New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #15


So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises. Well, that’s usually the plan. This week I’m doing things a bit differently because there’s a bunch of different stuff I wanted to tell you about John 8:1-11, the story of the woman taken in adultery. So this post is a bunch of questions with no answers.

Why haven’t the scribes and Pharisees brought the man involved in the incident to Jesus? Does this imply something about them? Specifically, what does it say about their respect for the law (see Deuteronomy 22:13-30)?

The verb for adultery in verse 4 is passive, which means that it is possible that the woman was passively involved, that is, raped. If you approach the story with that assumption, do you interpret it differently?

The phrase “in the very act” (verse 4) comes from later manuscripts; most earlier ones simply say “she was taken in adultery,” without necessarily implying that her accusers witnessed the transgression or that she was actively involved. Does knowing this change your interpretation of the story?

Note that the words “as though he heard them not” (verse 6) are not included in the majority of ancient manuscripts. Would the translation be better without them?

Note the irony in verse 7: who is it in this story who is without sin?

What are several things that Jesus does to acknowledge the dignity of the woman?

Do you assume that the woman was actually guilty of adultery? (If you do, are you siding with the scribes and Pharisees?) Compare verse 11 with 5:14. Is this evidence that the woman isn’t guilty? (That is, is the command to “sin no more” a general statement?) Do you interpret the story differently if she is innocent?

Some interpreters find a parallel between this woman’s experience and Jesus’:

(1) Both are falsely accused (if you conclude that she is innocent).

(2) Both face a sham trial (compare 7:51).

(3) Both are publicly humiliated and described as being “in the midst” (8:3, 9, and 19:18).

(4) Both are victims of religious leaders.

Do you find these parallels accurate? What else do Jesus and the woman have in common? What can you learn from comparing them?

In a rare case of unanimity, scholars conclude that John 7:53–8:11 was not a part of the earliest manuscripts of John. Some scholars think this story was not included in any of the first copies of the Gospels because it shows Jesus being “too merciful” to the woman. Do you think this might have been true? Why do you think the story was included later on? (Compare 3 Nephi 23:6–13.)

(adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)







7 comments for “New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #15

  1. April 8, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Superb questions this week, Julie. Thanks!

  2. Terry H
    April 8, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Julie, “Ciphers in the Sand” is edited by Larry J. Kreitzer & Deborah W. Rooke. The subtitle is “Interpretations of The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8.11). Publisher: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000. 277 pp. It contains 8 essays on various interpretations and views of this incident. This is a good view of “feminist” and “cultural” histories and commentaries. In its compilation, the book provides a history of the reception of this story. My use for medieval, post-Jesus rabbinical and modern interpretations of incidents in the scriptures is minimal, but I liked the way some of these authors showed how the world has viewed this story (significantly different from my own). For our purposes, Rooke’s essay called “Wayward Women and Broken Promises: Marriage, Adultery and Mercy in Old and New Testament” was the most valuable, followed by J. Martin Scotts’ “On the Trail of a Good Story: John 7:53-8:11 in the Gospel Tradition” which kind of discusses how (and possibly why) the story wasn’t added until later.

  3. BHodges
    April 10, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Julie, thanks for these questions. As to your first one, “Why haven’t the scribes and Pharisees brought the man involved in the incident to Jesus?” you refer us to Deut. 22.18. Did you mean Deut. 22.22?(Verse 18 says a man should be punished if he wrongfully accuses his new wife of having previously lost her virginity. But verse 22 speaks directly to instances of adultery: “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.”)

  4. BHodges
    April 10, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Julie, a question about your interesting “in the midst” parallel: Does the Greek line up that way? The NRSV has different wording for these phrases. Chapter 19:18 has Jesus “between them,” while chapter 8 verse 3 says “making her stand before all of them” and verse 9 has her “standing before [Jesus].”

    In other words, is the “in the midst” parallel there in the underlying Greek?

  5. Mike Maxwell
    April 11, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Julie…it is my understanding that John 8: 1-11 was a later addition and is not part of the earliest known manuscripts. I am interested in when, how, or by whom they were added. Any sources you would recommend on this?

  6. Terry H
    April 12, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Mike. See the 2d essay I referred to in #2.

  7. Julie M. Smith
    April 14, 2015 at 6:40 am

    BHodges, thanks for catching that. I changed the Deut. reference in the post to v13-30 since we don’t know for sure the woman’s marital situation before this event.

    As for “in the midst,” all three of those verses have the same word in Greek (mesos) although, as you note, it is often not translated the same way into English.

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