THE WRETCHED WOMAN OF
Charles D. Alexander was a pastor in Great Britain from 1954-1977. His ministry became widespread through his prolific writings and conference work in both England and the United States. He was a personal friend of the editor of this publication.
Our readers ought to know that the Received Text is the name given to that collation of ancient manuscripts which in unbroken succession (we believe) has come down to us from the time of the apostles, preserving for all time, in the providence of God, what was originally written by the apostles’ own hands. As we believe in the verbal inerrancy, infallibility and absolute inspiration of that Word which God originally gave through the writers of Old Testament and New, so we believe equally that it was just as necessary for God to preserve inviolate what was originally committed to the Church. We could not believe in a God who would be so remiss as to overlook that necessity to preserve His word, thus leaving the world in darkness or uncertainty as to His truth ‑ until possibly the day of Professor Dodd, who does not believe that the most of it is the Word of God anyway.
The Received Text was jealously preserved in the custody of the Eastern (or Greek) Church for many centuries during which the Latin world, centered on Rome and the Papacy, used only the Vulgate, which was the grossly imperfect Latin version descending by many hands from the days of Jerome. The recovery of the Greek version following the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century coincided in the providence of God with the invention of printing, the rise of the new learning in Europe, and the appearance of the great Dutch scholar Erasmus who published the Greek New Testament which proved the basis of the Reformation. The discovery that the word “penance” in the Vulgate was “repentance” in the Greek, denoting the new heart and mind of the Covenant of Grace sealed in the blood of Christ, was an earthshaking thing. It was the subject of Luther’s first proposition in those 95 theses by which he set the world afire.
THE TRAITORS OF 1881
The modern attack on this glorious Received Text really began with the Revised Version of 1881, the translators of which were bullied by the modernistic Professor Westcott into substituting for the Received Text three or four ancient manuscripts, including the recently discovered Sinaitic Codex (a codex is a manuscript in book form as distinct from a scroll). The others were the Codices (plural for Codex) known as the Alexandrian, the Vatican, and that known as “Ephraemi Rescriptus”. We spare our readers the more scholastic and scientific terms by which these copies are known.
Now it is true that the story of the Woman of John Eight is omitted from all four of these copies which reputedly belong to the 4 th century of our era or thereabouts, and these, being the most ancient copies extant of the Greek New Testament were enthusiastically adopted by Westcott and other critics as being more reliable on account of their age. We shall see presently how naively mistaken these critics were.
The story in John 8 is found in full in Codex Bezae, dating from the 6th century (named after Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza who bequeathed it to posterity after it had come providentially into his hands).
The fact that the Alexandrian Codex does not contain the story is of little consequence, for this very defective ms. omits the whole of John’s gospel from chapter 6:50 to 8:53 anyway, while Codex Ephraemi leaves out the whole from chapter 7:3 to 8:34. There is not wanting scholarship of the first order to defend the Received Text at this stage. Dr J. H. A. Ebrard, one time professor of Theology in the University of Erlangen, Germany, declared, “The external testimonies against its genuineness are altogether insignificant”. Dr Rudolf Stier, whose massive work, The Words of the Lord Jesus has never been surpassed as a work of deep piety and scholarship of the first order, reminds us that the question why this story was omitted in most of the known ancient mss. and versions was answered long ago by Augustine and Ambrose, who declared that it arose from a fear of misunderstanding or of abuse; or from an ascetic scruple concerning its morality, inducing men to ignore the very remarkable absolution of so gross a sinner.
Readers need hardly be reminded that the early centuries of the Church were notable for the increasing development of a double standard of morality. The Church was on the road to the monkish cell, and celibacy was being exalted into a virtue. Marriage was already being treated as something not quite clean, while adultery (in women at any rate) was a crime for which there was little hope of mercy. It was not surprising that men of this calibre were utterly unfitted to understand the Saviour's words, “Neither do I condemn thee.” They would mutilate the Word of God rather than allow this dangerous clemency to get abroad.
BUT HOW DID SHE GET IN?
Let us quote the fine words of the sainted Dr. Stier: “They who are not contented with this explanation place themselves under an obligation to answer a preliminary question of still more significance: whence and upon what ground did any ever presume to interpolate in the Gospel of John such an unauthorised and unattested narrative?” Klee says boldly, “It is, generally speaking, easy enough to account for its absence in many of the codices, if it had been originally in the text; but the converse is utterly unaccountable, how it should ever have crept in if it had never been there.” In other words, the critics are under obligation to show how, in an age when the church was racing to asceticism and celibacy, and marriage itself was falling into contempt, the insertion of such a narrative could ever have been tolerated. It would be like foisting the Book of Jonah on the Rabbis, with all its concern for gentile repentance outside the Law, against the intolerable weight of Jewish prejudice. The fact that Jonah is there at all is a proof of the authenticity of the prophecy. And the fact that the Woman of John Eight is there at all, and at such a time in the Church’s history, is one of the greatest proofs of her canonicity. She literally forces her way into the Sacred Page against all the pharisaism and prejudice of mistaken men.
Jerome, that mighty assessor of scriptural evidences, unhesitatingly admits this woman into the canon, despite his own prejudices against conjugalism. And Jerome lived at a time when he was in a position to know what ought to be included in Holy Scripture.
The case for the woman goes even further. In the eloquent words of Dr. Stier: “The narrative in itself was assuredly not such as could have been invented; it exhibits no trace of being apocryphal, betrays no marks whatever of fiction: on the contrary it is throughout, and especially in the stooping down and writing upon the ground, as original as it is in harmony with the spirit and mind of Jesus. If any man fails to discern that, we most confidently deny to him the capacity of estimating the value of internal criticism in matters that pertain to Scripture… We hold, and hold fast, with the utmost confidence, the assurance that this contested section is St. John’s.”
THE FINAL PROOF
The concealed prophetic meaning in the story of the Wretched Woman of John Eight is the final proof of the authenticity of the account. None but an apostle could have written that account, and that apostle, the apostle John. The allegation that the story was invented long after the apostles by a fraudulent anonymity with an axe to grind would be an intolerable absurdity if it were not so wicked an invention.
Like all the incidents recorded by John it has a deep and prophetic significance which might well elude all the combined powers of Bible scholars to discover, did not the Lord of Glory Himself, who holds in His right hand the seven stars of rule and authority in the Church, see fit to have laid it on the minds and hearts of earnest students of the Word in the course of the centuries.
Luther, with unerring instinct, perceived in the narrative a clear exposition of the Law and the Gospel. The representatives of Moses were there to carry out the injunction of that Divine Code which requires the death of the sinner for unrequited sin. He who came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, gave the Pharisees that peerless answer, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. For under the Mosaic Law, all are condemned and guilty…
But our defence of the canonicity of the story of this woman raises the entire question of “interpolations” in the Divine Word, and the reliability of the Bible we have in our hands. It is almost universally assumed that one of the greatest examples of these “intrusions” into the sacred text is 1 John 5:7 – “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost and these three are one.”
We like what Dr. John Owen said when speaking of those who would not admit the canonicity of the epistle to the Hebrews. He laid down a principle which they should heed who accept the allegation that there are interpolations in the Received Text upon which the evangelical Church has relied for so long. “It may be easily imagined,” he wrote, “once such exceptions are admitted, how able some men will think themselves, to question other passages in the New Testament and thereby render the authority dubious.” Which is precisely what is happening.
Our readers ought not to accept for one moment that any single alleged interpolation in the Received Text has been proved to be so in fact. We now proceed to show the ground of our confidence and also to advance a DEFENCE OF THE AUTHORISED VERSION.
What we have written above represents what we wrote in 1961, the year the New English Bible was launched upon the market. It is now 1970, and at the time of writing we are on the eve of the publication of the Old Testament section of that Bible, and consider this hour both propitious and ominous, for the issue of this paper.
THE PLOT EXPOSED
Dr Stier did not know that at the very time he wrote in the middle of last century, scholars were already at work in Britain and America whose researches were to confirm in a startling way, the authenticity of the Received Text upon which the Authorised Version of 1611 is based, and to expose the defectibility of the very manuscripts on which the Revised Translators of 1881 and their partners in the USA (who produced the American Standard Version) relied. These defective versions are those upon which all revisions have been based ever since, including the American R.S.V. (now being insidiously or even openly and aggressively foisted upon the evangelical world), the N.E.B. and the numerous brood of versions which are springing from the printing presses with such rapidity that it is now almost impossible to keep pace with them.
Dr. R. L. Dabney, U.S.A., scholar, pastor, philosopher, teacher, a man of acute logical and analytical mind, laboured to show that the Received Text was the true authentic text which lay nearest to the actual original writings of the apostles. He showed moreover, that the three ancient manuscripts known as the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrian, upon which largely the modern revisions are based, are defective and contradictory to each other and their principal variations from the Received Text are undoubtedly due to their connection with the Arian heresy which raged some time before the alleged date at which these mss. were written. The Arian heresy of course, was that early form of what is now known as Unitarianism, which questioned the absolute deity of Christ as the Second Person of the Glorious Trinity.
Accepting for argument that the Received Text is represented only in mss. dating from a time considerably later than the alleged age of the three mss. mentioned previously, Dr. Dabney showed conclusively that the dictum, “The earlier the mss. the more accurate”, was completely fallacious. The probable reason why those earlier mss. survived was because they were not in regular use, and they were put on one side while the liturgical copies, those in constant use in the churches for the daily lectionary readings, were worn out and discarded to make way for fresh copies. It can never be proved that the copyists were other than careful and reverent men, who handed on the authorised text unimpaired in generation after generation.
On the other hand there is every reason to suspect that the heretical copies survived because they WERE heretical, and the orthodox would not use them.
REVISIONS BASED ON BAD COPIES
The fallacy of the dictum, “the older the better.” by which the Revision of 1881 and its American counterpart were betrayed, is devastatingly exposed by Dr. Dabney. The three ancient mss. upon which the revisers relied (and bequeathed their error to all the revisionists who have followed them, down to the latest American R.S.V. or the British N.E.B.) disagree more between themselves than they disagree with the Received Text!
This is what Dabney says on this point: “If the maxim were true that the most ancient codices are the most trustworthy, then the most ancient ought to differ least between themselves…The instances in which the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrine mss. agree among themselves are comparatively rare. The disagreements of the three among themselves are not fewer than five thousand: and this excludes the minuter variations of spelling and arrangement which disappear in translation… Thus it appears that the plan of our critics, when executed by their own hands, seems to yield very poor results. The three codices mentioned harmonize less with each other than the digests made from the diversified testimony of the despised!”
1 JOHN 5:7 VINDICATED
In a masterly survey of the entire field, Dabney vindicates the text 1 John 5:7 as being part of the original text which the apostle John wrote, along with John 8, and the other portions which have been omitted, rejected or otherwise impugned by the R.V., the A.R.V., the R.S.V., the N.E.B. and others too numerous to mention. Evangelicals with an almost divine reverence for the name of Dr. Scofield of Reference Bible fame, should know that their idol has perpetuated the errors of the rationalists and the unitarians in his marginal note of 1 John 5:7. As though Dr. Dabney, his fellow countryman, never existed, and in apparent ignorance of the work of other great evangelical scholars of last century, Dr. Scofield says: “It is generally agreed that verse 7 has no real authority and has been inserted.” It is not Dr. Scofield’s only offence in this field for he seems to have slavishly followed the evil example set by the Revisers in several other important places.
The position of these revisions gets worse and worse as one inquires further into them.
Dr. Dabney points out some matters of the very gravest concern which ought to suspend a question mark over practically all the numerous versions which have appeared with chronic frequency during this century.
CHRIST’S DEITY THE TARGET
He shows that the only real doctrinal variations proposed by the three codices as against the Received Text, ATTACK THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND IN PARTICULAR THE ONE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST’S DEITY.
We quote again from Dr. Dabney: “The various readings taken from the various mss. and versions are counted by the hundred thousands; but the vast majority of them are utterly insignificant; and among the few which remain (after deducting these) all which bear on doctrine bear one doctrine; and that, a doctrine which was keenly debated just before the times when, it is claimed, these three old codices were copied. Their admirers claim for them an origin in the fourth or fifth century. The Sabellian and Arian controversies raged in the third and fourth. Is there no coincidence here? Things do not happen again and again regularly without a cause. Why is it that some other doctrines of Christianity do not happen to be assailed by these variations? The curious coincidence almost irresistibly impels the mind to the conclusion, that not the chance errors of transcribers but some deliberate hand has been at work. When we remember the date of the great Trinitarian contest, and compare it with the supposed date of these exemplars of the sacred text, the ground of suspicion becomes violent."