Origin of additional words than the Bible in Desire of Ages of the pericope of the Adulterous Woman


By Koot van Wyk and SookYoung Kim



The pericope adulturae or the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 of the English Bibles, is one of the most famous reactions of Jesus in the Gospels. As beautiful and dramatic as the scene is for this event in Jesus’ life, the pericope did not receive always a welcome stance in certain quarters.  So there were voices of doubt whether it should be in the Bible.  Then another issue was, where does it chronologically fit in? There are those who argue that the pericope should go after Luke 21 and that he was the author of the piece. Other manuscripts had it as John 16 in the year 800 A.D.  Scholars have looked at the incident in comparison with the event with Susanna in the apocrypha of Daniel 13. Others associate it with Pelagia and Theodora, the adulterous wife of Justinian.  Then there is a comparison with a hadith in Islam making the woman a man that was caught in adultery.  To be or not to be is not the question in this writing. The interest is only on what Jesus wrote when He bent down to write. That is the question.

On this question a kaleidoscope of answers were offered by the churchfathers: ten commandments, words from Jeremiah: “earth accused the earth”, a mirror , names . What the content was that was written also presents a variety: ten commandments,  “earth accused the earth”, their sins. It is the last one in this list that really is of interest for this study for Ellen White in Desire of Ages (1898) also added to the biblical text saying that He wrote their sins.

Hardly any churchfather said that their sins were written down on the ground. Not one could be found saying that precisely. But what was found are some Armenian manuscripts and a Greek manuscript U from the 10th century listed by B. Metzger in his Greek edition of the New Testament.  So, sometime in the Middle Ages, somewhere in the Levant, a scribe or copyist added that their sins were written. These manuscripts are brought to bear on the question where Ellen White could have possibly got this idea from?

The issue is then, since Ellen White had no education, was not a scholar, nor grammarian, could not read Armenian and Greek, in what English book or article can one find these words close to the publication of Desire of Ages?

A hunt was made of literature around 1858 to 1898 to see how this could have been borrowed or slipped into Desire of Ages from another source.

In a way, this is a text-analytical investigation of sources for ideas in a book showing connections or the opposite, differences that may cancel borrowing completely.


Sources and Help of Ellen White with Desire of Ages

The writing of R. Graybill and R. W. Olsen published on the 23rd of May 1979 indicate the sources that were in the Library of Ellen White. For the order of events in the Desire of Ages, she was using the work of Samuel Andrews.  Some other books were to be obtained for Desire of Ages as indicated in a letter by W. White.

In the work of Samuel Andrews 1891 on page 345 is mentioned in two sentences: “An adulteress is brought before Him, whom He directs to go and sin no more.]” That is it. Nothing more nothing less. Andrews is not the origin of the writing of their sins that Ellen White mentioned in Desire of Ages.

Marian Davis was the secretary of Ellen White.  But the countercheck of their influence on Ellen White was the subject of the investigation of the pessimistic eyes of M. E. L. Andreasen personally for 90 days. He was changed from skeptical to believing and confirming.

When they added something they had to write for permission by Ellen White first.

Sometimes Marian Davis would ask Ellen White to dwell on topics and subjects listed by herself. Then Ellen White did not because the Spirit did not lead her to do so. 

Ellen White repeatedly indicated that she is not a scholar or a grammarian and in need of assistance for printing her work.  She was helped by her husband between 1858 to and in the 1890’s with Desire of Ages by Marian Davis.  Farrar, Hanna, Andrews. At least three sources mentioned that should come. They will be considered for the addition of the note on the sins written on the ground in the temple of the pericope adulturae.

Since 1858 for the Life of Christ scrapbooks, she indicated inspiration from God. 

Marian Davis indicated in 1893 that the compilation of Desire of Ages is with about 30 or more scrapbooks by Ellen White’s hand put together.  There were also about 50 manuscripts and half a dozen bound volumes. Many other pages too.

Davis had some liberties but could not edit if the manuscript was not in Ellen White handwriting.  Davis also could not add something if it was not in the handwriting of Ellen White. Glossing could be done, but from Ellen White’s hand or if sentences were suggested to be added, they had to pass Ellen White’s scrutiny. This is very important for us to consider with the added information about the sins written on the ground.

Ellen White would wake up at four o clock in the morning in New Zealand to write on Desire of Ages.

The manuscript was completed on the 16th of July 1896.


“He wrote on the ground the sins of each one of them”

F. W. Farrar could have been used (19th of October 1893).

Manuscript U by Farrar: “He wrote on the ground the sins of each one of them .”

DA: “There, traced before them, were the guilty secrets of their own lives.”


If one looks at the syntax of the two sentences from Farrar (1893)  and from Desire of Ages (1896-8) there is no one on one relationship. In fact, only three words compared: them; the; of. None of the nouns compared nor the prepositions or the verbs.

Taken together the words of W. White that his mother’s secretaries were not allowed to add their own words.  If Marian Davis used the book by Farrar in 1893  and wrote in the incident a paraphrase by herself of the manuscript U in the note she saw in the 1893 Farrar edition after 1893 but before 1898 when it was published,  then she would have added a sentence that Ellen White may not have seen. This is unlikely. Did Ellen White sat with Farrar’s book in her hand while she was composing the Desire of Ages? Did her eyes fall on the footnotes and did she see the content of the skeptical Farrar saying “the impossible and irrelevant surmises as to what He wrote”, ignored this negative statement and included it anyhow? Unlikely if she was concerned from the beginning about accuracy as one of her letters in Olsen’s article is showing. She said that she is not a scholar or a grammarian and emphasized her inadequacy. She would tend to rather follow Farrar than ignore him, if one must give credibility to her letter’s content.

The testimony of M. E. L. Andreasen at the Ohio Campmeeting in 1955, who spent 90 days with Ellen White to see how she wrote the Desire of Ages, did not reveal anything to this effect. She wrote it in her own hand he said, just like Olsen said in his article on her writing of Desire of Ages. The two witnesses, direct eyewitness, and researcher Olsen with the letters of Ellen White and secretaries, correspond 100% on this issue.

The researches of R. Adams and Walther Rea on Ellen White’s historiographical skills and manners of writing Desire of Ages, are filled with inaccuracies. This was illustrated by later researchers. One can mention and see online excerpts of their work by two researchers: David J. Conklin, Kevin L. Morgan, (2011).  The names of A. Treiyer, E. de Kock, are necessary sources for consideration.

Walther Rea for example, tried to explain how Desire of Ages and the work of Hanna on the Life of Christ compared. Many conclusions of Rea stands under serious review and one can compare his conclusions with the online comparison in colors of the correspondences between Desire of Ages and Hanna’s work by Conklin and Morgan. Sometimes the utilization is of a scanty or hop-and-skip nature. It seems sometimes to this researcher that Hanna is used as a kind of linguistic Thesaurus of the English Language, a tool to borrow good English words or synonyms from? Ellen White said that she was not a grammarian.

For the statement of the writing of their sins on the ground in Desire of Ages, one looks in vain for these in Hanna.

Alfred Edersheim of 1883 was not used by Ellen White or Marian Davis for the Desire of Ages on the pericope adulturae for he left it out of his Book, as he explicitly said. 


“bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins”

“bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins”

DA: “There, traced before them, were the guilty secrets of their own lives.”


There is the 1895 article in English in Expositor by F. C. Conybeare about these words on the ground. He mentioned that the 10th century  Armenian Eschmiadzin Gospels adds to the story the following: “bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins”.  In the Expositor 5 no. 2 of 1895 this was published by F. C. Conybeare. But Ellen White finished Desire of Ages in the building near the museum of Ellen White near Avondale College in Australia in 1896 on the 16th of July, as her letter is indicating. The Expositor was published in October of 1895, so how soon will it get in the hands of either Ellen White or Marian Davis. Of course there is still two years before the publication but slipping in was not possible. The statement of Ellen White is not using the noun “earth” at all. She said “before them”. That is the closest one will come to the material that was written on.


“and they were seeing their several sins on the stones”

“and they were seeing their several sins on the stones”

DA: “There, traced before them, were the guilty secrets of their own lives.”

A new Armenian manuscript was found identified as ANA 4, Tirana.  The manuscript adds: “and they were seeing their several sins on the stones”. This is how it was translated by V. Nersessian in 2001. But again, it does not compare to Ellen White’s statement which does not use the noun “stones” at all.


“traced” commonly used by Ellen White

The verb “traced” was a common word used by Ellen White in her own handwriting.  The conclusion is that this sentence was not written by Marian Davis or any other secretary but by Ellen White herself.




Knust, J and Wasserman, T. (2010). Earth Accuses Earth: Tracing What Jesus Wrote on the Ground. The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 103, No. 4 (OCTOBER 2010), pp. 407-446 https://www.jstor.org/stable/40930895. Downloaded on 7th of July 2019 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40930895.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

David J. Conklin, Kevin L. Morgan, (2011). Was Desire of Ages Plagiarized: Comparative Literary Borrowing of 'Life of Christ' Authors on Jesus' Trail Before Pilate. http://www.ellenwhite.info/desire_of_ages_ch_5_rea_a.htm

William Hannah, (1863, November 11). The Life of Christ. New York: American Tract Society.


Becker, Ulrich, Jesus und die Ehebrecherin. Untersuchungen zur Text- und Überlieferungsgeschichte von Joh. 7:53–8:11 (Berlin: Alfred Töpelmann, 1963) 8–43.

Augustine, Against the Pelagians, Pelag. 2.17; CCSL 80:75–78; trans. John N. Hritzu: FC 53:321.

Robinson, Maurice A., “Preliminary Observations Regarding the Pericope Adulterae Based upon Fresh Collations of Nearly All Continuous-Text Manuscripts and All Lectionary Manuscripts Containing the Passage,” FilNeot 13 (2000) 4–12.

Houghton, Hugh A. G., “The St Petersburg Insular Gospels: Another Old Latin Witness,” JTS 61 (2010) 110–27.

_______ “A Newly Identified Old Latin Gospel Manuscript: Würzburg Universitätsbibliothek M.p.th.f67,” JTS 60(2009) 1–21.

Jonathan C. Borland, “The Old Latin Tradition of John 7:53–8:11” (Masters thesis, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009).

Horner, George William, The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Northern Dialect, Otherwise Called Memphtic and Boharic: with Introduction, Critical Apparatus, and Literal English Translation (4 vols.; London: Clarendon Press, 1898–1905Google Scholar; repr. Osnabrück: O. Zeller, 1969) 2:428–31.

Wikgren, Allen Paul, “The Lectionary Text of the Pericope, John 8:1–11,” JBL 53 (1934) 188–98.

Nelson, Robert S., “The Later Impact of a Group of Twelfth-Century Manuscripts,” Byzantine Studies Conference 3 (1977) 60–61.

Zorzi, Marino, Collezioni Veneziane de Codici Greci dale raccolte della Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Venice: il Cardo, 1993) 100.

Biblioteca nazionale marciana, Bibliothecae Divi Marci Venetiarum codices graeci manuscripti (7 vols.; Rome: Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, 1967) 1:13.

Frederick C. Conybeare, trans., “On the Last Twelve Verses of St. Mark's Gospel,” Expositor 5.2 (1895) 406. 

David C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 99.

Vrej Nersessian, The Bible in the Armenian Tradition (London: The British Library, 2001) 20.

Ronig, Franz, Codex Egberti. Das Perikopenbuch des Erzbischofs Egbert von Trier (977–993) (Treveris Sacra 1; Trier: Spee-Verlag, 1977) 5–13.

Nicholas Poussin's Cristo e l—adultera (1653; Paris. Louvre, ill. 44) is a 17th century example of the decalogue as words written.

Saracino,Francesco, “‘Quei mistoriosi caratteri—. Poussin, l—Adultera e il decalogo,” Gregorianum 88(2007) 5–22.

S. P. Tregelles, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scripture (London 1856).

F. H. A. Scrivener. "A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament (3rd edition, 1883, London).

J.B. Lightfoot, R.C. Trench, C.J. Ellicott, The Revision of the English Version of the NT, intro. P. Schaff, (Harper & Bro. NY, 1873).

Kyle R. Hughes, "The Lukan Special Material and the Tradition History of the Pericope Adulterae," Novum Testamentum 55.3 (2013): 232–251

Downloaded on the 7th of July 2019 from https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/brill/the-lukan-special-material-and-the-tradition-history-of-the-pericope-1xIIeSvT7q?key=brill

David Robert Palmer, John 5:3b and the Pericope Adulterae


Ron Graybill and Robert W. Olsen, (1979, May 23rd). How the Desire of Ages was written. Downloaded from