Gospel according to John, chapter 8
This article is about the chapter of the Bible. For people named John 8, see John VIII.
John 8 is the eighth chapter in the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It continues the account of Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees after the Feast of Tabernacles, which began in the previous chapter.
In verse 12, Jesus describes Himself as “the light of the world” and verse 32 contains the well-known teaching “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”. In verses 56-58 Jesus claims to have pre-existed (or, according to non-Trinitarian interpretations, been foreordained) before Abraham. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM”.
The New King James Version organises this chapter as follows:
Main article: Jesus and the woman taken in adultery
There is dispute over the authenticity of the passage between John 7:53 and 8:11, known as the Pericope adulterae or Pericope de Adultera. It appears in the King James Version but modern English translations note that it is not present in the most reliable early manuscripts of John, and therefore suggest that it is unlikely to have been part of the original text. Until recently, it was not thought that any Greek Church Father had taken note of the passage before the 12th century; but in 1941 a large collection of the writings of Didymus the Blind (ca. 313- 398) was discovered in Egypt, including a reference to the pericope adulterae as being found in “several copies”, and it is now considered established that this passage was present in its usual place in some Greek manuscripts known in Alexandria and elsewhere from the 4th century onwards. In support of this it is noted that the 4th century Codex Vaticanus, which was written in Egypt, marks the end of John chapter 7 with an “umlaut”, indicating that an alternative reading was known at this point.
Jerome reports that the pericope adulterae was to be found in its usual place in “many Greek and Latin manuscripts” in Rome and the Latin West in the late 4th century. This is confirmed by some Latin Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries CE; including Ambrose, and Augustine. The latter claimed that the passage may have been improperly excluded from some manuscripts in order to avoid the impression that Christ had sanctioned adultery:
Papias (circa AD 125) refers to a story of Jesus and a woman “accused of many sins” as being found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which may well refer to this passage; there is a very certain quotation of the pericope adulterae in the 3rd Century Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum; though without indicating John’s Gospel. The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles Book II.24 refers to the passage “And when the elders had set another woman who had sinned before Him, and had left the sentence to Him, and were gone out, our Lord, the Searcher of the hearts, inquiring of her whether the elders had condemned her, and being answered No, He said unto her: “Go thy way therefore, for neither do I condemn thee.” Book II is generally dated to the late third century (Von Drey, Krabbe, Bunsen, Funk). Codex Fuldensis, which is positively dated to AD 546 contains the adulterae pericope. The Second Epistle of Pope Callistus section 6 contains a quote that may be from John 8:11 – “Let him see to it that he sin no more, that the sentence of the Gospel may abide in him: “Go, and sin no more.”” However the epistle quotes from eighth century writings and is not thought to be genuine.
Almost all modern translations now include the Pericope de Adultera at John 7:53-8:11, but some enclose it in brackets, and/or add a note concerning the oldest and most reliable witnesses.
At the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus goes overnight to the Mount of Olives (John 8:1), “lodging probably in the house of Lazarus“, according to the Expositor’s Greek Testament, whilst everyone else “goes home” (John 7:53). This is the only mention of the Mount of Olives in John’s Gospel, although it is also referred to in John 18:1, “Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees“. Jesus returns to the Temple early the next morning.
The Light of the World
In John 8:12, Jesus describes Himself as “the light of the world”, revisiting a theme of the Prologue to the Gospel:
- The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5)
The Pharisees complain that Jesus bears witness to himself, an issue also addressed in the Prologue:
- John the Baptist came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:7-8)
Jesus’ statement is discontinuous both with the narrative of John 7:53-8:11, everyone but the woman having left the Temple convicted by their own consciences, and with the preceding verse, John 7:52, where Nicodemus the Pharisee had been urged by the other members of the Sanhedrin to re-examine the scriptures on the issue of whether a prophet could come from Galilee. Theologian Heinrich Meyer attempts to find a connection:
- “We must look for some connection with John 7:52. This may be found simply as follows. As the Sanhedrim [sic] had not been able to carry out their design of apprehending Jesus, and had, moreover, become divided among themselves (as is recorded in John 7:45-52), He was able, in consequence of this miscarriage in their plans against Him (Greek: οὖν), to come forth afresh and address the assembled people in the temple”.
Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews who had believed in Him
Many of Jesus’ hearers believed in Him (John 8:30). Verse 31 moves Jesus’ dialogue from the Pharisees to the Jews who had believed in Him (Greek: τους πεπιστευκοτας αυτω ιουδαιους). Many English translations have “Jews who believed in Him”  Anglican Bishop Charles Ellicott identifies a contrast and “perhaps, something of wonder” in the idea that there were Jews who were believers. The tone of verses 31 to 59 is critical and argumentative with this group; the Pulpit Commentary finds them to be believers of “the most imperfect kind”, who “accepted the Messianic claims [of Jesus], but persisted in interpreting them, not by his word, but by their own ideas of the theocratic kingdom, by their privileges as children of Abraham, by their national animosity to their nearest neighbours the Samaritans, by their inability to press behind the veil of his humanity to his Divine nature”.
American theologian J. Louis Martyn suggested that John’s Gospel could be read on two levels, portraying events and contesting controversies in the early church through a narrative portraying the life and teaching of Jesus. Such a reading suggests a controversy regarding Jewish partial-believers in Jesus as the Messiah who, according to the evangelist, did not accept the whole “truth” of orthodox Christian teaching and maintained that their covenantal relationship with God was rooted in the Abrahamic tradition rather than the salvation (freedom) offered by Jesus. For this group of Jews, the fundamental credal proposition was that “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39a). The evangelist’s response is to acknowledge that they are indeed the descendants of Abraham (John 8:37 and 8:39b), but to explore the behavior which should follow: If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. Instead, you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God (John 8:40). The Pulpit Commentary notes this phrase as “the only place [in the gospels] where the Lord speaks of himself as ‘a man'”, although the threat to kill ‘a man’ can also be read as indicating that the Jews threatened to kill those proclaiming the message which the evangelist identifies as the ‘true’ gospel (John 8:32).
In John 8:48, Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan and being demon-possessed. He denies having a demon, but makes no comment on the Samaritan accusation. The controversy portrayed as Jesus arguing with “the Jews who had believed in Him” continues through to verse 59. Jesus states that the current times fulfil Abraham’s hopes and that Abraham saw this time and “was glad” (John 8:56). The Jews’ response is that Jesus is not yet fifty years old, i.e. has not yet reached the age of “full manhood”  as indicated in Numbers 4:3, 4:39 and 8:24. The evangelist brings the chapter to its climax with Jesus’ words, “before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), words which inevitably are interpreted as Jesus “[taking] to Himself the Divine Name”  and so they “prepare to stone Him for blasphemy”. The evangelist ends the narrative with a verse in which Jesus evades their violent response and leaves the Temple. Some manuscripts add Jesus “going through the midst of them, and so passed by”. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states that “these words are apparently an insertion, and probably an adaptation of Luke 4:30. No English Version previous to the one of 1611 contains the passage”.