Misrepresenting Scripture to Support Unconditional Acceptance

The Hunt for Support

I have discussed in several posts that evangelical thinking has been infiltrated by the concept of unconditional acceptance, the cornerstone of secular culture. In fact, this perspective dominates current evangelical thinking, shaping evangelical understanding of salvation and Christian living.

A major challenge resides in finding scriptural support for this perspective. Evangelicals tend to ignore hundreds of passages in the New Testament that would teach otherwise while desperately seeking passages they might employ to demonstrate that unconditional acceptance is taught by Scripture.

Discovering Support in Scripture

One passage to which they flee for refuge is found in the story of the woman taken in adultery.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)

This story seems to prove their point. Here is a woman caught in the very act of adultery, dragged from the scene of her sin to Jesus. We find no mention of repentance, and yet Jesus conveys acceptance toward her while condemning those who brought her. His unconditional acceptance is explicitly expressed in His statement, “Neither do I condemn you.” What could be a clearer expression of God’s unconditional acceptance even of unrepentant sinners.

The Problem

The major problem with using the passage for support is found in overwhelming evidence that this story is not found in Scripture.

How then did it end up in our Bible? The answer begins with the recognition that we have none of the original manuscripts of Scripture. However, we do have a large number of manuscripts that for the most part are in agreement. There are, though, some differences, a reality requiring that Bible scholars determine which of these manuscripts reflects the original. A whole science of textual analysis has developed to deal with this issue.

The King James Version translators utilized one set of ancient texts as the basis for their translation. However, more recent study has revealed that more ancient and authoritative texts exist. Therefore, more modern translations such as the New American Standard Version and New International Version reflect the content of these more trustworthy texts. Most Bible scholars today that study textual issues concur that the newer versions are based on better textual choices than the King James Version.

The story of the woman taken in adultery was found in the texts used by King James translators and thus included in that version. However, it is not found in the primary texts used by more modern translations. Therefore, these more modern translations tend to include a note indicating that this story, or more specifically John 7:53-8:11, is probably not part of inspired Scripture. For example, I have a copy of the New American Standard Bible that states regarding this passage, “John 7:53-8:11 is not found in most of the oldest manuscripts.” Likewise, a New International Version that I have states, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.”

It is unfortunate that these modern translations state that this passage is not found in Scripture and yet include it. They eliminate other passages that lack similar textual support but apparently keep this one because the story has become part of our tradition. In so doing they cause confusion.

The Misrepresentation

Nonetheless, practically everyone who uses this passage in support of unconditional acceptance is aware that it lacks scriptural authority. As already noted, a statement to this effect is included in most if not all modern translations. Beyond that, practically everyone with any kind of degree in Bible has been taught this. Even more condemning, many of those using this passage have an especially strong biblical education, and therefore they are very aware of this problem.

Therefore, using this passage to make their point entails misrepresentation. I venture to say that if I would employee another passage to make a point that was not supported by the best manuscripts these people would quickly expose this error. Yet, though they know better, they mislead people by citing this passage as authoritative to support the message of unconditional acceptance.

The Reason

This leads us to ask why they have to build on this foundation of sand to make their case. The reason is that it is difficult for them to find support for unconditional acceptance in passages that are actually part of Scripture. By employing this passage they unwittingly expose their desperation to find valid scriptural support for unconditional acceptance.

Therefore, the next time you encounter someone using this water pistol to defend unconditional acceptance, you will know it is because he doesn’t have any real bullets in his gun.

One comment on “Misrepresenting Scripture to Support Unconditional Acceptance
  1. Neil Horlock says:

    I understand your point that evangelical Christianity drifted theologically toward more liberal views regarding the doctrine of Salvation. I have never looked at this passage as a proof text for unconditional acceptance. Maybe some who hold to universalism have used it.

    I have always understood this passage in light of what Christ was trying to show the people regarding the leadership around them. Wolves in sheep skin. His rejection of the false morality of the Pharisees does not denote unconditional acceptance. He did not publicly condemn her per say but neither did she accept her lifestyle as wholesome: Go and sin no more.

    I’m not sure I buy the modern view that the KJV is errant simply because recent textual discoveries have been dated older and therefore better by age. It seems more effort is spent criticizing the TR than upholdng it as other modern translations from these “older” manuscipts seem to do.

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