By Tyson Thorne

July 24, 2019

John 26 Large

While we may not be able to state this story is true, one thing we can be sure of and that is that it doesn't contradict anything revealed in Scripture about Jesus, Biblical theology or any other truth. We also know that it is an ancient story, one that began in the early church and whose roots may go back to the time of Christ. It may be a true story, even though it was likely not written by one of the Bible's authors. We'll leave the debate as to its canonical status to the scholars; today we'll examine the story itself.

Following the council meeting where Nicodemus makes a timid stand for the Savior, Jesus heads to the Mount of Olives (east of Jerusalem and opposite the Kidron Valley) seeking rest and restoration. The next morning he once again takes to the Temple courts to teach, and the crowds gather around the charismatic Rabbi. It didn't take long before the same ruling council and Pharisees at the end of chapter seven appear before the Messiah, bringing with them a woman who had allegedly been caught in adultery.

I say "allegedly" because no evidence of her transgression has been presented. Furthermore, while the Pharisees reference the Law of Moses regarding her punishment, they ignore one important facet: there is no man. Where is the man she was caught with? According to Leviticus 20.10 "both the adulterer and the adulterous must be put to death." So I ask again, where is the man? This feels like a setup.

"Rabbi," the Pharisees began, "“this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?”

In verse six we see our initial impressions were correct. In a parenthetical statement the author tells us the religious leaders intended to "trap" Jesus. Then, in the only story where we ever witness Jesus writing, the text says Jesus knelt and began writing in the dirt with his finger. The text doesn't tell us what Jesus wrote, but long-time public speaker Greg Speck hypothesized that he was making a list of sins, sins that the religious authorities had themselves recently been guilty of. Jesus then stands and makes his famous statement. Hen he kneels again and writes some more. Perhaps it is a list of the names of her accusers, next to the sins they are guilty of. "Whoever among you is guiltless" indeed.

The religious leaders left one by one, perhaps as they had been outed by Jesus' list. In the end only Jesus and the woman were left. My question is, had the crowd listening to Jesus also departed? Or were they still there, looking on. I'm guessing the crowd had gone nowhere, or else Jesus would likely have been arrested himself. Standing up, Jesus asked the woman, "did no one condemn you? Neither do I. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."

Is the story true? I don't know with any certainty, but it has the ring of truth to it. Many commentaries, including my go-to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, skip over this story with the simple statement that it probably isn't Scripture anyway. This is a mistake. Even if not inspired, there is still a lesson to be learned. Despite the arguments against this passage being considered part of the Bible because it shows a lax attitude toward adultery, an argument can be made it belongs because it shows divine mercy and compassion toward even the worst of sinners.

Though Jesus doesn't say she is forgiven, clearly she has been. Though no discussion is made about the state of the woman's heart, she is clearly broken by the exposing of her sin. Such brokenness always results in forgiveness, which we see in the case of King David. While he was angry and defiant toward God after taking another man's wife, once his sin is exposed by the prophet Nathan he too was broken. Forgiveness followed, though he suffered the natural and political consequences of his actions. In the end, the lesson that our past sins do not determine our eternal fate — only our trust in Jesus does — gives value to the passage. Jerome agrees, and for that reason he kept it as part of the fifth century Latin Vulgate even though he knew the controversy surrounding these verses.

Is this passage inspired Scripture? Maybe, maybe not. Did the event actually happen? Again, the best we can say is "perhaps". The value of the story however should lend it a place in Christian tradition and to eliminate it from our collective would be a mistake.

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