What work is biblical inerrancy supposed to be doing?

We have 5500 hand-written manuscripts of part or all of the New Testament in Greek. The earliest of them are from the second century A.D. Scholars estimate that they differ from each other in several hundred thousand places.

Of particular interest is the fact that the story of the adulteress, the one in which Jesus talks about whoever has no sin casting the first stone, does not appear in any manuscripts or in any commentary on the New Testament before about the 12th century A.D. (Bart Ehrman speculates that something like the following occurred: one scribe in reading John saw Jesus saying things about not judging others. He thought, "I know a wonderful story that's been circulating about Jesus that illustrates that point nicely." He then wrote the story of the adulteress in the margin. A second scribe saw that, and thought, "Gee, this guy accidentally left that part out, and then had to write it in the margin. Let me get it in the main line of the text.") In any case, it is nearly certain that the story of the adulteress did not make it into John until after 1000 A.D.

But why should this worry me one way or the other? It is a great story that teaches an important spiritual lesson. Isn't that what is important, rather than whether or not it was in the earliest version of John?


  1. Gene, I love it! This is something I want to tackle, maybe on Sunday, at my blog.

    In the meantime, how do you deal with something like this? Plenty of Christians would say, "If the Bible is just a bunch of nice stories teaching us a lesson, then my faith is a sham."

  2. "[I]t is nearly certain that the story of the adulteress did not make it into John until after 1000 A.D."

    I think you may be misinterpreting (or misremembering) your source on this point. The Codex Bezae, which is dated to the fifth century, is standardly cited as the first Greek manuscript to contain the Pericope Adulterae.

    According to William Lawrence Petersen, the story is also found in one eighth century manuscript (E), ten ninth century manuscripts (F G H K M U Π Ω 565 892), and three tenth century manuscripts (Γ 1076 1582). See Patristic and Text-Critical Studies: The Collected Essays of William L. Petersen, 304.

    Where the story is placed in each of those manuscripts, I am not sure. I know that some manuscripts place it in the Gospel of Luke, but to my knowledge all of them come later. (Are there any outside f13?) They would not, then, affect the count above. (Incidentally, St. Augustine is clearly familiar with the story, though he does not explicitly attribute it to the Gospel of John.)

    I agree that the Pericope Adulterae is a scribal insertion. I would just want to date the insertion much earlier.

    1. My source is Ehrman and what he claims is that no one talks of it being in John before the 12th century.

  3. No one, or no Greek church father?

  4. Yes, I think you may be right that he said the latter. But why did they only become aware of it then?

  5. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Wikipedia has a rather interesting and informative entry:



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