It’s a famous story: The Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask if they should stone her. He answers by saying, “Let him without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, they all leave.
This is one of the most highly debated texts in the Bible. Many pastors actually skip it or choose to never preach on it. Let me explain why. I’ve been studying up on this passage for a Small Group session tomorrow night and here’s what I’ve discovered: (By the way, most of this info is from a sermon I downloaded by Dr. Israel Loken who was my Bible teacher and is a highly regarded Biblical scholar/author.)
1. Most Bible scholars agree that this passage was not in the original Biblical text. It was added at a much later date. The earliest manuscript which includes this passage dates back to the 5th century – over 400 years after Jesus’ days. The next oldest manuscript which includes it is from the 9th century – another 500 years later. All the older manuscripts exclude this passage however, after the 9th century addition, it appears that most manuscripts do include it with a special marking identifying it as a later addition. The manuscripts which include it also don’t agree on where it belongs. It is sometimes found in John, sometimes in Luke, and sometimes in Matthew.
2. Textually the passage doesn’t fit the rest of John’s gospel. The words used are not found in any of John’s other writings. It’s highly unlikely that the author of John could have written it.
3. If you omit the passage from John, the gospel seems to flow better. The last part of chapter 7 takes place at the Feast of Tabernacles and raises the question of where Jesus is from. Who He is. When you skip this passage and go directly to 8:12, you see Jesus answering their questions. Especially in verse 14 where Jesus talks about where He came from. Also in 8:12, Jesus calls Himself the “light of the world.” This would make much more of a statement if it happened during the Feast of Tabernacles with the huge festival Menorahs in the background. If we leave the passage in tact, the scene has changed away from the Feast of Tabernacles and this event would not have had the same kind of impact.
4. Even though most scholars recognize this text as a later addition, they also believe it to be an accurate account of a historical event – it really happened. Much like the Old Testament, this story was passed down orally from generation to generation. The story is also recalled by a a few historians long before it’s first appearance in a manuscript in the 5th century. Papius wrote about it around 140AD. Augustine and Ambrose write of it as well.
5. It is important to recognize that even if the story doesn’t belong in the Scriptures, it doesn’t add any important doctrine or make any changes to the whole of Scripture. It merely supports those doctrines which have been established in other texts.
6. In verse 8:6, we see Jesus writing on the ground with His finger. There has been much debate and there are many theories about what He wrote.
a.) He wrote the 10 Commandments. (It’s the only other place in Scripture where the hand of God writes something.)
b.) He wrote the sins of those who were standing as accusers of the woman.
c.) (and this is the one I like) He was writing the text from Lev 20:10 or Deut 22:22 and 24 which describes how both a man and woman should be brought forward when caught in adultery. This would have pointed out the “sins” of the accusers as well as upholding the law.
I also think it’s important to note that “he without sin” disqualifies everyone present. . .well, everyone except Jesus. Under these rules, Jesus actually had the right to stone her. His choice in no way condones her actions. This is clear when Jesus tells her to leave her life of sin. What a beautiful example Jesus has given us! We are to forgive others no matter what the circumstances. We’ve got to remember that we are sinners too and we need the same forgiveness. We have chosen other things over God. We are adulterous too. We are an adulterous people.
This was a fun lesson to teach at small group. We had lots of great discussions around it all. I hope it’s been beneficial to someone else too.