John Chapters 5 to 8, Part 7
by Karl Kemp
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We continue to discuss John 7:53-8:11 here at the beginning of Part 7 of this study of John chapters 5-8.
I'll also quote part of what Merrill C. Tenney says here ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 9 [Zondervan, 1981], page 89). "[This narrative] is absent from most of the oldest copies of the Gospel that precede the sixth century and from the works of the earliest commentators. To say that it does not belong to the Gospel is not identical with rejecting it as unhistorical. Its coherence and spirit show that it was preserved from a very early time, and it accords well with the known character of Jesus. It may be accepted as historical truth; but based on the information we now have, it was probably not a part of the original text.
The words [of John 7:53] 'Then each went to his own home' show that the following account must have been related to some longer narrative of which it was a part. ...." The words of John 7:53 and of John 8:1 don't fit well with the preceding verses, and John 7:53-8:11 seem to interrupt John's account of things that took place at that Feast of Tabernacles. John 8:12 seems to continue that account.
The United Bible Societies' "Greek New Testament" (fourth revised edition) includes John 7:53-8:11 in double brackets, which "indicate that the enclosed passages, which are usually rather extensive, are known not to be a part of the tradition. They are included with the text in this way because of their antiquity and the position they have traditionally enjoyed in the church (e.g. John 7:53-8:11)." They assign an A rating to the omission of these verses, which indicates that, from their point of view, the omission is certain.
I'll quote part of what Bruce M. Metzger says in "Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament," 2nd edition, which is a companion volume to the Greek New Testament cited in the preceding paragraph. He has over two pages of comments dealing with the basis for concluding that these verses were not part of John's Gospel as it was originally written. "The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as [and he goes on for most of the paragraph citing manuscripts]. No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius...(twelfth century) comments on the passage, and [he] declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.
When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7:52 and 8:12ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.
At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John's narrative least if it were inserted after 7:52.... Others place it after 7:36...or after 7:44...or after 21:25...or after Luke 21:38.... Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses that contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials. ...
Although the committee was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double brackets, at its traditional place following John 7:52. ...."
JOHN CHAPTER 8.
[See under John 7:53.] But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. [As several commentators have pointed out, these words (along with the first words of verse 2) fit well with the events of the last week of Jesus' life (that started with Palm Sunday) that led to the cross (see Luke 21:37, 38; cf. Mark 11:19).] (2) Early in the morning ["At dawn" NIV] He came again into the temple [cf. Luke 21:38], and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them [cf. Matt. 26:55; John 8:20]. (3) The scribes ["The teachers of the law" NIV] and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court [It would be better to translate "set her in the midst" with the KJV; NKJV, or the equivalent. I should point out that the NASB has the words "of the court" in italics. They are not included in the Greek.], (4) they said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. (5) Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women [Compare Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22. Both of these verses mention that the man and the woman should be put to death.]; what then do You say?' [[The following verse shows that the primary motive of these "scribes and Pharisees" was to establish "grounds for accusing [Jesus]." They weren't really concerned with justice here. For one thing, they didn't bring the man who was involved in this adultery (it is possible that he had escaped), and it is quite possible (even probable) that some of her accusers were guilty of the same sin. I'll quote what the apostle Paul said in Rom. 2:22a, "You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" Paul was speaking to the Jews of his generation, and he was inferring that the answer to his question was yes. It was understood that many of the people of Israel were guilty of the sin of adultery, including some of the religious leaders. "Adultery is a crime which the Talmud brings home to the three most illustrious Rabbins, Akiba, Mehir, and Eleazar" (F. Godet, "Epistle to the Romans" (Zondervan, 1969 reprint), page 129). Also, see the next paragraph.
I'll quote part of a footnote by Leon Morris ("Gospel According to John," page 887). "According to I. Abrahams the death penalty for adultery 'can never have been frequently enforced' ("Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospel," I, Cambridge, 1917, p. 73). It was apparently much more usual for the husband to divorce his erring wife and receive compensation from the man. Abrahams speaks also of 'the great prevalance of adultery' (same reference, page 74) .... The Mishna tractate "Sotah" seems to take it for granted that the punishment for adultery would be divorce, and it does not look for the death penalty. For example, it provides that an adulteress is forbidden both to her husband and to her paramour (Sot. 5:1), which means that neither party was executed."]] (6) They were saying this, testing Him ["They were using this question as a trap" NIV; cf. Matt. 19:3; 22:15-22, 35; Mark 10:2; 12:15. The KJV translates "tempting [Him]."], so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. [[Compare Mark 3:2. These "scribes and Pharisees" were undoubtedly hoping that Jesus would manifest compassion for the woman in a way that would make Him guilty (from their point of view) of breaking the Mosaic Law. (I had a footnote: His opponents may have also considered the possibility of getting Jesus in trouble with the Roman authorities if it appeared He was [in some way] behind the stoning of this woman, since the Romans did not permit the Jews to put people to death [see John 18:31]. This didn't mean, of course, that the Jews always yielded to this mandate of the Romans [cf., e.g., Acts 7:54-8:1].)]] But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. [[We are not told what Jesus wrote on the ground here, or later (in verse 8). My first thought was that in an extremely tense situation like this one, Jesus probably wrote something that would be directly relevant to the situation, something that would help convict His opponents of their own sinfulness (cf., e.g., John 8:21, 24, 31-47; and Luke 13:1-5), including their hypocrisy. He could have started writing the ten commandments (or one, or some, of the ten commandments), or a list of sins He knew that His opponents and the woman's accusers were guilty of, for example. (Some have even suggested that He wrote their names along with their sins. That would have gotten their attention!) Such writing would fit well with His words in verse 7, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her," and many commentators hold this viewpoint.
After further thought I have to doubt the idea that Jesus wrote something relevant to this situation. It is possible that He did, of course, but it seems likely that this account would have told us what He wrote if this took place. I prefer the idea that Jesus treated their devious test question with contempt by ignoring them and disregarding their question, as He stooped down and started to write on the ground. Quite a few commentators opt for this viewpoint, and the additional words at the end of this verse contained in the KJV; NKJV fits this viewpoint, "as though He did not hear." (The KJV has these words in italics.) I'll quote a sentence from what J. N. Sanders and B. A. Mastin say regarding this viewpoint ("Gospel According to St. John" [Hendrickson Publishers, 1968], page 465). Their quotation is from C. K. Barrett's commentary ("Gospel According to St. John") under this verse, "A more common conclusion, found in the addition of the words 'taking no notice' (Greek "me prospoioumenos") by some MSS (E, G, H, and K) at the end of verse 6, is that Jesus' action 'was simply a studied refusal to pronounce judgement.' "
I'll quote part of what G. Campbell Morgan says here ("Gospel According to John" [Fleming H. Revell, no date given], page 148). "What did He do? He stooped down and wrote. No, I cannot tell you what He wrote. I have often wondered, and read the legends, and they are all suggestive. What He wrote we do not know, but the attitude was everything. It was the attitude of attention to something else, and refusal to satisfy His questioners. It was the attitude of dismissal."
Anyway, we know that Jesus' words (of verse 7b), whether He wrote anything relevant to that situation, or not, sufficed to convince every one of her accusers (and His opponents) that they didn't have the right to cast a stone at the woman who had been caught in adultery. Jesus forced them to see that it wasn't appropriate for those who are sinning themselves to cast the first stone at the sinful woman. They needed to judge themselves before they judged her with the death penalty.]] (7) But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up [cf. John 8:10], and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.' [[Compare Matt. 7:1-5; Rom. 2:1-3. (Rom. 2:1-16 are discussed in my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" on this Christian article site.) It is important to see that Jesus did not come to judge at His first coming (cf. John 3:17; 8:15; and Luke 12:14) but that (as many verses show) He will judge at His second coming (cf., e.g., Matt. 24:29-51). At His first coming, He called people to repent and to submit (in faith) to the gospel of God's (new-covenant) plan of salvation so they could get ready for the day of judgment, and He initiated that salvation through His incarnation, sinless life, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and His pouring forth the gift of the life-giving, sanctifying, gift-dispensing Spirit, starting on the day of Pentecost.]] (8) Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground [cf. verse 6]. (9) When they heard it [They heard what Jesus said in verse 7. (It is possible that they also heard, so to speak, what Jesus wrote on the ground; see under verse 6). What they heard was sufficient to convict all of them that it would not be proper for them to stone this woman who had sinned.], they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones [[The "older ones" would (for the most part) have been the leaders. Jesus' opponents and the woman's accusers realized that He had escaped their trap (as He had, for example, in Matt. 22:15-22). Jesus didn't challenge the requirement of the Mosaic Law (which they hoped He would do) - He just challenged their right to stone this woman taken in adultery. They were convicted of their sinfulness to the extent that they realized they had no right to be the first to cast a stone at the woman. Too bad that they (at least most of them) were not convicted of their sinfulness to the extent that they repented and submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation. (Hopefully some of those men did eventually repent and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ.) I'll quote a sentence from what Edward G. Dobson says under verses 9-11 ("Liberty Bible Commentary," New Testament [Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982], page 230), "They left, probably not out of conviction, but rather they had been defeated in their attempt to trap the Son of God."]], and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. [It is more important here than it was in verse 3 that we translate something like "where she was, in the midst," or the equivalent (without the words "in the court," which were not included in the Greek). The same Greek prepositional phrase that was used in verse 3, "en meso," is used here. The KJV; NKJV have, "and the woman standing in the midst." Apparently it was only the accusers who left one by one, leaving the woman with Jesus and the people who had been listening to Him teach before they were interrupted by "the scribes and the Pharisees" (verses 2, 3). "The word "alone" implies only the departure of the accusers" (F. Godet, "Gospel of John," page 89). "When Jesus straightened up, the accusers were gone" (J. Carl Laney, "John," page 157).]] (10) Straightening up, Jesus said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?' (11) She said, 'No one, Lord ["sir" NIV].' And Jesus said, 'I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.' [[See John 5:14. The fact that Jesus didn't condemn this woman (to death) for this sin of adultery did not mean that she was forgiven, but hopefully she was. It depended on whether she responded (with repentance and faith) to what Jesus said to her (He may have said more to her than what is recorded here) - her being saved, or lost, depended on whether she pressed on to become a Christian. She didn't come to Jesus looking for salvation, and we aren't informed of any response she made to Jesus. Hopefully she repented and pressed on (in faith) to become a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 8:31-36) and then (when the new birth became available) to become a born-again Christian.
If the heart of this woman was open to God at all, she would have been so overwhelmed by this experience and her encounter with Jesus that she would have been motivated to learn of Him and submit to Him and His words, including His words to her, "From now on sin no more." If she took those words to heart, she would have been compelled to follow the One who could enable her to fulfill that command. Those same words, "From now on sin no more," apply to all Christians, and that is good news - God enables us (by grace/the Spirit through faith) to do what He requires/commands us to do. Of course being forgiven is an important part of the gospel too.
I'll quote part of what F. Godet says here ("Gospel of John," page 89). "We must not see in the words of Jesus: I do not condemn thee, a declaration of pardon similar to that which He addresses to the penitent sinful woman in Luke 7:48, 50. Bengel rightly remarks that Jesus does not say: 'Go in peace: thy sins are forgiven thee.' For the sinful woman who is in question here did not come to Jesus by reason of any movement of repentance and faith. By not condemning her, Jesus simply grants her the opportunity for repenting and believing. ... And by saying to her: Sin no more, He indicated to her the path on which alone she can really lay hold upon salvation.
Thus vanish all the moral difficulties and all the historical improbabilities which Hengstenberg and others claim that they find in this story. ... This incident is in every point worthy of the wisdom, holiness and goodness of Him to whom it is attributed. ...He awakened in His adversaries the consciousness of their own sinfulness, and He made this woman understand how she must use the opportunity of grace which is accorded to her. ...."
I'll quote part of what J. Carl Laney says here ("John," page 157). "Jesus' words 'Then neither do I condemn you' have often been [misunderstood and] misapplied. They have been used to justify leniency in criminal cases, to oppose capital punishment, to argue against church discipline, and to relax moral standards. Jesus intended none of these things. ...."
I'll quote part of what Joseph H. Mayfield says here ("Beacon Bible Commentary," Vol. 7 [Beacon Hill Press, 1965], page 104). "There is no indication here that mercy extended is license to sin! ... Rather the Christ of the Cross makes it possible for men to abstain from the sins which He commands men to forsake. For this woman there was now an open door. 'His final word is neither of condemnation nor of forgiveness, but a charge to forsake her former way of life' (quoting from R. H. Lightfoot, "St. John's Gospel," page 348). In the final analysis of the account, it is clear that the Law is seen as inadequate for the needs of either the woman or her accusers." We need the new covenant!
And I'll quote part of what J. H. Bernard says here ("Gospel According to St. John," Vol. 2 (T&T Clark, 1999 reprint), page 721). "The verbal similarity of these words ["I do not condemn you"] to the words ["I pass judgment on no one" NIV] of [John] 8:15...may have suggested the position which the interpolated section occupies in the received text...at the beginning of chapter 8. ... Jesus does not say here that He does not pass judgment, even in His own mind, upon the woman's conduct, but that He does not condemn her judicially...(cf. Luke 12:14). Still less does His reply convey forgiveness; the woman who was forgiven in Luke 7:48 was a penitent, but there is no hint of penitence in this case [at least her penitence isn't mentioned]."]] (12) Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, 'I am the Light of the world [[Compare Psalm 27:1; Isa. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3, 19-22; John 1:4, 9; 3:19-21; 9:5; 12:35, 36; and Rev. 21:23, 24. The Light of God includes His truth, righteousness, and holiness. The darkness includes the lie (absence of the truth) and all sin (absence of righteousness and holiness); Satan's kingdom is a kingdom of darkness (cf. Col. 1:13; Eph. 6:12).]]; he who follows Me [Following Jesus includes submitting to Him and His word in faith, which includes living in righteousness and holiness in obedience to Him and His word (by His grace).] will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life [cf., e.g., Matt. 5:14-16; John 1:4; Eph. 5:8-14; and 1 John 1:5-7; the Greek behind the word "life" here is "zoe"].' [[Apparently John (starting here with John 8:12 in our Bibles) is continuing to report what Jesus said and regarding His interaction with the Jews (including the Pharisees; cf. John 7:32; 8:13) in the temple on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. John 7:37), but it is possible that these words were spoken later, on the next day, for example. John 8:20 shows that Jesus was in the temple when He spoke these words, as He was in John 7:14-39. (I'll quote part of what D. A. Carson says here ["Gospel According to John," page 337]. Carson is assuming that John's Gospel did not include 7:53-8:11, and he points out that John didn't report anything that Jesus said (or did) in 7:40-52. "...8:12 follows nicely from 7:37-39. [Jesus speaks in 7:37-39 and He speaks again in 8:12.] That is what is indicated by the word again ("palin," which is the first word in the Greek text of 8:12): again he spoke to the people, still in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles."
We have already discussed the fact that what Jesus said about coming to Him to drink of the living water in John 7:37-39 probably built (to some extent) on the ceremony of pouring out water (that had just been drawn from the pool of Siloam) at the sacrificial altar in the temple at the time of the morning offerings on each of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is also probable that what Jesus said here in 8:12 about His being the "Light of the world" built (to some extent) on the ceremony of the lighting of giant candelabras/lamps at the Feast of Tabernacles. ((I had a two-paragraph footnote: I'll quote part of what Alfred Edersheim says regarding this ceremony ("The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as they Were at the Time of Christ" [Eerdmans, 1972 reprint], pages 283-285). "At the close of the first day of the feast the worshippers descended to the Court of the Women [in the temple], where great preparations had been made. Four [giant] golden candelabras were there, each with four golden bowls, and against them rested four ladders; and four youths of priestly descent held, each a pitcher of oil...from which they filled each bowl. [J. Carl Laney ("John," page 158) mentions that "According to the Talmud, these candlesticks were 50 cubits (75 feet) high." F. Godet ("Gospel of John," page 90) mentions that "the celebrated Maimonides affirms that this ceremony occurred on every evening of the feast.... But the Talmud speaks of it only on occasion of the first evening."] The old, worn breaches and girdles of the priests served for wicks to these lamps. There was not a court in Jerusalem that was not lit up by the light.... The 'Chasidim' [the Pious] and 'the men of Deed' danced before the people with flaming torches in their hands, and sang before them hymns and songs of praise; and the Levites, with harps, and lutes, and cymbals, and trumpets, and instruments of music without number....
It seems clear that this illumination of the Temple was regarded as forming part of, and having the same symbolical meaning as, 'the pouring out of water.' The light shining out of the Temple into the darkness around, and lighting up every court in Jerusalem, must have been intended as a symbol not only of the Shechinah which once filled the Temple, but of that 'great light' which 'the people that walked in darkness' were to see, and which was to shine 'upon them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death.' (Isa. 9:2) ... At any rate, It seems most probable that Jesus had referred to this ceremony in the words spoken by Him in the Temple at that very Feast of Tabernacles: 'I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.' " Most commentators believe that what Jesus said here built on that ceremony.]] (13) So the Pharisees said to Him, 'You are testifying about Yourself [[When it came to topics like who Jesus was and where He came from, Jesus was the Person (He was the God-man) most qualified to testify. John the Baptist (and those like him) could (and did) also testify to these things to the extent God had revealed these things to them (cf., e.g., John 1:6-8, 15, 26-36). Joseph and Mary could attest to the fact that Jesus had been born of God through a virgin, for example.]]; Your testimony is not true [[The NASB has a marginal note, "Or valid," and the NIV translates, "is not valid." So too in verse 14.].' [See under John 5:31 in this paper. What Jesus (God the Son, the God-man, who was/is "the way, and THE TRUTH, and the life" [John 14:6]) testified about Himself (and everything else that He ever said) was true (see the next verse; cf., e.g., John 1:14). The Pharisees were wrong, not Jesus. Jesus responded to their charge against Him in the following verses (verses 14-19). One of the primary things that Jesus went on to say was that God the Father also testifies to what He testifies about Himself. When God the Father testifies to something it is settled! So too for God the Son!]] (14) Jesus answered and said to them, 'Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. [[Jesus knew that He was God the Son, who had been sent from heaven (cf. John 1:1-18; 3:11, 13; and 8:23, 29, 42), and He knew that He was going back to heaven after He completed His all-important mission (cf., e.g., John 8:21; 13:1, 3; 14:2, 3, 28; 16:5, 28; and 17:5). As Jesus said here, the Pharisees didn't know where He came from or where He was going - they wouldn't accept the truth.]] (15) You judge according to the flesh [["I.e. by a carnal standard" (margin of NASB). Compare John 7:24. Jesus' opponents judged Him according to the flesh (and their judgments and their walk in general were according to the flesh). They were spiritually dead (without the Spirit) and did not know God the Father (cf., e.g., verse 19); they very wrongly judged Jesus to be just a man (a man born of Joseph and Mary) who claimed far too much for Himself, which was blasphemous.]]; I am not judging anyone. [As we discussed under verse 7, most of Jesus' work of judging is reserved for His second coming.] (16) But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent me. [Compare John 5:19-30; 6:38; and 7:16, 18, 28, 29, 33.] (17) Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. [Compare Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; and Heb. 10:28.] (18) I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.' [See John 5:31-47 in this paper.]
This verse-by-verse study of John chapters 5-8 will continue in Part 8, starting with John 8:19.
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