Your Friday Firestorm #38

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.

But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

(John 8:1-11)



  1. “Kristen” ain’t gettin’ stoned, that’s fo sho!

  2. This is my favorite Bible story, and I gave a talk on it fairly recently. Here’s a clumsy post on the textual issues.

  3. I remember reading a prominent Christian legal scholar a few years back in law school who had an interesting take on this whole incident that resonated with me.

    He argued that “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” doesn’t mean what most of us think it means.

    The popular read of this statement is “Oh come on guys! We all sin a bit now and then. Why not lay off a bit?” It’s the idea that we should be lenient on sinners.

    He claimed this read is inconsistent with the character of Jehovah – the author of the Mosaic Law. Christ himself gave the Law to Moses which states that an adulterer is to be stoned. And the story never questions the woman’s guilt. She had been taken in the very act. Under the Law, she was a criminal and, by Jehovah’s own command, must be stoned.

    And now, here is Jehovah in the flesh asked to enforce his own law.

    Are we to say that he’s just saying “Come on! Lighten up a bit!”? It seems inconsistent with Jehovah’s own position of respect for the law, and for justice. We might argue that mercy required a more lenient sentence, but keep in mind – Christ had not performed the Atonement yet.

    The Law of Moses was still in full force and Christ always kept it – better than his Pharisee accusers, in fact. He most certainly took the law very seriously.

    The Pharisees, of course, were utterly indifferent to the dilemma we read into this story. They merely thought they had trapped Christ between the Jewish and Roman legal systems. Under Jewish law, the woman must die. But under Roman law, only the Romans could execute the death sentence. If Christ had the woman spared, they would claim he was a heretic and violator of the Mosaic law. If he bid her be stoned, they would denounce him as usurping Roman law. A pretty little no-win situation they thought.

    But Christ outmaneuvered them, and it was through the Law of Moses (not the “Law of Christ”) that he did it.

    He demanded that the witnesses come forward.

    Under Mosaic Law, conviction of adultery required two witnesses. Since typically, the only witnesses to the crime were the man and woman in question, the Mosaic Law was actually a lot more merciful than we typically give it credit for. A fully legal conviction would be rather rare. Doubtless, the Jewish patriarchy had bent the rules to disfavor women, but the original intent of the Law was clear. You needed two witnesses. And the witnesses were the ones who were to cast the first stones at the condemned.

    So where were witnesses? It seems likely that either the man who committed adultery with the woman, or his father were actually in the crowd of accusers. It is even possible that several of the accusers had a “history” with the woman.

    Jesus demand that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” exposed the whole show trial for what it was, and completely undermined any pretense of self-righteousness in the crowd (who likely where a party to hidden identity of the other guilty person(s)). And it satisfied the Law of Moses. Without two witnesses, the woman clearly could not be stoned.

    Absolutely fantastic piece of legal defense work.

  4. I prefer the 1716 KJV reading, where John 8:11 reads “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.

    Okay, not really.

    I’m not convinced by Seth R.’s reading, though. It seems forced, ignores large portions of the actual text, and engages in a straw man argument with the “Oh come on guys! We all sin a bit now and then. Why not lay off a bit?” reading.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Ivan, I agree.

  6. Julie M. Smith says:
  7. Ivan, I have a hard time viewing the Pharisees as contemplatively saying to themselves “Oh, you’re right! I did yell at my wife this morning…” or “Well, yeah… there was that time back when I was a young man and spent the night with that girl down the street… guess we’d better back off.”

    Knowing what you know about the Pharisees and other hostile crowds Christ faced, how is such a take even possible?

    Wish I could remember the argument that was made that the reference to “he who is without sin” was a specific Jewish reference to the “witness.” The professor did argue it though.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Julie, when someone talks about Bibles as much as you do, you’re bound to have written a post about anything sooner or later.

  9. sister blah 2 says:

    My first question about this passage is always, where is the man??

    We know for sure that they know *who* the man is:

    They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

    Yet in the whole passage, this is the only refernce to him. Oversight on the part of whoever recorded the story, or they really just left him there to get dressed and go home in peace? It goes without saying that throughout history, women get the harsher end of the treatment on these things. But technically, Mosaic law says he should be punished too, right? In theory?

  10. The story seems, to me, a judgment of heart rather than of act. We have several stories in the NT where Christ associates with the “unclean”–be they lepers or women of ill repute (“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much…”). In this story, he releases a woman caught in the ACT, while subtlely condemning the Pharisees, whose hearts are accusing hearts, eager to find a reason to condemn either the woman or the Savior.

  11. What do you do with the likely fact that this story wasn’t originally in John?

  12. That said Ivan, I don’t have the citation for the article. I believe his last name was “Schafer.” He went over the argument in much more detail than my comment. Perhaps the “forced” feeling is due to my own abbreviation?

  13. I’ll throw in my two uneducated cents. What I’ve always liked about this story is the lesson of principle vs. practice. Since I don’t know all the historical ins and outs, I have taken my lesson from the “face value” reading of the story.

    I think many of us often try to emulate practices more than principles. Take the “Mothers Who Know:Homes and Temples” post on T&S recently. It turned into a discussion of ways to make our homes like the temple in practice, rather than focusing on principles of the temple we could implement. Example: Homes should be spotless or quiet vs. fostering an atmosphere of order and reverence for sacred things.

    I think this story illustrates how important principles are verses practice. Obviously the savior is not trying to tell us that if we go to the bishop having committed adultery he should say, “Sin no more” and send us home happily. We are to look to the principles involved, such as mercy, weighing individual situations, etc.

    Thinking along these lines in our everyday life helps us to look less on the outward appearance of the actions of our fellowmen and more toward discerning principled lives. The carrying out of principles of the gospel is a very individual and therefore variable thing. That is my favorite lesson from this story.

  14. I think the uniquely “Christian” message in the story is when Christ says “neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” It’s a tender moment foreshadowing the forgiveness that will be made available in Christ’s Atonement.

    Essentially, aside from the inescapable demands of “the law,” Christ held no contempt for the woman, no disgust, no anger. Mercy could not cheat justice and the Law must be upheld, but internally he was moved with compassion for her.

    I agree with sister blah that they probably let the man off scott-free. For some reason, I don’t find that too hard to imagine.

  15. I really like what you had to say, Margaret.

  16. Peter LLC says:

    So, Seth R, are you saying that Christ is Jehovah? I thought that was last week’s firestorm.

    The popular read of this statement is … that we should be lenient on sinners.

    I’ve always seen it as more a condemnation of hypocrisy–“you think you’re in a position to pass righteous judgment? Well, then, by all means.”

    What do you do with the likely fact that this story wasn’t originally in John?

    Besides putting it in your pipe and smoking it? I dunno, probably use it to stretch your flexible faith.

  17. I wrote a fictionalized version of this several years ago that I think is one of the better things I’ve written. However, it should be remembered that this may be an interpolation. It doesn’t appear in the very best manuscripts, and it shows up in some late manuscripts of Luke, as well. I’ve heard it hypothesized by conservative scholars that early scribes interpolated it from some other reliable now-lost source, like the Gospel of Hebrews. But it may also be that it was fabricated out of whole cloth. The Jesus Seminar included it in their pared-down version of the life of Jesus even though they voted it gray, because they figured it was a “true fiction”. True to the character of Jesus, that is. On the other hand, I have a friend who’s glad it probably isn’t authentic, because he thinks it’s problematic that Jesus just let the woman off scott-free.

    I’ve always thought it odd– especially if this is a fictional interpolation– that we aren’t told what Jesus was writing in the sand. I’ve always thought that was something of a mark in favor of the story’s authenticity.


  18. Steve Evans says:

    I agree, Peter LLC. I see this more of a condemnation of hypocrisy and a reminder of our own sins as a barrier to judgment.

    re: flexible faith… yeah.

  19. Re #6, JMS’ approach to this text is just another one of her attempts at reinterpreting a text to mean something that would be appealing to feminists.

    Re #11 Pretty much all, if not all, scholars accept the Johannine authorship of the passage, even if it wasnt original to the GofJ

    Re the text, this passage is a case of the Pharisees attempting to entrap Jesus between the Law of Moses and the Romans. If he refuses to acknowledge the Law of Moses’ requirements as far as the woman is concerned they will fault him for it. If he condemns her to death, then they will go and rat him out to the Romans for usurping their authority to execute.

    v2 Jesus is in a public place teaching a large group of people. The Pharisees intentionally pick a public area with witnesses to for their plan to get him into trouble.

    v3-4 In attempting to trap Jesus, the accusing Pharisees violated the Law on a number of critical points:

    They should not have brought the woman into the Temple precinct as she was unclean as a result of copulation, cf. Lev. 15:18.

    They do not bring the man with whom the adultery was committed along, cf. Deut. 22:22-29.

    Unless they themselves were the ones who caught her in the act, which is unlikely unless one of them was the one copulating with her, they are violating the Law by holding a trial without the minimum two witnesses, cf. Deut. 17:6.

    The act of stoning someone within the Temple precinct, the act they are trying to provoke, would certainly not be permitted (cf. Deut 22:24 which says to stone people outside the gates, also cp. Lev. 24:14, Num. 15:35, Deut. 17:5).

    They are attempting to trap Jesus in the letter of the Law while they violate it in order to set up the trap. This is probably why Jesus initially ignores their question in v. 6, because they are such gross hypocrites and their case is so intrinsically flawed. Their embarrassment in v. 9 when Jesus questions their righteousness certainly stems, at least in part, from these flagrant violations of the Law.

    v3 “scribes”, a hint that this text is an insertion and probably redacted as the Greek term for “scribes” is not found in any other of John’s writings. Another hint is this verse presents “the Pharisees” as approaching Jesus, being rebuked, and then all leaving in v. 9, yet in v. 13 there again are “the Pharisees”.

    v4 Note only the woman is brought before Jesus. Where is the man with whom she had committed the act? Why wasn’t he brought as well? What does this say of the Pharisee’s motives, as well as what Jesus says to them in v. 7? They are observing a double standard, one which the Law clearly doesn’t condone.

    v5 They are attempting to pit Jesus against the Law. From this the reader may safely assume capital punishment for adultery was not in force at that time, otherwise there would have been no controversy. We also have to recall Jesus’ very compassionate approach to women who were classified as “sinners”, cp. Luke 7:37-50, John 4:16-18. Given such a pattern, the Pharisees thought for certain they could entrap Jesus with the letter of the Law.

    Regarding this text there commonly arises the debate as to whether mercy or justice is appropriate, and whether Jesus was upholding the Law in sparing the woman from capital punishment. In these matters reality is often more complicated than what it seems given the superficial reading and paucity of detail (e.g., we nothing of the woman’s history, the man’s history, whether she was married or he, whether she knew he was married, and so on). Further complicating matters is the underlying issue that when the men of Israel, particularly the priests, lead the women into sins of this type the blame is placed at the feet of the men, cf. Hosea 5:14. The primary subject at hand is not sexual immorality, so attempting to use this as such is acontextual.
    It is probable the Pharisees were trying to get Jesus in trouble with the Romans. The occupying Romans forbade the Jews any capital punishment as all such matters had to be deferred to Roman judgement, cf. 18:31. So, the Pharisees might be trying to put Jesus in between the Law and the Romans with no apparent way out. The way they saw it either way he answered they could get him in trouble, either by accusing him of breaking the Law or by turning him into the Romans for insurrection.

    “Moses in the law”, referring to Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:21.

    v6 The author explicitly spells out the Pharisee’s intent to the reader and then informs the reader that Jesus perceived their intent, and so he ignored them. The stooping and writing with his finger means he continued on with his teaching (note in 7:14- 15 Jesus is teaching the people with writing) as though he were not interrupted by them at all.
    There is considerable speculation as to what it is Jesus wrote, but it is all simply speculation.

    v7 “he that is without sin”, the implicit subject here is not sin in general, but is the sin of adultery. Jesus has caught them scapegoating a woman who is guilty of what they themselves are guilty of. Jesus turns the tables on them and puts them on trial instead of them putting her on trial.
    Were all of her accusers adulterers? We cannot say. But, recall that to look upon a woman with lust is to commit adultery already in your heart, so the implicit accusation Jesus is making need not be that of literal adultery.
    Jesus is also implying the manner in which they are trying the woman violates the Law, see the comments above on v. 3-4.

    “let him first cast a stone”, the Law required the accusing and convicting witness to cast the first stone, cf. Deut. 17:7. Jesus has caught the Pharisees in the manner in which they were seeking to catch him. They are trying to catch Jesus in a capital case, he turns it around and tells them that whoever is not guilt can start executing the capital punishment.

    v9 “standing in the midst”, in the midst of the multitude that Jesus was teaching. She is left alone of the group of Pharisees which brought her in, but the people Jesus has been teaching from v. 2 are apparently witnesses to the whole thing.

    v11 “neither do I condemn thee”, i.e., condemn her to death as is the case in v. 10 where they were seeking to condemn her to death. He does tell her to stop sinning.

  20. The popular read of this statement is … that we should be lenient on sinners.

    I’ve always seen it as more a condemnation of hypocrisy–”you think you’re in a position to pass righteous judgment? Well, then, by all means.”

    I think both messages are there. The message, in my opinion, is that broken people are God’s favorites. People who think they have it all together and who judge those who don’t, on the other hand, are God’s un-favorites.

  21. Whenever I read this story I think, “I wonder what He was drawing?” It’s just a mental image that I find fascinating; the Son of God peacefully drawing pictures on the ground with his finger. I can relate to that.

  22. I’ve always wondered what the point of stooping tow write in the dirt was. Was he just trying to pass the time while he figured out what to do? Was he trying to confuse them? Was it some kind of read the tea leaves/read the dirt and rocks fortune telling deal?

  23. Re #11 Pretty much all, if not all, scholars accept the Johannine authorship of the passage, even if it wasnt original to the GofJ

    I’m pretty sure that’s not accurate.

  24. Chris–this is an exercise I do in my creative writing classes. I have my students write the “untold” story in scriptures. (Leah’s, for example.) It’s a bit dangerous, because students can use the exercise as an avenue into pontification and can get into archaic speech, but it occasionally produces something quite good. I’d like to provide my students the link to that story of yours, if you don’t mind. If you DO mind, please e-mail me personally. (I’m easy to find–I’m at BYU.)

  25. ED, see this. Your opinion does not reflect scholarly consensus regarding this passage.

  26. Margaret, that’s perfectly fine with me. :-)

  27. Hmmm… the smilies here look a little bit… mischievous.

  28. Steve Evans says:

    Chris, beware of mischievous smileys, inside they are ravening wolves!!

  29. This section in John shows, to me, the Savior creating an out-picturing, or a visual lesson, of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    “Old things are done away and all things have become new.” 3Nephi 12:47-48

    Also Read in 3Nephi 15:2-10

    “Behold I AM the Law and the Light. Look unto me.”
    3Nephi 15:9

  30. I have a real problem digesting Seth’s interpretation here. There is a real argument over where the law of Moses came from as well as whether it was a lesser law for people unable to live the higher law. I think Christ’s own language in the sermon on the mount has to give us pause. You have heard it said, which almost sounds like he is not taking credit for these previous ideas. You’ve heard it said x, but let me tell you what I Jesus think.

    Christ may have certainly used the law of Moses requirement for witnesses to get around the trap but I think it is hard not to argue that he is teaching something about scapegoating and accusing in general. To me, the woman’s guilt is not as relevant as the actions of the people. Christ seems to be saying that we are not to be accusers, remember Satan is the accuser.

    I tend to see Christ’s ministry as a call to have the parakletos or the spirit, the spirit of the defense attorney, the defender of victims both guilty and not guilty. I truly believe we are taught to not surround in circle victims with stones, but surround victims with prayer circles.

  31. Re 25, ah, well, thats what I get for relying on older sources. As of the Anchor Bible (1966), it was correct. As of B. M. Metzger (TCGNT, 1994) it is incorrect. Regardless, I still consider the text Johannine, given the irony. The weaknesses in the Greek could easily be attributed to its late addition. I have no problem considering it an authentic story. You?

  32. #22 —

    I always wondered if Christ was writing down the names of the men who were committing adultry themselves. Perhaps he wrote the time, the place, and they left one by one as they read their own names…

  33. Seth 3,
    It seems that in your account, the reason that she wasn’t killed is because she was such a huge slut. That seems problematic. Not to mention all of the anachronisms of interpretation, including accurate historicity of the story, that are required for such a reading.

    ED 31,
    Why does it matter if it is Johannine or not? If not, who cares?

  34. Where did I ever say that? The excerpt of the comment you seem to be referring to is just me brainstorming about the story we aren’t hearing. Maybe she did sleep around, maybe she just slept with one guy. I don’t think it changes my read all that much.

    For the record, I don’t care if John wrote the story or not.

  35. I always wondered if Christ was writing down the names of the men who were committing adultry themselves. Perhaps he wrote the time, the place, and they left one by one as they read their own names…

    Interesting idea Cheryl, I hadn’t thought of that.

  36. Sorry, TT, not biting. You play fast an loose with your exegetical techniques based on whatever outcome you desire. If it is Song of Solomon you will praise BiV up and down for anachronistic interpretations that are wildly historically inaccurate because you want to forward your particular reading. But, when you dont like someone elses reading, then you attack it as anachronistic and ahistorical. Whatever, TT.

  37. Seth 34,

    When you said, “So where were witnesses? It seems likely that either the man who committed adultery with the woman, or his father were actually in the crowd of accusers. It is even possible that several of the accusers had a “history” with the woman,” you seem to suggest that the reason that the witnesses didn’t come forward is because they were all guilty of sins, with her!!

    ED 36,
    If you still haven’t dropped the SoS issue when you were unable to distinguish between exegesis and receptiongeschichte from like a year ago to be able to answer a simple question, I suppose that you choose rightly to not explain yourself.

  38. jjohnson-
    I have to give credit to a seminary teacher who first mentioned it to me –he was careful to state it was his own opinion, of course.

    But I always liked that idea because how many people admit to their sins willingly, without provocation of some kind?

  39. Re 25, ah, well, thats what I get for relying on older sources. As of the Anchor Bible (1966), it was correct. As of B. M. Metzger (TCGNT, 1994) it is incorrect.

    The second edition of Metzger’s TCGNT (1994) repeats the statement in the first edition (1971) that “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.”

  40. There’s no statute of limitations on poaching, Evans.

  41. annahannah says:

    Cheryl, I like your idea

  42. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Steve, why does your “Discuss” link at the end of the scripture send us to Ashley Alexandra Dupre’s MySpace page?

  43. Steve Evans says:

    Patricia, that’s a very interesting question. If you don’t know who she is, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

  44. Eric Russell says:

    Get ready see that chick working the daytime talk show circuit, writing a book, getting a record deal and all that nonsense. She’s going to milk this more than Monica did. “Neither do I condemn thee” indeed.

  45. Peter LLC says:

    Get ready see that chick … milk this more than Monica did.

    Yeah, it seems that loose women have that fatal flaw of milking the notoriety bestowed upon them by the well-meaning powerful men in their lives.

  46. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Layers upon layers upon layers… Very clever, Mr. Steve. (Good catch, Dan.)

    Brothers Eric and Peter, are you casting stones at our sister?

    Why is it a “fatal flaw” to make lemonade out of lemons? And who is consuming the lemonade? In this case, the “lemonade” has not even been made!

    I appreciate Seth R.’s and ED’s comments. I had not considered this story in that context before.

  47. Whenever I hear this story, I always think of that old Grondahl cartoon that appeared in BYU’s Daily Universe.

    An injured, half-conscious man is climbing out from underneath a big pile of rocks and exclaims: “…and then I said: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  48. TT, I think that those who were guilty with the woman are some of the most likely sources of witnesses to the adultery. Unless some angry dad walked in on his son unannounced, that is…

    So I’m not ruling out “clean” witnesses entirely, but I think there has to be an explanation why no such clean witness was produced. Culpability seems the most likely explanation.

  49. Matt Jacobsen says:

    My 2 cents.

    I must admit to having a fondness to interpretting this story as meaning to take it easy on the sinner, as opposed to simply showing that Jesus was good at legal repartee. To me, it is similar to ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’

    I also like to think of God, the law-giver, finding a way to introduce a (dare I say) higher law without explicitly contradicting the old one. He let their consciences teach them in ways that their minds would not allow. I wonder if any walked away pondering more about justice and mercy.

    The last time I heard this scripture discussed in sunday school, the class did spend most of the time talking about how we shouldn’t judge others because we are all sinners. The other time was spent discussing how the woman of course wasn’t really forgiven because she hadn’t gone through the proper course of repentance. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ words had silenced the Pharisees’ condemnation, but that others were more than willing to take over. I appreciate Julie’s point that the woman’s guilt is not even a given and is in fact almost tangential to the story.

  50. Eric Russell says:

    Casting stones? Heavens, no! Her pictures are all over my wall. Her music site is my firefox home page. “What We Want” is my cellphone ringtone. I hope I have daughters just like her.

  51. Peter LLC says:

    Brothers Eric and Peter, are you casting stones at our sister?

    No, Ma’am, I was attempting a tongue in cheek rebuttal of Eric’s post.

  52. Peter LLC says:

    I hope I have daughters just like her.

    Treat them as her father did her and I expect your wish will be granted.

  53. Steve Evans says:

    Peter, in Eric’s case the genetics are against him producing a specimen like Kristen. In terms of socialization I think he stands a fighting chance, however. (grins)

  54. Eric Russell says:

    Just you wait, Evans. Don’t come to me when your son comes home crying because my daughter turned him down.

  55. He won’t, Eric. He’ll take the case to a sagacious Rabbi to try to get your daughter stoned publicly.

  56. Josh Smith says:

    Writing in the dirt probably didn’t have anything to do with the woman or the accusers. The adultery question interupted Jesus teaching a group of people in the temple. I imagine the writing had something to do with the prior teaching. It is interesting that the story that made history was the interruption.

    Like others in this post, I agree that the detail gives the story authenticity. It makes Jesus very human–the hands that perform acts of a god writing in the dirt.

  57. Stephanie says:

    It seems to me that Christ’s message to the would-be judges is fairly clear: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    People tend to leave out the last part when using this scripture to argue that we should have a lenient attitude toward sin. The “go and sin no more” part shows that sin is clearly still wrong.

  58. For some reason, I always assumed that Jesus was writing in the dirt because he hoped they’d just go away if he acted really bored by their question. Perhaps giving them a chance to avoid challenging him directly?

  59. To me the key aspect was when Jesus said “Neither do I condemn thee” at the end.

    Because in point of fact Jesus was the only one there who actually did have authority to condemn her.

    The points that others made about violations of the Law of Moses is pertinent, but not in the way many seem to be making it. The Law of Moses gave the rulers authority to condemn an adulteress to death under certain circumstances- but the rules were being violated so there was no authority to condemn her to death under the law of Moses. Nor did any of them have authority to condemn the woman to death under Roman law.

    The only person on the scene that had that authority was Jesus- because of his Godhood.

    So when Jesus says “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” I interpret it as: “Whoever among you is God (or feels comfortable acting in God’s name) may condemn her.” Since they were not following God’s law, nor the secular law, none of them could claim the authority to issue condemnation- and thus went away convicted by their conscience.

    But that didn’t end the issue- because after they all left only Jesus and the woman were there, but Jesus did have authority to condemn her- that’s why his act of mercy is the true one and is different from the other’s decision to not condemn the woman.

    In comparison, a Bishop who follows the Lord’s law and guidelines may issue a condemnation without fear of punishment from God (despite his personal sins), because he is authorized to act in God’s name, and so the judgment is not his but the Lord’s. Similarly secular judges may issue condemnations in keeping with the legal tradition because they are authorized to do so.

    Be abuse or rejection of these legal rules by a secular judge would mean he was taking responsibility for the condemnation on himself only, and not the legal system.

    So to me the question that Jesus asks is a challenge that says: “Are you willing to be held responsible for this judgment?” Because as you judge others, in like manner will God judge you. Well, we want God to be just and merciful, so taking that step of condemning her outside of God’s authorization under the law means that you think you can stand up to a similar form of judgment of your own sins.

    Maybe I’m not expressing it well, but to me it’s a little bit more complex than just “We all sin so don’t condemn people for sinning”.

  60. Cicero,

    I have to agree. In fact, for my friend who thinks this doesn’t belong in the Bible, that is the crucial point. Jesus really didn’t have any sin, so he had every right to condemn her and to cast the first stone. One might even argue– as does my friend– that he had a responsibility to do so. Yet he chose mercy. This, in my opinion, goes beyond a mere critique of hypocrisy. Unlike my friend, I approve of what Jesus did here. I am a compatibilistic determinist, which means that I think we should choose not to sin, but I also believe that we are largely victims of circumstance. This leads one to a much more merciful attitude toward the sinner than does a libertarian free-will perspective, IMO.

  61. I would say there’s far less here than any of the cases being contrived…

    And far more.

  62. Agree with James on both counts. In that vein, regarding Jesus writing in the dirt, I think while some of the interesting theories proposed are possible, the occam’s razor answer is that he was just scribbling in the dirt. To that effect, here’s my theoretical re-creation. Crowd: “Hey Jesus! Lookie here what we caught! Whatcha gonna do with her? Huh, huh, c’mon! Burn her! Err, I mean stone her!” Jesus: “La dee da dee da. Ho hum.”. Crowd: “Oy you, did you not hear us, what’re ya deaf bloke? I said we done caught us a sinner”. Jesus: “doo diddle dee diddle da. Hmmm, lookie here at that squiggly. Pretty.” Crowd (now all riled up and set up for a surprise): “Hey, lis’en up, we asked ye a question!”. Jesus: (now looking up and staring them in the eye for dramatic effect which silences them): “I heard you just fine bud (pause)…Ok, he who is without…” And you know the rest.

  63. I remember taking a coarse on the origin of the new testament and hearing that this section of the Bible was not found in any of the early copies of this book. I think it wasn’t until the 4th or 5th century that the scribes began to include it into the copies that have as now been discovered. It has been a hurdle for me in light of the many other inconsistancies and forgeries that exist in today’s version of the bible. So for me to understand why Jesus wrote this is hard when I have serious doubt as to if he even did.

  64. TT #37, it is not just a simple question when it comes from you, it is always a set up for some of your pointless polemics. Cloak your exegetical inconsistencies in whatever semantical vagaries you like, you are still the same old TT from a year ago who selectively attacks historicity in others and ignores it himself whenever convenient. Youre just playing games, and they bore me.

  65. The women was dragged there by her accusers. After Jesus states the standard, “He that is without sin can cast the first stone”, they quietly slink off into the distance, and she stays there, waiting patiently, even though she is now free to leave. Her behavior is the behavior of a repentant person. Jesus’ response is the appropriate response of a priesthood leader to somebody that has repented.

  66. Cicero – I think you were very clear – I never thought of the meaning of Jesus’ phrase “without sin” in that way before. I think many of the points made are right, at least the one’s I can understand! Look, we all know that there are layers of meaning within the scriptures, don’t we? So, to the Pharisees He was beating them at their own game – once again turning the tables on their attempt to entrap Him. To the woman, He was teaching her repentance (and I have always believed that His response to her was based on what He knew was in her heart, just as He knew what the Pharisees were really up to). And to those who perhaps were ready to understand, He was also proclaiming Himself the Messiah. In fact, killing many birds with one stone. Pun intended.

  67. Steve, just picked the text, despite the textual controversy, that I am preaching on during this Palm Sunday. He must know the expository preaching schedule for my series in John’s Gospel.

    By the way, the whole BCC readership is invited, even TT and ED.

    Have a great weekend.

  68. Well ED,
    I suppose that you’ve figured out that I have secret agenda in asking why you think it matters that this was Johannine. Now that I’ve been caught, I might as well reveal it to you: I don’t think it matters to appreciate the “meaning” of the story, though I think it does matter when it comes to speculating on what we think was “really” happening in this particular historical moment. I think that all attempts at reconstructing the scene are pointless, revealing more about our own prejudices than anything about Jesus’s life, especially if it comes from John. But I think that appreciating the message of the story, about hypocrisy, forgiveness, repentance, unjust treatment of women, etc are all entirely independent of historical questions.

  69. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    “Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes.

    How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manuscript tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Later in this book we will be examining in greater depth the kinds of evidence that scholars adduce for making judgments of this sort. Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John? 18 its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after)? and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.

    How then did it come to be added? There are numerous theories about that. Most scholars think that it was probably a well-known story circulating in the oral tradition about Jesus, which at some point was added in the margin of a manuscript. From there some scribe or other thought that the marginal note was meant to be part of the text and so inserted it immediately after the account that ends in John 7:52. It is noteworthy that other scribes inserted the account in different locations in the New Testament—some of them after John 21:25, for example, and others, interestingly enough, after Luke 21:38. In any event, whoever wrote the account, it was not John.

    That naturally leaves readers with a dilemma: if this story was not originally part of John, should it be considered part of the Bible? Not everyone will respond to this question in the same way, but for most textual critics, the answer is no.”
    -Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman, Harper Collins, 2005.

  70. I wonder if the “woman taken in adultery” (in the story) and Ashley Alexandra Dupre are truly in parallel situations.

    We don’t know the back story for the woman taken in adultery (in the Bible story). It doesn’t actually say she was a prostitute – a professional serial adulterer, so to speak. Adultery happens in a wide variety of contexts. We don’t know what role the woman played in this act of adultery – was she a seducer or was she seduced? Did she think out or plot the act of adultery in advance or did she get caught up in a moment with someone? How old was this woman? How old was the man? What was the context of the relationship the man and the woman had (in addition to the sex?). Were they neighbors? Was the man the woman’s employer somehow? Was the woman a prostitute? Were they indulging in a one-night-stand or had they been together many times? Again, we don’t know and can only speculate about a very wide variety of possibilities. But the back story would matter.

    In regards to Ashley Alexandra Dupre – we know for sure that she was a prostitute working for an organization. We know quite a bit about the context of this case of adultery. That doesn’t mean we understand Ashley … she could have had all kinds of reasons for entering that profession. Some of those reasons could be quite sympathetic. On the other hand, it’s also possible she’s just a bad person.

    I’m not trying to take Jesus’s place and judge either woman. I’m just looking at these two situations and trying to tease out some criteria that could make a difference when judgement time comes around.

    Yesterday, I was in an office waiting for someone to get off the phone, and was leafing through a Time magazine – and came across a commentary on this exact story in an article about scholars who are “re-Judaizing Jesus.” Here’s the quote of interest:

    The shift came in stages: first a brute acceptance that Jesus was born a Jew and did Jewish things; then admission that he and his interpreter Paul saw themselves as Jews even while founding what became another faith; and today, recognition of what the Rev. Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus, calls Jesus’ passionate dedication “to Jewish ideas of his day” on everything from ritual purity to the ideal of the kingdom of God — ideas he rewove but did not abandon. What does this mean, practically? At times the resulting adjustment seems simple. For example, Bell thinks he knows the mysterious words Jesus wrote in the dust while defending the adulteress (“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone,” etc.). By Bell’s calculation, that showdown occurred at the same time as religious Jews’ yearly reading of the prophet Jeremiah’s warning that “those who turn from [God] will be written in the dust because they have forsaken [him].” Thus Jesus wrote the crowd’s names to warn that their lack of compassion alienated their (and his) God.

  71. “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.”

    Given this wording, I have a hard time believing he was writing anything profound or relevant, since that would have proven that he had heard them. I think he was ignoring them, plainly and simply – and obviously.

    “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself”

    Only when it was obvious that they wouldn’t stop did he acknowledge them – and then only with one sentence.

    “And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.”

    As soon as he had addressed them, he went back to ignoring them.

    Aside from the issues of how he addressed the woman, I think it is more than clear that he was dismissive of those who brought the woman to him. No matter the motivation behind his actions, he definitely refused to step out of his teacher/prophet role and step into their legal world. He dismissed them by saying, in essence, “This is your problem, not mine. I won’t comment on the law. You handle it, but, since you asked me, here is my advice on how to carry out the law.” After they left, he turned to the woman and, in full teacher/prophet role, told her he did not condemn her and that she should stop doing what had caused the problem in the first place – sinning.

    People often forget that his advice to them did not condemn the law or advocate that it be abolished. His answer was an “enforcement” answer – his suggestion as to how to enforce it in that particular instance. Obviously, he chose a method that would make it impossible to enforce it, but that was his right as someone “outside the system” who had been asked for advice in that particular situation. It’s easy to read more into it, but the words themselves don’t support much of the speculation that I often hear, imo.

    I have no problem “likening the scriptures unto ourselves”, but I don’t read more into the actual account than this: initially ignoring the legal situation, providing counsel when pressed, showing mercy to someone rejected by others and counseling against sin. That seems consistent with his entire mission.

  72. How about considering this, Ray.

    A revealing opening verse in John’s Gospel:
    For the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (1:17)

    This story in John 8 is about law and grace – truth and grace in the Christ.

    1. The law is real (Ex. 20:14, Lev. 20:10, Deut. 22:22-40). And the law is good (Ps. 19:7-9, Rom. 7:12)

    2. The law condemns (Gal. 3:10, James 2:10-11). And this is kicker: how does one escape condemnation?

    3. It is the good law that confronts us, condemns us, and brings us to Christ for our justification (Gal. 3:24) (Ironic, the unrighteous law-keepers actually bring the adulterous woman to Christ. It’s beauty shining through the evil scheme.)

    4. The trap: If Jesus saves the woman, he cannot save the law. If he saves the law, he cannot save woman.

    5. The answer is in Romans 3:20-4:8.

    6. For the adulterous woman, now no condemnation for the past sin, and no continuation in the sin. This is the experience of those justified in Christ.

    Law first. Then truth and grace shining brilliantly.

  73. That’s a good summary, Todd. At the meta-level, I personally see it as an attempt to move the people from the Law of Moses they still needed to follow at that time to the Law of Christ that would be instituted after His death.

    Put another way, he changed the definition of “perfect” from the Law of Moses concept of following with exactness every little rule and, thereby, never making a mistake (sound familiar from a pre-existent standpoint?) to accepting grace and moving forward in faith through repentance (on-going change and growth until able to say, “It is finished.”). He changed the perception of “worthy” from mistake-free to humbly repentant.

    My main point in the last comment was that I doubt he was writing anything profound in the dust, since the text itself seems to indicate otherwise.

  74. Ray, I don’t think Todd, an Evangelical fundamentalist pastor, believes that Lucifer proposed an alternative plan in the preexistence, or even in the preexistence itself!

  75. Yeah, John, I understand that – but it was a good summary of the actual story, nonetheless.

    I added the pre-existence comparison on my own. (“I personally see it . . .”)

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