Pastor David B. Curtis

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Caught in the Act?

John 7:53-8:11

Delivered 03/12/17

We are continuing our study in the Fourth Gospel, and this morning we begin chapter 8. This is our 45th message in this Gospel. I think that's pretty good, seven chapters is less than a year. But not everyone feels like I do. I read a comment on one of the YouTube videos that said, "I don't think anyone who takes an hour to go over 11 verses is worth listening too." I wonder what they would say about John 1:14 where I spent two hours to cover half the verse? I am painfully aware that most within churcheanity don't want in-depth teaching of the Bible. But I am thankful for those of you who do. The Bible is the Word of God, and we do well to know all we can about it.

Chapter 7 opens by saying that Yeshua was unwilling to go to Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. The geographical location of the opening verses of chapter 7 is still Galilee. Yeshua has been in Galilee for a year ministering. The first thirteen verses of chapter 7 describe the discussion about, and the action of Yeshua's return to Jerusalem.

The events of chapter 7 take place where? The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. What is happening at the Temple? It is the seven day Feast of Tabernacles. So the context, the setting, of John 7 and 8 is Yeshua's visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Yeshua is in the Temple teaching, and the people of Jerusalem are saying, "Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? Yeshua is standing there in the Temple teaching publicly and the leaders aren't doing anything about it.

On the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles during the ceremony of the water libation Yeshua yells out, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to Me and drink"—what does it mean to come to Yeshua and drink? It is believing, So to come to Him is to believe in Him. To believe in Him is to come to Him. Coming and drinking Yeshua is what happens when we believe. It's what believe means. Yeshua is calling men to salvation.

Yeshua promises them supernatural "living water." What He promised is what the 6th century BC prophet Zechariah foretold in Zechariah chapters 9-14. In the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles Zechariah described the triumph of Yahweh's Messianic King as He comes to Jerusalem riding on a donkey (9:9). He tells of when Yahweh will open up a fountain for the house of David to cleanse Jerusalem (13:1). The living waters that will flow out from Jerusalem will restore and replenish the earth (14:8), and all the nations of the earth will come to Yahweh to celebrate the Feast (14:16). Just as in the Exodus journey when the supernatural water flowed from the Rock in the wilderness, now Yeshua tells the people of God in the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles that all they have to do is to come to Him and the water of life will flow from the Lamb of God.

Then Yeshua engages in a long debate with the Jewish people, with the scribes and Pharisees, with the multitude, in the presence of His disciples. The Jewish leaders aren't doing so well in the debate, so in verse 32 "the chief priest and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him." This happened in the middle of the week, then at the end of the week:

The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, "Why did you not bring Him?" John 7:45 NASB

The Temple Police were sent to arrest; Yeshua they returned three days later empty handed. It seems that the Temple Guards were so "taken" by Yeshua's teaching that they just forgot to arrest Him:

The officers answered, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks." John 7:46 NASB

These guards were really taken by what Yeshua said; they are moved by His declaration of Messiahship. They didn't even try to hide it. They readily admit that they had failed in their mission. Their statement is another witness to the true identity of Yeshua.

In spite of all of the efforts of men to arrest Yeshua or to publicly expose Him as a fraud, no one is able to silence or to subdue Him because it's not His "time."

We ended our last study with verse 52 but the chapter has one more verse:

[Everyone went to His home. John 7:53 NASB

What stands out about this verse? Notice the bracket. Where is the end bracket? The end bracket is after verse 11 of chapter 8. In most Bibles John 7:53 to John 8:11 is either set off in brackets as it is here in the NASB or is in a footnote. The reason for this is that most New Testament scholars do not think it was part of the Gospel of John when it was first written, but was added centuries later.

Leon Morris, a highly respected evangelical scholar, writes, "The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel." [Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 882.]

Morris goes on to give this explanation, "The reason probably is that in a day when the punishment for sexual sin was very severe among the Christians this story was thought to be too easily misinterpreted as countenancing unchastity. When ecclesiastical discipline was somewhat relaxed the story was circulated more widely and with a greater measure of official sanction."([Leon Morris, p. 883.)

Augustine and Ambrose, in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, both believed that the story may have been omitted because it seems to suggest that Yeshua condoned adultery.

Don Carson, who is one of the best New Testament scholars in the world, writes, "Despite the best efforts . . . to prove that this narrative was originally part of John's Gospel, the evidence is against [them], and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV)." (The Gospel According to John, 333)

Bruce Metzger, one of the greats authorities on the text of the New Testament until his death in 2002 writes, "The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the periscope of the adulteress is overwhelming." (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 219)

Herman Ridderbos writes, The evidences "point to an unstable tradition that was not originally part of an ecclesiastically accepted text." (The Gospel of John, 286)

John Calvin has this to say, "It is plain enough that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage." [John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Volume 7: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), p. 734.]

The Scholars are not just guessing at the validity of this text. They are applying a branch of biblical studies called textual criticism. This is a hugely technical field of scholarship that at the upper levels requires not only the ability to read ancient languages, but the ability to read them in kinds of ancient handwritten scripts that are very demanding.

Textual criticism is the discipline where scholars evaluate both external and internal evidence to try to determine which reading is most likely the original. External evidence refers to weighing the various manuscripts in light of their age, how widespread is their distribution, and what text type they represent. Internal evidence refers to evaluating the probabilities of what a scribe might have done, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to result in the various readings. Both internal and external evidence have to be compared and evaluated. [Steven J. Cole]

Some of the evidence that textual critics use to determine the validity of this text would be things like:

* This story is missing from all the Greek manuscripts of John before the fifth century.

  • The five oldest and best copies of the Greek New Testament do not contain these verses. When the verses do begin to appear in this location in John there are asterisks or footnote marks that indicate the verses are unusual.
  • All the earliest church fathers omit this passage in commenting on John and pass directly from John 7:52 to John 8:12. The text flows just fine from 7:52 to 8:12 if you leave out the story and just read the passage as though the story were not there.
  • No Eastern church father cites the passage before the tenth century when dealing with this Gospel.
  • When the story starts to appear in manuscript copies of the Gospel of John, it shows up in three different places other than here (after 7:36; 7:44; and 21:25), and in one manuscript of Luke, it shows up after 21:38.
  • In general the style of the pericope is not Johannine either in vocabulary or grammar. According to R. Brown it is closer stylistically to Lukan material.

Here is what we need to understand, we do not possess any of the original copies of the New Testament books. Our New Testament is based on the translation of thousands of Greek manuscripts that are, for the most part, remarkably close in their readings. The problem is not that we don't have old and good manuscripts, it's the fact that we have so many of them. The problem of New Testament textual criticism is dealing with so many manuscripts.

Now before you get discouraged and say how do we know what really is the Word of God? Let me just say that we have older and better manuscripts of the New Testament than we have of any other ancient writing. We have over five thousand, Greek manuscripts alone. And not only that, but translations into other languages made very early: into languages like Armenian, Syriac, Egyptian, Latin, and so on. In fact, there are literally thousands and thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament because the early church felt that the Word of God was important. And so they copied those texts, and they circulated those texts.

This number of New Testament manuscripts contrast strongly with the number of early copies of the writings of other ancient writers. For example, we have about 643 copies of the writings of Homer, 8 of Herodotus, 9 of Euripides, 8 of Thucydides, 7 of Plato, 49 of Aristotle, and 20 of Tacitus. Furthermore, the earliest copy of the New Testament that we have dates about 125 years after its composition, whereas the earliest copy of one of the extra-biblical writings I just referred to dates about 400 years after its composition.

Compare those numbers with the manuscripts and partial manuscripts for the New Testament. These numbers are from the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Muenster, Germany, which is the most authoritative collection of such data in the world. There are 322 uncial texts, 2,907 minuscule texts, 2,445 lectionary portions, and 127 papyri, for a total of 5,801 manuscripts. These are all hand-written copies of the New Testament or parts of the New Testament preserved in libraries around the world and now captured electronically. No other ancient book comes close to this kind of wealth of diverse preservation.

There are only two texts of any length where the manuscript evidence is so varied and late that many scholars question their authenticity. One is the text we are looking at, the other is, Mark 16:9-20.

Bruce says, "The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affects no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice." (The New Testament Documents, 2)

Paul D. Wegner in "A Student's Guide To Textual Criticism of the Bible" writes, "It is important to keep in perspective the fact that only a very small part of the text is in question. . . . Of these, most variants make little difference to the meaning of any passage."

Wegner closes his book by quoting Fredric Kenyon: "It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God" [301].

In light of the textual evidence, some expositors do not preach or teach the passage because they believe it is uninspired. Bob Utley writes, "I have chosen not to comment on this passage because I do not believe it is from the pen of John and, therefore, not part of an inspired text (even if historical)."

I think that that is an extreme position. Because we must keep in mind that over 900 ancient manuscripts do contain this text, including the important early so-called Western text (uncial D). Most English Bibles contain this text. Augustine suggested that these verses had been removed from John because some people were offended by Yeshua's forgiveness of the woman. He maintains that this story was always part of John's Gospel but that it was excluded from many copies because Church authorities feared it would be misinterpreted to suggest that Yeshua condoned adultery. The ease with which Yeshua forgave the woman was hard to reconcile with the stern morality of an early Christian Church fighting pagan debauchery and licentiousness. Sexual purity was a very foreign concept to most pagan Gentiles.

There is some evidence to back up Augustine's claim. Many ancient manuscripts that do not contain this story have a blank space between the end of what we designate as John 8:2 and the beginning of the Light of the World discourse [8:12]. Some of these manuscripts not only have the gap, but also have scribal notation marks indicating a missing passage.

The 3rd century documen,t the Didascalia Apostolorum [II 24:6], gives a clear reference to this story of the adulterous woman brought to Yeshua, and uses it as a well known example of Yeshua's mercy and gentleness.

But even if all the textual evidence was against it, it does not mean that these verses are false. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. Notice what Lazarus writes at the end of this Gospel:

And there are also many other things which Yeshua did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25 NASB

Lazarus tells us that there were many such incidents and he didn't make any attempt to include them all.

The forgiveness and acceptance of an adulteress is not the kind of thing you would expect the early church to have made up. In reality this story describes the very reason that the scribes and Pharisees accused Yeshua of accepting sinners in Luke 15:2.

Don Carson and Bruce Metzger both think the story probably happened. In other words, they think this is a real event from Yeshua's life, and the story circulated and later was put in the Gospel of John. Metzger says, "The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity." (Textual Commentary, 220) And Carson says, "There is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred," (The Gospel According to John, 333)

It is likely, in my opinion, that this is an authentic account of an incident in the life of our Lord passed down through oral tradition and later added to this text.

Alright, let's look at this text and see what it can teach us.

[Everyone went to his home. John 7:53 NASB

"Everyone"—seems to refer to the people that had gathered to listen to Yeshua. This would include the Sanhedrin and the officers mentioned in 7:45-52. The members of the Sanhedrin must have left very frustrated because they can't seem to silence or arrest Yeshua. At the end of the Temple ceremonies they all went home except:

But Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives. John 8:1 NASB

This is the only mention of the Mount of Olives in this Gospel. Why did Yeshua spend the night at "Mount of Olives" instead of His "house"? He didn't have a house to go to:

Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. John 8:2 NASB

Several expressions in this verse are typical of Luke-Acts: orthos (early in the morning) is found in the New Testament elsewhere only in Luke 24:1; Acts 5:21; paraginomai (came) and laos (people) are common in Luke-Acts, rare in John; and, he sat down to teach them cf. Matthew 5:1-2; Luke 4:20; 5:3. The content of this verse is closely paralleled by Luke 21:38. (Pillar New Testament Commentary on John)

Yeshua has probably come to teach in the Temple precincts at the hour of the morning [Tamyid] lamb sacrifice at about 9AM when crowds would assembly at the Temple for the morning prayer [Shacharit in Hebrew] service.

Verse 20 gives additional information about the location where Yeshua is teaching in the Temple precincts:

These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come. John 8:20 NASB

The treasury was located in the Court of the Women. It was where money for the poor was collected. Who was allowed in this court? Only Jewish men and women were permitted in the Court of the Women. Gentiles were only permitted in the outer court of the Gentiles. Though Gentiles were welcome to worship in the outermost court, they were forbidden on penalty of death to enter beyond the bannister into the two inner courts. Josephus informs us, and archaeological evidence confirms, that at intervals there were signs posted in Greek and Latin saying "No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the bannister around the Sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death." So there were no Gentiles listening to Yeshua at this time.

So Yeshua sits down in the Court of the Women and began to teach again. What He said, Lazarus, or whoever wrote this incident, does not tell us. But in the midst of His teaching a commotion erupts, and the scribes and the Pharisees drag a woman into their midst.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. John 8:3-4 NASB

This is the only place in the Fourth Gospel where the writer mentioned "the scribes and the Pharisees" together, but their association in the Synoptics is common. This is one reason many scholars doubt that John wrote this passage.

The Scribes: The Mishnah and other rabbinic sources refer to the scribes as the authoritative teachers to whom rulings and legal interpretations are attributed. They are often identified as members of the Sanhedrin, the great assembly and ruling body of the covenant people. Today, we would probably designate them as the theologians.

The Pharisees: Scholars who based their teaching on a strict interpretation of the Law, and who formed one of the principle religious/political groups in 1st century Judea. They stood opposed to Roman rule and refused to take the oath of allegiance to Caesar and King Herod. (Antiquities of the Jews 17.2.)

These "scribes and the Pharisees" apparently ripped this woman out of an adulterous relationship, and dragged her to Yeshua right in the middle of the Temple while He is teaching the people:

they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. John 8:4 NASB

What is weird about their claim? There is no such thing as adultery where only one party is guilty. Where is the man?

Was the woman married, or single and betrothed? Stoning is the biblically prescribed punishment for a betrothed virgin who is sexually unfaithful to her fiancé, a punishment to be meted out to both sexual partners:

"If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NASB

In verse 22 death is prescribed for all unfaithful wives and their lovers, but no mode (such as stoning) is given. That would mean the woman in this passage was betrothed, not married. Since Jewish girls were often engaged as young as 13 or 14, this girl may have been a frightened teenager.

"Caught in adultery, in the very act"—in that day and time, it would have been very difficult to convict a person of adultery because in Jewish law circumstantial evidence couldn't be used. If for example, you saw a man and a woman coming out of a house in the morning, or late at night, that was not evidence of adultery. They had to be caught in the very act together. And furthermore, the motions and movements of the couple had to be unmistakably that of sexual intercourse. So it was very difficult for anyone to have this particular crime proven against them. And very few times was the judgment executed for that reason. But this woman has been caught in the very act, which to me indicates that this was a contrived case. They set her up, and the man was involved, how else did they catch her in the very act.

"Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" John 8:5 NASB

As I said the punishment of stoning is mentioned specifically only in the case of a betrothed girl who is caught sleeping with another man. This woman's accusers misrepresented the Law. The Law states that in the case of adultery, both the man and woman must be put to death (Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22). But the Law as quoted by the scribes and Pharisees said, "Moses commanded us to stone such women" [toiauvta", feminine pronou]. Where is the man who shares her guilt? According to the Law no one could be condemned to death without the testimony of 2-3 witnesses.([see Deuteronomy 17:2-7)

The Mishnah, which is the codification of Jewish law, even said this is such a serious sin that, when you catch the man, he is to be enclosed in manure up to his knees and a soft towel inside a rough towel tied around his neck and two people on each side pull until he strangles; and the soft towel on the inside was so the rough towel left no marks, so his execution would be symbolically accomplished by God Himself. There would be no human mark on him.

Why did the Pharisees bring this woman to Yeshua? To trap Him, and thereby to discredit Him as a false Messiah:

They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Yeshua stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. John 8:6 NASB

"They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him"—this was a trap. They thought they had Yeshua cornered with no way out. If Yeshua does not condemn this woman to death under Mosaic Law the Pharisees will condemn Yeshua to the people as a false Messiah who does not support Mosaic Law. But, if He condemns her to death they can report Him into the Roman authorities as a traitor to Rome because He fostered rebellion by taking Roman powers unto Himself. Only Rome had the power over life and death in this Roman province. They stoned Steven to death, but ordinarily Rome did not permit the Jews to execute anyone. They retained that right for themselves. Treason against Rome is a capital crime punishable by crucifixion. And if He condemned her to death He would contradict His own reputation for being gracious and forgiving. (cf. Luke 5:20; 7:47; 19:10) The Pharisees had also set traps for Yeshua in Matthew 19:3 in the question of divorce and in Mark 12:13-17 on the question of taxes paid to Rome.

So they thought they had Him. No matter what He says it will be wrong. But instead of answering them: "But Yeshua stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground"—most Bible scholars and teachers write something, but this is all that our Lord ever wrote. This is the only mention of Yeshua writing in the New Testament, along with verse 8. The Greek verb katagrapho, used here in the past tense ["wrote"], allows for writing words, drawing pictures, or making signs.

He was writing in the dirt. No one knows what Yeshua was writing. Some scholars have suggested that He was writing the sins of those who accused the woman and others. that He was writing out the Mosaic Law, or perhaps relevant Scripture to condemn the accusers. A longstanding interpretation in the Church has been that He wrote part of Jeremiah 17:13:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD. Jeremiah 17:13 NASB

Perhaps He was writing a Scripture passage to comfort the distraught woman. In that case Jeremiah 17:13-18 is a likely passage. It offers comfort and links this incident to writing on the earth and to the declaration of living water the day before.

The context of our text and John 9:13-16 suggests that this day is the Jewish Sabbath. Writing was forbidden on the Sabbath unless the writing did not leave a lasting mark.([Mishnah Shabbat 12:5) Writing with fruit juice or in sand or dirt was permitted.

When Yeshua stooped to write, it is specifically mentioned that He wrote with His finger (8:6). This may well constitute a symbolic allusion to the person of Messiah: The symbolism here may be that as God gave the Old Covenant by writing with His finger, so God (Yeshua) was giving the New Covenant by writing with His finger:

But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:7 NASB

Because He didn't answer them, they continued to ask Him. They wanted an answer so they could trap Him. So He stands up and says, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her"—this is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7 (cf. Lv. 24:14), which says that the witnesses of the crime must be the first to throw the stones, and they must not be participants in the crime itself. Yeshua did not mean that the accusers needed to be sinless. The Law did not require that, but they had to be innocent of the particular sin of the accused. Yeshua meant that they needed to be free from the sin of adultery, or at least free of complicity in prearranging this woman's adultery. Instead of passing judgment on the woman, He was passing judgment on her judges.

Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. John 8:8 NASB

He is giving them a chance to think about what He said and get out of there:

When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. John 8:9 NASB

Why did the older ones leave first? Because older people have more sense. The oldest and wisest Pharisees are the first to understand the trap. They may have reasoned: "If we stone her the Romans will ask why we took her death sentence upon ourselves, and we will say "Yeshua told us to stone her." But He will say He told those without sin to do the stoning and that doesn't mean us because we know He has chastised us for our sins in the past; everyone knows this! So we did it on our own authority!" So Yeshua neither authorizes the stoning nor contradicts the Law. There is no way for them to recover from Yeshua's trap except to walk away as sinners discredited in the eyes of the people!

We should probably understand the text, "He was left alone" as implying that all the critics had departed, which would have left Yeshua, the woman, and perhaps others who had gathered for teaching:

Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Yeshua said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."] John 8:11 NASB

How can Yeshua forgive this adulterous woman who was caught in the act? Is He condoning adultery? If God is a God of righteousness and a God of justice and a God of judgment by His holy nature, she must die. If God is a God of love and of grace and of kindness and of mercy and forgiveness, she must live. But how in the world can you harmonize those two things? Who is it that is not condemned? It is believers. So if Yeshua says that He does not condemn her, then it is because she has trusted in Him. The ultimate reason He could exempt her from condemnation, is that He would take her condemnation on Himself and die in her place. (Romans 8:1) If Yeshua didn't condemn her, than neither did the Father because Yeshua only speaks what the Father speaks.

Remember what Lazarus said in the prologue in chapter 1:

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Yeshua the Christ. John 1:17 NASB

What we see here with this adulterous woman is an illustration of that. As Yahweh said to Moses:

For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." Romans 9:15 NASB

It is God's privilege and His delight to show grace to undeserving sinners.

Notice that Yeshua did not say, "Go your way and sin no more, and then I will not condemn you." He said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." Her pardon was not dependent on her behavior. Rather, her pardon was the motivation to change her behavior.

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