Tommy Wasserman of Evangelical Textual Criticism reports on a New Dissertation in TC on the Pericope of the Adulteress, i.e. on the passage John 7:53-8:11 which is omitted or relegated to a footnote in some Bibles (including TNIV), because most scholars do not consider it to be an original part of John’s Gospel.
In this new dissertation (I have not read it) John David Punch looks in detail into the text critical issues relating to this passage. According to the author’s summary and Wasserman’s post, Punch examines five theories which could explain the textual evidence. Wasserman writes:
Although the author said in the summary that “[n]o particular theory is advocated for” it is nevertheless clear that in the end he favors #5 Ecclesiastical Suppression …
That is to say, Punch’s favoured theory is, in his own words,
Ecclesiastical Suppression, suggesting that the Church omitted the pericope out of fears that it could be misinterpreted and/or misapplied.
Now Punch also writes that “the theory is likely unproveable”. But if it is true, it raises some interesting questions. Why might the Church have chosen to suppress this particular passage of Scripture? Could it be because this is the clearest teaching in the Bible that sinners should not be condemned, but forgiven and told to “Go and sin no more”?
That message of forgiveness is implicit in the whole of New Testament teaching, but it is not one that the Church has always upheld. At some times in the early Church, perhaps including the period when this passage could have been suppressed, the false teaching was in circulation that sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven. At other times the Church has treated sexual sins as far more serious than most others, and adulterous women and prostitutes as quite beyond hope of salvation – quite against Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere. To Christian leaders with that attitude this passage, included in most mediaeval and modern Bibles, must always have been an embarrassment.
In our broken world the Church needs to emphasise again Jesus’ teaching of unconditional forgiveness, while not forgetting the “sin no more” conclusion. If this passage can be rehabilitated as a genuine part of the Bible, which this dissertation might help to do, that would be a great help in breaking down the barriers of guilt and unforgiveness which keep so many people apart from one another and from God.