Most Bibles point out that the earliest manuscripts do not include this story, and sometimes it appears in Luke However, Jerome, in 383 AD, included it in his translation of the Gospel of John, right after chapter 7, where it is usually found today. Jerome noted that many ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts at his disposal had this story, in its usual position.
Ambrose of Milan, and Augustine confirmed Jerome’s report, and Augustine, in 403 AD, wrote “…certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from the manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulterous, as if He who had said, ‘sin no more’ had granted permission to sin…”
We also have the Didascalia Apostolorum, circa 200–250 AD, which alludes to this incident, but the earliest possible mention comes from Eusebius, who wrote his Eccliastical History in the early 300’s, and quoted Papias, circa 110 A.D. in reference to a story about Jesus and a woman who was “accused of many sins.” Papias had said this story could be found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which is lost to us today.
Sukkot – Festival of Tabernacles
John chapter 7 provides the context of the events surrounding the woman caught in adultery, which seems to have taken place during the last year of Jesus’ ministry. It was the Feast of Tabernacles, the best loved of the yearly festivals.
Jewish families throughout the known world would return to Jerusalem and the surrounding area, build temporary shelters out of leafy boughs and flowers, and live in them for a week to celebrate Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. Jesus was also in Jerusalem, though it seems he and his disciples and followers were camping on the Mount of Olives.
Sukkot commemorates God’s provision during the exodus, when the Israelite tribes wandered for forty years in the wilderness. It lasts seven days, beginning with the Feast of Ingathering, celebrating the harvest from all their fields, orchards, and vineyards, the months of toil on their threshing floors, and in their winepresses and olive presses.
Considered a Sabbath, the Feast of Ingathering is a joyful thanksgiving of God’s largesse. It also symbolizes God’s salvation to all people one day, when God will gather in all nations to the Lord. In Jesus’ time, was the people’s favorite holiday, full of feasting, singing, and enjoyment.
The Flow of the Story
It is against this backdrop that the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery takes place. Nameless, she is hauled before Jesus, who has been teaching since early morning in the temple courts. It soon becomes clear she is merely a prop to entrap Jesus.
But Jesus soon turns the tables, taking the attention off the woman and placing it upon those who would accuse her.
By the end of the story, she and Jesus are alone, and it is her own moment of truth.
I Test of the Law, John 8:1-6
II Truth of the Heart, John 8:6-9
III Taste of New Life, John 8:10-11
Each video is designed to offer background scholarship on the topic, including setting, culture, original language, and archaeology, as well as a theological study.
The “Broken, Searching, Trusted, Powerful” series is a companion to the book, available on Amazon, and published by Wipf and Stock.