11.02.16 Jn. 8:2-11 At the Temple
WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them.
3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him.
Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, Lord,” she answered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they claimed was an adulteress. The narrative implies that she probably spent the night with one of them as part of a premeditated plan of entrapment. While it was the woman who was brought before Jesus, there is no mention of the man she was with – a situation that underscores to an attempt of entrapment. Scholars believe those who brought her before Jesus most certainly were from the School of Hillel as Hillel and his disciples were extremely legalistic and conservative about marriage, adultery, and divorce issues. The School of Shammai, on the other hand, was considerably more liberal in this matter and effectively endorsed an ancient form of “no-fault divorce” (divorce for any reason).
Ironically, the leading Pharisees never attempted to lure Jesus into breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Rather, they focused on their Oral Laws. In that legal context, this seemed to be the perfect trap. If Jesus held to the Law of Moses, there would be two sets of negative consequences.
- Jesus would lose His reputation for compassion the public had seen for the past three years.
- Since the authority to impose capital punishment had been removed from the Sanhedrin, except for unauthorized entry into the inner temple, only Rome could condemn the woman to death. Jesus would therefore, be in collision with the Roman authorities.
Concerning the consequences of whatever Jesus would say, these were the possibilities,
- If Jesus had said that the Mosaic Law needed to be observed and, therefore, the woman had to be condemned to death by stoning, He would be going against the Emperor as only he or his agent could condemn one to capital punishment.
- If Jesus did not condemn her to death, He would be breaking the Law of Moses, and thereby, could not possibly be a righteous man.
It seemed like the perfect trap. So they came to Jesus “at dawn.” This was hardly the time to catch anyone in adultery and enhances the appearance of trickery. They came to Him because they found “a woman caught in adultery.” The word adultery, Greek moicheia, is defined as one having sexual relations with another person who is married, for which the Mosaic Law clearly states that both are partners are to be put to death (Num. 5:11-31). Obviously this is a serious matter in the eyes of God. Yet according to Jewish tradition, adultery was far more serious than prostitution or fornication (Gk. porneia). See Professor Gary Byer’s comments on the video titled The Nicanor Gate of the Temple, at 04.04.04.V where he refers to this event.
In the first century Jewish rabbis differentiated between two types of adulterous women – the married woman and engaged virgin. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 50a, the punishments were as follows:
- The adulterous married woman was sentenced to death by hanging
- The adulterous betrothed virgin was sentenced to death by stoning
Since the woman who was brought before Jesus was to be stoned, she evidently was a betrothed virgin and not a married woman. It should be noted that the betrothed virgin was considered to be a “married woman” and, therefore, her act was not technically considered to be fornication. Furthermore, divorce had become the popular solution for an unfaithful spouse rather than death by stoning. The Pharisees had presented Jesus with a theoretical argument which they themselves did not even follow. No wonder they did not stone her! This entire hypothetical situation was therefore, on their part, illegal and a most unconventional practice. Their best schemes challenged Jesus because they were convinced there was no possibility that they could lose this argument.
However, this is another case where history shows that the religious leaders did not always follow their own laws. The Mishnah records that at one time the daughter of a priest was burned for being suspected of adultery and, again, there was no evidence of a trial.
It happened once that a priest’s daughter committed adultery and they encompassed her with bundles of branches and burnt her.
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:2
“Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger.” One of the mysteries is the question of what He wrote. This is the only instance in Scripture where there is any mention of Him writing, and it is in a situation of accusations. The Greek word meaning “to write” is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. However, in Job 13:26 there is a powerful clue. The Greek word that is frequently used to write the phrase to write is graphein. However, Jesus was more explicit than that, He used the word katagraphein which includes the definition to write a record against someone. That is the same word used in the Septuagint translation of Job 13:26.
For You record (katagraphein) bitter accusations against me
and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth.
Therefore, this writer believes that when the Pharisees came to Jesus to accuse the woman of adultery, Jesus kneeled down in the road dust. He identified the sins of her accusers in a manner similar to that which the Old Testament accusers had done to Job. Then Jesus stood up and said that anyone without sin should throw the first stone. However, the Pharisees saw their sins written on the ground in public view, an embarrassment for all of them.
This interpretation would agree with the fact that the finger of Jesus, in essence the finger of God – that inscribed the Ten Commandments (Deut. 9:10), and cast out demons (Lk. 11:20) left a dynamic impact upon the accusers. While the emphasis is often on the written statement, it should be on the finger of God. It was the divine finger that wrote the Law. Of the 613 laws Moses wrote and presented to his people, ten of them were written by the finger of God (Jesus) and confirmed by Him. However, there is another aspect to this passage. The fact that Jesus referred to the finger of God also is reflective of the hardness of heart the Pharaoh had at the time of the Exodus. In this passage, the Jewish leaders would have understood that Jesus was connecting the Pharaoh’s attitude with theirs. Little wonder then, that they grew increasingly angry at Him.
One scholar suggested a Jewish tradition that, if a woman was suspected of being an adulteress, she had to be brought before a priest. He would take some dust from the floor of the sanctuary and mix it with a little water and she had to drink some of it. He also wrote in a book the curses that were placed upon her (see Num. 5:17, 23). After writing them, he tried to blot out the curses with the “bitter waters.” If the curses disappeared, meaning “blotted out,” she was free. If not, she was guilty. However, how often these directives were implemented is unknown.
Finally, writing in the dust of the temple floor was perfectly legal, because it leaves no lasting mark. The slightest breeze blows the dust away. But in this case, the sins of the legalistic Pharisees remained.
“The one without sin among you.” In the eyes of the Pharisees, a “sin” was an infraction of the ritual commands and the Oral Laws which required obedience and immersion in a mikvah. To Jesus and John the Baptist, “sin” was broken faith with God which required repentance followed by obedience. This phrase is not relative to sin in general, as all have sinned. If Jesus meant this to be a general comment, then it would be impossible for any human to judge when judgment is necessary. Rather, it was obvious that this woman was not alone in her situation of adultery; somewhere in the crowd was the man she was with. The Greek phrase “the one without sin” is in reference to this same particular sin. Furthermore, there were two or three witnesses present who were also involved in the set-up, so no legal charges could be brought against her.
These men certainly had the proverbial beam in their own eyes while they judged a woman who had a speck in her eye. Jesus was the only One who had the right to condemn her, and He gave her His compassion and told her to change her lifestyle. The statement of Jesus becomes more interesting and condemning when considering that the Greek word for without sin. which is anamartetos, could also mean without sinful desire. But when He wrote her sin in the dust, her sin of adultery disappeared because she had no charge held against her.
“Should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Punishment by stoning originated with Moses who said that there had to be two or three witnesses for a capital case (Deut. 17:6). Furthermore, those witnesses were to be the first to throw the stones upon the condemned person (Deut. 13, 17). There were three issues that complicated matters for the accusing Pharisees:
- Only the Sanhedrin could pass judgment in cases of capital punishment, although its authority to exercise that verdict was removed by the Romans.
- The Pharisees were barred from capital judgments. So the accusers could not have participated in the judicial system anyway.
- Moses also said that the witnesses could not be guilty of the same sin. Therefore, the leading Pharisees who intended to entrap Jesus were themselves trapped and found guilty. In cases of adultery, both the man and woman were to be executed (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24). They confessed their guilt when they walked away. They were so grossly humiliated that they never attempted to entrap Jesus again. This statement created one of the most amplified and dramatic moments of silence in Scripture.
- However, there is no record of a woman being stoned to death for committing adultery in this era.
All civil and criminal punishments described in the Old Testament were administered by a court. The Torah provides for three modes of capital punishment:
- Burning at the stake (Lev. 20:14), and the most merciful,
- Death by the sword.
The reference to a hanging in Deuteronomy 21:22 is worded in a manner that suggests that the person was deceased and the corpse was hung as a warning to the community. This was a common practice in many ancient cultures and continues today in some Islamic nations. By the Inter-Testament Period, the Jewish leaders also used crucifixion. However, by the time of Jesus, the Romans forbade the Jews to exercise capital punishment except if a Gentile entered the sacred courts of the temple.
Does this response mean that there ought not to be a judicial system in society? Does it mean that every one of the Jews present was guilty of sin? Hardly! There most certainly were reputable men in the audience who were His followers. His focus was not on the abolition of justice but on the sin that is within all humanity, even in the hearts of reputable men. One of the oldest manuscripts of this text has an addendum indicating that Jesus wrote in the dirt all the sins of those who were immediately close to Him. The manuscript reads that Jesus wrote the sin of each one of them.  It is unknown if this was in fact the case. However, it is what the early church believed to be true.
A key word in the statement by Jesus is the word “first.” In the first century Jewish court system, when someone was accused of a capital crime punishable by stoning, the first witness threw the first stone to kill the criminal. This made for very few false witnesses since they themselves were subject to capital punishment. However, this was in theory only, as the practice of stoning by a judicial action had been abandoned. The Mishnah recorded the applicable Oral Law as follows:
When sentence (of stoning) has been passed they take him forth to stone him …. A herald goes before him (calling), “Such-a-one, the son of such-a-one, is going forth to be stoned for that he committed such or such an offence. Such-a-one and such-a-one are witnesses against him. If any man knowest aught in favor of his acquittal, let him come and plead it.”
When he was about ten cubits (18 feet) from the place of stoning they used to say to him, “Make your confession,” for such is the way of them that have been condemned to death to make confession, for every one that makes his confession has a share in the world to come.
When he was four cubits from the place of stoning they stripped off his clothes. A man is kept covered in the front and a woman both in front and back.
The place of stoning was twice the height of a man. One of the witnesses knocked him down on his loins (by throwing a stone on him); if he turned over on his heart the witness turned him over again on his loins. If he straightway died that sufficed; but if not, the second (witness) took the stone and dropped it on his heart. If he straightway died, that sufficed; but if not, he was stoned by all Israel….
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.1-4
Jesus did not condemn those who desired to stone the woman, but presented the truth to them and the truth judged their sins. Jesus did not condone sin but gave them opportunity to be repentant. The truth rebuked the lies of the Pharisees. Therefore, the Jews could not have legally stoned her under any circumstances. What an incredible hypocrisy on the part of the Pharisees!
“Women, where are they?” These words appear harsh to modern ears, but in ancient times, these were words of endearment. Jesus called His mother “woman” as He was dying on the cross when He obviously demonstrated a great deal of compassion and forgiveness to those who crucified Him. He did not excuse her sin, but he did not condemn her either. He simply told her not to sin in the future.
11.02.16.Q1 Did Jesus forgive the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:2-11)?
It has been said that Jesus forgave her. But did He? Scripture reads, “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” But the text does not say that He forgave her, nor did she come to ask for forgiveness. That is why He just told her to change her lifestyle and not sin any more. The implication obviously is that if she continues in her adulterous lifestyle, she will be held accountable for her past activities. It has been said that in Jesus there is the gospel of the second chance. Throughout the Bible, forgiveness is conditional upon repentance which involves a change of mind and lifestyle. This is proof.
11.02.16.Q2 Why isn’t John 8:2-11 in some ancient manuscripts?
That is a good question and, while the exact reason is unknown, there is a good answer. Scholars believe the oldest manuscripts are considered to be the most valuable and date them between the fourth and sixth centuries. They are known as Uncial Manuscripts because they were written with Greek capital letters. It is believed that this passage was removed from the biblical text because some church fathers believed it might excuse or even encourage some individuals to commit adultery. Augustine said that it was removed to “avoid scandal” and because some people in his church were of “slight faith.”
Among the early church fathers, it appears that the Greek fathers did not know of the removed passage, but the Latin fathers did. Among those who did not comment on it are Origen, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Cyril of Alexandria. The John 8:2-11 narrative is not found in the Syriac or Egyptian Coptic Bibles. However, Jerome did include it in his Latin Vulgate Bible in the fourth century. Furthermore, Augustine and Ambrose both wrote of it and possibly the oldest tradition is found in a book known as The Apostolic Constitution. In this third century literary work, Eusebius referred to Papias who spoke of a woman who was accused of many sins before our Lord. Papias lived near the end of the first century. Therefore, many scholars today believe the passage is an authentic segment of the gospel of John.
As with a number of other stories in the gospels, the ending to this event is missing. The reader is not told of her name or the situation of the trickery that entrapped her. A thousand years later, in one of Europe’s monasteries, a so-called historical account appeared in which she is said to have been related to a priestly family. Such fanciful and factious accounts draw the reader away from the basic truth revealed by Jesus who cautioned believers of deceptions in Mathew 24.
. John 7:53 – 8:11 is not found in some of the oldest manuscripts, but is found in an old edition of Luke. Textual Critics say that this passage does not fit John’s writing style. But, it seems to portray an authentic event in the life of Jesus. Early church fathers such as Augustine and Ambrose verified the passage, thereby presenting the obvious answer to the question. According to Burgon, this section was deliberately omitted from some texts because some church leaders feared the passage might promote immorality. See Burgon, The Causes of Corruption in the Traditional Text. 251-52, 259;and Trites, “The Woman Taken in Adultery.” 137-46. See also Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.
. For related opinion on divorce issues, see Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23.
. Graystone, “Adultery.” 16-17.
. See also Sadan, “Neither do I Condemn You; Go and Sin no More.” 14.
. Barclay, “John.” 2:3; Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 229.
. Ex. 31:18; 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13; 9:10.
. Appendix 4.
. Evans, “Exorcisms and the Kingdom.” 171-73.
. There is no record of a woman being stoned to death by court action for committing adultery in this era. Source: Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:327-31.
. Mishnah, Sabbath. 12:5; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath, 104b.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 51.
. Barclay, “John.” 2:4.
. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.
. Deut. 17:7; 17:2-7; 13:1-5; 21:18-21; 22:22-23; Lev. 20:2-5; 20:27; 24:15-16; Num. 15:32-36. Capital punishment was always directed by a court and not by individuals. The death of Stephen in Acts 7:57-58 was by a rioting mob and not an act of judicial action.
. Num. 35:19, 21; Deut. 13:15; Ex. 32:27.
. Archer, “Crimes and Punishment.” 1:1035.
. Macartney, Great Interviews of Jesus. 60-61.
. Mishnah, Makkoth 1.5.
. Parenthesis by Danby, ed., Mishnah.
. Barclay, “John.” 1:98; Vine, “Woman.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:681.
. Barclay, “John.” 2:290-91.
. Barclay, “John.” 2:291.
. One ancient legend is the story that the man with the withered right hand went on to build a palace for Emperor Nero that had a secret room for Christians. Still, another ancient “Christian myth” claims Pilate and his wife Procula became believers. Little wonder then, that Jesus and the Apostle Paul both cautioned believers to be aware of false teachers. Two modern writers who promote a variety of creative stories are: 1) Ron Charles, who has gathered scores of fanciful legends and myths, mostly written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, that pertain to the life of Christ in his book titled, The Search: A Historian’s Search for Historical Jesus. (Self-Published, 2007); and 2) Nicholas Notovich, whose book, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. Trans. (Virchand R. Gandhi, Dover Pub.) is a so-called historical account of when Jesus went to Asia to study between the ages 13 and 29.