By Tom Bradford at Torahclass, (some emphasis added)
READ John 8:1-11
But Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At daybreak, he appeared again in the Temple Court, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery and made her stand in the center of the group. 4 Then they said to him, “Rabbi, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in our Torah, Moshe commanded that such a woman be stoned to death. What do you say about it?” 6 They said this to trap him, so that they might have ground for bringing charges against him; but Yeshua bent down and began writing in the dust with his finger. 7 When they kept questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he bent down and wrote in the dust again. 9 On hearing this, they began to leave, one by one, the older ones first, until he was left alone, with the woman still there. 10 Standing up, Yeshua said to her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” Yeshua said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and don’t sin any more.”
This story in the NT book of John MUST be taken in the context of the Torah, as should all stories and observations and commentaries that form the New Testament. If we try to separate this event from our understanding that Yeshua was a Torah observant Jew, and is Himself the author of the Torah, then we’re going to miss the point on many of the things written about Him and in many of His recorded sayings.
The dragging of this woman accused of adultery before Jesus was simply a test (or a trap) by these Rabbis and Scribes who brought her to see if they could get Him to say something against the Law of Moses and thus He would be automatically discredited…..it was a political ploy in a time of great political upheaval, Temple corruption, and intrigue in Judea.
There are some things that need to be carefully explored about this story if we are to grasp its meaning. First, I well understand that this is one of the most beloved stories in the New Testament and so I am likely to tread on some folks feelings about it and I apologize in advance for challenging the conventional wisdom on this matter. This passage is most typically used to demonstrate a couple of things:
1) that Jesus is all merciful, and
2) that sinners have no right to judge anyone else.
Those conclusions have become doctrines and mainstays of Christian institutions. We can debate on another occasion as to whether one or both or neither or those conclusions ought to be a proper Christian doctrine. But today I am going to suggest to you that the point of this particular story in John 8 probably has nothing to do with Yeshua’s mercy or of His requirement that only sinless people ought be witnesses against another person or who can rightfully carry out judicial punishments on others.
Let’s look at what happened here because there are some oddities about this story that have perplexed and upset many scholars and bible translators.
– This unnamed woman is brought before Yeshua and He is told that she has committed adultery. Since her guilt is apparently not the issue the only question these men have for Yeshua is what he thinks her punishment ought to be. In the most accepted Christian interpretations of this passage the outcome essentially has Yeshua telling the men that unless they have lived a sin free life they have no right to accuse her or to carry out any kind judicial punishment on this women (in this case, stoning). Further after these man have skulked away from the area in shame Jesus determines in His mercy to ignore the crime the woman has committed (which according to the Law is among the worst of sins that can be committed), lets her off the hook, and says to be on her way and to not sin any more.
– There are to be no repercussions because ……..well……because Jesus has determined there shouldn’t be any. And this story is explained as a great demonstration of His limitless mercy.
While I believe in a merciful Savior and am deeply grateful for that indispensable attribute of His, I see the application of mercy as an improbable interpretation of this rather problematic story.
Let me tell you something that most folks don’t realize: it is that this particular story about Yeshua has so troubled Bible councils and Bible interpreters that to this day you’ll find it in some Bible translations and others will not even include it. This controversial narrative has been removed and added back in to the New Testament canon many times over the centuries. Why? Because what is stated simply doesn’t add up; it doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of Jesus’ life, His pronouncements or His other actions, and it even calls into question His compliance to the very Torah that He and all the Apostles claim that He followed perfectly.
Here’s the basic problem:
– absolutely no element of trust or faith in Yeshua is involved in this narrative; belief was never asked of this women. It is not even implied that this woman had any idea who Yeshua was. There was no acknowledgment of His status as the Messiah or as being of divine origin. She didn’t ask for forgiveness nor was it offered per se.
– The second problem is that adultery was indeed a God-ordained capital offense as found in the Torah. It is so serious that it is part of the foundational principles for the entire Bible, the Ten Commandments.
CJB Exodus 20:13 “Do not murder. “Do not commit adultery
Adultery was so heinous in God’s eyes that it was put on the same level as murder.
CJB Leviticus 20:10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, that is, with the wife of a fellow countryman, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
No ifs, ands, or buts; a woman who commits adultery must be executed.
Now, was Yeshua familiar with this law? Did He agree with it?
CJB John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing made had being.
Jesus is the Word of God, He wrote the Torah so it’s hard to imagine that He now disavowed its contents.
Here’s the thing:
– we will find no other story about Jesus that even remotely implies that He simply dismisses civil and criminal law breakers from the responsibility of their crimes. Rather He rescued folks from the spiritual consequences of their trespasses. But there was always a caveat: faith in Him as God’s Messiah. No trust in Him, no forgiveness and redemption.
-Yet, by most interpretations, that is exactly what happened here. For some reason Jesus simply waved his hand, dismissed the crime, and said not to do it again. Unlikely.
-Now there is also a second aspect to consider and it involves the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” comment.
The standard interpretation would have it that as sinners we have no business pointing out the sin in someone else. Some have gone so far as to say that in its strictest sense Jesus is teaching that only a completely sinless person can be a reliable witness to a crime, or that only a completely sinless person can be a person who orders judicial punishment, or that only a completely sinless person can execute capital punishment. Such an idea is simply unworkable and it would bring any kind of justice system to a standstill. By that standard no one can be accused, tried, convicted, or punished because there is no such thing as a sinless person to prosecute criminals.
Therefore this common interpretation cannot be correct, as many scholars have complained for literally hundreds of years.
I do not think the story should be removed, because I think it happened and was correctly recorded. I believe that the problem lies in trying to make it fit predisposed agendas rather than interpreting it in its Jewish cultural context.
Notice the circumstances.
– It is said by the accusers that she was “caught in the act” of adultery. But, was she? Were these upright and honorable men who were bring this woman to Yeshua? No, these were representatives of a notorious and corrupt Temple system that sought to rid itself of this upstart young Rabbi named Yeshua who was making their lives a lot harder.
There is no way to know for sure whether the accusation of this group was true; I suspect that these men likely did not make a truthful statement or certainly the woman’s husband would have been there to make the accusation; in fact by the Law such a thing was required.
– Add to that there is no admission of guilt of the woman recorded here; she was simply silent.
–Further Christ told her to go and sin no more…… not to go and NOT commit adultery anymore. But, even assuming the unlikely, that it was a truthful statement that she had actually been caught in the act, Torah required that there be AT LEAST 2 witnesses (including her husband in this case) who had to testify against a person accused of a capital crime……and adultery was a capital crime.
–Even more it was required that the witnesses in a capital case begin the execution process. If this were applied to modern day, it would be the equivalent of the witnesses who were required to pull the lever for the Gas Chamber. The standard Jewish method of execution was stoning; and it was a requirement of Torah that the witnesses were not only present at the execution but THEY must be the first to throw the stones at the condemned person. (did you just read that??? THEY(THE WITNESSES), MUST BE THE FIRST TO THROW THE EXECUTION STONES!!!!!!)
The Mosaic Law specified that, before anyone could be put to death by stoning, there had to be a trial, and at least two witnesses had to testify: “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6-7).
6 The death sentence is to be carried out only if there was testimony from two or three witnesses; he may not be sentenced to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The witnesses are to be the first to stone him to death; afterwards, all the people are to stone him. Thus you will put an end to this wickedness among you.
Those witnesses “must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people” (verse 7). In other words, those who testified against the condemned person in court had to cast the first stone.
There was a reason for this:
– it was a deterrent to false testimony. Important: If a witness lied and it led to the death of an innocent person, then by their being part of the execution process they would have blood on their hands; they become murderers and would themselves be subject to execution. That’s a pretty big incentive not to give false or frivolous testimony in a capital case.
Ten Commandments. Ex 20:16) “Do not give false evidence[witness] against your neighbor.
Thus we have Jesus saying, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone”. Who throws the first stone in a Jewish execution? The witnesses. When Jesus said “he without sin“, He was likely not referring to sin in general He was referring to the sin of bearing false witness, and maybe to some degree these men’s impure motives for making this accusation in the first place. In this instance the PURPOSE of the false witness against the woman was to entrap Jesus (as the story itself makes clear). Yeshua called their bluff in a maneuver that would make Perry Mason proud. He told them that the witnesses should just go ahead and pick up their execution stones and throw them at her now, UNLESS they were participating in a ‘false witness’ sin; that is they weren’t telling the truth. Because if they were lying, or just going along with an assumption of this woman’s guilt without actually knowing, and got caught then they would be open to capital punishment on themselves!!! Yeshua knew their minds and their hearts, he KNEW none of them were there with pure motives nor were any of them REAL LEGAL WITNESSES!
-I think there is nothing here but a false accusation using a helpless woman in order to try to discredit a rival…..Jesus of Nazareth. Justice wasn’t the issue, getting rid of Yeshua was the issue. Yeshua could also have simply been telling the woman to “go and sin no more” because he also knew she was part of the plot which involved a serious consequence, He did not say “your sins are forgiven”.
So since there is no HINT that this woman had confessed to her supposed crime, the Law says she should have been taken to the priests who would have performed the Numbers 5:15-28 water ordeal upon her. If I’m correct that the story of John 8 is more about the law of Numbers 5 than anything else, a good question surrounding the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery would be, was the water ordeal still being practiced in the NT era, 1300 years after it was first enacted? And yes, it was. We find proof of it in the Mishnah, in Sotah 9, where we find that Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai eventually outlawed the water ordeal sometime just before the Romans destroyed the in 70 A.D. Since Jesus died around 40 years earlier then we know that the water ordeal was still in use in His day. And Rabbi Ben Zakkai outlawed it because it had become misused and abused by husbands who simply wanted to be rid of their wives; so, they would accuse the wives of adultery, the wives would go through the water ordeal, and no matter what the outcome they would still divorce them because it could be years before it was known if a woman might become barren (which was the supernatural indication of guilt) and the husband didn’t want to wait.
Now, another interesting little thing: I have heard some of the most amazing……. And I might add, inventive….suggestions on just what it was that Jesus was writing in the dust with His finger, as it says in John 8:6. Even though nothing more is ever said about Jesus writing in the dust in the NT, it has for some reason captured the imaginations of Christian teachers and Pastors. So, let’s address that if we can.
In Numbers 5 we find that the focal point of the water-ordeal ritual is a special drink;
15 he is to bring his wife to the cohen, along with the offering for her, two quarts of barley flour on which he has not poured olive oil or put frankincense, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a grain offering for remembering, for recalling guilt to mind. 16 The cohen will bring her forward and place her before Adonai. 17 The cohen will put holy water in a clay pot, and then the cohen will take some of the dust on the floor of the tabernacle and put it in the water. 18 The cohen will place the woman before Adonai, unbind the woman’s hair and put the grain offering for remembering in her hands, the grain offering for jealousy; while the cohen has in his hand the water of embitterment and cursing. 19 The cohen will make her swear by saying to her, “If no man has gone to bed with you, if you have not gone astray to make yourself unclean while under your husband’s authority, then be free from this water of embitterment and cursing. 20 But if you have in fact gone astray while under your husband’s authority and become unclean, because some man other than your husband has gone to bed with you . . .” 21 then the cohen is to make the woman swear with an oath that includes a curse; the cohen will say to the woman, “. . .may Adonai make you an object of cursing and condemnation among your people by making your private parts shrivel and your abdomen swell up! 22 May this water that causes the curse go into your inner parts and make your abdomen swell and your private parts shrivel up!” — and the woman is to respond, “Amen! Amen!” 23 The cohen is to write these curses on a scroll, wash them off into the water of embitterment 24 and make the woman drink the water of embitterment and cursing — the water of cursing will enter her and become bitter. 25 Then the cohen is to remove the grain offering for jealousy from the woman’s hand, wave the grain offering before Adonai and bring it to the altar. 26 The cohen is to take a handful of the grain offering as its reminder portion and make it go up in smoke on the altar; afterwards, he is to make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she is unclean and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that causes the curse will enter her and become bitter, so that her abdomen swells and her private parts shrivel up; and the woman will become an object of cursing among her people. 28 But if the woman is not unclean but clean, then she will be innocent and will have children.
-and we find that there are 3 ingredients to the water concoction the woman is supposed to swallow: holy water, dust, and the ink from the letters of a vow the priest has written as to her punishment if she did what she was accused of.
What, exactly, is holy water? It is just a synonym for “living water”. Holy water only indicates that it is water that had been drawn from a running spring or river, and designated for use in the Temple. From a practical standpoint, holy water was but the water that filled the Copper Laver at the Temple; the same water priests used to dip from to wash their feet and hands during Temple rituals. Holy water and Living water are two terms for the same thing.
-So added to this flask of living water was dust gathered from the Temple floor. Why did it need to be dust from the Temple floor? Because the dust HAD to be holy. The Temple was God’s dwelling place. Anywhere God dwells contracts His holiness. Remember in Exodus as Moses approached the Burning Bush what it was that God instructed Moses to do, and why? Moses was ordered to remove his sandals from his feet because he was about to stand on holy ground……literally, stand on holy dust. Why was this dust holy but dust just a little further away it wasn’t? Because God was present there at the bush.
–So the dirt beneath God’s feet, so to speak (the dirt that formed the floor of His dwelling place, the Tabernacle, later the Temple) was automatically made holy and therefore it was that holy dust which was required to be put into the drink.
-As for the ink of the letters that was the last part to go into the concoction: it was required that God’s name……yud-heh-vah-heh…..be written on a sheepskin scroll as part of the oath the woman swore to. We don’t read that directly in the Torah that the letters of God’s name was written, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a given. A Biblical oath by definition ALWAYS includes God’s name; without God’s name there was no oath. Just as when we write a letter to someone today, we write our name on that letter. When we say to someone, I wrote so and so a letter, we don’t have to say “and I signed my name”, because without our name on it it’s not a completed letter. Same thing with an oath; a biblical oath is NOT merely the making of a statement; a biblical oath is the invoking of God’s name as a validation and witness of your statement. It is calling upon God to be the guarantor of your promise. Therefore when the ink of that written oath was immediately washed off into the holy water, God’s name flowed in as an ingredient. Please hear me: this is not allegory that I’m giving to you; this is accurate historical fact well attested to in many ancient Jewish writings. Certainly this ritual water mix is symbolic as there is no magical quality about the water, ink, or dust. But what I’m telling you is not conjecture; it is what was recorded in those times about the procedures and the meaning of each step.
–So the drink that a woman accused of adultery swallowed consisted of living water (the kind of water required for ALL holy ritual), dust made holy by God’s presence (dust from the Temple floor), and the letters of God’s holy name.
Here’s the thing: what in the world does dust (and Yeshua writing in the dust with His finger) have to do with this story of He and the accused woman? Everything if we know the Torah; because in Numbers 5 when a woman was brought before the priest AND God to be judged as to whether she actually committed adultery or not, dust and writing were important parts of the ritual.
We see every element of the law of Numbers 5 in the John 8 story of Jesus and the women accused of adultery. We have Living Water (Yeshua), a priest and God present (again Yeshua), holy dust (Jesus was currently in the Temple and we’re told there was dust on the floor), and writing (Jesus was inexplicably and mysteriously writing in the dust with his finger). The woman was indeed brought before God….the requirement of Numbers 5….. when she was brought before Yeshua….though those bringing her didn’t know it. Jesus was writing in holy dust, because as God, He made the very ground He sat upon, holy. What was He writing? I can’t be sure, but I suspect it may have been Yud-Heh-vav-heh, the letters that form God’s name…..that would have been the most consistent with the pattern set down in Numbers 5.
Yeshua was simply displaying the REAL and original Torah….the Torah as given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.…the Torah we are studying together.
And as Jesus so eloquently stated in the Sermon on the Mount, He was on earth to but act out the meaning of the Torah. Yeshua, who IS living water, who is also priest and God, writing on holy dust with a woman accused of adultery standing before Him.
This story is in many ways an irony. In John 8 these corrupt men had brought this woman before God for judgment, and they didn’t even recognize what they were doing. Before them was every ingredient of the God-ordained ritual of the water ordeal upon a woman accused of adultery….priest, God, holy water, holy dust, and holy writings all performed at the required location: the Temple.
Do you see this? Those Pharisees and Rabbis who had dragged that poor woman before Yeshua couldn’t see what was actually occurring here because they were blind to their own Messiah and equally blind to the laws and commands of the Torah that they had largely replaced with their traditions.
Read to the last 3 verses of Numbers 5……but as you Read, picture, if you would, this woman standing before Yeshua, in the story of John 8.
NAS Numbers 5:29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. 31 ‘Moreover, the man shall be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.‘”
Indeed, the Torah was followed:
– she was stood before the Lord, and the priest……our High Priest in this case……applied ALL the law to her.
– Jesus, seeing no witnesses against her, no one to condemn her, which is the requirement of the law of PROVEN adultery in Leviticus, then moved to the law of SUSPECTED adultery of Numbers 5, the test of the water ordeal, and each and every element of it …..water, dust, and writing…..was used.
– Of course as He was God on earth there was less need that she drink a holy water mixture and wait for the results as the sign of God’s judgment in the matter.
-When Jesus tells the men who had brought the woman to Him: “….he who is without sin be the first to cast a stone…..”, remember it was the witnesses who threw the first stones of execution; this was Law, not tradition. Listen to NAS Deuteronomy 17:5 ‘then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed, to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death. 6 “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.‘
My dear friends, almost everything that happened with Jesus in the New Testament is completely explainable by means of the Torah. We don’t need to resort to allegory and fanciful stories with dubious conclusions to defend the Bible. We just need to study the Word….the WHOLE word….and make the connections.
THE REAL POINT OF THE STORY
The Christian point is that Jesus is all merciful, and somehow knew the woman in her heart was repentant and granted her forgiveness of sins. That just doesn’t fit.
The overall and thoroughly Jewish point of the story:
-Yeshua IS the Torah
-Yeshua demonstrated the Torah completely
-Yeshua demonstrated once again He was God Himself, present where He stood, as He did in many places in the Gospels.
-Yeshua knows the hearts and minds of everyone. Proverbs 16:2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. Psalm 139:1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me. Jeremiah 12:3 But You know me, O LORD; You see me; And You examine my heart’s attitude toward You 1 Chronicles 28:9 “… for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts If you seek Him,
-Yeshua judges just as God judges.
-Yeshua demonstrated He is Holy
-Yeshua demonstrated He is “living water”
This story might have only been 11 verses in the Bible, but as implicated with a thorough explanation, it is PACKED with great meaning, both Jewish and Christian equally!!!!