Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Digging Deeper: The Woman Caught in Adultery

In your Bible, when you come to chapter 8 in the Book of John, you’ll probably see a special note at the beginning. This is because the translators want you to know that the earliest known manuscripts of John’s gospel as well as many other ancient witnesses did not originally contain John 7:53—8:11 – the story of the woman caught in adultery. This story was a late addition to the Gospel.

It was likely a part of the early church’s oral tradition about Jesus that wasn’t committed to writing until after all four gospels were written. But the story was just too good not to include in one of the gospels so they decided to add it in. Some churches began adding it as special bonus material at the very end of both Luke’s and John’s Gospels as a sort of appendix. Other churches included it between the stories of the fig tree and the last supper in Luke’s Gospel. But eventually the church as a whole landed on including it right at the beginning of John chapter 8.

Jesus goes to the Temple early in the morning to teach, and after he arrives, the Torah-teachers and the Pharisees bring to him a woman that they caught in the act of adultery.

Note that they didn’t bother to bring the man as well.

They remind Jesus that Moses commanded that such a woman be stoned to death, and they demand Jesus give his opinion. 

Jesus’ first response when the woman was brought to him was to bend over and write with his finger in the dust. He continued doing this, even as they questioned him. 

Which begs another question –what did he write? 

However, it is the very act of writing in the dust itself that is the point here… because it brings to mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah: 

Which begins…

"I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward a man according to his conduct,
according to what his deeds deserve.
Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay
is the man who gains riches by unjust means.
When his life is half gone, they will desert him,
and in the end he will prove to be a fool." 

And the passage ends with…

"A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning,
is the place of our sanctuary. 
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the LORD,
the spring of living water."

So, from the verses surrounding the phrase “written in the dust” what can we conclude?

Well, we don’t know for sure what Jesus wrote, but based on the reference to Jeremiah, some scholars believe that Jesus was writing down the names of the people standing around him. But even if he wasn’t, the simple act of writing in the dust would have called the Jeremiah passage to their minds.

And what does Jeremiah say is the sin of those who have turned from God?

He says it is “the man who gains riches by unjust means.” 

And so, after writing in the dust, Jesus tells the men: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her…” Which in the context of stoning someone, would be, “If any one of you is without this specific sin…” 

But which sin is Jesus referring to? 

Possibly the sin of injustice – which is what Jesus was referencing when he wrote in the dust. 

However, it may also be the sin of adultery – since it is reasonable to assume that the men who caught her in the act were somehow complicit in her crime. If she was a prostitute, what were they doing spying on her? Also, why did they choose only to prosecute the woman and not the man as well? What kind of justice is that? Unless, of course, they themselves were engaged in the soliciting…

Again, when someone was stoned, the two witnesses who saw the sin were the ones who were traditionally supposed to push the sinner off the cliff before everyone else dropped rocks on them. How would they have witnessed this secret sin if they themselves were not somehow participating, either actively engaged or as some sort of peep-show?

At this point, the men begin to slowly slip away – the oldest and supposedly the wisest leaving first, followed by the youngest. 

And then, when Jesus is alone with the woman, he gives her his ruling, as well. 

Without any witnesses as accusers, she had no one to condemn her. 

And so, Jesus sent her away, telling her not to sin any more. 

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