John 7:53-8:11 – The Woman Caught in Adultery

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John 7:53-8:1

  1. Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and takes the opportunity to teach the people. However, the atmosphere is hostile as the Pharisees and scribes try to find reasons to kill him, which is where this passage unfolds.
    1. According to Exodus 34:22-23, all the men of Israel were to celebrate three feasts each year; Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (also called Sukkot). Israel celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by dwelling once a year in tabernacles to commemorate the wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:42-43). They also recited Hosanna from Psalm 118:25 while waving palm leaves (Leviticus 23:39-44).
  2. Most Bible scholars agree that John 7:53-8:11 was not in the original Gospel of John. This text simply does not appear in the earliest manuscripts that have been found.
    1. The researchers also believe that the style and vocabulary of the text is not consistent with the rest of the Gospel of John and that it interrupts verse 7:52 and verse 8:12.
      1. In verses 7:45-52 we get the impression that the temple guards, the chief priests and the Pharisees are talking internally, but in verse 7:53 it suddenly says that everyone goes home and Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives. It seems that the story of the adulteress is pasted in the wrong place in the Gospel of John. That said, it still fits quite well into the context of the Pharisees’ enmity towards Jesus.
      1. Some manuscripts have instead placed this text after Luke 21:38, after John 21:24 or after John 7:36.
    1. But even if biblical scholars agree that this text does not fit into the Gospel of John, there is still a strong consensus that the content of the text is authentic. One possible explanation for why this text was not included in the original text but was added later is that it was originally part of the oral tradition of storytelling.
    1. Personally, I think the story fits quite well with the hostile atmosphere towards Jesus that prevailed in Jerusalem. Jesus has taught the people and many are impressed (John 7:46) and come to believe in him (John 7:31). As a result, the Pharisees and scribes, wanting to find reasons to arrest and kill Jesus (John 7:1), in a desperate attempt to put Jesus in a situation where he is forced to choose between killing a poor woman or obeying the Law of Moses, cunningly defeat Jesus and force him to confess his guilt.
      1. So my guess is that this event happened at the time of Jesus’ celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, but for some reason John did not record it in his gospel. Instead, the event was passed on orally and then brought into its proper textual context at a later date.
  3. After Jesus teaches, everyone goes home to their house to sleep, but Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives. Perhaps Jesus spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12)? Maybe he slept under a tree (Luke 9:58)? Maybe he went home to his friends; Lazarus, Martha and Mary, who lived in Bethany on the other side of the Mount of Olives (John 11:1-2)?

John 8:2

  1. Jesus lingered in Galilee because of the hostile atmosphere in Jerusalem, but eventually went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Here we see clearly that it was not for fear of death that Jesus lingered in Galilee. Despite the Jewish leadership looking for reasons to kill him, he enters the temple site and teaches the people openly.
  2. In Jesus’ time, it was common for the preacher to sit down and the audience to stand up, contrary to how we do it today. That way, if the preacher gets boring, you don’t fall asleep.

John 8:3

  1. This is hardly a spontaneous invention of the Pharisees. It’s morning and a lot of people have gathered in the temple square to listen to Jesus. The Jewish leadership has probably known about this adulteress for some time but now takes the opportunity to arrest her in order to shame Jesus in front of so many people.
    1. The Pharisees and the scribes want to force Jesus to choose between obeying the Law of Moses and thus killing the woman, or disobeying the Law of Moses and letting the woman go free.
      1. If Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses and commanded her to be stoned, he would have the Romans against him because the Romans had taken away the Jews’ ability to impose the death penalty (John 18:31). In the worst case, Jesus could be considered a revolutionary and thus be sentenced to death by the Romans himself.
      1. If Jesus disobeyed the Law of Moses and let the woman go free, then he would instead have the Jews against him because he disqualified himself as Messiah and teacher.
      1. So if Jesus chooses option 1, he will have the Romans against him and if he chooses option 2, he will have the Jews against him. Fortunately, Jesus does not choose either of these two options, but instead presents his own third option.
        1. This is pacifism at its core; that is, neither being passive in the face of sin nor using violence to punish, but instead offering a third option that both exposes injustice and creates an opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness.
  2. If the Pharisees and scribes had only wanted to hear Jesus’ position on adultery, they could have asked him, but since they are out to embarrass Jesus in front of the people, they bring the woman along in an attempt to force Jesus to take a stand directly.

John 8:4-5

  1. The law referred to by the Pharisees is found in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24.
  2. The Pharisees mention that she was caught “in the act” because the rules around this were so strict that several witnesses had to actually see the actual adultery and then give completely consistent information in order to convict someone of this crime. Because of this, it was very rare for someone to actually be sentenced to death for adultery.
  3. Since the woman was arrested in the act, the Pharisees should also have arrested the man with whom the woman committed adultery. After all, the law of Moses is clear that he should also be punished. But since the man was not arrested, it shows that the Pharisees were out to shame Jesus rather than obey the Law of Moses.
  4. It is only in the case when a “betrothed virgin” commits adultery that the Law of Moses explicitly says that those who have committed this adultery shall be “stoned”. This shows us that God considers it just as wrong to have sex before marriage as to be unfaithful outside of marriage.
  5. Since it was so difficult to convict someone of adultery, which is also to be carried out by stoning, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Pharisees have lured a young girl into a deliberate trap. They spied on her, followed her and then, in order to get more witnesses, watched her having sex with the man in question. All this they have done in order to lure Jesus into a trap.
    1. Perhaps the man who committed the adultery belonged to the Pharisees, given that he was never arrested?
  6. Since the Pharisees undeniably already knew what the Law of Moses said about adultery (they have just told Jesus), it is not a humble question that the Pharisees want answered, but a trap to frame Jesus.

John 8:6

  1. By the fact that the Pharisees did not arrest the man with whom the woman committed adultery, the Pharisees are also violating the Law of Moses.
    1. The Pharisees in this case are not the least bit interested in obeying the law of Moses, but only in luring Jesus into a trap that will lead to the people abandoning him and the Romans executing him.
  2. It is difficult to know exactly why Jesus bowed down and what he wrote on the ground, but if I may make a personal interpretation, I think it may be due to the following:
    1. Jesus has no desire whatsoever to answer the Pharisees’ question because they are embarrassing themselves, the woman and Jesus.
    1. Jesus doesn’t respond directly because he doesn’t play the Pharisees’ game and doesn’t get angry at their attempts to entrap him. Instead, Jesus refrains from responding directly because the Pharisees would have to stand for a while and be ashamed of their sinful behavior.
    1. According to Roman law, the crime and punishment would be written down before the sentence was pronounced orally. Perhaps Jesus wrote down the crime the woman had committed according to the law of Moses and the punishment she should receive?

John 8:7

  1. From a Jewish perspective, Jesus reveals that the Pharisees violate the Law of Moses at least as much as the woman. For according to the Law of Moses, those who witnessed the crime should throw the first stones (Deut 17:7), so when Jesus calls on them to come forward and throw the first stones, he reveals that they themselves have broken the Law of Moses because they did not also arrest the man with whom the woman committed adultery. If, on closer examination, it turns out that all is not well with this arrest, as there is much evidence to suggest, then these Pharisees themselves risk arrest for giving “false testimony”, i.e. lying about what really happened. This means that, according to the Law of Moses, they would then receive the same punishment that they had intended for the person they accused; i.e. in this case, stoning to death! (Deuteronomy 19:16-19)
  2. From a general human perspective, Jesus reveals the great problem of humanity: sin and judgment! Since we have all sinned, we should also all be judged! By wanting to condemn the adulteress for breaking the Law of Moses, the Pharisees indirectly admit that they themselves should also be condemned according to the Law of Moses. Faced with such a fact, most people would rather forgive than punish the one who has sinned because they are fully aware that they have sinned and should be punished.
    1. From this we can learn that we are all sinners in need of a Saviour. Before we condemn someone for a sin, we should consider that we ourselves are sinners too and would probably rather be forgiven than condemned. So if we want to be forgiven for the sin we have committed, we should reasonably also forgive those who have committed a sin against us. (Matt 6:12-15, Matt 7:12)
  3. From a divine perspective, Jesus shows us that we should not judge one another because we have all sinned. If we judge someone else for a sin, we are indirectly judging ourselves because we are sinners too. The only one who is completely without sin is Jesus, and therefore the only one who could really have cast. But Jesus did not come to earth to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17).

John 8:8

  1. If Jesus had previously written the crime and punishment of the adulteress, he now writes the crime and punishment of her accuser. Thus they could see that they too are sinners and should receive the death penalty. By stoning this woman, they would confirm that they believe they themselves should receive the same punishment accordingly.

John 8:9

  1. Since Jesus didn’t say they couldn’t stone the adulteress, he didn’t go against the Law of Moses, but since they didn’t throw a stone, he didn’t offend the Romans either. The Pharisees wanted to lure Jesus into a trap and get either the Jews or the Romans to go against Jesus, but instead Jesus manages to make the Pharisees walk away in shame, unrepentant.
  2. The oldest go away first, because they are the greatest sinners. They should know better and guide the younger ones.
    1. This teaches us that there is always hope, even for the most hardened Pharisees. They understood that they too were sinners, and then there is the possibility of forgiveness.

John 8:10-11

  1. After all her accusers have left, there is no one left to judge her. Since the witnesses were required to throw the first stone, Jesus could not throw a stone either.
  2. Jesus is full of both “grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus knew that she had sinned and therefore told her the truth, but he also gave her grace from the sin she had committed.
    1. Merely giving grace without revealing the truth is counterproductive because it does not give anyone the opportunity to receive forgiveness for their sin and thus does not lead to a reverse life of sanctification. Simply revealing the truth without giving grace is also counterproductive because it only makes people feel condemned and bad and does not lead to a life of Christ’s freedom and forgiveness.
  3. Jesus forgives the adulteress’s sins, but he also sends her away with the admonition not to continue sinning. Being forgiven does not mean that one can continue with the same sin, because then one shows that the forgiveness was not really that valuable.
  4. As the adulteress is left alone with Jesus, she now experiences what Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
    1. Without Jesus, the woman would have been stoned to death for her sin, but with Jesus she is forgiven.
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