Gospel of John 7:53-8:30
53 So they broke up their meeting and went home, 8 1 while Jesus went off to the Mount of Olives. 2-5 Early next morning he returned to the Temple and the entire crowd came to him. So he sat down and began to teach them. But the scribes and Pharisees brought in to him a woman who had been caught in adultery. They made her stand in front, and then said to him, “Now, master, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. Now, what do you say about her?” Phillips
Many modern English translations either skip 7:53-8:11 or put it in some type of footnote. As more ancient manuscripts are discovered, they show us many of the earlier ones do not include the passage. Some of the older manuscripts place the account after John 7:36, John 21:25, or even Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53. Today, most scholars believe someone added the story a century or more after John’s Gospel. That is why so many push it aside today.
Jerome, writing about 400 CE, gave us his thoughts. In the Gospel, according to John, there is found in many of both the Greek and as well as the Latin copies, the story of the adulteress who was accused before the Lord. ACCS
Augustine, about the same time, wrote this. Some men of slight faith, or, rather, some hostile to true faith, fearing, as I believe, that liberty to sin with impunity is granted their wives, remove from their scriptural texts the account of our Lord’s pardon of the adulteress, as though he who said, “From now on, sin no more,” granted permission to sin, or as though the woman should not have been cured by the divine physician by the remission of that sin in order not to offend others who are equally unclear. ACCS
You can see from these two quotes that people questioned the story sixteen hundred years ago, but both men favored including it. We should know the problems connected to including and those for excluding it.
Jesus teaches us the same lesson about forgiveness throughout the Gospels, so taking it out would not change his message.
6-9a They said this to test him, so that they might have some good grounds for an accusation. But Jesus stooped down and began to write with his finger in the dust on the ground. But as they persisted in their questioning, he straightened himself up and said to them, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing with his finger on the ground. And when they heard what he said, they were convicted by their own consciences and went out, one by one, beginning with the eldest until they had all gone. Phillips
In The Daily Study Bible, William Barclay described several ideas about why Jesus wrote in the dust. We do not know if any of them are true, but I like this one. Caution: I am not supporting it as ‘gospel.’ By far the most interesting suggestion emerges from certain of the later manuscripts. The Armenian translation of the New Testament translates this passage this way: “He Himself, bowing His head, was writing with His finger on the earth to declare their sins; and they were seeing their several sins on the stones.”
Can you see the accusers’ faces if they could read their sins? It is not what John recorded, but it packs a serious message. How can I accuse someone of sin when my sins are as severe? That is the reason for this story. We must place ourselves in the woman’s position, but also the accuser’s place. I must admit to my sins first.
9b-10 Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing where they had put her. So he stood up and said to her, “Where are they all—did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus to her. “Go home and do not sin again.” Phillips
Looking at every passage where Jesus deals with specific sins, he takes much the same attitude. He certainly did so with the Samaritan woman at the well. And notice that he always adds, ‘do not sin again.’ He is not saying, ‘never, ever sin again,’ but do your best to keep your sins to a minimum. Matthew 5: 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He knew that men found women attractive even then, it is not a new problem. What he tells us is what women today say, keep it to yourself, look away and move on, treat me like an equal.
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ESV
This is the second of the seven I ams by Jesus. The first was the bread, now the light. John builds these one on the other, making a bigger and better case for Jesus as the Son of God.
We are nearly back to chapter one. John 1: 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. How do we avoid the darkness? How does a man avoid the sin of lust? (Or women?) As quickly as the thought of sexual attraction pops into the brain, think of her/his equality and worth as a child of God. God made us to be attracted to each other, but he did not intend for us to abuse that attraction.
Before 1950 in the USA, people married for better or for worse, and when it got worse, they figured out how to get through it. Today, everyone expects the marriage to be fun and games, and they can bail out if it is not. Marriage is about equality. Both partners must work to carry half of the load and responsibility. One advantage in the first century was that men and women knew what society expected them to do, Even if they did not always do it.
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” NIV
If you read verses 12-13 together, you might wonder if the Pharisees even heard what Jesus said. Yes, he sounded as though he might be claiming to be God, but he could be bringing people to the light.
They did not bother to debate with him but launched an attack. Their statement comes from the solid Jewish legal position that no conviction could be made on account of only one witness. Neither could a defense be based on one witness. On the surface, the Pharisees seemed to be correct.
14-18 Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have: You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.” MSG
Eugene Peterson’s Message is a paraphrase, but here I think it gets at the meaning better than most.
As in other conflicts with the Pharisees—in all the Gospels—the Pharisees make a judgment from a distorted viewpoint. If I have decided that Jesus is just another crazy, then whatever he says is nonsense. If I am a modern atheist, then I see Jesus, at best, as a deluded man who deserved what he got.
But if I see or hear about what Jesus has done, especially if I witness some of it as did the Pharisees, I must make a choice. Is Jesus who he says he is or not? It is as simple as that. Thousands of people watched the signs recorded by John and listened to the words of Jesus, but only a small number of them believed him. How much harder is it for us today who can but read about it all? Do not forget that most first century people had help making their decisions to follow Jesus; today, we have people who have accepted the faith and have lived faithfully as a witness to Jesus. We see their lives as they walk in the light, and often, we can see Jesus in them—if we want to. It is still my decision to make.
Talking about judgments, Jesus said, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. MSG We mainly work from our narrowness. I grew up in a small farming community, but when I started my college education in history, I learned about the multitudes of people who were not like me. I also learned not to judge them for that difference. They acted out of their narrowness.
Jesus challenges us to act out of the largeness of the One who sent me. In fairness, the literal Greek reads: I do not judge no one, even if judge. But I, judgment My true is, because alone not I am, but I and He sending Me, Father. So, yes, Peterson takes some liberties.
16Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. ESV Peterson reads the Father as the largeness.
Jesus then says that he can witness to himself, and God can be his second witness. The problem with this is that the Pharisees do not listen to God. They are too busy counting the ways of their perfection instead of counting the perfections of God. But Jesus knows that. His statement is a jab at their weakness.
19 “And where is this father of yours?” they replied. “You do not know my Father,” returned Jesus, “any more than you know me: if you had known me, you would have known him.” Phillips
They know his father was Joseph, now dead, so ‘what father have you created?’ Jesus, as always, knows what they are thinking and answers their asked question correctly, ‘you do not seem to know my real Father.’ He goes on to tell them they do not know God. That should have stirred them up, but they did not understand the put-down. They likely thought he was, in his crazed mind, making up a father on earth.
That last statement—if you had known me, you would have known him—is Gospel 101. Jesus is God as a human; to see Jesus is to see God. As the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of smoke by day was the witness to God; as Moses carried the tablets from the mountain as a witness to God; we could make a longer list, but you get the point. If you want to see God, look at Jesus.
20 (Jesus spoke these words near the offering box while he was teaching in the temple courts. No one seized him because his time had not yet come.) NET
There were thirteen offering ‘trumpets,’ as the boxes were called, and they were in the Court of the Women. John was there during this exchange, and this is another indication to help us realize that John knows what he is talking about.
21 Later, Jesus spoke to them again and said, “I am going away and you will try to find me, but you will die in your sins. You cannot come where I am going.” Phillips
‘Later’ probably refers to the incident near the trumpets, indicating that some amount of time elapsed. I think the Message clears up the meaning of the rest of the sentence. “I’m leaving and you are going to look for me, but you’re missing God in this and are headed for a dead end. There is no way you can come with me.” MSG If we cannot see God in Jesus, we cannot follow Jesus. If I walk in darkness, I cannot see Jesus, so I make wrong turns. I must stay in the light to follow the Son of God.
22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” NIV
They could think of no other place Jesus could go that they could not find him. We should understand that John used the noun, ‘Jews,’ to describe numerous combinations of people. Here, Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees and Temple leaders. Other times he is speaking of a crowd at a specific incident. Only occasionally does he mean all of Judea and Galilee.
23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” ESV
‘I am not of this world’ can create confusion in our minds. Does Jesus mean that he is not at all human, that he is really like a hologram? By the time John wrote, many Christians had decided that Jesus was not human. They had several ideas about how that happened. They did accept that God was real and that He could create such an illusion.
John could have left that line out, but he wants a clear record of Jesus, the one and only perfect human. We still have some trouble wrapping our minds around the God/human concept, so we should appreciate the efforts of the early Christians to understand the reality that is Jesus.
For verse 25, I think the Message nails it again. “I told you that you were missing God in all this. You’re at a dead end. If you won’t believe I am who I say I am, you’re at the dead end of sins. You’re missing God in your lives.” MSG
The underlying message is that those who believe Jesus is the Son of God will die but not in sin. Living in the Son of God gives us the free pass we do not deserve. While we live in this world, we will sin and be subject to the consequences of sin—earthquakes, wars, famines, killing diseases, fighting, hurtful comments, even deadly asteroid strikes. Once we leave this world, after death, we will live in the perfect universe that God created for us. Nothing terrible will happen to us. We will always feel joy. We will understand everyone, even animals. There will be no fear or concern.
The ‘Jews’ ask, ‘who are you?’ They did not understand what Jesus said. They thought they were dealing with the son of Joseph, so all the talk about being from above and leaving them in sin was confusing. Their question is the same one his disciples asked from time to time and the same one we consider. The human Jesus did not come to live on earth due to two people using their DNA to create a new human. God made the human Jesus in Heaven with a perfect DNA sequence that earthly sin could not hack. God placed that perfect embryo in the womb of Mary, where he grew as we humans do until he experienced the birth that we all experience. He then lived as a perfect human for thirty-plus years until sin finally killed him.
What’s not to understand?
25 “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” NIV
If we read every encounter with the religious leaders in all four Gospels, we will see that Jesus never lied to them. But, as here, he avoided the most direct statements; ‘I am God,’ ‘I am the Messiah.’ Once we believe him to be the Promised One, we can see what he is saying—he is the Son of God, God’s long-promised Messiah.
Yes, while living among us, part of his duty was to pass judgment. He even had to criticize the Apostles occasionally. But God wants our final judge to be his Son who walked with humans and can more easily say, ‘you have followed me, we will forget your sins; enter.’
27 (They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.) 28 Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do those things that please him.” 30 While he was saying these things, many people believed in him. NET
The Greek word translated here as lift is hoopsoo, meaning to elevate, to exalt, to lift up. Because Jesus is still speaking to the Jewish leaders, we should take the word as a look forward to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus says that one last touch of evil against him will be the final proof for believers of his Son of Man/Son of God presence in the world.
We can only imagine the direct link Jesus had with God. I imagine it being like one of the giant server farms for Google that hold trillions of terabytes of information downloaded to my laptop when I need to know some bit of trivia. Because Jesus had to operate with a human brain, he could not know everything God knew. As a result, Jesus listened to God and did what God asked him to do.
Be Righteous and do Good