"When Dallas Theological Seminary professor Daniel Wallace examined New Testament manuscripts stored in the National Archive in Albania last June, he was amazed by what he did not find.There is additional information about the manuscripts also available on the Christianity Today website.
The story of the woman caught in adultery, usually found in John 7:53-8:11, was missing from three of the texts, and was out of place in a fourth, tacked on to the end of John's Gospel. ..."
This is a particularly interesting and informative article about some of the problems in determining what the original text of the New Testament was. These aren't disputes of how to translate a particular word or phrase. They are questions of whether a particular passage was added later for whatever reason.
What do we do about the few instances of serious disagreement about the text of the Bible? Four come to mind:
- The "Great Commission which ends the Gospel of Mark 16:9-20
- The story of the the woman taken in adultery from John 7:53-8:11
- A portion of the story in Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 (in which verse 37 is missing in most recent translations)
- The "Heavenly Witnesses" in 1 John 5:7-8 (compare the King James Version with the New International Version or the Revised Standard Version)
There really isn't anything in the disputed passages that undermines any essential doctrine, although the "missing" verse of Acts 8:37 could be construed as indirectly prohibiting infant baptism:
Acts 8:36 And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?So what about the woman taken in adultery?
Acts 8:37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
--American Standard Version (1901)
It sure sounds like something Jesus might say, given the circumstances. Did he say it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. This question cannot be resolved given what we know currently about the original documents. If a new manuscript were to be discovered then we might find a reason to restore this or other passages to an undisputed status.
What is true, though, is that the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage, and honesty requires that we acknowledge that.
J. I. Packer wrote an article titled "Good Question: Text Criticism and Inerrancy" which appeared in Christianity Today in 2002. He provides an answer to the question "How can I reconcile my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture with comments in Bible translations that state that a particular verse is not 'in better manuscripts'"?