Today I’m thinking about John 8:1-11, commonly called ‘The Woman Taken in Adultery.’
First, I should point out that most of our Christian brothers and sisters do _not_ consider this story to be canonical. And they have good evidence: (1) the story is missing from texts written before the 5th century and (2) when it does start being included, there is a scribal note that the test is uncertain and (3) the story shows up–when it does show up–in several different places in John–and even in Luke! I include this as a note of interest and perhaps an explanation for why there is so little commentary on this story (most biblical scholars pass it off with a note that the text isn’t original to John and they don’t bother really commenting on it). Unless a modern prophet says otherwise, I am willing to accept this story as scripture (even tho I doubt it was originally part of John’s Gospel) and I wonder if we just might possibly have the biblical parallel to 3 Nephi 23:7-13.
At any rate, let’s talk about the story as it now stands. A few notes first:
(1) Go read Deut. 22.18. If they caught her in the very act, they caught him, too. Where is he? What does this suggest about their respect for the law?
(2) The verb for ‘commit adultery’ in verse 4 is passive, possibly suggesting that the woman was passively involved, which is to say, raped. Do you read the story differently if that is the case? (I would hope so.)
(3) Compare Deut 17:7 with what Jesus says in verse 7. What change is he making? Also note the irony in verse 7: Who is the only person in this story who is without sin?
(4) What Jesus wrote in the dirt is a classic subject for speculation. It may be that we should make an association here between the writing of the law and what Jesus writes. Or not. We might also ask: Why did the author _not_ include what Jesus wrote?
(5) The Inspired Version (this should be in your footnotes as a JST, but it isn’t) adds to the end of verse 11: “and the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”
(6) I’m intrigued by the interplay between spoken word (the Pharisees), written word (Jesus), and silence (the woman, at first) in this passage.
(7) There are some interesting parallels between the woman’s experience and Jesus’ experience at the end of his life: both face sham trials at the hands of religious authorities, both are falsley accused (if you think the woman was raped), both are publicly humiliated and described as being ‘in the midst’ (8:3, 9 and 19:18). In what others ways does her experience parallel his, especially with regards to the Law?
My take on this story is that we usually unconsciously side with the Pharisees by assuming her guilt and assuming that (even if she is guilty) that her situation is an appropriate one for public debate. Basically, the Pharisees have turned her into a human object lesson instead of a person. Note how carefully Jesus protects and acknowledges her dignity as a human being in this passage. I do suspect that she was raped, and I read Jesus’ words to ‘sin no more’ about the same as their only other usage in John, 5:14, as a general admonition and not necessarily a response to a specific situation. Probably the most important thing we can do with this passage is to make a conscious decision that we will try to see the woman’s side (and Jesus’ side) of the story, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and taking the words of the Pharisees at face value. Probably the most dangerous mental sin we could commit in our day and age is to take the words of the media, the academy, the government, etc., at face value, instead of measuring them againstthe teachings of the Savior.
Is this woman a hero? Certainly not in the same way that Deborah or Jael is. But what I learn from her is that is doesn’t really matter how crummy your past is (rape or adultery), if you are willing to seriously engage the words of Jesus Christ, you can glorify God and sin no more.