A Public Apology to “the woman taken in adultery.”

*Please note, this post, while not explicit in nature, does address violence against women.

Over the past couple of years, the woman taken in adultery in John Chapter 8 has come into my mind again and again. While it is the consensus among Bible scholars that this particular passage containing the story of the woman was added centuries later and there are varying opinions on whether or not the story actually happened, that information doesn’t matter much to me, because in my religious upbringing, the story was always taught and told as truth, and so I took it as thus. Even if it is not true, the attitudes about this woman are indicative of what has pervaded culture for hundreds of generations.

The Woman taken in Adultery, c.1621 (oil on canvas) by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666); 98.2×122.7 cm; © Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK; Italian, out of copyright

Clearly there are good intentions to teach about forgiveness and the grace of Jesus Christ, which I have always loved, but there is also a part of this story I have missed entirely until now. I had not ever considered what this woman’s side of the story might be.

The way these scriptures unfolded themselves throughout my childhood and into adulthood was based on this idea that the woman taken in adultery had clearly done something wrong, had sinned gravely, and we can only hope that she heeded Jesus’s grace of instruction to go and sin no more. Rarely did I give the woman much more than the time it took to read the verses. I did not give her or her future much thought. Much less, her future as it was changed given that singular event.

It wasn’t until recently that I even questioned the very premise of the story. When I think of this it now, I want to go back and tell the woman taken in adultery that I am so sorry. I am sorry that for my whole life I’ve called her that, “the woman taken in adultery.” I am sorry that I was not even curious about her side of the story. I did not question, nor even think much about why she was doing what she was doing and the fact that more than likely, the adultery was not her choice, but quite possibly was a situation of rape, violence and trauma.  

I am positive the title given this unnamed woman does not aptly describe her. I know the point of the story, at least as I’d always understood it up until this past year, was to point out the gravity of putting chastity at stake and the kindness of Jesus’s willingness to quickly forgive her. I also understand that the Pharisee’s did recognize their own sin, and while that is mildly useful, they likely did not face the social ostracism that this woman did by simply acknowledging their own sins to themselves.

The story of a bad woman who is forgiven is not the story I understand now. It is not the story I am interested in passing on to my children.

The truth of this woman is that we actually know nothing about her situation or the reason she was found committing adultery. We do know that she was not given a voice to tell that story. Her words are recorded no place.  And even if she was “committing adultery”, we don’t know if she was simply doing what she could to earn money for her children in a system that was woefully unfair to women in the first place, or if she was coerced by a man in power for a myriad of reasons. We don’t know the injustices that cobbled together a life in which at a certain point, she found herself in a very unfortunate circumstance. I want to think then, of this woman in John chapter 8 simply as a woman, not as a woman taken in adultery or a sinner. From here on out, I just want to think of her as a woman who did not get to tell her side of the story. I want to fill in this story with kindness and belief in the woman when I repeat these scriptures from here on out. It is us who need to speak for the people whose voices are silenced or go unrecorded.

I love what this incident does teach us about Christ and his devotion to emancipate women. In an article titled, “Reading John 7:53-8:11 as a narrative against male violence against women,” Michael O’Sullivan says, “By speaking, listening to, and hearing her, he treated her with the dignity, care and empowerment that corresponded to her as a human person, which contrasts strongly with how the kyriarchal Pharisees and scribes communicated with and related to her.” –Michael O’Sullivan, HTS Theological studies.

I trust that Christ did know her heart and the shortcomings of the system in which they both lived. I want to love what I had been taught about the beauty of the moment when Jesus quickly and fully forgives. As John Piper, a Bible Scholar at Bethlehem College and Seminary says, “The most remarkable point of this story is that Jesus exalts himself above the Law of Moses, changes its appointed punishment, and reestablishes righteousness on the foundation of grace.” This concept is genuinely a beautiful one, and perhaps why the verses were added to the Bible centuries later.

It does still however, make all of these points at the expense of a woman. It is still a woman’s story as told by a man. Whether the events are based on an actual story or not, the woman is not allowed to speak her side of the story.

I wonder if Christ said the phrase, “Go and sin no more,” simply as a formality so she wouldn’t have to face the repercussions of a corrupt government.  I want to believe that His refusal to punish her or even reprimand her was a silent agreement of belief. He is not eager to launch into a sermon on self-improvement and the dire need to dwell on the sin. He seems to know something more about this woman’s heart. The way she did not need a rebuke, but the silence of someone who loves her without judgment.  I want to hope that He knew the woman would leave that scene and enter the arms of women in the community who would care for, heal and listen to her.  I don’t know. It’s still hard for me that He did not do more, did not stand up and overturn some tables in anger here, but I also do not understand everything.

In the same article by O’Sullivan, he writes,

The interaction between their [women who have had violence done to them] experience and this story can break open both their experience and the story. Instead of believing that God somehow ordains the violence against them, they can be persuaded that a Jesus who intervened against powerful men for the sake of preventing the prescribed killing of a woman and healing her trauma, and who did so in order to highlight the true meaning of God’s order of salvation, and at the risk of great danger to himself, must also want an end to contemporary violence against women and the forces in society and religion that contribute to it. He must also want instead the establishment of caring and considerate relations of mutuality and equality between men and women in Church and society.

I wonder then what would happen in our own communities if instead of teaching this story with the slant and emphasis of how the woman had sinned, if we instead taught this concept stated above, that it is our Christ-like duty to speak out and against violence against women? How different would the world be if every woman could trust that she had an advocate that she knew would listen and believe her, no matter the cost?

Today, there is not the same threat of danger in believing women that there was in Christ’s time, at least in America.  Certain cases may come with threat of violence, both for the victim and the advocate, but in more likelihood, it may look something like ruining the reputation of a man, sometimes an important or successful one. It may mean losing friends, or becoming unpopular, it may mean judicial proceedings that require re-telling of the trauma, and certainly in some cases it does mean danger or continued violence. Sometimes truly believing in change and justice means butting heads directly with the systems and classes that uphold long held beliefs.

I wonder, and this is purely speculation, what this woman might have done as she leaves that scene with Jesus and moves back into her daily life. My heart drops here for her. For what I, as a reader, and believer, did not do for this woman at this point. Until now, I have not wondered how she possibly re-integrated herself into a society who believed her broken and dirty. I had not considered the emotional trauma of her public call out by powerful figures.  I had not wondered how she dealt with the trauma of seeing her accusers and/or perpetrator daily in the streets. I had not considered that because there was no place to tell her story, and no space for belief that it was not her fault, she had to keep whatever had happened wrapped in her heart like a heavy stone. I did not consider the state of her body, the physical pain she could have been in, the lasting wounds she sustained. I did not consider that the violence might happen again and she had no one to protect her from it.

It is in scenarios like this that it is so clear how much we need feminine voices in leadership, how much we always have needed them. We need female writers. We need female stories. We need female witnesses. We need women who will hold space for other women to speak, even when it is different from what they would say.   I like to think that a woman with literal authority would demand silence from the Pharisee’s until the whole story was told, however long it took. And then I want to believe that the woman’s story would be believed immediately, no matter the consequence or tarnish of the reputation for whatever man, or men, that were also “found in adultery”— The other half of the sin that is never mentioned in the scriptures.

So yes, of course this post is speculation. I recognize that it is perhaps a bit blasphemous to pick at the Bible in such a way, but do you know what else? I’m tired of taking the writings and stories written solely by the hands of men at full face value while the stories of women have been relegated to a simple exercise in black and white chastity lessons. I refuse to call the woman in John chapter 8 “the woman taken in adultery.” She was a woman, probably a really wonderful and complex one, who never had the chance to speak her side of the story, let alone be believed.  There is the slight chance that she simply was a terrible, home-wrecker out having a good time, but given what I know now about history, I highly doubt that was the case.

From here on out, I want to do this woman the justice she deserved from me all along. I want to apologize for my assumptions, for my laziness in not pulling at a story that always seemed a little off in my Sunday school lessons. For my fear in how I might be seen if I had defended her.  So, while I cannot go back and speak to this woman face to face, while there is so much I will never know about what happened, I can be more brave in listening to and providing space for women who need to speak up now.  I can insist that their stories are told when they are ready to tell them. I can fight hard against fear when I know that men, even powerful ones, will be tarnished in the process of these stories coming to light. Over the past couple of years, I have watched women, many close to my heart strings, tell their own stories of abuse, some publicly and some in private. I have seen the repercussions of telling these stories, and clearly, they are not pretty or easy. Right now, it seems the job of women is to re-write histories, for ourselves and each other, and the job of men to believe what we are saying. We can do better for the woman in John chapter 8. We can do better for the women speaking up now, and better for the ones who aren’t yet able to. This is a global issue, a national issue, a religious issue, a Mormon issue, a personal issue. It belongs to all of us.



  1. Beautiful thoughts. I think we can also see the woman in the story as a type for Jesus, accused wrongly, a religious outcast threatened with violence, someone stripped of power. Maybe as Jesus triumphed, women can hope one day to also be valued.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Very thoughtful post, thanks.

  3. Among many other effects, you lead me to wonder how, in what circumstances, she was “taken.” Was she, in fact, entrapped to provide a convenient test cas to present to Jesus? Was one of the scribes and Pharisees challenging Jesus actually her partner or oppressor?

    Thinking about Gospel stories as involving real people can lead to interesting reevaluations. Thank you for leading me into this path.

  4. Deuteronomy 22:22–24 states:
    “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die — the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel. If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”

    The passage above indicates that adultery is punishable by death but does not prescribe the method. Because the men that brought this woman before Jesus said that the Law of Moses required that the woman be stoned, it is possible that she is in this second category described. It is possible that she was a betrothed virgin that was raped in a populated area and did not cry out. Something to ponder.

  5. Excellent insight into this crucial story. I hope we have a lot of discussion.

    Being raised in a Mormon family and community I was nourished with the perception that this woman had done something common but terribly wrong sexually, repented and was forgiven by Jesus our Lord.

    As I grew up life became complex. I was part of a close, extended family. Many of my friends and relatives kept the 7th commandment strictly or perhaps less strictly. But some did not and their reasons were complex. I have at least 49 cousins counting both sides of the family. My ward growing up had 250 youth in the old MIA program (that would be about 40 deacons and 40 beehives, 40 teachers and 40 miamaids, 40+ priests and 40+ laurels). Many were in sibling sets numbering in the double digits.Through gossip, my street experience was large and living there for decades made it longitudinally deep. Perhaps distorted.

    Two of my aunts married young for love to bad men. One endured physical abuse, and unfaitfulness (he fathered children with other women while married) and the other severe drunkenness, unemployable and unfaithfulness. Both divorced. Collectively they had a dozen children, 9 girls. All of those 9 women were sexually active as teenagers and had a variety of addictions, criminal activity, etc. Their brothers were worse. One had 4 wives and 6 children by them, and 4 more children by other women he never married who showed up to his funeral. Maybe more. He was a gangster, murderer, robber and rapist and was killed by the police. None of these many lost children ever came back to church and only a couple managed to eventually live somewhat productive lives, as far as I or the family gossips know.

    Another aunt married a tough cowboy from Nevada and he was a good guy mostly, except he was too rough (corporal punishment) on his 6 daughters. The oldest got pregnant in high school with her boyfriend and her father was so angry. The second got pregnant in 9th grade a short time later and the father had to be restrained by the police from not killing the guy. That “shotgun” marriage lasted a few weeks. Three more daughters were eventually pregnant out of wedlock around college age. The smartest, most assertive and attractive of that bunch stayed clean and married in the temple and is infertile, She and the second are the only ones active in the church, although the rest have re- married and became good people. Another cousin who was close to these troubled girls got pregnant in college and eventually married a different guy, raised a good family in the church although she was always on the sassy side. When the first child was 30 years old, she (child) became open about the rape of her mother that resulted in her birth. We had grossly misjudged her and sort of thought of her as like her cousins. I realized, probably the others to some degree.

    Around the neighborhood, a girl next door from an excellent family made a stupid decision in junior high to try sex with a boy and compounded the mistake many times with many boys until her last year in high school when she repented and got her life in order. Another girl my age living behind us was adopted and her mother was said to be a not-sincerely-converted French prostitute who encouraged sexual activity between her 3 adopted children, 2 girls and a boy. They, of course, were twisted and very libertine with their peers. Next to them lived a man, his “sister” who looked a lot like him and his wife. In high school we figured out the sister was actually him when he was in drag. The wife had 13 children with him and all but one of them were seriously messed up.

    Another family had twin girls who were both about as spiritual and as sleezy as they come. By the time they were about 30 years old, their father, one of the stalwarts in the ward, was put in prison for molesting them repeatedly for years. Another sibling set of 4 sisters a few years older than me all left home and ended up on the streets of western US cities whose names begin with Las. Later, near death, their father reportedly confessed to raping them. Another girl was said to be date-raped after a church dance and “went wild” after that and moved away.

    I had 2 bishops with very permissive parenting styles. The first had 7 daughters and their house was party central. His second daughter became a good friend in college and claims she dated and necked as a youth but no further. However, she said 5 of her sisters were tramps, sleeping with many guys. The next bishop had 8 daughters and they had an even worse reputation. The 6th daughter of that bishop told my brother he didn’t know what peer pressure was until you had 7 sisters putting pressure on you to lose it and 2 of them younger than you. I will not neglect to mention there were several other less outrageous examples of more typical sexual activity among the youth of excellent, good. mediocre and bad families and the boys were probably worse on average. I will never know all the details or underlying reasons for most of it. Many repented and have lived good lives.


    What I take from the story cited by the OP above and my experiences as a youth (and later in the military) is that it doesn’t matter how your life is broken. Your level of culpability might be great or small or nothing. Your efforts to swim against the stream of life in which you find yourself drowning might be strong or weak, consistent or infrequent. Come unto Christ and He will forgive you and heal you. That is the meaning of the story. It may take time and it will hopefully and undoubtedly extend beyond the grave and it usually requires help from others.

    If it helps women today to frame the story in a more feminist context, that is useful. I think the message is similar if it was a man who was shamed and forgiven. The story has historical weaknesses and set in a different cultural context, but the essential message is ageless.

  6. I like this take, I like the approach, I like thinking about the woman in the story. Thank you.

    I had to go back and reread to confirm for myself that I have never really thought about the woman in the story. I must have missed the “importance of chastity and willingness to forgive” lessons. Instead, I have always heard and read it as a rebuke to the Pharisees, as them making a false or hyper-technical imposition of the letter of the law, where Jesus says stop, don’t do that! I guess I’ll have to go back to Sunday School. But let me choose your class, Ashmae.

  7. Georgia in California says:

    Wow. I liked your ending. “Come unto Christ and He will forgive you and heal you.” Isn’t that the message found in most of the stories in the scriptures? I remember years ago when I figured out the word “Come” meant repent.

  8. I have always wondered where the man was. As Roy pointed out, Deuteronomy says both are to die. Because there was no man mentioned I’ve always believe it to be just a story of Christ’s willingness to forgive even serious sin.

  9. Deborah Christensen says:

    Remember Bathsheeba was “taken in adultery”. There’s a chance that this woman was no different. I also read a tradition somewhere that this woman was the prostitute to the Pharisees who brought her to the Savior..

  10. It has always bothered me the man (men?) wasn’t also hauled out for judgment. It very subtly implied that adultery was a sin women had to repent of, not so much men. Because I always assumed they knew she was guilty because they caught her red handed, so to speak. So I guess Christ sends her on her way, forgiven, but the man is still wallowing unrepentant in his sin because no one thinks he did anything wrong? The whole story is troublesome for me.

  11. This was only “thoughtful”, “beautiful”, “excellent insight”, if you are totally fine with making completely unfounded assumptions about things that go totally unmentioned in scripture. There was a wonderful post here that could have been written about why the man wasn’t brought forward also and the societal injustices that make that discrepancy exist. Instead what we have to read is the “what if” game, taken to extremes, and altering the nature of the scripture entirely (instead of committing a sin, now she was a rape victim). Instead of showing Jesus’ mercy in not doling out punishment, showing his love for us sinners, this posts suggests he turned his back on a victim of “rape, violence and trauma” and asks why He didn’t do more (like turning over tables). Despite other references to His good nature, the disgusting assumptions made here make him appear a sexual assault enabler with nothing more to offer her than “Go [away] and [get raped] no more.”

    I name this as tripe.

  12. Thank you for this post, it’s given me much to think about. Here’s a summary of my own story and the OP may alter the lens through which I think about my birth mother.

    My Mormon teenage birth mother had me in the mid 1970s and was basically forced to give me up for adoption or choose abortion (by her own LDS mother no less). She was later excommunicated and homeless for a time. My birth father was reprimanded but ultimately allowed to attend BYU and serve a mission. I’m pretty sure I’m the result of two horny and stupid – but normal – teenagers who also experienced a bit of bad luck. It’s telling to me that the woman in my story was excommunicated by her Mormon bishop but the man in my story experienced relatively minor consequences.

    I had never thought about my own story in the light of the women described in the OP. My guess is that there are shades of this story in countless women’s lives still today.

  13. @jaxjensen
    I’m with you, almost absurd.

    From the OP
    “The truth of this woman is that we actually know nothing about her situation or the reason she was found committing adultery. “

    But don’t let that stop you Ashmae.

    By the time I was done reading, it was clear the motivation behind this post was to make a not so thinly veiled poke at the news coming out of Washington DC.

    Tripe is right.

  14. Brian T, yeah, of course that is part of what I’m pointing to. It was relevant then, it is relevant now.

  15. Ever since I was a child the story as it is made no sense to me. If adultery is a capital crime, why would any woman risk it? She wouldn’t. But a woman being overpowered physically by a man? More likely. Why would the man risk it? Well for one thing, if he’s not caught in the act, he’s more likely to get away with it, like Arthur Dimmesdale.

  16. Toad, thank you for sharing such a personal experience. I hope this is in some way useful as you work through the complexities. Bless the women in your life.

  17. I agree with jaxjensen. In this interpretation Jesus doesn’t do much to help the woman. The story is about the sin of judging others….always has been…always will be.

  18. Michael Austin says:

    Reading a problematic biblical story from the perspective of a character whose perspective is not available in the story is not “tripe,” it is a time-honored, valuable, and important method of exegesis. It is, in fact, one of the main strategies of Jewish interpretation of what Christians call the Old Testament. If you read the multiple Midrashic commentaries on biblical stories, you will see that scholars have been reading these stories the way that Ashmae does for centuries.

    This kind of reading has produced a number of important Christian works too–take Søren Kierkegaard’s magnificent _Fear and Trembling_, which imagines the Akedah from numerous perspectives, including Sarah’s as she sees Isaac being taken away to be sacrificed. Or look at Nobel Laureate Pär Lagerkvist’s wonderful novel _Barabbas_, which imagines the story of the criminal who was spared when Christ was crucified. Or, if you need something more correlated, look at LDS General Authority B.H. Robert’s novella _Corianton_, which imagines the motivations of Isabel, the woman who seduced Alma the Y.s son in the Book of Mormon. These are valuable interpretive works, profound works in their own right, and excellent exercises in understanding the scriptures by likening them to ourselves.

    I really appreciate Ashmae’s reading of one of the most profound silences in the text of the New Testament. She is absolutely correct when she says that most of us read “the woman taken in adultery” simply as a category that allows Christ to make certain theological points, and not as a woman in her own right who has a story, and a life, and whose motivations and history are simply not mentioned in the text. If we follow the text, we are guilty of erasing her life and turning her into an object lesson. This is not a Christian thing to do.

    So, when Ashmae says,

    “From here on out, I just want to think of her as a woman who did not get to tell her side of the story. I want to fill in this story with kindness and belief in the woman when I repeat these scriptures from here on out. It is us who need to speak for the people whose voices are silenced or go unrecorded.”

    she is advocating a Christian, charitable, affirming reading of the text. And she makes it very clear that it is how she is choosing to read a silence. And that’s the thing about silences–they are silent. You have to fill them in with something, and what you choose to fill them in with says a lot about who you are. The way that Ashmae in the OP filles them in is entirely consistent with the overarching theme of the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus Christ, which is, don’t erase anybody’s experiences. Don’t turn people into things. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

  19. At times an excess of empathy is not a virtue. It can lead a person to contrive empathy to feel virtuous, make a stand, but obscure truth and often personal responsibility. I generally like the things I’ve seen you write Ashmae, but this is the general feel I get from the post, feels off to me. At the same time I could be wrong, and even if I’m right still think you’re great.

  20. Good grief. Multiple criticisms about the speculative nature of a piece that explicitly admits to being speculative about a story (itself probably not historical), make me question folks’ levels of reading comprehension. It’s a useful mulling over of often unexamined angles of a story in the context of current events. It’s straight-up Nephi emulation: “…for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.”

  21. We do not know the circumstances of the woman’s adultery, but we do know, without a doubt, that she is a victim of the scribes and Pharisees, who are using her as a pawn in their unholy maneuvers against Jesus. She is suffering, and she needs a Savior. We are meant to sympathize with her. As we try to understand this story, nothing could be more natural than to imagine the woman’s life with empathy.

    For Ashmae, empathy means seeing in this woman’s suffering a type of the suffering that many women endure from secret assaults and from the people–men and women–who dismiss their suffering as a lie. Ashmae’s essay is painful. It is not a balm. It is not reassuring. It feels off-balance because Ashmae herself feels off-balance–as we all should in these years of uncomfortable reckoning with sexual violence. If we feel disoriented by this essay, it’s not because Ashmae is too empathetic. More likely, it’s because she gives us a frightening glimpse of the awful things that we’ve learned to ignore by our lack of empathy as we stifle the voices of the weak and powerless.

    Ashmae’s essay is not the least bit blasphemous. It does not distort the scripture. Ashmae is teaching us something profound. She points out what seems to me an incontrovertible fact. Jesus saved the woman’s life, and he lovingly, respectfully sent her on. But he did not, because he could not, change the social conditions that force women to suffer inordinately for sex and for sexual violence. Only we can do that.

  22. There are several chapters of the Book of Daniel that are considered scripture in some traditions, but apocryphal by many others, including the LDS church. Chapter 13 of Daniel tells the story of the virtuous Susanna who rebuffed the lecherous advances of two corrupt elders. They accused her of the very crime she refused to commit, and she was condemned to death. Then a young Daniel appeared (in answer to her prayers) and asked to examine the witnesses further. He separated the two accusers and asked each the same question. “Under what sort of tree did you see this sin being committed?” The one elder listed a very large tree, while the other listed a very small tree. The audience immediately recognized that the men were lying, and they, and not Susanna, were executed. Susanna was not ever asked to tell her version of the story, at least so far as is recorded in the text.

    Was this story known the those who wrote this story about the Savior? Was it known to the participants? I have no idea. But the possibility that the elders, and not the woman, were corrupt was an old idea.

    I’m sure there was a lot more going on in most of the stories about the Savior than is recorded. For example, did he just point out the widow casting in her mite and then forget about her? Or did someone who heard him go and offer to help the widow–perhaps offer her a job caring for an ill family member? After all, she had been highly recommended. Perhaps the woman in the story in the OP became one of Christ’s followers and received the help and healing she needed. But it’s not in the text. However, as John said, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”

  23. Wonderful post, Ashmae. The dictionary defines “tripe” as “the first or second stomach of a cow or other ruminant used as food,” and indeed I will be ruminating on the beautiful and deeply Christian insights of this post for a long time to come.

  24. @Loursat

    I recognize it’s very difficult to view empathy going too far, that it is tempting to always see it as a virtue. But that’s just not the case, it can be very destructive.

    “Ashmae’s essay is painful. It is not a balm. It is not reassuring.”

    Empathy at the expense of truth can be very reassuring. By taking a worldview of oppressed and oppressors, and then siding with the oppressors, it’s actually a very easy path to validation, a type of self-righteous congratulation without having to do much work at all. And if that were not motivating enough, a victim narrative by nature absolves one of personal responsibility. That can feel very good.

    You can argue this is not what this essay is doing, but it is certainly a powerful and frequent motivator in human behavior that is indulgent in nature rather than virtuous. And I think it’s a good thing to be aware of and wary of it creeping in attempting to wear the face of virtue. None of us are perfect, and imo this essay crosses that line into the realm of indulgent empathy at the expense of truth, where it is no longer virtuous nor edifying, even if it does have intellectual merit.

  25. PA Resident says:

    Okay; so far Jax, Brian T, and Steve LHJ object to women being given a voice. Anyone else want to join them?

  26. Steve, since Christ said the great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself–making empathetic imagination the foundation of his ethics–you’re going to need to do better than warmed-over Jordan Peterson to convince people that a deeply Christian reading of the text is somehow just “a very easy path to validation.”

    Also, I assume “siding with the oppressors” is not what you meant to say…

  27. Apology accepted. Now go and sin no more.

  28. “We need female writers. We need female stories. We need female witnesses. We need women who will hold space for other women to speak, even when it is different from what they would say.”

    As an LDS sex abuse survivor I would add: we also need for the man in this scenario to be brought before the Lord, as he so glaringly wasn’t in this scripture account, even though the woman was.

    Current events are showing us a church that not only refuses to hold high-ranked perpetrators accountable, but won’t apologize to victims, won’t train leaders with regards to abuse prevention/handling, silences victims with NDAs and payments, excommunicates victim advocates/feminists, and spends more time and energy interrogating/punishing victims than their perpetrators. Also, the only church abuse hotline is for leaders only and not those who have been abused. Survivors in poor rural areas or crime-ridden metropolitan centers (where statutes of limitations are short and prosecutions rare) can’t turn to the police for help, so the church-family where believing women spend most of their non-school/non-work time is where we typically turn for help. But the difference between the modern church’s treatment of abused women and Christ’s example in the scriptures is alarming.

  29. @PA Resident, predictably, anyone critical of an alleged feminist point of view is labeled a woman hater. Nice work!

  30. Jonathan Cavender says:

    Unfortunately you are using this woman in the very same way the Pharisees were — as a tool to solve a present political problem and attack a political adversary rather than an individual with infinite value.

    The most damnable part of this post is the fact that, by denying this woman’s sin (contrary to the text), it also denies the Grace and forgiveness provided by the Atonement. And this, unfortunately, seems to be a growing trend online — the denial of sin for certain people.

    We are all sinners — oppressors and oppressed, all races, genders, classes, and orientations — each are unworthy of the love of God. And yet, He still loves us perfectly. Our sins — each of us — place us beyond hope, and yet there is hope in Him. Denying this — saying that we are good enough the way we are — denies both the Word of God and the value of the love of God (loving what is unlovable — us — because of His merits, not ours).

    When we explain away our sin in ourselves, we place ourselves beyond the healing power of the Atonement (because He does not force salvation on us). And when we redefine the actions of others to excuse or eliminate their sins we do them no kindness, because if we are successful in communicating to a given race, gender, class, or orientation that they are sinless, they will not participate in the Atonement. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God is neither a turn of phrase nor irrelevant in today’s age — it applies to all (bond and free, male and female, oppressed and oppressor).

    Your post, had it the power to reach through time to the woman taken in adultery, would be grossly hateful and harmful. Christ offered her forgiveness, you offer her the idea that she needed no forgiveness. He saw her as an individual, you see her as a means to a current political end. If I can be blunt about it, this is how you are using this woman just as clearly as the Pharisees were in Christ’s age — seeing a political problem, seeing in this woman not an individual but rather as a convenient weapon to use to solve your political problem, and her eternal progression ultimately is irrelevant to you as she is not a person but a tool for you.

    You cannot deny law-breaking without denying the Lawgiver. You cannot deny sin without denying Christ.

  31. @Kristine

    Yes, good catch, definitely meant ‘oppressed’. And right, that’s the point, excessive or indulgent empathy at the expense of truth is not an act of love or selflessness, although it does try to wear that mask.

    “warmed-over Jordan Peterson” – I know you didn’t mean that as a compliment, but I still appreciate it :)

    I don’t want to go too far down this path, like I said I usually really like what Ashmae writes, and I don’t want this to feel like bashing. In my honest opinion it feels like there was some misstep and felt like it could be useful feedback to share.

  32. I am unhappy with this feminist interpretation of the scripture, just as I am with so much of the current attempts to rewrite everything according to modern sensitivities.
    I am a feminist and have publicly identified as one for over 40 years. Of course we have asked for a lifetime “Where is the man whom she was committing adultery with?”
    But this scripture seems very straightforward. Christ can forgive adultery, something people who are guilty of find to be the very lifeline they so desperately need when they finally see the depths to which they have fallen. Let us not take this from them by recasting the story as a modern feminist tale.

  33. Ashmae: I deeply appreciate this work of thoughtful exegesis. I see considerable value in reading scripture from the perspectives of the different characters. There’s a deep tradition of this, on evidence in the scriptures themselves. Delores S. Williams can reread the story of Hagar, for instance, because Paul did first. Re: the accusation that this is “tripe,” I stand with Cynthia. If the scriptures don’t speak to our current moment, why bother reading them?

  34. Maybe I’m missing something, but I noticed a horrifying phrase: “And then I want to believe that the woman’s story would be believed immediately, no matter the consequence or tarnish of the reputation to whatever man…”

    Does this mean that Ashmae would like to do away with the presumption of innocence that is a standard of our justice system?

    While I find great value in examining Biblical stories from other characters’ perspectives and have always pondered the different possibilities of what this woman-taken-in-adultery did before and after her encounter with Christ (including all the options brought up by Ashmae), I can’t take it so far as to believe one person unequivocally and immediately without considering the other person’s side of the story, no matter how much empathy I may feel, based on victimhood categories.

    The Pharisees’ act of omission in not bringing the man to be punished (as required by the law) is further evidence of their corruption and hypocrisy: a vital piece to this story whose main focus is about hypocrisy and it’s inverse, forgiveness.

  35. Michael Austin says:

    There is a difference between reading against a text and filling in the silences of the text. A number of commentators here are missing that difference and accusing Ashmae of doing things that she simply is not doing. The text does not tell us whether or not the woman was guilty of adultery. It tells us that the Pharisees have accused the woman of committing adultery. To say that the text presents her as definitely guilty is to read the text from the perspective of the people whose judgment the text is explicitly questioning. The Pharisees of the New Testament often accuse people of things that they are not guilty of, which is kind of the point of that whole crucifixion bit at the end.

    Those of you arguing that the woman was definitely guilty, that she did commit adultery, and that the purpose of the story is to show that Christ can forgive adultery are filling in textual silences in ways not authorized by the text. This is not the same as reading against the text. Most text have gaps and silences that readers have to fill in. It is disingenuous to say that filling them in one way is reading correctly, while filling them in another way is unauthorized interpretation.

    And then there is the fact that Ashmae does not argue that the woman is innocent, or that she was a victim of rape rather than a consensual partner, or that she was set up by the Pharisees, or anything else. She reads the silence in the text as a silence. Her argument is that we don’t know the woman’s side of the story because the text never tells us the woman’s side of the story–the Pharisees never tell us her side of the story. Jewish law at the time does not care about her side of the story.

    The absence of any consideration for who this woman was and what she was thinking means precisely that we don’t know who this woman is and what she was thinking. This is a silence. And this is a problem. And all that Ashmae’s wonderful and profoundly Christian post has done is point to this problem and suggested that one really good way to read the text is to conclude that judging women (and other people) without making any attempt to understand their perspective is problematic. It is a problem in the text. It was a problem in the culture that produced the text. And it remains a problem in the cultures that read the text.

    One way to address this problem is to care what women have to say. We do this when we read the scriptural narrative and wonder what the woman’s perspective might have been. And we do this when we read a post like Ashmae’s and try to consider what the actual woman who wrote it is saying, rather than immediately slotting her into a category that can be rejected without really considering the argument or, judging from some of the comments, reading the entire post or being more than casually familiar with the scriptural narrative it discusses.

  36. @Michael Austin,

    Jesus’ actions imply sin (suggesting that somebody who has not sinned cast the first stone doesn’t make as much sense as a defense if the person didn’t sin in the first place – it would be much easier to say, “the woman didn’t sin”), we’re told she was caught in the very act, and then Jesus’ words overtly acknowledge the sin “Go thy way and sin no more”.

    You can strain the text to say something different, but that is the clear reading.

    If we want to take liberties filling in silence however – what of the man? Might he have already been stoned to death given that was in fact the law? Seems possible.

    While a female oppression narrative could be read into the text, it’s far from self-evident. If you feel a need to identify with that particularly reading of the text, you might ask yourself why feel that need? Maybe in defense of Ashmae as a friend? Maybe in defense of a personal ideology? In a seeming need to defend, you’ve rashly made arguments that are weak and full of holes, something that might be worth considering what brought you to do that.

  37. It is a problem in the text. It was a problem in the culture that produced the text. And it remains a problem in the cultures that read the text.

    Amen. So perfectly stated, Michael. Wonderful post, Ashmae!

  38. There may be an even more apropos application at this time. Assuming the woman did sin (which as the OP points out, may not be the case, and which I do agree), Christ didn’t need the details of her alleged sexual sin in order to offer her forgiveness.

  39. Michael Austin says:

    “Jesus’ actions imply sin (suggesting that somebody who has not sinned cast the first stone doesn’t make as much sense as a defense if the person didn’t sin in the first place – it would be much easier to say, “the woman didn’t sin”), we’re told she was caught in the very act, and then Jesus’ words overtly acknowledge the sin “Go thy way and sin no more”.

    You can strain the text to say something different, but that is the clear reading.”

    If you don’t understand that you are putting your own cultural assumptions and beliefs about how you yourself would respond in a similar situation, then you simply do not understand enough about how interpretation works to sit at the grown-up table. When I say that the text does not tell us whether or not the woman was guilty, I am not making a supposition; I am explaining a plain and self-evident fact. Sure, you can interpret “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” as an imputation of sin to the woman. And you can interpret “go thy way and sin no more” as a statement that the woman was guilty of the sin that she was accused of.” But the text doesn’t SAY this. You are using your own experience and presumed knowledge about how Jewish teachers in the Second Temple period acted and spoke.

    I am not saying that you are wrong. I am saying that you are making interpretive moves that are derived from extra-textual assumptions. We all do that. It is called “reading.” Ashmae’s assumptions are every bit as justifiable from the text as yours are–especially since she is not making assumptions at all. All she is saying is that silence has to be read as silence. You are the one saying that the silence has to be filled in with various assumptions.

  40. Steve LHJ, I’m sure I like you as a person too, and I’m glad you’ve appreciated my other writing, but I am going to respond to you here to let you know that the way you make me feel as a woman and particularly as a woman with a voice different from yours in this particular thread helps me to understand why I wrote this post in the first place. Of course my reading of this woman’s silence derives from personal experience. Of course it does. You may not agree with it, and that’s fine. You are welcome to discount it as me grandstanding or being overly empathetic to avoid personal responsibility, etc… but also know that in doing so, you are filling in my own silences for me. you are part of the problem. You contribute to part of the need for women to even read into texts this way with belief that they may be correct. I think what feels most difficult for me about your comments is this idea that “you usually like what I write” and that even though this post feels “off” to you, you “still think I’m great”. Here’s the thing, perhaps in the past I had been overly concerned with making things right and okay for my readers, making things beautiful even when they are hard. I was still just as sincere and honest in those writings as I was when I wrote this one, but this piece is not beautiful, nor does it make hard things easy. This past year has taught me that my writing is not performative, it is not for you. It is not to please you. I don’t care if you think I’m great or not, it will not change what I say, because for too long, I’ve let those voices, particularly male ones fill in my silences before I even got to speak. That’s truly fine to not agree with this post, but don’t assume that I wrote it for you to agree with.

  41. Ok, right I get that the text doesn’t literally say she is guilty of the sin. At the same time without an agenda that is the clear reading of the text. If you want to say let’s explore some outlier possibilities, I think that’s great, I love a good mental experiment or just exploring ideas for the sake of exploration. However when it’s not put forward that way, and an outlier is suggested to be likely or just as likely as the straightforward reading, it suggests an agenda (doesn’t have to be a bad agenda, but one that is superseding full intellectual honesty) – and if an agenda I think it’s worth pointing out and addressing.

  42. Excellent post, Ashmae. A wonderful treatment of this text.

  43. Ryan Mullen says:

    Ashmae, thanks for a brilliant and insightful post. This a powerful model for how we can access women’s voices “whisper[ing] out of the dust” of cultures who silenced them.

    Michael Austin, thanks for helping me see some of the beauty of the OP my engineering degree blonds me to.

  44. Ryan Mullen says:


  45. Jack Hughes says:

    Love this, Ashmae. I’ve long believed that the woman was a victim, and not a willing participant. Today there are still cultures that stone rape victims, or blame women for infidelity, so it’s not a huge stretch of imagination to interpret the story this way. Jesus quickly dismissed her because she had no sin to repent of.

  46. @Ashmae

    I personally like my thoughts challenged, I like my weaknesses exposed so that I can become even better. And I view honest and compassionate criticism as an act of kindness. I was offering feedback in that spirit. I get that considering less than ideal parts of ourselves sucks, and perhaps you do not want to be challenged at all, if favor of having less than noble motivations swept under the rug rather than exposed. It’s a human response, but not one that I think is best for our growth long term.

    I certainly never thought you wrote this post for me to agree with, you don’t even know me. It is interesting that you point out that you’ve struggled with that in the past, at the detriment to yourself. This is exactly what I’m calling an “excess of empathy”, ‘caring’ for others so much that you undermine yourself, your dignity, and truth. It feels noble on the surface, but in reality It’s a means of trying to earn validation from others, often through group or relational identity and the expense of your internal identity. I’m suggesting there are flavors of you making that same move in this post.

    I’ve made my point though, if you don’t like the criticism that’s totally fair. In the end, I might be completely wrong, it’s just what I thought I saw, and while I may have failed it was my intent to be helpful.

  47. (I’ve already noted appreciation for Ashmae’s work including this OP, so I’ve picked a side.)

    Now I’d just like to add that I’m enjoying the re-enactment of (my image of) a 15c-16c pilpul, including both extrapolation and interpretation, and including cross-accusations about what’s correct, what’s legitimate, and what are appropriate forms of argument. With the wonderful addition of women’s voices.

  48. If you have to be told that Ashmae’s reading of this story is not an attempt to negate other readings, then you haven’t learned how to read. I’m looking at you, Steve LHJ, but I’m also looking at others who profess outrage about this essay.

    Thanks for putting yourself out there, Ashmae. This essay is about the real pain of real people. Readers find that uncomfortable. Some respond by denying that pain. I suspect, though, that what these people find most intolerable about this essay is its defiance. Thanks for that.

  49. your food allergy is fake says:

    Chadwick for the win! Please write a post imagining the “searching interview” that the woman is subjected to as she begins her repentance process.

  50. My understanding of stoning (as relayed by a bible historian) is that it was a formal event. People didn’t just pick up stones and throw them. You went in order, your chief accuser went first, then the second witness against you, etc. When Jesus says “. . . cast the first stone,” he is not talking to the crowd, he is talking to the chief witness against her – the person accusing her. “If you are sinless, chief accuser, then cast the first stone.” The implication to me is obvious – its the man that was with her.

  51. “While a female oppression narrative could be read into the text, it’s far from self-evident.”

    Steve LHJ, this is true, as ashmae acknowledged. It is also true, however, that men’s interpretations of a text produced by men, which centers men’s activities is not “the clear reading.” It’s not even *a* clear reading. There isn’t any “clear reading,” and that is the point.

    Powerful men are not the default humans, and what they have written and said for centuries does not become “self-evident” by authoritative repetition. Alma had a phrase for accepting traditional interpretations of prophetic texts without thought and effort: “the foolish traditions of your fathers.” Ashmae models a sincere and faithful way to take a scriptural text seriously. Go and do likewise.

  52. Ashmae, thank you so much for writing this post. I’ve gone back and read John 8 with new perspective. I confess that I’ve always assumed her guilt based on the narrative of her accusers. Jesus spoke both to the accusers and to the woman, and as you point out, rebuked only the former. I’m struck by the difference in tone in Jesus’ words to the woman, as if to say: look around you; be of good cheer; those who sought to destroy you are gone.

    I’ve been shocked and saddened to read so many accounts of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and discrimination over the past year from women I know and from women I don’t know. I’m sorry that I’ve been shocked, that I hadn’t and still don’t know how widespread it is. I’m still wrestling with my own contributions to it and to the culture that surrounds and enables it.

    Thank you for speaking. I’ll try harder to listen.

  53. Michael Austin says:

    “Ok, right I get that the text doesn’t literally say she is guilty of the sin. At the same time without an agenda that is the clear reading of the text.”

    Clear readings of the text without agendas are good in the way that faeries are good, except that there is at least some minimal photographic evidence that faeries might actually exist.

  54. As usual, the comments are every bit as interesting as the “essay.” I am a female, and I do think this author is making a somewhat “typical” bible story—that has no backstory or details about any of the included characters—into something it is not. This morning I was reading my NT and read the story of the woman at the well. Remember what Jesus says to her? “Go call your husband…” and she says “I do not have a husband…” and then J says (paraphrased) “yep, you have had 5 husbands, and the guy you have now is not your husband, you were honest…” So Ashmae, do you realize that Jesus knew EXACTLY what this (adulterous) woman had done and who with and everything else about her, including possibly the numbers of hair on her head? I say no rape, no abuse, no prostitution, no nothing to imagine up to turn this into a modern “me-too” story. Our Savior knew exactly what she had done. He forgave her and sent her on her way. We don’t know the endings of hundreds of characters in our Bible. But you had some fun turning a tale about the Pharisees and their obsession with the law into something that was concerning you (and rightly) in our world today. But it was a stretch! The Savior was the NEW LAW, and that was all about LOVE & FORGIVENESS. He was again slapping the Pharisees down with their craziness regarding the Law of Moses. Still, I love ALL the posts on this website cause they sure get us thinking. And I love all the brilliance and the “back-n-forth” from all the intelligent readers. So good job to alla you.

  55. “We do not know the circumstances of the woman’s adultery, but we do know, without a doubt, that she is a victim of the scribes and Pharisees, who are using her as a pawn in their unholy maneuvers against Jesus. She is suffering, and she needs a Savior. We are meant to sympathize with her. As we try to understand this story, nothing could be more natural than to imagine the woman’s life with empathy.”

    Very beautifully said, Loursat (10:03pm) — thank you! Again, Ashmae, really insightful and powerful reading of this New Testament story.

  56. A little In the weeds at this point, but interesting that “innocent until proven guilty” is sacred when it comes to a man accused to sexual assault but not so important when a woman is accused of lying.

  57. Posts that bring out Michael Austen and Kristine swinging are my very favorite.

    Ashmae, you’ve given me so much to think about. I appreciate the fineness of your pen, as always. Thank you for being brave enough to express something you knew was going to bring predictable responses, and for doing it anyway.

  58. Ryan Mullen says:


    Even stipulating that Jesus did know everything about this woman (something that I’m not convinced is true of the mortal Messiah), there’s no reason to suppose that the person(s) who first wrote this story knew everything that Jesus knew about her. They would presumably only know what Jesus said and, as Ashmae and Michael have pointed out, Jesus in the text does not confirm the Pharisee’s accusation. I suspect that those author(s) intended this story to be about Jesus’s forgiveness of an adulterous woman, but I also suspect if those authors were first- or second-century Mediterranean men that they were culturally and religiously blind to the woman’s own side of the story.

  59. I like this post, Ashmae.

    Also, I think Cynthia’s comment that turns the “tripe” comment on its head wins the thread. Well, that and Kristine saying “Powerful men are not the default humans, and what they have written and said for centuries does not become “self-evident” by authoritative repetition.”

  60. This post reminds me of a BYU speech a student sent my way by Bruce C. Hafen called, “Love is Not Blind: Faith and Ambiguity,” where he makes the argument that in much of scripture, “there is some ambiguity inhibiting our total understanding.” As an example, he tells a story about President Spencer W. Kimball offering a new interpretation of the New Testament story about Peter denying the Savior three times before the cock crowed. Kimball suggested that maybe Christ telling Peter that he would deny him thrice wasn’t a prediction but a request—that Christ was warning Peter the he needed to live and that publicly accepting Christ might have lead to a too-early death. It’s an interpretation that not everyone agrees with, and it dramatically changes the perspective of who Peter was and what it means that he denied Christ. From the one reading, he is weak. From another reading, he is obedient.

    Ashmae’s post is also seeing something new in an old story, because there is ambiguity inhibiting our total understanding—there is room for these multiple interpretations and readings, and we benefit from these various readings.

    Ashmae’s reading exposes assumptions I didn’t even realize I was making. It validates wondering about the scriptures, returning with fresh eyes and open hearts. She isn’t saying her reading is the authoritative reading. But it’s a productive reading. I showed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of the Single Story” to my classes today, and I am thinking about how I have always viewed this woman in the New Testament from the one single story. Ashmae’s post inspires me to consider a different telling of this woman’s story, and I thank her for that.

  61. I appreciate this alternative reading–and actually, the OP opens to us several alternatives, not just that the woman was a rape victim, pure and simple. One doesn’t necessarily have to believe that *particular* back story, but it helps to imagine the various possibilities if you want to see this woman as Jesus saw her. Assuming she was, in fact, guilty of adultery, that it was her decision, we still don’t know what events in her life led up to that point. I had a friend who confided in me that she was pregnant and the father of the baby wasn’t her husband. The next thing she said was “You probably think I’m a horrible person.” And my reflexive answer was “no, of course not”–because she was my friend and I knew that she wasn’t a horrible person. I knew that what she’d done was wrong, but knowing what I did about her and about her marriage, I just wasn’t inclined to judge her. It was a relief knowing that judging her wasn’t my job. That’s what this story means to me. Jesus was the one person who could have judged her, and he opted not to condemn her. We don’t know anything else. Whatever their motivations, the Pharisees wanted to humiliate her, and Jesus wouldn’t have any part of that.

  62. I also appreciate Ashmae’s reminder that our scriptures were all written by men, most of whom were not concerned with telling the woman’s point of view. Nothing sinister there, necessarily, but that was how the world was back then; it wouldn’t have occurred to them to tell the woman’s side of the story. We’re all filling in the gaps with our own assumptions based on our own experiences and observations. It’s worth remembering that the men telling the stories must have had their own biases and assumptions. It’s why none of our books of scripture is perfect. They all contain human error of some kind.

  63. Thank you, ashmae. So much of what has passed for female consent has relied so heavily on structures of power that erase female agency that I, like you, find the idea that this was a home wrecker out having a good time a reading that strains credulity. Your words and thoughts were affirming for me. I found strength and wisdom here.

    Some of the comments, though, were traumatizing reminders of how much there really is to fear in our LDS culture in challenging male-centered narratives. One of the worst parts is how well-intentioned so many of the commenters think they are. And in response to speculation on a story that (maybe) happened hundreds of years ago that you actually identified -as- speculation. It is no wonder so many women sit in our pews silent and afraid, despairing.

    Thank you for being brave, ashmae.

  64. I like both of those comments a lot, Rebecca J.

  65. The part of the story that makes me think is “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” What are we to make of that? I find it very credible to consider whether she was assaulted based on that. Or even that she was indeed a poor woman doing what she could to just survive. I like to think that the Lord could tell the difference between a woman working as a prostitute due to no other option as opposed to a woman out enjoying orgies every night because she just loved prostitution.

    And yes, the current events in Washington (and elsewhere) should provoke us to read the scriptures in new ways. If they don’t, or you’re not at least open to it, I think you’re a little brain-dead.

  66. Absolutely one of my most chilling moments with the scriptures occurred with this story. I was in college, sitting with my sister’s family as they had family scripture study. As this story was read, my brother in law turned to his daughters and said of the people who were going to stone this woman “because that is how important their society knew chastity was.” After a moment of stunned silence I piped in a reminder that this was absolutely not, in any way, the lesson to be learned from this passage. For him, Jesus’s forgiveness was an act of (perhaps unwise) forgiveness for a sin worthy of death. I still can’t shake the feeling of dread I had as I thought about how my nieces would internalize that message.

  67. Compare this story to Alma 39. Corianton is guilty of some serious sexual sin, but, Alma did not cut him off from the Church, or, had him executed for it. Was what he did as serious as the woman’s adultery? We don’t know.

    I’m still trying to figure out Mercy vs. Justice in both of these.

  68. Billy Possum says:

    Ashmae, I loved your post. Thank you for helping me see the story anew.

    On those standing on ambiguity to allow interpretive free-for-all, though, I call epistemological BS. It’s correct to say that the story does not *say* that the woman sinned. But if you take “say” to mean a direct statement by a neutral, omniscient observer, I’m not sure that many stories say much at all. In that sense, Joseph Smith never “says” he saw God the Father, but the evidence for that interpretation is overwhelming. In a way, all conclusions drawn from stories are inferences, but some are very, very strong.

    Here, we have the Pharisees saying the woman sinned, we have the Savior condemning the Pharisees for judging her sin, and we have the Savior enjoining her to sin no more. That doesn’t preclude an alternative interpretation in which the woman is sinless, but if the woman did not sin, you need to find a new way to read all three of those things that the story *does* say. The first is easy to deal with; I’d be interested to know how others would approach the latter two.

  69. “but if the woman did not sin…” I find myself getting more and more frustrated as I watch this discussion. Ashmae gave a beautiful post, as we should let it stand at that. I don’t think that Ashmae was intending to be the final say in the understanding of this story.

    We should remember that victims have been blamed for being victims throughout all recorded history. Even today we understand that our church leaders often place blame on women when they are victimized. I think that it is not only possible, but even likely, that this woman was a victim. “This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” the scripture says. How could this be possible except that she was assaulted or at best entrapped? Bear in mind that this woman herself may have believed that she had sinned. Victims also often blame themselves. Jesus can’t teach every possible point in every human interaction. When my daughter was learning to play the cello she started by doing everything wrong: How she sat on the chair; how she held the bow; the angle of her wrist; the angle of her elbow; the positioning of her non-bow hand. Her poor teacher had to pick and choose which one she was going to work on at that moment. The woman stayed after her accusers had left, and Jesus sent her on her way, with a sense of forgiveness. I don’t think that this means that she actually needed to be forgiven; It means, to me, that Jesus didn’t choose to discuss the fact that we often blame victims for their injuries. He simply moved to reduce her mental anguish and guilt.

  70. As long as we all can agree that the people debating this stuff and arguing back and forth are actually most like pharisees and sadducees, we’re all good. Keep on preaching that religion. There are numberless concourses willing to preach.

  71. Kristin Brown says:

    Thanks for referring us to “Love Is Not Blind: Some Thoughts for College Students on Faith and Ambiguity” by Elder Hafen. It was worth the read.

  72. Just a thought: must we assume that in Jesus’s gentle command to “go and sin no more,” “sin” equals “adultery”? Isn’t it possible that he’s encouraging her to pursue a life more aligned with godliness, less susceptible to the condition we all sometimes incline toward of resisting life in Christ. That is, perhaps it’s not a specific sin that Jesus urges the woman away from but a disposition to ungodliness–which may include adultery among its manifestations, but needn’t.

  73. I keep coming back to read the comments to a marvelous post in which I see my younger self forgiven and protected from the accusers. Thank you for that, Ashmae. I have only just been able to admit to myself that I was groomed to be compliant, utterly devoid of consent; I was very young and my sin was to be without wisdom, and what happened to me was indeed rape. It’s important that I accept that, even though I can’t yet do it in public. And those of you who nit-pick at the woman’s hypothetical sin are smack in the middle of her accusers. That is the main point Jesus makes in this parable, but pharisees are defined by only being able to see trees and not forest.

    It’s such a relief to have gained wisdom after decades of participating in the grooming of women that happens in our wards. It would be so much better to open our eyes and see what Jesus saw, and what Ashmae and some of the rest of us see.

  74. We should avoid wresting the scriptures, manipulating the word to fit our agenda. It gets us nowhere. There is a difference between likening the scriptures and twisting them. Our desire should be to understand the scripture in the way they were meant to be understood.

    “If the Saints understand the scriptures, the doctrines taught in the Church will be purer and surer. Gospel perspective will grow. Testimonies will increase. There will be greater devotion and dedication to the Lord.” Elder Packer

  75. The scriptures themselves are wrested by their authors. They don’t come to us without author bias or perfectly formed. We don’t believe in Sola Scriptura in this church. We literally believe in the opposite of that according to our own Articles of Faith. I don’t understand all the hand-wringing over Ashmae’s view.

    Given that women who are victims of rape are stoned in some Middle Eastern countries even today, it’s no stretch to imagine they were then as well. Saying she was “taken in adultery” could also refer to how she committed adultery: by being “taken” or raped. This scripture was a late addition. Was it added to show that Jesus had the power to forgive sins, to further illustrate His character and mission? Was it to show that the Pharisees were unjust and unmerciful? Was it to make the gospel more attractive to women in the early days of the church?

    I do think the idea of believing the woman’s version of the story is a very modern interpretation. The scriptures as we have them are clearly written by and for men, without any regard to a woman’s perspective at all.

  76. PA resident says:

    “Our desire should be to understand the scripture in the way they were meant to be understood.”

    In that case, you’ll need to spend a number of years studying Torah in a rabbinical school, except unfortunately your screen name indicates that you’re female, so too bad; no scripture study for you.

  77. This is a thought-provoking post, ashmae. Just a quick note for those who say ashmae’s reading is foreclosed by Jesus saying “sin no more”: Jesus’s statement implies that that woman is not sinless, as none of us are. But it does not follow that the sin she’s guilty of is the one she’s been accused of. Jesus’s point, as I take it, is that it does not matter what sin she’s guilty of, because regardless of what it is, he’s not condemning her, and neither should we. Ashmae’s reading, which questions the extent to which she really was guilty of adultery, given how little we actually know about the circumstances surrounding consent, etc., is, in my view, a perfectly valid way to live out Jesus’s teaching to not condemn her. If we assume she is the worst of sinners, but then talk about how great it was that Jesus forgave her for it, isn’t that condemning her, and putting the burden of relief from that condemnation on Jesus? I think charity means giving the benefit of the doubt to people that have been accused. And here, in this story, there is a lot of doubt.

  78. really great comment, sch (9:03am). Thank you!

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