Thursday 16 July 2020

Bible Book:

And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ (v. 11)

John 7:53–8:11 Thursday 16 July 2020

Psalm: Psalm 76


Most Bibles indicate (by placing it in brackets and adding a footnote) that this passage was almost certainly not in the Gospel John penned. It is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts or translations into other ancient languages, other than the Latin Vulgate. It is found in many of the so-called Western family of ancient Bible manuscripts, but in a number of different places in John, or in one case in Luke. Its content matches the kind of attitude Jesus shows elsewhere to the letter of the Law of Moses, and the theme of Jesus’ opponents trying to trick him into an answer they could condemn is common in the other Gospels (eg see several examples in Mark 12:13-34). 

Scribes (or teachers of the Law) do not appear in John’s Gospel other than in verse 3 here, but are linked a number of times with Pharisees in Matthew and Luke. Similarly the Mount of Olives (verse 1) is only mentioned here in John but was often where Jesus spent the night during his last days in Jerusalem according to the other Gospels (Luke 21:37).

The law concerning adultery is set out in Deuteronomy 22:13-29. For any accusation of law-breaking to be valid at least two witnesses were required. They would have needed to have seen or heard the act, unlikely in the case of adultery unless entrapment was involved. Despite what the accusers say, stoning – which was the prescribed punishment only when the woman was betrothed to another man – was the prescribed fate for both parties, begging the question why the guilty man is not present. But the complainants are not really interested in the woman’s punishment; rather they hope that Jesus’ known affection for sinners will lead him to renounce the law.

We can only speculate (and many have!) as to what Jesus wrote on the ground; but perhaps he primarily does so merely to take control of the encounter and allow time for the plot to develop, and in the second instance to allow the accusers space to judge themselves. Jesus does not dispute the fact that the law condemns the woman’s behaviour, but he forgives her.


To Ponder:

  • Jesus first forgives the woman, then requires her to repent or change her lifestyle and not to sin again. Do you think the Church proclaims clearly enough that this is the order of things within the gospel of grace?
  • Are there ways in which you feel under the condemnation or criticism of others? How do you imagine Jesus would address you on the matter?
  • Much effort is spent comparing different ancient manuscripts to try and be as sure as possible what the author originally wrote. How important is this project in terms of the authority of the Bible? In what sense may it matter if this passage is a later addition?
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