -- the Palestinian Syriac (which is referred to the fifth century), -- the Georgian (probably fifth or sixth century), -- to say nothing of the Slavonic, Arabic and Persian versions, which are of later date, -- all contain the portion of narrative in dispute. The Armenian version also (fourth-fifth century) originally contained it; though it survives at present in only a few copies. Add that it is found in Cod. D, and it will be seen that in all parts of ancient Christendom this portion of Scripture was familiarly known in early times.
But even this is not all. Jerome, who was familiar with Greek MSS. (and who handled none of later date than B and '), expressly relates (380) that the pericope de adultera is found in many copies both Greek and Latin .' He calls attention to the fact that what is rendered sine peccato' is anamartetos in the Greek: and lets fall an exegetical remark which shews that he was familiar with copies which exhibited (in ver.8) egraphen enos ekastou auton tas amartias, -- a reading which survives to this day in one uncial (U) and at least eighteen cursive copies of the fourth Gospel . Whence is it -- let me ask in passing -- that go many Critics fail to see that positive testimony like the foregoing far outweighs the adverse negative testimony of 'BT, -- aye, and of AC to boot if they were producible on this point? How comes it to pass that the two Codexes, ' and B, have obtained such a mastery -- rather exercise such a tyranny -- over the imagination of many Critics as quite to overpower their practical judgement? We have at all events established our first proposition: viz. that from the earliest period to which testimony reaches, the incident of the woman taken in adultery' occupied its present place in St. John's Gospel. The Critics eagerly remind us that in four cursive copies (13, 69, 124, 346), the verses in question are found tacked on to the end of St. Luke xxi. But have they then forgotten that these four Codexes are derived from a common archetype,' and therefore represent one and the same ancient and, I may add, corrupt copy? The same Critics are reminded that in the same four Codexes [commonly called the Ferrar Group] the agony and bloody sweat' (St. Luke xxii.43, 44) is found thrust into St. Matthew's Gospel between ch. xxvi.39 and 40. Such licentiousness on the part of a solitary exemplar of the Gospels no more affects the proper place of these or of those verses than the superfluous digits of a certain man of Gath avail to disturb the induction that to either hand of a human being appertain but five fingers, and to either foot but five toes.
It must be admitted then that as far back as testimony reaches the passage under discussion stood where it now stands in St. John's Gospel. And this is my first position. But indeed, to be candid, hardly any one has seriously called that fact in question. No, nor do any (except Dr. Hort ) doubt that the passage is also of the remotest antiquity. Adverse Critics do but insist that however ancient, it must needs be of spurious origin: or else that it is an afterthought of the Evangelist: -- concerning both which imaginations we shall have a few words to offer by-and-by.
It clearly follows, -- indeed it may be said with truth that it only remains, -- to inquire what may have led to its so frequent exclusion from the sacred Text? For really the difficulty has already resolved itself into that.
And on this head, it is idle to affect perplexity. In the earliest age of all, -- the age which was familiar with the universal decay of heathen virtue, but which had not yet witnessed the power of the Gospel to fashion society afresh, and to build up domestic life on a new and more enduring basis; -- at a time when the greatest laxity of morals prevailed, and the enemies of the Gospel were known to be on the look out for grounds of cavil against Christianity and its Author; -- what wonder if some were found to remove the pericope de adultera from their copies, lest it should be pleaded in extenuation of breaches of the seventh commandment? The very subject-matter, I say, of St. John viii.3-11 would sufficiently account for the occasional omission of those nine verses. Moral considerations abundantly explain what is found to have here and there happened. But in fact this is not a mere conjecture of my own. It is the reason assigned by Augustine for the erasure of these twelve verses from many copies of the Gospel . Ambrose, a quarter of a century earlier, had clearly intimated that danger was popularly apprehended from this quarter : while Nicon, five centuries later, states plainly that the mischievous tendency of the narrative was the cause why it had been expunged from the Armenian version . Accordingly, just a few Greek copies are still to be found mutilated in respect of those nine verses only. But in fact the indications are not a few that all the twelve verses under discussion did not by any means labour under the same degree of disrepute. The first three (as I shewed at the outset) clearly belong to a different category from the last nine, -- a circumstance which has been too much overlooked.
The Church in the meantime for an obvious reason had made choice of St. John vii.37-viii.12 -- the greater part of which is clearly descriptive of what happened at the Feast of Tabernacles -- for her Pentecostal lesson: and judged it expedient, besides omitting as inappropriate to the occasion the incident of the woman taken in adultery, to ignore also the three preceding verses; -- making the severance begin, in fact, as far back as the end of ch. vii.52. The reason for this is plain. In this way the allusion to a certain departure at night, and return early next morning (St. John vii.53: viii.1), was avoided, which entirely marred the effect of the lection as the history of a day of great and special solemnity, -- the great day of the Feast.' And thus it happens that the gospel for the day of Pentecost was made to proceed directly from Search and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,' in ch. vii.52, -- to Then spake Jesus unto them, saying, I am the light of the world,' in ch. viii.12; with which it ends. In other words, an omission which owed its beginning to a moral scruple was eventually extended for a liturgical consideration; and resulted in severing twelve verses of St. John's Gospel -- ch. vii.53 to viii.11 -- from their lawful context.
We may now proceed to the consideration of my second proposition, which is
(2) That by the very construction of her Lectionary, the Church in her corporate capacity and official character has solemnly recognized the narrative in question as an integral part of St. John's Gospel, and as standing in its traditional place, from an exceedingly remote time.
Take into your hands at random the first MS. copy of St. John's Gospel which presents itself, and turn to the place in question. Nay, I will instance all the four Evangelia which I call mine, -- all the seventeen which belong to Lord Zouch, -- all the thirty-nine which Baroness Burdett-Coutts imported from Epirus in 1870-2. Now all these copies -- (and nearly each of them represents a different line of ancestry) -- are found to contain the verses in question. How did the verses ever get there?
But the most extraordinary circumstance of the case is behind. Some out of the Evangelia referred to are observed to have been prepared for ecclesiastical use: in other words, are so rubricated throughout as to shew where. every separate lection had its beginning' (arche), and where its end' (telos). And some of these lections are made up of disjointed portions of the Gospel. Thus, the lection for Whitsunday is found to have extended from St. John vii.37 to St. John viii.12; beginning at the words te escha'te eme'ra te mega'le, and ending -- to` phos tes zoes: but over-leaping the twelve verses now under discussion: viz. vii.53 to viii.11. Accordingly, the word over-leap' (huperba) is written in all the copies after vii.52, -- whereby the reader, having read on to the end of that verse, was directed to skip all that followed down to the words kai` meke'ti ama'rtane in ch. viii.11: after which he found himself instructed to |recommence' (arxai). Again I ask (and this time does not the riddle admit of only one solution?), -- When and how does the reader suppose that the narrative of the woman taken in adultery' first found its way into the middle of the lesson for Pentecost? I pause for an answer: I shall perforce be told that it never found its way' into the lection at all: but having once crept into St. John's Gospel, however that may have been effected, and established itself there, it left those ancient men who devised the Church's Lectionary without choice. They could but direct its omission, and employ for that purpose the established liturgical formula in all similar cases.
But first, -- How is it that those who would reject the narrative are not struck by the essential foolishness of supposing that twelve fabricated verses, purporting to be an integral part of the fourth Gospel, can have so firmly established themselves in every part of Christendom from the second century downwards, that they have long since become simply ineradicable? Did the Church then, pro hac vice, abdicate her function of being a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ'? Was she all of a sudden forsaken by the inspiring Spirit, who, as she was promised, should guide her into all Truth'? And has she been all down the ages guided into the grievous error of imputing to the disciple whom Jesus loved a narrative of which he knew nothing? For, as I remarked at the outset, this is not merely an assimilated expression, or an unauthorized nominative, or a weakly-supported clause, or any such trifling thing. Although be it remarked in passing, I am not aware of a single such trifling excrescence which we are not able at once to detect and to remove. In other words, this is not at all a question, like the rest, about the genuine text of a passage. Our inquiry is of an essentially different kind, viz. Are these twelve consecutive verses Scripture at all, or not? Divine or human? Which? They claim by their very structure and contents to be an integral part of the Gospel. And such a serious accession to the Deposit, I insist, can neither have crept into' the Text, nor have crept out' of it. The thing is unexampled, -- is unapproached, -- is impossible.
Above all, -- (the reader is entreated to give the subject his sustained attention), -- Is it not perceived that the admission involved in the hypothesis before us is fatal to any rational pretence that the passage is of spurious origin? We have got back in thought at least to the third or fourth century of our era. We are among the Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church in conference assembled: and they are determining what shall be the Gospel for the great Festival of Pentecost. It shall begin' (say they) at the thirty-seventh verse of St. John vii, and conclude with the twelfth verse of St. John viii. But so much of it as relates to the breaking up of the Sanhedrin, -- to the withdrawal of our Lord to the Mount of Olives, -- and to His return next morning to the Temple, -- had better not be read. It disturbs the unity of the narrative. So also had the incident of the woman taken in adultery better not be read. It is inappropriate to the Pentecostal Festival.' The Authors of the great Oriental Liturgy therefore admit that they find the disputed verses in their copies: and thus they vouch for their genuineness. For none will doubt that, had they regarded them as a spurious accretion to the inspired page, they would have said so plainly. Nor can it be denied that if in their corporate capacity they had disallowed these twelve verses, such an authoritative condemnation would most certainly have resulted in the perpetual exclusion from the Sacred Text of the part of these verses which was actually adopted as a Lection. What stronger testimony on the contrary can be imagined to the genuineness of any given portion of the everlasting Gospel than that it should have been canonized or recognized as part of Inspired Scripture by the collective wisdom of the Church in the third or fourth century?
And no one may regard it as a suspicious circumstance that the present Pentecostal lection has been thus maimed and mutilated in respect of twelve of its verses. There is nothing at all extraordinary in the treatment which St. John vii.37-viii.12 has here experienced. The phenomenon is even of perpetual recurrence in the Lectionary of the East, -- as will be found explained below .
Permit me to suppose that, between the Treasury and Whitehall, the remote descendant of some Saxon thane occupied a small tenement and garden which stood in the very middle of the ample highway. Suppose further, the property thereabouts being Government property, that the road on either side of this estate had been measured a hundred times, and jealously watched, ever since Westminster became Westminster. Well, an act of Parliament might no doubt compel the supposed proprietor of this singular estate to surrender his patrimony; but I submit that no government lawyer would ever think of setting up the plea that the owner of that peculiar strip of land was an impostor. The man might have no title-deeds to produce, to be sure; but counsel for the defendant would plead that neither did he require any. This man's title' (counsel would say) is -- occupation for a thousand years. His evidences are -- the allowance of the State throughout that long interval. Every procession to St. Stephen's -- every procession to the Abbey -- has swept by defendant's property -- on this side of it and on that, -- since the days of Edward the Confessor. And if my client refuses to quit the soil, I defy you -- except by violence -- to get rid of him.'
In this way then it is that the testimony borne to these verses by the Lectionary of the East proves to be of the most opportune and convincing character. The careful provision made for passing by the twelve verses in dispute: -- the minute directions which fence those twelve verses off on this side and on that, directions issued we may be sure by the highest Ecclesiastical authority, because recognized in every part of the ancient Church, -- not only establish them effectually in their rightful place, but (what is at least of equal importance) fully explain the adverse phenomena which are ostentatiously paraded by adverse critics; and which, until the clue has been supplied, are calculated to mislead the judgement.
For now, for the first time, it becomes abundantly plain why Chrysostom and Cyril, in publicly commenting on St. John's Gospel, pass straight from ch. vii.52 to ch. viii.12. Of course they do. Why should they, -- how could they, -- comment on what was not publicly read before the congregation? The same thing is related (in a well-known scholium') to have been done by Apolinarius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Origen also, for aught I care, -- though the adverse critics have no right to claim him, seeing that his commentary on all that part of St. John's Gospel is lost;but Origen's name, as I was saying, for aught I care, may be added to those who did the same thing. A triumphant refutation of the proposed inference from the silence of these many Fathers is furnished by the single fact that Theophylact must also be added to their number. Theophylact, I say, ignores the pericope de adultera -- passes it by, I mean, -- exactly as do Chrysostom and Cyril. But will any one pretend that Theophylact, -- writing in A.D.1077, -- did not know of St. John vii.53-viii.11? Why, in nineteen out of every twenty copies within his reach, the whole of those twelve verses must have been to be found.
The proposed inference from the silence of certain of the Fathers is therefore invalid. The argument e silentio -- always an insecure argument, -- proves inapplicable in this particular case. When the antecedent facts have been once explained, all the subsequent phenomena become intelligible. But a more effectual and satisfactory reply to the difficulty occasioned by the general silence of the Fathers, remains to be offered.
There underlies the appeal to Patristic authority an opinion, -- not expressed indeed, yet consciously entertained by us all, -- which in fact gives the appeal all its weight and cogency, and which must now by all means be brought to the front. The fact that the Fathers of the Church were not only her Doctors and Teachers, but also the living voices by which alone her mind could be proclaimed to the world, and by which her decrees used to be authoritatively promulgated; -- this fact, I say, it is which makes their words, whenever they deliver themselves, so very important: their approval, if they approve, so weighty; their condemnation, if they condemn, so fatal. But then, in the present instance, they do not condemn. They neither approve nor condemn. They simply say nothing. They are silent: and in what precedes, I have explained the reason why. We wish it had been otherwise. We would give a great deal to persuade those ancient oracles to speak on the subject of these twelve verses: but they are all but inexorably silent. Nay, I am overstating the case against myself. Two of the greatest Fathers (Augustine and Ambrose) actually do utter a few words; and they are to the effect that the verses are undoubtedly genuine: -- Be it known to all men' (they say) that this passage is genuine: but the nature of its subject-matter has at once procured its ejection from MSS., and resulted in the silence of Commentators.' The most learned of the Fathers in addition practically endorses the passage; for Jerome not only leaves it standing in the Vulgate where he found it in the Old Latin version, but relates that it was supported by Greek as well as Latin authorities.
To proceed however with what I was about to say.
It is the authoritative sentence of the Church then on this difficult subject that we desiderate. We resorted to the Fathers for that: intending to regard any quotations of theirs, however brief, as their practical endorsement of all the twelve verses: to infer from their general recognition of the passage, that the Church in her collective capacity accepted it likewise. As I have shewn, the Fathers decline, almost to a man, to return any answer. But, -- Are we then without the Church's authoritative guidance on this subject? For this, I repeat, is the only thing of which we are in search. It was only in order to get at this that we adopted the laborious expedient of watching for the casual utterances of any of the giants of old time. Are we, I say, left without the Church's opinion?
Not so, I answer. The reverse is the truth. The great Eastern Church speaks out on this subject in a voice of thunder. In all her Patriarchates, as far back as the written records of her practice reach, -- and they reach back to the time of those very Fathers whose silence we felt to be embarrassing, -- the Eastern Church has selected nine out of these twelve verses to be the special lesson for October 8. A more significant circumstance it would be impossible to adduce in evidence. Any pretence to fasten a charge of spuriousness on a portion of Scripture so singled out by the Church for honour, were nothing else but monstrous. It would be in fact to raise quite a distinct issue: viz. to inquire what amount of respect is due to the Church's authority in determining the authenticity of Scripture? I appeal not to an opinion, but to a fact: and that fact is, that though the Fathers of the Church for a very sufficient reason are very nearly silent on the subject of these twelve verses, the Church herself has spoken with a voice of authority so loud that none can affect not to hear it: so plain, that it cannot possibly be misunderstood.
And let me not be told that I am hereby setting up the Lectionary as the true standard of appeal for the Text of the New Testament: still less let me be suspected of charging on the collective body of the faithful whatever irregularities are discoverable in the Codexes which were employed for the public reading of Scripture. Such a suspicion could only be entertained by one who has hitherto failed to apprehend the precise point just now under consideration. We are not examining the text of St. John vii.53-viii.11. We are only discussing whether those twelve verses en bloc are to be regarded as an integral part of the fourth Gospel, or as a spurious accretion to it. And that is a point on which the Church in her corporate character must needs be competent to pronounce; and in respect of which her verdict must needs be decisive. She delivered her verdict in favour of these twelve verses, remember, at a time when her copies of the Gospels were of papyrus as well as old uncials' on vellum. -- Nay, before old uncials' on vellum were at least in any general use. True, that the transcribers of Lectionaries have proved themselves just as liable to error as the men who transcribed Evangelia. But then, it is incredible that those men forged the Gospel for St. Pelagia's day: impossible, if it were a forgery, that the Church should have adopted it. And it is the significancy of the Church having adopted the pericope de adultera as the lection for October 8, which has never yet been sufficiently attended to: and which I defy the Critics to account for on any hypothesis but one: viz. that the pericope was recognized by the ancient Eastern Church as an integral part of the Gospel.
Now when to this has been added what is implied in the rubrical direction that a ceremonious respect should be shewn to the Festival of Pentecost by dropping the twelve verses, I submit that I have fully established my second position, viz. That by the very construction of her Lectionary the Church in her corporate capacity and official character has solemnly recognized the narrative in question, as an integral part of St. John's Gospel, and as standing in its traditional place, from an exceedingly remote time.
For, -- (I entreat the candid reader's sustained attention), -- the circumstances of the present problem altogether refuse to accommodate themselves to any hypothesis of a spurious original for these verses; as I proceed to shew.
Repair in thought to any collection of MSS. you please; suppose to the British Museum. Request to be shewn their seventy-three copies of St. John's Gospel, and turn to the close of his seventh chapter. At that particular place you will find, in sixty-one of these copies, these twelve verses: and in thirty-five of them you will discover, after the words Prophe'tes ek tes Galilai'as ouk eg. a rubrical note to the effect that on Whitsunday, these twelve verses are to be dropped; and the reader is to go on at ch. viii.12.' What can be the meaning of this respectful treatment of the Pericope in question? How can it ever have come to pass that it has been thus ceremoniously handled all down the ages? Surely on no possible view of the matter but one can the phenomenon just now described be accounted for. Else, will any one gravely pretend to tell me that at some indefinitely remote period, (1) These verses were fabricated: (2) Were thrust into the place they at present occupy in the sacred text: (3) Were unsuspectingly believed to be genuine by the Church; and in consequence of which they were at once passed over by her direction on Whitsunday as incongruous, and appointed by the Church to be read on October 8, as appropriate to the occasion?
(3) But further. How is it proposed to explain why one of St. John's after-thoughts should have fared so badly at the Church's hands; -- another, so well? I find it suggested that perhaps the subject-matter may sufficiently account for all that has happened to the pericope de adultera: And so it may, no doubt. But then, once admit this, and the hypothesis under consideration becomes simply nugatory: fails even to touch the difficulty which it professes to remove. For if men were capable of thinking scorn of these twelve verses when they found them in the second and improved edition of St. John's Gospel,' why may they not have been just as irreverent in respect of the same verses, when they appeared in the first edition? How is it one whit more probable that every Greek Father for a thousand years should have systematically overlooked the twelve verses in dispute when they appeared in the second edition of St. John's Gospel, than that the same Fathers should have done the same thing when they appeared in the first ?
(4) But the hypothesis is gratuitous and nugatory: for it has been invented in order to account for the phenomenon that whereas twelve verses of St. John's Gospel are found in the large majority of the later Copies, -- the same verses are observed to be absent from all but one of the five oldest Codexes. But how, (I wish to be informed,) is that hypothesis supposed to square with these phenomena? It cannot be meant that the second edition' of St. John did not come abroad until after Codd. 'ABCT were written? For we know that the old Italic version (a document of the second century) contains all the three portions of narrative which are claimed for the second edition. But if this is not meant, it is plain that some further hypothesis must be invented in order to explain why certain Greek MSS. of the fourth and fifth centuries are without the verses in dispute. And this fresh hypothesis will render that under consideration (as I said) nugatory and shew that it was gratuitous.
What chiefly offends me however in this extraordinary suggestion is its irreverence. It assumes that the Gospel according to St. John was composed like any ordinary modern book: capable therefore of being improved in the second edition, by recension, addition, omission, retractation, or what not. For we may not presume to limit the changes effected in a second edition. And yet the true Author of the Gospel is confessedly God the Holy Ghost: and I know of no reason for supposing that His works are imperfect when they proceed forth from His Hands.
The cogency of what precedes has in fact weighed so powerfully with thoughtful and learned Divines that they have felt themselves constrained, as their last resource, to cast about for some hypothesis which shall at once account for the absence of these verses from so many copies of St. John's Gospel, and yet retain them for their rightful owner and author, -- St. John. Singular to relate, the assumption which has best approved itself to their judgement has been, that there must have existed two editions of St. John's Gospel, -- the earlier edition without, the later edition with, the incident under discussion. It is I presume, in order to conciliate favour to this singular hypothesis, that it has been further proposed to regard St. John v.3, 4 and the whole of St. John xxi, (besides St. John vii.53-viii.11), as after-thoughts of the Evangelist.
1. But this is unreasonable: for nothing else but the absence of St. John vii.53-viii.11, from so many copies of the Gospel has constrained the Critics to regard those verses with suspicion. Whereas, on the contrary, there is not known to exist a copy in the world which omits so much as a single verse of chap. xxi. Why then are we to assume that the whole of that chapter was away from the original draft of the Gospel? Where is the evidence for so extravagant an assumption?
2. So, concerning St. John v.3, 4: to which there really attaches no manner of doubt, as I have elsewhere shewn . Thirty-two precious words in that place are indeed omitted by 'BC: twenty-seven by D. But by this time the reader knows what degree of importance is to be attached to such an amount of evidence. On the other hand, they are found in all other copies: are vouched for by the Syriac and the Latin versions: in the Apostolic Constitutions, by Chrysostom, Cyril, Didymus, and Ammonius, among the Greeks, -- by Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine among the Latins. Why a passage so attested is to be assumed to be an after-thought of the Evangelist has never yet been explained: no, nor ever will be.
(5) Assuming, however, just for a moment the hypothesis correct for argument's sake, viz. that in the second edition of St. John's Gospel the history of the woman taken in adultery appeared for the first time. Invite the authors of that hypothesis to consider what follows. The discovery that five out of six of the oldest uncials extant (to reckon here the fragment T) are without the verses in question; which yet are contained in ninety-nine out of every hundred of the despised cursives: -- what other inference can be drawn from such premisses, but that the cursives fortified by other evidence are by far the more trustworthy witnesses of what St. John in his old age actually entrusted to the Church's keeping?
[The MS. here leaves off, except that a few pencilled words are added in an incomplete form. I have been afraid to finish so clever and characteristic an essay.]