Dear friends,

Yikes! George, how come you skipped one of my favourite Bible stories? The short and simple answer is because it should not be in the Bible because it was not part of John’s original biography of Jesus. Since at Messiah we preach the Bible and since the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is not really part of the Bible, I have skipped over the story.

Now, to many people, this is a bit of a disappointing answer; raising more problems than it solves. So, let’s take a breath and think about matters.

I believe that the apostle John, the so-called “beloved disciple” completed a biography of Jesus in the late 60s. I should mention that I hold to a minority position on dating the New Testament documents that believes that all of the New Testament was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70AD. Of course, the original manuscript that John finished has been lost. However, the manuscript was copied by hand. Those copies were copied, on and on until the printing press made life easier. Many people find it worrisome that we do not have the original manuscript of John and that we have to depend upon hand-written copies. However, there is no cause for concern in the case of the New Testament.

First of all, each and every book written before the widespread use of the printing press was copied by hand. No one doubts that our copies of these texts are up in the air and cannot be trusted. We read Plato and Aristotle, for instance, with confidence. There was a craft and discipline around “copying”. As well, if you think about it, the printing press does not mean there are no errors in the transmission of a text. Printing presses make mistakes! So then, as now, people compare the “copy” with the “original” and look for errors so that a true copy will go forward in time.

Second of all, there are vastly more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament than any other book in antiquity, and the manuscripts are vastly closer in time to the original than any book in antiquity. When you combine this with the rigorous discipline called textual criticism, it means we can have the highest confidence that we are reading an English translation of the original manuscript. Believe it or not, we can be more confident of this today because archaeologists keep finding more ancient manuscripts. As they do, textual critics examine the manuscripts to ensure that we are closer and closer to the original.

So the story of “the woman caught in adultery” illustrates several important points. First, no archaeological discovery has undermined or changed a single Christian doctrine. The mistakes in transmission are minor. The “woman caught in adultery” story is the biggest textual addition added centuries after John’s manuscript was finished, but the story does not add to or subtract from anything already in the New Testament. Second, it shows the fundamental integrity of Christianity – we want to know the truth and read the truth and we are open to the critical examination of the transmission history of the Bible. Third, this search for the original means that, unlike readers of the Koran, we can have great confidence that what we are reading is extremely, extremely close to the original. Fourth, good modern translations of the New Testament, like the New International version and the English Standard version include small notes letting the reader know about changes! So, read the Bible with confidence!

George +