This week’s Gospel reading comes from John 7:25 through the end of chapter 8. This passage probably contains a note in your Bible. The NIV includes this statement:
[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.]
The New International Version. (2011). (Jn 7:53). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
This troubles many people, but the translators are actually trying to help the reader here. Let’s look at a few things together.
- Was this passage originally part of John’s Gospel? Most likely, no. The further we remove ourselves from the date of the writing (later manuscripts) the more likely the text is to have things added by later generations of people. This is why scholars strive to find the earliest and best manuscripts to translate from.
- So should we not have this story in our Bibles? No! We absolutely should! The stories of Jesus were passed along in oral form long before, and long after they were written down by the New Testament authors. The fact that this passage appears in many manuscripts in multiple places within John’s and Luke’s Gospel can show that this was a well known story of Jesus. Therefore, we can have faith that it actually happened.
- Should we view this portion of Scripture as uninspired, or not the true Word of God? No! The Holy Spirit inspired over 40 authors over a span of 1600 years in three languages on three continents to write 66 documents with a unifying theme that can only be explained by a God at work behind its writing. Do you not think he could inspire the church to want to include that story later?
Within the text there are several things we modern western readers need to pay attention to. First, there is a woman caught in adultery. Adultery isn’t a solo act. So where is the man? We really don’t know. But it would seem if you catch the woman, you also catch the man. This gives us at least two thoughts: 1) This was a trap to catch the woman, thus her guilt may or may not be correct, 2) The group really didn’t care about what the man did, thus this is a sexism at work.
We should also notice that when Jesus tells the crowd to feel free to stone her as long as the sinless people cast the first stones, it is the oldest ones that left first. I think the weight of our sin becomes more obvious the older we get.
Finally, notice how Jesus does something that many Christians feel is impossible today. Jesus does not condone her sin (in fact he tells her to leave her sinful life), but neither does he condemn her. (8:11) What you are seeing is a grace-filled righteousness offered by Jesus. This woman has been through hell in this ordeal. Heaping verbal abuse upon this woman would likely push her further from the Father. Instead Jesus calmly and lovingly tells her to leave her sinful life in a non-condemning way.
Perhaps Christians today could learn a thing or two from Jesus’ interaction with this woman.