Taken In Adultery - But Whose?

A Believer's Commentary on John 8:1-11

Page Index

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2009
(Extended footnotes added, Section 15: Greek Jeremiah, & Unicode )

Section 1: - Introduction / Preface
Section 2: - The Opening Scene
Section 3: - Writing in the Earth
Section 4: - The Law of God
Section 5: - The Law and Adultery
Section 6: - The Law and Virgin Birth
Section 7: - The Law and Christ
Section 8: - A Nation of Adulterers
Section 9: - Adultery... or Rape?
Section 10: - A Suspended Sentence:
Section 11: - The Woman is Israel!
Section 12: - That Which is Caesar's...
Section 13: - The Signature of John
Section 14: - Dean Burgon's Insight
Section 15: - Dawn: the Greek Jeremiah
Section 16: - Who was the Woman?

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Key Questions Tackled:

Who was the woman taken in adultery?
Was the woman in fact guilty of adultery?
Did Jesus over-rule, or uphold the Law?
Was Jesus crowned High Priest by his enemies?
Did the incident fulfill prophecies in the O.T?
Is there a prophecy contained in John 8:1-11?

Preface to 2006 edition

It is over twenty years since I last rewrote this pamphlet, in the early 80s. A lot has obviously happened, and I have had many adventures since. I knew after the 7th edition ( /82) that I would need to rewrite it again! Hopefully now, with more time and experience and wisdom to devote to this, than I had back then, I have improved the commentary and made it more enjoyable and useful for the reader.

Some things will be found strengthened, others shortened, or deleted. I believe we have come out ahead. Interestingly, in all this time, there have been a few suggestions, and many questions, but little overt criticism of the basic content. In this I am encouraged that we are on the right track, and even more could be said.

John's Gospel has gone through some rough times, and had a lot of bad press in the last century or two from critics. We now however, are finding that scholars are reassessing both the historical value, and the authenticity of almost all of the contents of John. The pendulum has swung the other way, and John has been 'reinstated' as an early and accurate witness to historical and theological tradition about Jesus the Messiah.

We still hold firm in that this passage (John 7:53-8:11) is an authentic part of the original Gospel of John, as both John and the Lord intended it to be given to us.

For all the latest discoveries and new evidence, please see our 'sister' booklet on the authenticity of John 8:1-11 for more information on that!

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The Opening Scene:

'And at Dawn Jesus came again into the temple,
and all the people were coming to Him;
and having sat down, He was teaching them.
And the scribes and Pharisees
Bring to Him a woman having been
taken in an adultery;

And having set her in the midst,
They say to Him,
"Teacher! This woman was taken in the very act,
- committing adultery; and in the Law
Moses commanded us that such
be stoned to death;
You therefore, what do you say?"

And this they said testing Him,
That they might have something to accuse
Him of.'

(John 8:2-6)

John in the narrative, says 'taken in an adultery':

(Greek: - εν μοιχεια κατειλημμενην )

But the Pharisees say, "committing adultery"(!):

(Greek: - επ' αυτοφωρω μοιχευομενην )

Both agree that an adultery has taken place; but John, guided by the Holy Spirit, condemns no one. (Matt 7:1)

The Pharisees, on the other hand, accuse the woman. (Acts 10:28)

Τo continue: What a contrast between John's humble yet powerful understatement, and the Pharisees' rude and arrogant interruption! (1st Cor 13:1)

They have abused their Holy Office as priests; they have failed to honour the Lord as author of the Law; and they have blasphemed God by saying His Law demanded something which it actually never did! For these words alone the Pharisees are eligible for the death penalty three times over. (Lev 20:10, Exod. 21:16, Deut.17:8-12)

What irony and foolishness for them to insist upon a judgement for the woman. But for them to seek the verdict of Jesus over the Laws of Moses would suggest to the crowds that they also knew that Jesus had more authority than Moses! Observe the crowd's earlier comments:

"He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him!
Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?"

(John 7:26)

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Now, in verse 8:6, we are confronted simultaneously with two points:

(1) John clearly imputes the dirty motive of entrapment to the Pharisees. They are not at all concerned with the woman, who is just a pawn to be used, perhaps murdered, in the process of ensnaring the Messiah.

(2) The whole world stops dead, while Jesus bends down and with the finger writes upon the ground.

In our footnotes below we have documented the unique history of the word 'dawn' (orqrou), which pointed like a lighthouse to the Greek book of Jeremiah, wherein are recorded the bulk of the prophecies and warnings to the Southern Kingdom of Judea just before its fall, a national tragedy resulting in the Babylonian Exile.

Interestingly, here Colin Kruse has noted the following:

"others have suggested that it was a prophetic action modelled after Jeremiah 17:13:

'Oh Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you will be put to shame;
Those who turn away from you

will be written in the dust!
because they have forsaken the Lord,

the Spring of Living Water!'

...but the connection between Jesus' action and the text is slight..." (Tyndale NT Commentaries: John, 2003 pg 200)

Kruse may not have noted the other remarkable connection between John's use of 'Dawn' and Jeremiah, but his observations are wholly consistent with ours.

The problem of Jesus writing in the sand is indeed mysterious and enigmatic to a modern reader. However this remarkable feature is common to many other parts of John that are not in question from a textual critical point of view.* That is, it is indeed a possible identifying mark of John's style, whether it confounds us or not.

Now I'm going to make a small suggestion of my own, based upon John's (and the author of this pericope's) use of the LXX, as to what Jesus wrote in the sand. The passage I have in mind is just famous enough, handy enough, and Jesus-like enough, that we can hardly avoid at least trying it out here.**

The first time Jesus writes in the sand:

"Shall anyone treat our sister
as a common harlot?"
(Genesis 34:31)

This is the Ending note for an infamous story: Here, a local Edomite ruler takes (and fornicates with) Jacob's daughter while she is visiting the village. The brothers (fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel) slay every male in the city. Even Jacob is taken aback by the force with which his sons avenge their sister, and is afraid that the whole land may rise up against them. But the brothers are firm in their judgment and the value they place upon their sister.

This short saying is easily written in big letters in the dust of the temple floor, and would have made the hair stand on end of every Israelite who could plainly read it.

Nor is this connection inappropriate: the parallel is striking. The text seems to indicate that what happened was not a violent rape, but rather unbridled lust/love, at least on the Edomite's son's part. It seems they perceived no real wrong, but assumed a kind of 'you like, you buy' philosophy. The Edomites viewed women as property.

But the strong reaction of the brothers indicates things were amiss in some significant sense: Perhaps Dinah was under-age (even by Israelite standards - men were 14 & up). Perhaps the issue wasn't age at all, but simply the very likely fact that Dinah was wholly inexperienced, naive, and grossly taken advantage of. Perhaps it was also that she was under the authority of her father and the men, and any such 'desires' or 'contracts' had to be ratified by family in any case. Likely there was some of all of this behind the anger of the men of Israel. Even Jacob waited till he had assembled all his sons to tell them. They all agreed she had been 'shamed'.

This is just the sort of jab that would stop the men of Israel in Jesus' time dead in their tracks, and which would leave the Pharisees on their own with zero crowd support. We often wonder why someone in that crowd didn't just grab a stone and start throwing. It seems almost implausible at first that some less perceptive or unspiritual or even bloodthirsty brutes wouldn't have stepped up to the plate and taken up stones. This scripture is just the kind of thing that could explain the actual paralysis of the crowd here.

Note that this still was not enough to deflect the Pharisees however, who persisted after the first writing.


The Enforcement of God's Law

The right to punish or forgive was originally God's alone. When the Lord set up the nation Israel, He gave Moses' government the honour and priviledge of helping to enforce God's Law. the purpose of this was so that the people of Israel would learn more about God and His ways. (Gal. 3:24)

But men were given a limited authority only, limited by the Law itself:

A Law Enforcement Officer had to fulfill three conditions:

(1) The man must be a believer (an upright member of the congregation of Israel). Only by faithfulness can a person be worthy to judge others. (Gen 15:6)

(2) He must know and keep the Law himself, not only the letter, but the Spirit of the Law (2nd Cor 3:6)

(3) He must be part of the appointed government: No man is allowed under Mosaic Law to take it into his own hands, nor rebel against the decisions of the courts of Israel. (Exod 23:1,2 Deut 17:11,12)

When all these conditions are met, there are still important rules that the court itself must obey: The authority given to the courts of Israel is very limited.

A Court of Law must itself fulfill two more conditions:

(1) No court has authority to change God's Law, subtract from it or add to it: only the Lord can. (Deut. 12:32)

(2) No court had authority to accuse or condemn anyone for any crime unless there were at least two innocent eye-witnesses to the crime itself. (Deut. 19:15)

Crimes without witnesses were completely out of the jurisdiction of the courts. In the case of no witnesses, men have no authority: but the Lord reserved the right to judge these cases for Himself alone.

"Those outside, God judges."

(1st Cor 5:13, Gal 6:7, Heb 10:31)

Do criminals who commit crimes in secret escape judgement? Not at all. Rather, outside the courtroom is the Lord's domain, and its the Lord's perogative to dispense justice and mercy.

"To Me belongs vengeance and punishment:
Their foot shall slip in due time!" Says the Lord.

(Deut 32:35)


The Law Concerning Adultery

Adultery was punishable by the death penalty, provided there are two innocent eye-witnesses.

The woman, however, is given the benefit of the doubt, even if she is caught in the act. It must be proved that the woman was not tricked or forced (ie. raped, coerced, gagged, tricked, or taken advantage of), and this requires two eye-witnesses as to how the act began and proceeded.

If there are no such eye-witnesses for these important details, the woman must be released:

"But you shall do nothing to the young woman;..."
the benefit of the doubt is given to the woman,
"that there is in her no sin worthy of death,..."
and it is taken for granted that,
"the betrothed young woman screamed,
and there was no one to save her." (Deut. 22:26,27)

So simply catching a woman in the act is NOT ENOUGH to have her put to death. Finally,

(3) "the hands of the eye-witnesses shall be the FIRST to put the person to death." (Deut. 17:7)

The Exception to the Rule:

A Special Law Concerning Adultery (Num. 5:11-31)

Alleged marital unfaithfulness is the only crime where God's Law allows an exception to the Rule of Two Witnesses.

Where the authority of the courts ended, the authority of the Priesthood began:

If a husband suspected his wife of unfaithfulness, but there were NO witnesses:

1) The husband could bring his wife before the High Priest in the temple.

2) The High Priest would then present her before the LORD in the temple.

After the ceremony was fulfilled, the Lord Himself would show by a sign whether the woman is to be considered guilty or innocent of the accusation. If the woman is to be considered guilty, she becomes ill, and suffers public shame (there is still no death penalty, since there are no eye-witnesses.) But if the woman is innocent of the accusation, she conceives and brings forth a child!

Now this is the very opposite of how the secular world thinks, and how unbelievers would interpret such a sign. A modern husband for instance might consider a child 'proof ' of adultery.

In a world that refuses to acknowledge the necessity of God's power and participation in the act of procreation, we can understand the 'logic'. (The natural man cannot understand spiritual truths.)

The world thinks it can make children by the mere act of sex alone, but believers know that only God can create a child. Sex does not create a child; It takes something more, the hand of the Lord. Many couples who have dearly wished for children will confirm this.

Not even Satan himself can forge such evidence in a trial of adultery under God's Rule. Although there are many absurd movies today about 'children of satan', this is one power that Satan does NOT have. The only 'sons of satan' around are sons of men who have fallen prey to their own fallen nature, and have corrupted themselves away from the innocence of their youth. In order for Satan to create a child, especially in this case, he would have to have the power to break the scripture which says:

"If the woman is innocent, she shall conceive and bring forth a child."

(Num 5:11-31, KJV correct unconditional future)

But because the "scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), Satan can only cast doubt upon it, and perpetuate myth and superstition among those who reject the word of the LORD. A man can be possessed by demons, but not created by Satan. For we know that rather,

"through Jesus Christ all things were created." (Jn 1:3)

It is a simple fact that a woman cannot become pregnant through her own adultery. Regardless of what a jealous or unbelieving husband may think, the teaching of the LORD God of Israel, Creator of Heavens and Earth, and all that is in them, is plain.

Believers knew this simple fact throughout history. Even Judah, the father of the tribe by that name, acknowledged the fact when confronted with the evidence; an 'adultery' had been committed, between him and his daughter-in-law, and she was pregnant, by her own admitted trickery. But it was necessitated by his own refusal to carry out God's Law in the first place!

Although he himself was guilty, he admitted that,

"She has been more righteous than I have!"

and, "there is no sin worthy of death in her."

(Gen 38:26, Deut. 22:26)

Another great example of an adultery in which the woman was innocent, but the man was notoriously guilty, is the infamous case of David and Bathsheba. I will leave it to the reader to explore, since it is not so relevant here, except that God later took the child, since it is impossible for the royal line of the Messiah to continue through an act of adultery and murder. Nor could Jesus be an heir to the same throne through an act of adultery by Mary.


The Law of Pregnancy and Mary (Num. 5:11-31 cont)

This law also proves that Mary the mother of Jesus could not have been guilty of adultery, in spite of later libels by Jewish opponents. Joseph knew the child was not his, and was minded to divorce Mary privately, not wanting to make her a public example. He also had at first looked upon her pregnancy as possible 'proof' of adultery, and an indication that his future marriage was now excluded.

Although he was kind and fair-minded, he was ignorant of God's Law, at that time, "not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God!" (Matt.22:29) For if he had been more knowledgeable, he would have recognized the meaning of her pregnancy as proof of her own innocence.

God's Law excludes the the possibility of Mary being guilty of adultery, which only leaves either rape, or a virgin birth. God's revelation excludes rape, and confirms virgin birth.


We have now spent a bit of time on this Law (Num. 5:11-31), and here is the reason: the real purpose of the Law is to reveal Jesus the Christ the true Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.

Of BOTH the Law and the Prophets, Jesus said,

"These (plural) are they which testify of Me."

(John 5:39)

And we are about to find out exactly what that means.

Of the Law especially,

"The Law is our teacher, to bring us to Christ."

(Gal 3:24)

And this is what we will show here; for it is impossible for the Law of God to testify to the wrong Messiah. And if therefore the Law of God testifies that Jesus is the Christ, then obviously it is so.

Of course one could not just set up an appointment with the High Priest at the temple. His duties precluded such access, and it might take months to get a case heard under such frivolous and weak conditions. Meantime a man would have plenty of time to relent of accusations, and a pregnant woman might indeed appear quite so.

In fact, this law appears never to have been called upon or used by anyone in the entire history of the kingdom of Israel. One can imagine why: What man would suffer the shame of such a childish and unsubstantiated charge, risking all and utterly rejecting his wife, perhaps only to be humiliated by the Lord Himself before all of Israel?

This law then, sat on the shelf unused and virtually forgotten for a thousand or more years before that day at the Festival of Lights when Jesus strode into the Temple at Dawn to teach.

'And having set her in the midst, they said to him,
"Teacher (Rabbi); this woman was taken
in the very act - committing adultery;
and in the Law Moses commanded us
that such be stoned to death;
You therefore, what do you say?"

And this they said testing Him,
in order to have something to accuse him of.'

(John 8:3-6a)

Following the Law to its Logical Conclusion:

Now the Law is not ambiguous by any means. A due process and a series of steps are required, of which some awareness at least by the Pharisees and their audience was required and can be assumed. This was of course maintained by practice and tradition.

Lynching of any kind is expressly forbidden (Exod. 23:1,2). The Pharisees protected themselves from this charge by publicly acknowledging Jesus as a Teacher of the Law, calling him 'Didaskaleh' (Rabbi) (Isa 29:13), and appealing for a Special Judgement under Deuteronomy 17:8-13.

This meant that they had to abide by Jesus' decision under penalty of death: and this was also in itself an admission that they lacked the necessary witnesses for a straightforward trial: For otherwise they could not stray to the right or left of the Law (Num. 20:17, 22:26, Deut.2:27, 5:32, 17:11-20, 28:14).

This move by the Pharisees brought everyone present under Deuteronomy 19:18-19, which commanded Jesus as Judge to make a full inquiry and punish false witnesses with the sentence intended for their victim, in this case the death penalty.

This concession was necessary for the Pharisees' plan, and yet it was the very move which locked together a series of steps in the justice system of the Mosaic Law, which in the end would accomplish not their plan, but the Lord's plan.

The Pharisees, by appealing to Jesus, admitted that they lacked the necessary witnesses as to how the act began, and that the case was too difficult for them to judge.

But without two witnesses, the woman's case must pass out of the jurisdiction of the courts, and now comes under the authority of the priesthood. This means that the woman can only be judged under Numbers 5:11-31!

This Law says the woman must be presented by the High Priest before the LORD God of Israel in the temple. But the priests have presented the woman before Jesus the Christ in the temple! The Pharisees have inadvertantly testified that Jesus is the Lord God of Israel publicly, before the entire crowd.

The only other way of interpreting the Pharisees' actions was to assume that they were acting on behalf of the woman's husband, who was to first present the woman before the High Priest in the temple. In which case they had inadvertantly testified that Jesus was the High Priest in front of the crowd.

Because the Pharisees were acting out the role of 'husband', they were also unwittingly testifying to their own adultery. But for the Pharisees to show no sign, because of their temporary blindness, cast Jesus in the role of High Priest and Lord God simultaneously.

This Law also states that the woman's innocence or guilt is to be revealed by a sign from the Lord. Thus by invoking Numbers 5:11-31, the Pharisees fulfill a NT prophecy concerning them:

"An evil and adulterous generation
seeks after a sign!"

(Matt. 12:39, 16:4, Luke 11:29,
Mark 8:38, Num 5:28)

The entire Mosaic Law has been set up a thousand years previously in such a way that Jesus is honoured as Lord God of Israel, and High Priest by His enemies without Him speaking a word, or lifting a finger!

Thus not only do the prophecies testify of Jesus Christ, but also the Law itself testifies, fulfilling Paul's words,

"The Law is our teacher, to bring us to Jesus the Messiah."

(Gal 3:24)


'And when they continued pressing HIm,
having bent back, He said to them,
"The innocent one among you -
Let him first cast a stone upon her!"

(John 8:7)

The Pharisees still haven't taken the hint, but continue pressing Jesus for a Judgement. Jesus then takes His stand and does not stray to the right or left of the Holy Law of the Lord:

"The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon the offender, to put the offender to death."

(Deut 17:7)

The real authority of the Lord Jesus is now becoming clear: Jesus Himself, knowing all things (John 16:30), IS one righteous witness: But to fulfill His own Law He requires one more innocent witness. The requirements under O.T. dispensation are not impossible to fulfill:

"Abraham trusted in God,
and it was accounted to him as righteousness."

(Gen 15:6)

Not a single man comes forward from the party of the Pharisees, proving another prophecy has come to pass:

"They are all gone astray,
they have altogether become filthy:
There is none righteous, no, not one!"

(Psalm 14:3)

The fact that all the people had gone astray meant that if Jesus truly was a prophet come from God, He must release the woman according to the scripture in Hosea:

"I will NOT punish your wives when they commit adultery! For the people themselves have gone aside with whores!"

(Hosea 4:14 KJV
correct rendering of emphatic negative )


'And again having leaned down,
He was writing in the earth:
and they, having understood,
being convicted by conscience,
went forth one by one,
beginning from the elders, even to the last.'

(John 8:8-9)

We have passed through the first prophetic climax, and the first legal climax. Now we have reached perhaps the first intellectual climax and puzzle: What did Jesus write in the sand the second time?

This time when Jesus wrote in the sand, the Pharisees rather quickly got up, dropped the case against the woman, and left! What Jesus wrote couldn't have been a direct accusation, because it took a moment for the Pharisees to grasp it. It made them realise that Jesus knew all about the incident and what they had done.

They must have done something, or else the accusation would have had no effect on their conscience. Jesus had shown that He knew their involvement, and if they wished, He could expose them. They had not expected this, and could not defend themselves once accused. It was all they could do now, to leave quietly, dropping the charges. What did Jesus write?

On many occasions they had failed to trap Jesus, but were not convicted by conscience then! The answer lies in their own confession: they had already stated that they had caught the woman in the act, but now none of them could come forward alone, being free of the crime. The longer they hesitated, the more obvious their guilt.

Slowly the true horror of the crime dawns upon us: Not just one man, but a gang of men raping and abusing one woman, then casting her off to die; betraying her at the last to be stoned to death, leaving no witnesses to their crime: Each man providing an alibi for the others. And to whom could she turn? Who would believe her word against the united testimony of the religious leaders of Israel?

Only her Lord Jesus, who knows all things, and searches all hearts.
So then what scripture did Jesus write in the sand, in which the Pharisees recognized their own crime?

'And the High Priest of Levi said,
"Behold, here is my daughter,a maiden:
Do with her what seems good to you."
But the men would not listen to him,
and they raped her, and abused her
all through the night.

And when dawn (orqrou) came they let her go,
and she fell down at the door of the house
where her Lord was,

(Judges 19:24-47 LXX)

This crime was the worst in all Israel since they came out of Egypt. (Jud.19:30) As a result of it, one whole tribe of Israel was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. The men of Gibeah of the Southern tribe of Benjamin were responsible. Hosea prophecied the destruction of Jerusalem because of this happening over again:

'They have deeply corrupted themselves,
as in the days of Gibeah!
The Lord will not let them
get away with their evil!
He will punish their sins!'

(Hosea 9:9)

There is no doubt that this rape and attempted murder by the Pharisees along with the attempt to frame Jesus was one of the final straws which led our Lord to pronounce the woes against Jerusalem (Luke 21:6)


'And Jesus was left alone,
and the woman standing in the midst of the crowd.

(John 8:9 cf.Matt 26:13!)

The Pharisees had left, convicted and defeated: the woman - one more lost sheep returning. (Matt 18:10-14)

But the trial was not over yet: there must have been a pause, as the crowd of the people of Israel looked to Jesus. The religious leaders, who were supposed to make intercession to God for the sins of the people had left, convicted of sin themselves, and not worthy to make offerings even on their own behalf. They had just handed the High Priesthood and judgement over to Jesus while attempting to do the opposite.

We can suppose that everyone looked in fear and awe at Him; and in the judgement of this woman each one saw himself. If Jesus now condemned the woman, where stood every member of that crowd? Indeed the fate of Israel hung in the balance. Here was the Messiah, Lord of Israel in the flesh; the tension must have been desperate for some:

'And Jesus, having bent Himself back,
and seeing no one but the woman, said to her,

Woman, where are those - your accusers?
Did no one condemn you?"

And she said,
"No one, Lord."
And Jesus said to her,
"Neither do I pass sentence upon you:
Go, and sin no more."

(John 8:10,11)

Notice that Jesus in His infinite wisdom does not grant immediate forgiveness, nor request a publicly humiliating repentance: He knows the anguish in her heart at the injustice of the Pharisees, first abusing her, betraying her, attempting to destroy her, and finally abandoning her to a mob.

Instead, acting as Judge, and in view of the circumstances, Jesus grants an indefinite postponement of the entire trial, releasing the woman on her honour. For if the woman did not first understand who Jesus was, what meaning would His forgiveness hold for her? Later, we can assume that the time Jesus grants the woman is just right:

'And she stood at His feet weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and she kissed His feet, and washed them with perfume,...

And Jesus said,
" Her sins, which are many, are forgiven;
for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."

And He said to her,"Your sins are indeed forgiven."

(Luke 7:36-50 - This incident should not be confused with a similar one in Matt.26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, & John 12:1-8. )

"His left hand is under my head, and His right hand embraces me; My Beloved spoke, and said to me,
"Rise up, My love, My fair one, and come away;
For see, the winter is past; and the rain is over and gone." I sleep but my heart wakes; It is the voice of my Beloved that knocks: "Open to Me, My sister, My love, My undefiled!"

(Song of Songs 2:6, 10,11, 5:2)

(cf. Rev. 3:20, Mark 3:35, 7:14-23)

See how the fate of the woman taken in adultery fulfills the prophecy and promise of the Lord Jesus the Messiah:

"They shall lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the assemblies, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for My Name's sake.
And it shall turn to you for a testimony!
Therefore settle it in your hearts not to worry about it beforehand, what you will answer.
For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to contradict, nor resist.

(Luke 21:12-14, Isa 54:4-17)


The Woman as a Typology of Israel

We have noted the almost unavoidable connection of the Israelite woman taken in adultery to the whole nation, in the drama and immediacy of the crisis, and how the incredible circumstances played out. Certainly for the people present, this identification would be blatant and strong.
Israel is repeatedly portrayed as an adulteress, a whore, a disloyal and unfaithful bride. Yet
while warnings are given, and punishment is regretablly anounced, death is NOT the final verdict: there is always hope held out, a remnant are found worthy, the root can be replanted.

This is another reason why the incident needed to unfold as it did. The people were divided, yet Jesus held back judgement, to maximize the opportunities and the number of people to be saved. As Jesus Himself had expounded, "He who is forgiven much, loves much." and true loyalty, devotion and love is won this way.

Now we naturally turn to the prophecies concerning Israel herself, and find there the most incredible parallels we could expect:

For the wounds of the daughter of my people

I am hurt; I am bruised.

Astonishment has taken hold of Me.
Is not the curing medicine in Galilee?

And is not the Healer present?
Why then isn't the health of
the daughter of my people recovered?

Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the stain of the daughter of my people;

Oh if only I had a distant lodge in the wilderness,
that I might leave my people and depart from them;
For they are all adulterers! A cabal of evil men!
A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah,
even among the dwellers of Jerusalem!

"I have seen your adulteries and your whoredoms!
Woe unto thee Jerusalem!

Will you not be made clean?
When will it even once be so?"

(Jeremiah 8:21-9:3, 13:27 LXX )

Our Lord Jesus was grieved in His Spirit at the atrocities of the Pharisees; As in the ancient days, it would eventually mean the near destruction of yet another whole tribe of Israel, this time the tribe of Judah, and Jerusalem itself.


...Afterword: John 8:1-11 and Matthew 22:15-22

Few would argue that one of the most powerful and entertaining exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees, is the one that occurred over the question of TAXES. Everybody hates them, everybody knows they are abused once given, and few are able to escape them even temporarily without a revolution.

The Pharisees try to entrap Jesus in an uncannily parallel episode found in Luke 20:19-26, and Matt.22:15-22 (of which Matthew seems to have preserved the greater detail). Here again the Pharisees demand Jesus speak whether or not Jews should pay taxes to Rome or not and pose a dilemma meant to force Jesus to either 'honour' the occupying Roman authorities, and lose face and credibility as the Messiah, or else open Himself to charges of sedition and rebellion against Rome. Jesus completely catches his inquisitors with their pants down when He innocently asks for a coin.

The Pharisees pull a coin out of their pocket, and lo and behold, the Roman Emperor's head is stamped on it! The Pharisees have been accepting and keeping Roman money, when they wouldn't even allow visiting Israelites to bring it into the temple precincts, but forced them to exchange Roman coin for 'temple shekels', while making a handsome profit on the exchange! Jesus returns the dilemma back into their court in the shortest and cleverest way possible:

"Whose image is this, and whose inscription?..
Then return to Caesar that which is Caesar's,
and give to God the things that are God's!"


Again, it was all the Pharisees could do, just to leave quietly without getting lynched by the newly enlightened crowd.

But now, here in John 8:1-11, we see the very same Jesus, silencing and vanquishing his very same opponents again, with the coy, but incredibly loaded terse statement:

"Let the sinless one among you be first
to cast a stone upon her."

(John 8:7)

Again, we are confronted with the wholly unexpected, but brilliantly clever twist upon the words and meaning of the Old Testament Law in Deuteronomy 17:7. Because Jesus' ambiguous innovation on the Torah here cannot be overlooked or simply explained away. It is neither hyperbole, nor an 'innocent' turn of phrase, but a deliberate double-image, meant to arrest the thought of everyone present.

Again the very thing that disturbs us and yet attracts us is this superimposition of meanings, creating an ambiguity and a symbolism that reaches far beyond the words of ordinary men in carrying out ordinary business. Who speaks like this? Jesus of course, and no one else has been able to duplicate it, not even modern day poets like Kalil Gibran.

Yet here in John the case is amplified, for this is no simple mundane question of 'taxes', or some hypothetical question about who's wife somebody who dies and remarries will be. There is a life and death struggle right on the floor of the temple, and a symbolism extending to the entire nation and its salvation, and the very identity of its Saviour.

This is Jesus taken upward and launched a whole order of magnitude closer to the throne of God itself.

Yet we are still just scratching the surface, and turning over clues here and there like forensic police. We don't even know what we have yet, and its bigger than the robbery of the Hope Diamond, or the Enron Scandal, or 9/11. And we get the feeling that if we were to question Jesus further, it would never end. There might be no limit to His greatness or genius. He is simply toying with us as a man might playfully place a crumb in front of an ant.

The Signature of John!

At least we can understand why the more intelligent textual critics don't dare suggest that John 8:1-11 is some kind of crude forgery, but rather an ancient and authentic piece of perhaps 'oral' tradition.

But who would have access to such a powerful and valuable jewel, if not an Apostle or very eye-witness to Jesus in His lifetime? After explaining this problem, the act of mounting this jewel in such a fitting setting as John, and making it the virtual centre-piece seems a trivial problem.

How are we to explain that Luke or Mark or Matthew of all people would leave out such a fantastic treasure if they knew anything about it, while taking special care to preserve the lower exchange concerning taxes?

We are forced to agree with the textual critics when they confess that this is surely a genuine piece of authentic tradition concerning Jesus. But like them, we have no explanation for how all four gospels could be ignorant of such an incredible occurance, and why most of history would be silent about a story such as this.

Nor can we explain how it could magically 'appear' in all the main streams of transmission in the 2nd or 3rd century, and be JUST AS SILENTLY embraced by all of Christendom for the next thousand years...

...Unless we abandon the critics and their Alexandrian 2nd century texts at this point, and admit rather that it was always there in John's Gospel, but it was so offensive to the Alexandrian Jews, and dangerous for Christian martyrs, that it was passed over silently in public Lectionary reading in the early Church.

This was exactly in fact how the book of Revelation was handled, and several other problem passages.


The Pericope de Adultera (John 8:1-11) is utterly authentic.

Dean Burgon's Insight

...Just as the Reverend Dean John Burgon so eloquently put it in the case he made for its authenticity over 100 years ago:

"But my experience, as one who has given a considerable amount of attention to such subjects, tells me that the narrative before us carries on its front the impress of Divine origin. I venture to think that it vindicates for itself a high, unearthly meaning. It seems to me that it cannot be the work of a fabricator. The more I study it, the more I am impressed with its Divinity.

...from the earliest period to which testimony reaches, the incident of "the woman taken in adultery" occupied its present place in St. John's Gospel. -

It clearly follows - indeed it may be said with truth that it only remains - to inquire what may have led to its so frequent exclusion from the sacred text? For really the difficulty has already resolved itself to into that.
And on this head, it is idle to affect perplexity. In the earliest age of all - the age which was familiar with the universal decay of heathen virtue but which had not yet witnessed the power of the gospel to fashion society afresh and to build up domestic life on a new and more enduring basis; at a time when the greatest laxity of morals prevailed and the enemies of the gospel were known to be on the lookout for grounds of cavil against Christianity and its Author - what wonder if some were found to remove the Pericope de Adultera from their copies, lest it should be pleaded in extentuation of breaches of the Seventh Commandment?

The very subject matter, I say, of St. John 8:3-11 would sufficiently account for the occasional omission of those nine verses. Moral considerations abundantly explain what is found to have here and there happened. But in fact this not a mere conjecture of my own. It is the reason assigned by Augustine for the erasure of these twelve verses from many copies of the Gospel.

Ambrose, a quarter of a century earlier, had clearly intimated that danger was popularly apprehended from this quarter; and Nicon, five centuries later, states plainly that the mischevious tendency of the narrative was the cause why it had been expunged from the Armenian version. Accordingly, just a few Greek copies are still to be found mutilated in respect of those nine verses only.

In the meantime the Church, for an obvious reason, had made the choice of St. John 7:37-8:12 - the greater part of which is clearly descriptive of what happened at the Feast of Tabernacles - for the Pentecostal lesson. And she judged it expedient, besides omitting as inappropriate to the occasion the incident of the woman taken in adultery, to ignore also the three preceding verses, thus making the severance begin, in fact, as far back as the end of chapter 7:52.

The reason for this is plain. In this way the allusion to a certain departure at night and return next morning (St John 7:53-8:1) was avoided, which entirely marred the effect of the lection as the history of a day of great and special solemnity -"the great day of the feast". And thus it happens that the gospel for the day of Pentecost was made to proceed directly from "Search and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet, " in chapter 7:52, to "Then spake Jesus unto them, saying, I am the Light of the World," in chapter 8:12, with which it ends.

In other words, an omission which owed its beginning to a moral scruple was eventually extended for a liturgical consideration and resulted in severing twelve verses of St.John's Gospel - chapter 7:53-8:11 - from their lawful context."

(The Pericope de Adultera by Dean John Burgon 1896)



"And at DAWN Jesus came again to the Temple..."

(John 8:2)

The word for 'dawn' - ορθρου ("orthrou") appears in John only here, although its familiar enough from Luke, who uses the expression similarly twice (Luke 24:1, Acts 5:21). 1

But this is an old idiom, having stood in the LXX for nearly 400 years by John's time. So it is again not really a Lukan word at all.

It is also found at least twice in the popular Greek psalter (Ps 57:8, 108:2 LXX), the translation familiar to Greek speaking Jews of the Diaspora for hundreds of years before Christ, and for at least 200 years afterward.

Even so, the word appears to be an early archaism, and not a normal choice for a Greek writer, even one as heavily Semitic as John. As a matter of fact, under other circumstances, John seems to prefer expressions like πρωι / πρωιας, 'early','morn', 'first of the day' (Jn 18:28, 20:1, 21:4)

Remarkably however, the phrase appears six times in Jeremiah (Jer 7:25, 25:4, 26:5, 32:33, 35:14, 44:4 LXX), while it remains almost non-existant in most other books.

Whether this can be traced to Jeremiah's phraseology rather than the Greek translator is moot, since in any case the Greek Jeremiah was a very popular book. These passages focus particularly upon the warnings to the Jews prior to the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the Babylonian Exile.

Striking, and typical, is Jeremiah 32:33 (LXX):

"...and I taught them at dawn ( ορθρου )
and they refused instruction:

and they brought their filth into (the Temple),
- the House where they called upon My Name,
in their uncleanness." ...

(Jer. 32:33-34)

Six times Jeremiah uses the phrase like a gong to announce the woes against Judah and the Temple. These well-worn passages had been pondered and lamented over constantly since the Exile. By the time of Christ, 'dawn' (ορθρου) would simply be a painfully humbling reminder of Jeremiah's prophecies every time the Greek Psalter was sung.

The strongest and most convincing explanation for dawn (ορθρου) in both John and Luke/Acts is simply to recall the Greek Jeremiah. 2

Without always using explicit or long quotations, John constantly points us to Old Testament stories and types through the LXX. The use here of the archaic word for dawn (ορθρου) is just one more example of an all too common Johannine procedure.


Dawn & Jeremiah: Footnotes

1. Usage of "Dawn" (ορθρος)

The Lukan usage of ορθρος ('dawn/early morn', Luke 24:1, Acts 5:21) is also problematic. For openers, John's usage is again based on the LXX (ορθρου, "at dawn" = a simple temporal adverb, found in the LXX a dozen or more times).

Luke's flourishes are far more advanced than the LXX norm found in the Pericope de Adultera:

(2) Luke 21:38

'And all the people were dawning to Him (rising to Him) in the temple to hear Him.'
και πας ο λαος ωρθριζε προς αυτον εν τω ιερω ακουειν αυτον

Its not entirely clear what Luke is intending here, by using "dawn" as a verb!

The commentators pass over this incredible bit of linguistic calesthetics as though it were somehow 'normal' Greek. The difficulty in a literal rendering is exposed by the number of 'assisting words' usually inserted into an English translation. Perhaps Luke means to suggest a double-meaning here, i.e., "they were enlightened by" or "drawn toward" Jesus, in some kind of figurative sense.

The surest thing we can say is that Luke is waxing poetic, but he did not coin this usage himself. This rare usage appears in the LXX in Exod. 24:4, and perhaps Luke wants us to find that reference.

The verb form appears to have a second meaning, "to seek someone diligently" (BAG, 1956). It seems to occur in this sense in the later literature, (Job 8:5, Ps.77[78]:34, Sir 4:12, Wis 6:14, Test.Jos. 3:6).

In any case, the author of John 8:1-11 cannot have copied his expression from Luke here, since he knows nothing of this, but follows the (normal) LXX adverbial usage ("at dawn").

(3) Luke 24:1

'...at deep dawn they came upon the tomb...'
...ορθρου βαθεως ηλθον επι το μνημα...

Once again Luke can't resist a literary flourish. Neither John the Evangelist (Jn 20:1), nor the author of the Pericope de Adultera chooses to follow: again they seem to have had no contact, and in this they are alike. Even when Luke dances modestly, he dances alone.

(4) Acts 5:21

"And hearing (obeying),
they entered under the Dawn (i.e., in the dawning light) into the temple and were teaching."
Ακοθσαντες δε,
υπο τον ορθρον εις το ιερον και εδιδασκον.

Here again Luke typically waxes eloquent, never it seems, choosing the plain LXX expression favoured by the author of the Pericope de Adultera. Our Johannine author knows him not.

The Ferrar Group (10th cent.) mentioned in support of a Lukan setting for the passage is irrelevant here: the paltry evidence is too late by a millenium!

2. John's Purpose in Using ορθρου

When such a heart-rending chord as this would naturally be struck in Greek-Jewish listeners (hellenists), it is weak at best to suggest that a writer would use such a unique and powerful keyword merely to crudely imitate or point to Luke. Luke after all is attempting to make the same striking connection himself in using this archaic expression.

The author (John the Evangelist) picked this phrase ultimately to point us to Jeremiah. Luke's text as a go-between is simply superfluous here.

When we come to examine the two instances in Luke/Acts, they actually appear to be one-way arrows in the other direction. It is far more plausible to suggest that Luke uses dawn (ορθρου) with the women coming to the tomb (Luke 24:1) to remind us of John 8:1-11 than vice versa.

Likewise, although the instance in Acts is uncannily similar to the context in John, neither John nor a forger gains anything by such a link to Acts, while Luke might at least profit marginally by a reminder of incidents in Jesus' ministry.

This is even more compelling when we find John doing this elsewhere, again and again. For instance, in the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-12), John uses the phrase "What is that to you and me, woman?" ( τι εμοι και σοι, γυναι ) (Jn 2:4) and refers to the waterpots as ( υδριαι / υδριας ), (Jn 2:6,7), the same word that is used in the Greek book of Kings, to point us to the Miracle/Sign of Elijah with the jars of oil.

There the woman ( γυναι ) says to Elijah, "What to me and you?" ( τι εμοι και σοι ) (1 Kg 17:18 [= 3 Kg LXX] ) and he tells those in need to take empty pitchers ( υδρια ) and draw out the provisions. (The Johannine substitution of 'wine' for oil is an interesting problem, but not germaine here.)

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Who Was the Woman?

Final Note:

One additional question is why this particular trap? Other than simple opportunity, what might have motivated the Pharisees and scribes to concoct this unusual legal case? The answer may rest in Jesus' public position on divorce, which would naturally involve the question of adultery and its scope. As Mark records:

And Jesus said to them,
"Whoever puts away his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her. And if a woman puts away her husband, and is married to another, she also commits adultery."

(Mark 10:11-12)

This last statement, while obviously equalitarian, is an innovative interpretation of the Law not foreseen by the Pharisees. But more importantly, against the background of the beheading of John the Baptist at the prompting of Queen Herodias it is unexpectedly electrifying: The Queen may have tried to bypass the criticisms of John by divorcing Herod's brother and remarrying Herod.

But Jesus destroys the value of this plan instantly by publicly preaching that this also would be adultery! Now, if Herod put Queen Herodias or her daughter away (i.e. a divorce), to appease the crowds who believed John was a prophet, this could have placed either woman in the Pharisees' hands. The success of this political decision is not necessary for it to be credible. Herod also beheaded John the Baptist, a disastrous political decision in its own right.

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