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Sept 15, 2010

Gifford on the PA

Excerpt for review from: Dave Gifford, 'the passage caught in adultery', (, 2007)

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the passage caught in adultery: - Dave Gifford

the passage caught in adultery

by Dave Gifford

Argh! Why do commentaries all just parrot each other? I was investigating John: 7:53-8:11 the other day, checking all the major commentaries I have handy: Ridderbos, Beasley-Murray, Brown, Michaels. And you know what? They all basically say exactly the same things.

  • They all recite the same evidence that this passage doesn’t belong in the Gospel of John (hence the catchy title of this post), yet they all pretty much agree that the passage is an authentic account from Jesus’ life.
  • They all list the same wild and fanciful theories people have come up with about what Jesus might have written in the sand.
  • They all mention the same historical data about adultery and stoning and legal barriers to execution particular to this case.
  • They all mention various other particulars about this passage that people have known for years.

Why do commentators feel the need to cover the same ground over and over again? Wouldn’t they make it easier on us all if the only things they wrote were ideas unique to them? Why can’t there be one big official fact book (or wiki) on the Gospel of John, and when someone actually has something new to say about it, they can do so in a separate journal article.

Ah, but then they and their publishers couldn’t make money selling big commentaries. And they could get accused by other scholars of not doing their homework if the facts weren’t all in there. So they need to strut their stuff for their peers’ sake, and make some money while they are at it. And we have to pay for it by buying many commentaries and reading a lot of duplication. Hmph.

And the worst part of it is that they sometimes miss the obvious. To give an example from John: 7:53-8:11 – all the commentators puzzle over what made Jesus’ opponents give up so easily when he encouraged the one without sin to cast the first stone. Obviously Jesus is not talking about general sinfulness here, because if he were, his point would be, “Human race, don’t ever administer justice again until you are sinless.” That’s not very likely, so there must be a very specific and serious sin that Jesus’ opponents were guilty of.

The commentators rightly note all this, but then start another round of useless speculation.

  • Maybe they were all lusting in their hearts on account of this woman, and Jesus is calling attention to that? Not likely, since they clearly want her dead.
  • Or maybe they conspired with the husband to trap the woman. Maybe they sent someone to be the cheating man (note that the male partner of the adulterous act is conspicuously absent). Then they surprised the couple and conveniently let the man escape.

The problem with such theories is that they are arguments from silence. The passage doesn’t give us any reason to believe such theories.

And NOT ONE of the above commentaries connects their reluctance to judge with the sin that is so clearly evident right in the passage. Verse 6 clearly states that they were using her case as bait to trap Jesus. Why did they walk away without stoning the woman? Let’s dispense with speculation and theories. The answer is in the text: they walked away because they were all guilty of using her plight in order to find a way to have Jesus killed. Jesus manages to pull off another “gotcha!” comeback similar to that of Luke 20:1-8 and that of Luke 20:20-26.

Blessings, Dave

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