John 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery

I’ve seen several recent posts mentioning this Scripture.  Admittedly, this is a controversial portion.  Earlier, it was thought possibly to encourage immorality because the woman seems to have “gotten away with it,” and Jesus didn’t enforce the Mosaic Law.  (Actually He did; we’ll see this shortly).  More recently, it’s disputed because of textual criticism: the “best” manuscripts don’t include it.

For what it’s worth, and I’m no “scholar,” it seems to me that textual criticism, which tries to determine the actual text of the Old and New Testament from the variants that are found in the manuscripts and the early translations – and they are there – borders on sanctified unbelief.  For example, one of the most highly regarded authorities on this subject has clearly said that 2 Peter is not canonical, that is, it shouldn’t be in the NT.  A friend of mine had a book on the Elephantine papyri, ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC, published by Brigham Young University.  I’m sorry, but what does Mormonism, with its additional “holy books,” a large portion of one of which is a verbatim repeat of the King James Version, down to verse and chapter divisions and punctuation, what does Mormonism have to do with determining the text of Scripture?  But, I digress….

Back to John 8….

The usual understanding of this portion is that it’s all about forgiveness.  Jesus forgave this woman of her sin.  Others have said that it teaches that we’re not to judge others.  Jesus didn’t judge this sinful woman.  Are these what it teaches?

The Setting, v. 2. 

The Feast of Tabernacles had just concluded the day before, John 7:2, 37, so there would still have been larger than normal crowds in Jerusalem.  Jesus was sitting in the Temple, teaching those who had gathered to hear Him.  Perhaps the Jewish leaders thought this would be an ideal time to expose and get rid of this threat to their power, cf. John 11:48.

The Set-up, vs 3-6.

In the midst of the quiet with only the sound of the Master’s voice, suddenly there was a commotion.  A group of men, scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, were dragging a struggling, disheveled woman toward the front of the gathering.  A strident voice rang out over the shocked silence:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do you say?”

A challenge to the Savior.  Perhaps these men, or at least some of them, had heard Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying several times, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you….”   The “you” is emphatic:  “Moses commanded…, but YOU, what do YOU say?”

The only reason these men were interested in what the Lord would reply was that they might have something of which to accuse Him, v. 6.  These men were never there actually to hear what the Lord had to say; they were just looking for something they could use against Him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t engineer the whole thing.  Granted, the men probably knew the woman could be tricked into this – a godly Israelite lady would never have done what she did, but that still gives them no excuse for their mistreatment of her.

The Silence, v. 6. 

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them.

I love this verse.

There have been numerous suggestions as to what the Lord wrote.  Of course, no one can really know, because John doesn’t tell us what He wrote.  Any conjecture is just that, conjecture.  My own “conjecture” is that He wrote, “Where is the man?”

You see, Leviticus 20:10, which is probably what the men were referring to, says, among other things, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.  So it seems reasonable to me that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?”  If the woman had been caught in the very act, there had to be a man involved.  Where was he?

The sentence, v. 7, 8. 

Many who read this portion of John don’t seem to realize that the Lord told them to go ahead and stone her.  Granted, and this is important, He put a condition on it. Nevertheless, he told them to do what Moses had commanded them to do.

The “condition” was that the one throwing the first stone at her had to be without sin among them.  Now, was the Lord requiring that they be “sinless” in order to execute this guilty woman?  Not at all, otherwise such sentencing could never have been carried out, even in Moses’ time.  My own view, and I won’t be dogmatic about it, is that Jesus was really saying to them that the one who was without sin in this particular matter should be the first to throw a stone at her.

After all, they had set her up, and they were trying to set Jesus up.  Though not participants in the actual act of adultery, they were as guilty as she was.  And the Lord know it, cf. John 2:24.

Again, He stooped and wrote on the ground.  And, again, we don’t know what He wrote. This time, I won’t “guess”.

The Struggle, v. 9.

Again, silence.  The strident voices of the woman’s accusers were quiet.  The Master was again writing on the ground.  Silence.  Perhaps the men looked at the ground and/or at each other.  Perhaps they shuffled their feet or cleared their throats.  The Scripture says that, though there may have been silence on the outside, their consciences were quite loud on the inside.  Suddenly, there was movement.  After a few uncomfortable moments, the eldest of them began to move toward an exit.  Then another, then another, then all of them, with as much “dignity” as they could still muster from the oldest even to the last.  Again, silence.   Just Jesus, the woman and the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Sequel, vs. 10-11.

This is the climax of the whole story.  Jesus finally raised Himself us, to see only the woman standing in front of Him.  Her accusers were all gone.  He said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”  You see, in cases where the death sentence was to be imposed, and there are more than 40 such cases in the Law, at least two witnesses had to testify to the guilt of the accused party.  But in this case, the case of the adulterous woman, there were no accusers.  Legally, there was no ground for her to be condemned or to be executed.  It is on this basis, and not because He “forgave” her, that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s not because we’re not “to judge.”   There were no witnesses to her guilt.  She could not be condemned.  It was the Law.

The woman was not standing before Jesus in His capacity as the Judge of all mankind.  He will be that one day, and she will stand before Him again.  So will we all.  She was standing before Him as a Jewish Rabbi, who was required to uphold the Law.  He did so. The “scribes and Pharisees” did not, but were simply using it in their efforts to “get” the Lord Jesus.

The Single Word, v. 11.

The woman only said three words so far as the record goes.  And we have no further record of her at all.  But one of those three words gives us hope that this experience had also worked conviction in her, conviction which brought her to the Lord, not conviction like that of the scribes and Pharisees, which drove them away.

She called Him, “Lord.”

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