Read John 7:53-8:11
Here’s a story inserted in the middle of the Tabernacle of Feasts that is controversial for at least two reasons: 1) it’s not found in the earliest authorized transcripts and 2) Jesus forgives the unforgivable. I’m not likely to satisfy the debate in this brief discussion, but I hope you’ll be encouraged to think about the event and draw your own conclusions. The one thing I would encourage you is not to avoid difficulties in Bible translation issues or conversation. With or without this passage, there is no difference in the truth of the gospel message or the theology we hold onto as truth. Let’s dive in!
Not Found in the Original Texts
The first disturbing revelation about the passage today is that the most modern translations of the Bible either skip it altogether or, as in my case, the NIV renders it in italics with significant footnotes.
The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53. NIV Study Bible, p. 1781
The NIV Application Commentary covers the issue in detail and it’s quite fascinating to read. Searching online you’ll find many places that discuss why the passage is in question. The writes of https://gotquestions.org provide a good explanation that includes this thought:
church leaders deemed the passage morally dangerous—since Jesus forgives the woman, wives might think they could commit adultery and get away with it. So, the church leaders tampered with the Word of God and removed the passage. To leave the passage in, they reasoned, would be to make Jesus seem “soft” on adultery. Later scribes, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, re-inserted the pericope, which should never have been removed in the first place. Got Questions
It’s a rather complex question that involves a lot of technical explanation. What I take from all the details is simply that God didn’t print the Bible for us. That is, He did not hand it to us on tablets or miraculously through the Gutenberg printing press. He chose to inspire mere mortals to write down words through the Holy Spirit to convey enough knowledge, wisdom, history, and teaching to help us learn to hear the voice of God.
The very fact that we, as Christ followers, are able to admit we have questions, that we would print the text in italics with footnotes, is a strong confession that we don’t know everything.
There is nothing inconsistent about the theme in the text for us to learn from. Let’s take a look at the event and consider the lessons we can draw from the text.
Jesus Forgives the Unforgivable
The text begins by putting a footnote on the previous discussion, “they all went home.” The Pharisees didn’t know what to do with Jesus, though their intentions are becoming clear.
Jesus makes an appearance at dawn and begins to teach again. The religious leaders seize the opportunity to present an open and shut case as a means of trapping Jesus: they caught a woman committing adultery! This should be a big win for them, so the parade the woman in front of everyone:
and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” John 8:4-5
Jesus appears to ignore their questions. For some reason, He is writing something on the ground with His finger.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
Jesus knows this is a trap and these not-so-wise scholars are tested by Jesus in return. They have, in fact, misinterpreted the law to their advantage. When we read Deuteronomy 22:23-24 we see that there are specific circumstances surrounding the immediate stoning. Probably the most important part is that both the man and the woman caught in the act are to be taken to the gate and stoned — not just the woman, and certainly not to the temple courts to please their egos.
The NIV Study Bible notes suggest that Jesus might have been writing the sins of those present in the dirt, that His divine knowledge of their hearts was being revealed on the ground for all to see.
At any rate, their argument was disarmed quickly. They had no choice but to leave the scene. Their failed attempt to trap Jesus was noted for all to see.
Jesus turns to the woman:
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10-11
Jesus knows the heart. He lets her go with a strong warning to leave her life of sin.
If we look at our own lives and insert our story into hers, I think we would all greatly appreciate the verdict and the challenge. Lord, help me to leave my life of sin and go into the world proclaiming Your message.