Saturday, November 08, 2014

Word Magazine # 31: Review: John Piper on the Pericope Adulterae: Part One

I just posted to Word Magazine # 31.  WM # 31 is part one of a review of a 2012 sermon preached by John Piper on the Pericope Adulterae (PA:  John 7:53—8:11).

Here is the complete sermon on

I only made it through the first seven or so minutes of the sermon.  I noted the following:

I.  As is common for many pastors and even scholars who adopt and advocate for the modern critical text, Piper begins his defense of this position with an appeal to authority.

Piper argues we should reject the PA, because this is the opinion of leading modern-critical scholars, including evangelicals.  He cites:  D. A. Carson, Bruce Metzger, Leon Morris, Andreas  Köstenberger, and Herman Ridderbos.

I suggested that the appeal to authority can be a fallacious argument, however, if an opinion is divided and appeal is only made to authorities who support one’s position.  I shared several quotes from Bluehorn and Bluehorn’s Fallacy Detective including this one:  “If many accepted authorities disagree on a particular subject, we can’t say our favorite authority is the correct one—there may be many other equally respected authorities who disagree” (p. 60).

Through the authorities to whom Piper appeals reject the PA, there are others who do not.  Among interpreters from the past we could list:  Augustine, Jerome, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and others.  Among contemporary scholars we could list:  Zane Hodges, Arthur Farstad, Wilbur Pickering, Maurice Robinson, and David Punch.  Piper cites none of these men who disagree with his position.

II.  Piper lists six reasons to reject the authenticity of the PA and I tried to offer a response to each.

Here are some notes on Piper’s six objections to the PA and my responses:

1.  The PA is missing in all the Greek manuscripts before the fifth century.

Response:  It is not surprising that the PA is missing in the few early papyri of John, since they are all Alexandrian texts.  The earliest uncials we have of the NT are from the 4th-5th centuries (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus).  So, there are very few NT texts that have Greek manuscript support earlier than the 5th century.  This is not necessarily unique to the PA.  In fact the PA does appear in Codex D from the 5th century and it also appears in the early Old Latin manuscripts.  It is cited by Ambrose (c.  374 AD) and Augustine (c. 400 AD).  It is also cited by other early Christian writings including the Didascalia (Teaching) of the Apostles and the Apostolic Constitutions from the 3rd and 4th centuries respectively.  In the end, it prevailed in the majority tradition and appears in over 1400 Greek manuscripts.

Clearly and admittedly, there was controversy over whether the PA should be included in the text of John in the early church, probably because some early Christians objected to what they considered to be Jesus’ lax view toward the adulterer.  The antiquity of the PA, however, is beyond challenge.

2.  The earliest Church Fathers omit the passage in commenting on John and pass directly from 7:52 to 8:12.

Response:  The passage was cited by some of the Fathers (e.g., Ambrose and Augustine).  The Church Fathers do not offer an exhaustive commentary on every passage from the NT.  The absence of comment on the PA may be due to controversy over the passage of the fact that it was omitted in the early lectionary readings.

3.  The text flows amazingly well if you omit the PA.

Response:  This is a subjective and hypothetical argument that might well be said about many other passages in the NT.  For example:  Remove any miracle account, for example, from a Synoptic Gospel and one can still read a continuous narrative.  This does not mean, however, that it would be remove that miracle story.

4.  No Eastern Church Father cites the passage till the tenth century when dealing with this Gospel.


First, I pointed out that this statement is misleading.  If you look at the sermons from John Chrysostom on the Gospel of John, for example, it is clear he did not offer an exhaustive commentary on every verse but on the passages from which he preached, probably following the lectionary or liturgical reading.  There are many other passages from John chapters 7 and 8 on which Chrysostom did not comment, because he did not preach on that text.

Second, I pointed to E. F. Hills’ discussion of the PA in The KJV Defended, including a section subtitled “The Silence of the Greek Fathers explained” (pp. 156-158).  This argument, he says, “is not nearly so strong as Metzger makes it seem” (p. 156).

5. The PA appears in four other places in John or in Luke [Note: This is the so-called PA as a “floating tradition” argument].

Response:  See my previous blog post on this argument.    This is clearly a faulty argument and should be discarded by those who reject the PA.

6.  The style and vocabulary of the PA are more “unlike” the rest of the Gospel than any other paragraph in John.

Response:  This is the key “internal argument” against the PA (and is related to objection # 3 above).  Things are not quite so clear, however, as Piper makes out.

I pointed to the discussion of the PA in the Introduction to Hodges and Farstad’s The Greek NT According to the Majority Text, Second Edition (Thomas Nelson, 1985):  pp. xxiii-xxxii.  Their conclusion of the PA on internal evidence:

In view of the features of the Johannine style that have been noted and the narrative’s almost unique suitability to this context, the idea that this passage is not authentically Johannine must finally be dismissed.  If it is not an original part of the Fourth Gospel, its writer would have to be viewed as a skilled Johannine imitator, and its placement in this context as the shrewdest piece of interpolation in literary history!  Accordingly,the consideration of the narrative’s text that follows assumes its Johannine authenticity (p. xxiv).

In the next episode we will continue to flow Piper’s treatment of the PA, including problems related to his assertion that though the PA is not part of Scripture, it is still contains truth that can be proclaimed or as he puts it, “It’s true.  It’s a true story….  whether it happened or whether it belongs in this Gospel” (start listening c. the 36:31 mark).


Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

I Remember when this preaching was lauched in John Piper's website. I couldn't watch the full video justly because the argument from authority that Piper upholds it seems to me very partial.

It is sad to see so many conservative pastors embracing the textual criticism without reflection about his impact on the orthodoxy and even the christian relationship with the sacred scripture.

I'm waiting the next post.

God Bless!

Phil Brown said...

It is funny. Piper's book Desiring God was very transformative in my walk with the Lord. In fact, I owe a lot to the man's work for helping me grow as a Christian. I really like Piper and his ministry. I personally think it is one of the most helpful world-reaching ministries out there. Often, I recommend Piper's writings to people. However, I remember listening to his sermon on the "Pericope Adulterae" when it came out, and I would not recommend it. I cringed when I listened because I knew he was off base. I could hear the conflict in his words. I think it was funny that he said he believed it happened, but that the text wasn't inspired. Piper loves Reformation Theology; however, he was a student of the German Rationalist school of thought. It was foundational to his early education. The knowledge and ability to reason that he possesses is an asset to him, but I think he is blinded by the traditions of Christian Postmodern Eclecticism. One reason I think he struggles is that in addition to his early education, he has immersed himself into the writings of the Reformers and Puritans. They spoke very highly of the "Pericope Adulterae." He gets really excited when he talks about the Puritans and Reformers, but in this sermon, he tries to find a compromise between these two schools of thought. In the end, he remains faithful to his early education, while encouraging everyone to believe the story. Postmodern Eclecticism has even infiltrated the updated writings of the Puritans and Reformers. I remember reading an abridged copy of John Bunyan's "Pilgrims Progress" a few years ago, and finding textual notes in there because Bunyan used some of those "uninspired" texts from the Geneva Bible! I liked the abridged copy, but struggled with the corrections in there. Thankfully the Puritans and Reformers used Scripture like they did, because it forces postmodern critics to make corrections, displaying the lengths that they will go to to revise Scripture and history. As for Piper, I think in his heart he knows the truth, but he struggles because of the heavy influence of his early education.

David Baird said...

All i can say is, husbands, commit adultery and use this sermon as your defense to your wife. Then get back to me and let me know how that worked out for you. Piper and I differ in that I believe in the God who thought this world into existence, and most assuredly had the power to oversee the passing of the words of the bible from Genesis to Revelation, without flaw. I believe all of the bible is the divinely inspired word of God. Piper's education has become a stumbling block to his ministry.