2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The passage we are studying this week is one that has sparked debate on several different levels. Some have questioned if it should even be included in our Bible!
Let's dig in!
God inspired men to write the Bible. I think we can all agree on that. The handwritten pages were carried from city to city, where Christians copied them. These copies were circulated, treasured and copied again. The materials the passages were written on were quite frail, and some copies were lost, or destroyed, or simply worn out from much use. Many, though, were preserved.
With any hand-copied work, there were occasional errors -- a spelling mistake, a reversal of two words in a phrase -- but the rare errors were easily recognized and corrected, so that out of thousands of fragments and books of hand-copied manuscripts, there is an amazing uniformity of the text. Some questions remain about John 7:53 through 8:11. Some early manuscripts even omitted the verses.
Scholars questioned it because they were shocked by Christ's apparent un-asked for pardon of the woman. It seemed to them that he granted her leave to sin. Some simply questioned whether it was "supposed" to be there, seeing that it was not in some of the Greek manuscripts. Others noted that the story was entirely in keeping with the mercy and compassion of Christ, and seemed to be perfectly true.
One way to look at it, is that this text actually proves (pretty convincingly) the rest of the manuscripts. Consider this -- given the ease with which mistakes and errors could be made, anyone studying the Bible must be amazed at the consistency between all of the many texts! This is a rare example of confusion and it shines a brighter light of confidence elsewhere. Lastly, it may be God's providence that one or two "knots" were left for believers not to untie, but to take on faith, and wait for greater understanding.
Jesus' enemies were presenting Him with a profound problem here, trying to trap Him. They were asking "how can justice and mercy be reconciled?" The Law demands punishment. If we set it aside, we are inviting more sin, and then anarchy, for without discipline, humans will not be reined in. And in Leviticus (and other passages) we read that God is holy.
So what possible hope does this woman have? We have all fallen short of God's glory; none is righteous, no not one; all have transgressed the law and are condemned. Who will deliver us?
This is the test they presented to Jesus, and in our human way of thinking, He seems trapped. "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act....Now the Law of Moses commands us to stone her. What do you say?"
It is the compassion of Jesus that attracted the crowds who followed Him. The everyday people are comforted by the preacher Who speaks of grace. Those arrogant ones who are so pleased with themselves are not as engaged by Him. But wait -- isn't He slipping into relativism? Is His mercy undercutting morality? The Messiah would not contradict Moses, would He? But if He will not go against the law, the scribes and Pharisees envision his crowds slipping away from Him . . . those people would not follow a Messiah who stones desperate young women, would they? This one has been bruised by both her sin and society, will He claim Isaiah 42 as His guide: "A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice."
Oh. There's that word again. Justice.
See the trap they laid for Him? If Jesus keeps His compassion, He would seem to be soft on morality. If He stays strictly in the Law, He loses His claim to a unique mercy and compassion.
This seems to be a parable being acted out before our eyes. How will Jesus respond?
We will see next time that he turns the scribes and Pharisee's world upside down, and comforts the humble at the same time.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." (James 4:6)