This week we continue our Gospel of John series by looking at John 7:53-8:11. This passage is very unusual because it turns out that, as well-known as it is, it doesn’t appear in the earliest and best copies of the Bible. In this sermon, Pastor Matt walks us through the issues surrounding this passage and shows us why we can trust our Bibles. Then, using this text as a starting point, Matt explains the big idea of the passage: Come to Jesus for grace and seek to sin no more.* He shows how other portions of the gospel of John back up this passage, with three crucial points: 1. Jesus is gentle toward sinners. 2. Jesus saves sinners. 3. Jesus changes sinners.

* This big idea is very similar to the final point in John Piper’s message on this passage entitled Neither Do I Condemn You.

Citylight Manayunk | March 20, 2022 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.





Sermon Resources:
Text Criticism and the Pulpit: Should One Preach About the Woman Caught in Adultery? Tim Miller (Themelios)
Baker Exegetical Commentary (John) by Kostenburger
Pillar NT Commentary (John) by Carson
Neither Do I Condemn You (sermon) by John Piper
Tony Evans Study Bible
Expository Thoughts on The Gospel of John by J.C. Ryle
Textual Criticism: What is it and Why do we Need it? Brandon Crowe
“Misquoting” Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman by Greg Koukl (I adapted the illustration of Grandma Sally’s recipe from this article. I really did have a Grandma Sally)
Textual Variants: It’s the Nature, Not the Number That Matters by Greg Koukl

Sermon Transcript

Please turn in your Bible with me to John 7:53-8:11. John 7:53-8:11 can be found on page 840 in the Bibles under your chair or page 46 or 47 in your John Scripture journals. If you don’t own a Bible, please take that one home as a gift from Citylight. 


Before he went completely off the deep end, oddly enough rapper Kanye West described the kind of preaching that we do at Citylight Church on Joe Rogan’s podcast this way: “…Expository, it’s like one to one by the word. I like all different types of preachers, but there’s some types of preachers, they have the Bible in their hand and they close the Bible and they just talk for two hours…But the expository preachers go line for line. And for me it’s like, I come from entertainment, I got so much sauce. I don’t need no sauce on the word. I need the word to be solid food that I can understand exactly what God was saying…”


As crazy as Kanye is, that’s not a bad description of expository preaching. In expository preaching we go for a swim in a passage of the Bible, unfolding its meaning and emphasis, rather than using the Bible like a diving board we jump off of to talk about other things or a lamp post that we lightly lean on when needed. And though we make space for preaching on important topics, expository preachers, like your pastors, typically preach consecutively through books of the Bible. One of the beauties of the expository approach is that it provides the opportunity to tackle passages like the one we come to today in our journey through the Gospel of John. This is the kind of sermon you’ll hear maybe once a decade because a passage like this one is so rare. This is also a sermon in which I’ll be depending on other pastors and NT scholars more than I usually do. For the sake of time, I’ll either post resources on the Citylight website or send them out via email this week. Please follow along as I read (Project John 7:53-8:11 – including the manuscript bracket heading and the footnote). Read passage. Now, I imagine you’ve got some questions. “Why is this passage in brackets?” “What are ‘manuscripts’?” “If some ancient Bible manuscripts contain this passage and others don’t, can I be confident that the Bible in my hands is God’s word?” “What do we do with and learn from the narrative of the woman caught in adultery?” We’re going to tackle all of those questions this morning because this is a very unique passage of Scripture. 




Why is this passage in brackets? Simply, John 7:53-8:11 was probably not part of the original Gospel that John wrote. As the brackets and footnote in your English Bible indicates, none of the earliest manuscripts that we have of the Gospel of John include this passage – I’ll explain what a manuscript is in a minute. In fact, no existing manuscripts of John’s Gospel that date before 500 AD contain this passage. Additionally, very little Christian literature from before 1000 AD mentions this passage. As the footnote in your English Bible points out, when the passage does appear in later NT manuscripts, it appears in three different places in John’s Gospel, indicating it was likely a story circulated in Christian tradition that may very well have happened, but was not originally part of John’s Gospel. 


All of this leads the majority of New Testament scholars who believe that the Bible is God’s word to conclude that John 7:53-8:11 was not part of the original Gospel According to John and, therefore, doesn’t belong in the Bible. And I agree with them. D.A. Carson, who I consider to be perhaps the greatest NT scholar alive, writes, “Despite the best efforts . . . to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against [them], and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV).” Bruce Metzger who during his life was probably the leading expert in NT manuscript studies writes, “The evidence for the non-Johannine (not originally written by John) origin of the pericope (story) of the adulteress is overwhelming.” 


Now, all of this evidence that John 7:53-8:11 was probably not part of the original Gospel brings us to a second question. 




To answer the question, we need some background information. The New Testament was written in Greek way back in the first century. The printing press wasn’t invented until 1516. That means that for over 1400 years the only way the NT – or any book written before 1516 – could be shared was by copying it by hand (handwritten copies = manuscripts). And here is the kicker – not all of the copies of the NT or any other ancient book match one another exactly. For example, if you’re following along in the Bible under your chair, you’ll notice that there are footnotes at the bottom of the page. You’ll notice that there is a footnote at John 8:16 (He vs. Father) – that’s what most of the manuscript differences are – very minor differences that make no real difference. On rare occasions, the differences among manuscripts are significant, like in the case of our passage this morning, when a bunch of manuscripts don’t have John 7:53-8:11, but some do.


So, how do Bible translators and text experts decide which manuscripts accurately reflect what John originally wrote? Maybe an analogy will help answer the question. Let’s imagine that your Grandma Sally (that was my grandmother’s name) has the most incredible, detailed meatloaf recipe. She loves to spread the joy of her delicious meatloaf, so she sends hand-written copies of her intricate recipe to three friends. Her three friends love the recipe and send hand-written copies of the recipe to ten of their own friends. All good except one day Grandma Sally’s dog eats the original copy of the recipe. She calls her three friends. They’ve suffered the same fate! The original copy of the recipe and the first copies are gone. Panic!


Grandma Sally is so upset she can’t deal with the problem and asks her friends to recover the original wording of the recipe. What will they do? They round up all the surviving hand-written copies, twenty-six in all. When they spread them out on the kitchen table, they immediately notice some differences. One has a misspelled word, one has two phrases inverted (“mix then chop” instead of “chop then mix”) and one includes an ingredient that none of the others has on its list. Here is the critical question: Can grandma Sally’s friends accurately reconstruct her original recipe? Of course! The misspelled words can easily be corrected, the single inverted phrase can be repaired, and the extra ingredient can be ignored. Even with more numerous or more diverse differences, the original can still be reconstructed with a high level of confidence given the right textual evidence. This, in simplified form, is how scholars help ensure that our English Bibles accurately reflect what was originally written. 


Now – and this is super important – the more manuscripts of an original writing we have the more accurate the reconstruction of the original. This brings us to something truly stunning. The sheer number of manuscripts of the New Testament compared to the number of manuscripts for all other ancient works is overwhelming. Visual unity has put together an infographic to help us see this stunning comparison ( 

  • NT: Greek 5,795. Gap between earliest text and writing of original 40 Years
  • NT: Translations  (this does not count ESV/NIV – we are talking ancient manuscripts in languages Coptic, Armenian, or Latin) 17,974. Time gap: 250-300
  • Total: 23,769 manuscripts
  • Homer’s Iliad: 1757, 400 years
  • Demosthenes Speeches: 340, 1100
  • Caesar’s Gallic Wars: 251, 950
  • Plato’s Tetralogies 210, 1300
  • Pliny’s Natural History: 200, 400
  • Sophocles’ Plays 193, 100-200
  • Herodotus’ History: 109, 1350
  • Thucydides’ History: 96, 200
  • Tacitus’ Annals: 33, 750-950


When it comes to NT manuscripts, we have an embarrassment of riches. The late New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce wisely explains why this embarrassment of riches is so helpful, “If the great number of manuscripts increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is . . . in truth remarkably small.” And in the rare occasions when the manuscripts do disagree about what a verse originally said and we have a low level of confidence about what the original author wrote, in none of those occasions is a major Christian doctrine called into question.


So, can you trust that the English Bible in your hand is the very word of God and accurately reflects the original writings? Yes! The number of manuscripts, the geographic diversity of where those manuscripts were written, and the stunning number of ancient languages to which they were translated all combine to make us incredibly confident that our English Bibles are the word of God and an overwhelmingly accurate representation of the inspired and inerrant original autographs. Friends, rather than being shaken by the brackets around the passage in our Bible for today, we should be both overwhelmingly confident and joyfully thankful to God that in his sovereign goodness he has so guided not just the inspiration of Scripture, but its transmission down to us today. How gracious of God to protect his written word so that we can glorify and enjoy him through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, forever. This leads us to our next question. 




As interesting and confidence boosting as all of this is, we haven’t yet answered the critical question: what do we do with John 7:53-8:11 and the story of the woman caught in adultery? On the one hand, we can be relatively confident that this passage is not the word of God. On the other hand, the event recorded in these verses may very well have happened, is contained in many later manuscripts, and is consistent with the rest of the teaching of the Gospel of John and the NT. Therefore, I am neither comfortable skipping the passage all together or preaching a sermon on the passage as though it’s the very word of God. Instead, what I would like to do with our last few moments together is try to identify the big idea of the passage along with its key supporting themes, and then show you how these themes are consistent with the rest of the Gospel of John that we are sure are the very word of God.  


The big idea of this section commonly titled “The Woman Caught in Adultery” is, in my opinion, found in the final verses. John 8:10-11Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The Big idea of passage: Come to Jesus for grace and seek to sin no more. Come to the Lord Jesus Christ today and every day for undeserved mercy and favor, for forgiveness of sins, for relief from a guilty conscience, to be rid of all your disgrace, and for His fresh power to seek to sin no more. What an invitation! I want to show you three brief reasons why you can and must come to Jesus for grace and seek to sin no more: 1. Jesus is gentle toward sinners. 2. Jesus saves sinners. 3. Jesus changes sinners. 




At the beginning of John 8, the religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus while he’s publicly teaching at the temple. Right from jump the situation seems fishy. No one commits adultery alone. Where is the guy? Something is up. In verse 6, we learn what’s up. The religious leaders brought the adulteress woman before Jesus not because they cared about sexual holiness or upholding the law of Moses in the OT. No, they want to trap Jesus and they’re mercilessly using her. If he lets the woman go, then he’s light on sin and doesn’t uphold the law of Moses. If he approves her stoning, he’s breaking the Roman law, which forbade Jews from practicing capital punishment, and seems to be brutal toward sinners. Now, you’ll notice that Jesus never advocates for breaking the Law of Moses. Instead he says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is not here saying that someone has to be sinless to call sin “sin.” However, he is showing stunning gentleness to a condemned woman by protecting her from the brutality of merciless hypocrites who are using her to try and trap him. He’s gentle toward sinners.


Friends – that’s the heart of the Lord Jesus toward you and me. We have all failed to do and be what God requires in his word. We are condemned sinners too. But Jesus’ very heart is gentle toward sinners. As we read in John 1:16-17 – For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 11:28-29 is the one place in the Bible when Jesus personally reveals his heart: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” As Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle and Lowly, “Lowly gentleness is not one way Jesus occasionally acts toward others. Gentleness is who he is. It is his heart.” Coming to Jesus is opening yourself up to Him and letting Him love you. Friends – Jesus is gentle toward sinners. Come to Jesus for grace and seek to sin no more. 




The second reason why you can come to Jesus for grace and seek to sin no more is that the Lord Jesus Christ came to save condemned sinners like us from eternal judgment and eternal estrangement from God’s joyful presence. It’s important to notice that the Lord Jesus does not excuse the woman’s sin. Neither does he excuse ours. But we can come to the Lord Jesus for grace because he came to save the condemned. Listen to how the Lord Jesus himself put it in John 3:16-18 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” The Lord Jesus did not come to condemn us. We have condemned ourselves with our sins. We are condemned already. The reason why we can come to the Lord Jesus for grace is because he came to save sinners from all condemnation. Are you coming to Jesus for grace?! He came to save you from condemnation now and forever.




The final reason why we can come for grace and seek to sin no more is because Jesus came to change sinners. John 8:11 – And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The Lord Jesus invites the adulteress woman to seek to sin no more, not because she’s afraid to get stoned, but because her heart has been changed by his matchless grace. When we come to Jesus for grace, his grace changes us. His grace creates a love in our heart for him. And when our hearts love him, we seek to sin no more. In John 14:15, the Lord Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” 


Friends – we all sin in thought, word, and deed every day. So, today, come to the Lord Jesus Christ for grace. He is gentle toward sinners, so much that he came to save us. And as his grace washes over you each day, seek to sin no more.