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The Adulterous Woman.
By referring to the Revised Version the reader will see that the last verse of Chap. VII. and eleven verses of Chap. VIII. are omitted. It is not in harmony with the purpose of this commentary to enter into a critical discussion of the reasons why they are rejected, further than to say that they are wanting in most of the very ancient manuscripts, and terms are also used that John nowhere else adopts. On the other hand the account is so much in harmony with the spirit of Christ, so characteristic, and bears such marks of real history, that I am compelled to believe that it gives a real incident of the life of the Master. With the stern ideas that grew up in the succeeding centuries it would have been impossible to have invented such a story, and the suggestion of some of the early Fathers, Augustine for one, that it had been stricken from some of the manuscripts because it might be tortured into a license for sin, is more likely. Whether or not penned by John it is so full of, Christ that I believe it is true, though it might have been added to the Gospel after it was written.
“The whole scene, the arrest of the woman, the demand on Jesus, the Pharisaic contempt of public morality in obtruding the crime and the criminal on public attention in the temple courts; the attempt to entrap Jesus; the skill of his reply; the subtle recognition of the woman's shame 133and despair,—and the gentle avoidance of adding to it by turning the public gaze from her to himself as he wrote upon the ground; the final confusion of the Pharisees and the release of the woman, bear the marks of real history. It is impossible to believe that any monkish mind conceived of this and added it to the narrative. The deed is the deed of Christ, whether or no the record is the record of John.”—Abbott. (Joh 8:1)
1. Jesus went to the mount of Olives. The last verse of Chap. VII. says that “every man went to his own house.” Those who disputed with him had homes in Jerusalem to which they retired, but “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives,” perhaps to the shades of Gethsemane where he rested under a leafy olive tree, possibly to the bower of some of his Galilean friends, constructed of branches as was the custom at this feast, possibly to the loved home of Lazarus and his sisters which was situated on the farther slope of the mount, about two miles from the city. This is somewhat remarkable as the only place where John mentions by name this hallowed mount, although it soon acquires a striking prominence in his history from its relation to the scenes of Bethany, Gethsemane and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was separated from the city by the valley of Jehoshaphat, through which flowed the brook Kedron, and overlooked Jerusalem from the east. The road to Jericho, the Jordan, and Perea lay across, or rather around its brow. On its eastern slope were the sacred localities of Bethphage and Bethany. (Joh 8:2)
2. Early in the morning. Of the first day after the feast had ended (see (Chap. VII. 37), if this narrative is in its proper place in his life. And he sat down and taught them. We learn from verse 20, that he was now in “the treasury of the temple.” John does not give the words of teaching for the reason, as I believe, that as soon as the Savior had taken his place as a teacher and the throngs were gathered, an interruption took place. The Scribes and Pharisees were awaiting his coming and at once obtruded upon him. (Joh 8:3) (Joh 8:4)
3. The scribes and Pharisees. This is the only place where John mentions the Scribes, though they are often named by the other Evangelists. From the time of Ezra they had been a distinct class. Gradually they became the most influential teachers of Israel, having far more to do in shaping the religious life of the people than the priests. To this order belonged the Rabbins, the great Doctors of the law, such men as Hillel, Shammai and Gamaliel. When Christ began to teach, at once the people began to compare his methods with those of the Scribes. They did not speak “with authority,” but fortified their decisions with the opinions of great Doctors, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” He, on the other hand, spoke as one drawing upon 134a fountain of absolute truth within himself, “with authority and not as the Scribes.” The phrase, “Scribes and Pharisees,” has almost the same meaning as “the Jews,” so frequently used by John. Brought unto him a woman. She had possibly been arrested during the night. As Jerusalem was crowded with strangers and this feast was a gay, joyous one, there was probably more license than usual. There was no reason why they should bring her to him. The law of Moses was clear and they could understand that Judea was a Roman province and the Roman civil law was now in force in Judea, which did not punish adultery with death. The man was equally guilty according to the Mosaic law, but pursuing the usual course of corrupt men they let him go and fastened upon the helpless woman. (Joh 8:5)
5. Moses commanded such should be stoned. The Mosaic enactment is found in Deut. 22:22, and Lev. 20:10. It required stoning in the case of a betrothed virgin, and also made the infidelity of a wife punishable with death. It was no feeling of outraged purity that brought these learned Scribes, thoroughly posted in the Mosaic teachings, to Christ. Long since the rigid observance of the Levitical law had been laid aside in questions of morals, and the nation under the influence of association with heathen, had become corrupt. The Scribes and Pharisees were themselves “whited sepulchers.” They only thought that, by means of this guilty woman whom they had entrapped, they could annoy, possibly entangle and gain ground for accusing the Prophet of Galilee. (Joh 8:6)
6. This they said, tempting him. The dilemma corresponds to that of the tribute money. To affirm the binding validity and force of the Mosaic enactment, would be to counsel a course of action contrary to the Roman law, and would also be incongruous with the merciful spirit of him who had called publicans and permitted “sinners” to weep unrebuked upon his feet. On the other hand, to set aside the Mosaic judgment would make him liable to the charge of breaking the law of Moses and would be a powerful aid in breaking down his influence with the people. In one case they could accuse him to the Romans and place him under the ban of the civil power; in the other they could denounce him a setter aside of their cherished law. With his finger wrote on the ground. His act was a significant object lesson which said that he would pay no attention to them. When anyone speaks to me and I busy myself with something else it signifies that I do not consider him worthy of attention. It may be noted that this is the only record given that Christ ever wrote a line. It is vain to conjecture what he may have written with his finger in the dust, but if it had come down to us it would probably be found to have a marvellous adaptation to the circumstances. 135 (Joh 8:7)
7. He lifted himself up and said. As they were determined not to be foiled they kept pressing the question, “What sayest thou?” until he arose, looked at them with a look that seemed to pierce their very hearts, and to unveil their thoughts and lives, and then he said, “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” They knew their lives were known; that he saw them polluted with impure thoughts and deeds; yet his answer bids the sinless one among them to step forth and, in accordance with the law of Moses, hurl the first stone at the poor, shame-stricken, agonized sinner who cowered before them. The answer was like a bolt of lightning. It affirmed nothing, but hurled them back on their own hearts and bade them thus decide. It said to them, “Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself: for thou that judgest doest the same things.” (Joh 8:8)
8. Again he stooped down, and wrote. Resuming his former attitude he left them to ponder what he had said and to act upon it. There, for a little while, stood the silent scene; the stooping Lord slowly tracing characters with his fingers upon the earth; the crouching and weeping woman held by her accusers, and the haughty Scribes and Pharisees with shame upon their countenances, perplexed faces and eyes cast upon the earth; a scene worthy of a painter. They had forgotten that the Mosaic law provided that the witnesses on whose testimony the accused was condemned should cast the first stone (Deut. 17:5–7), and also that a guilty husband could not demand punishment upon a guilty wife, according to their Rabbinical law. Before the judgment of the law of Moses could be carried out, therefore, they must settle the question of their own innocence, yet his language reveals a knowledge of their guilt. (Joh 8:9)
9. Being convicted by their own conscience, went out. As he wrote and left them to their own thoughts, conscience began to do its work. “The word of the Lord was quick and powerful.” In the presence of one who read their hearts they were helpless, and, one by one, they began to go quietly out, the eldest and guiltiest leading the way, and in a little while the only figures left of the group were Jesus, still writing, and the woman whom they had left behind. She might have followed, but I trust that she remained because her heart yearned for forgiveness and a new life in the presence of the Sinless One before her. 136 (Joh 8:10)
10. Woman, where are thine accusers? Then he lifted himself up, looked around and saw that his enemies were gone, and then addressed the woman. As Augustine says: “Misery was in the presence of Mercy.” “Doth no man condemn thee?” Is there no accuser to prove thy guilt? (Joh 8:11)
11. No man, Lord. . . . Neither do I condemn thee. He will not pronounce sentence upon her. He does not palliate her sin, but gives her the opportunity for repentance. In the words, “Go and sin no more,” there is an implied rebuke of her past life, a charge to repent and live a better life, and an opening of the door of hope in case she heeded his words.
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