20 July 2017

John 7:53 – 8:11

“Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 119:113-128


In most Bibles, today's passage appears with brackets around it and a footnote that says something like: 'Not found in most ancient manuscripts'. It has been the subject of much study by biblical scholars, who have long noted that the language is somewhat dissimilar to the rest of the Gospel and that the passage seems to break up the flow of chapters 7 and 8. The majority opinion is now that this text was not originally included in John's Gospel but added several centuries later. Exactly why this happened and when the change was made is unclear. However, there is evidence that the incident is one of many that were related orally about Jesus in the years following his resurrection and that it eventually found its ways into the pages of Scripture via a copyist or later editor. The story certainly has many similarities with Jesus' other encounters with his opponents (eg Mark 10:2-12; 12:13-17) and there is every reason to believe that it is an authentic part of his teaching.

Whatever the textual history of these verses, though, the challenge they present to modern readers remains unchanged. If the testimony of the scribes and Pharisees was accurate, then the woman had undoubtedly broken the traditional Jewish law. Adultery contravened one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) and was dealt with extensively in the teaching of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:13-29, for example). It certainly could be punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), but only when the woman was married/betrothed and the couple were caught committing the act by two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The law also stipulated that both parties should be stoned in such cases (Leviticus 20:10) and so it is odd that only the woman has been brought before Jesus here. All of this suggests that those who had brought the woman to Jesus were much more interested in convicting him than her, condemning him for too lax an interpretation of the law. As elsewhere, though, Jesus' expert knowledge of the law, which stipulated that the witness to the deed should be the first to take up the stones (Deuteronomy 17:7), helps him to turn the tables on his accusers.

To Ponder

  • What do you think Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger (verse 6)?
  • What has this passage got to teach us today about how we interpret the law and treat those convicted of offences?
  • Should we be overly concerned about the detail of how our Bibles came together? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.