Section 1: Introduction - "Why does it matter?"
People Are still Being Stoned to Death
Practice of Stoning Violates Human Rights
Women & Children - the Majority of Victims
Cultural and Ethical Advance in the West
The Part of Christianity in Western Advance
Modern Attacks upon Christianity
Attacks upon the Bible Itself
The Ancient Attack upon John 8:1-11
The Modern Attack upon John 8:1-11
Christianity without John 8:1-11
Section 2: Help for Students and Researchers
It may seem inconceivable to many people in the West, but the practice of stoning people to death still goes on in many other parts of the world. Such barbaric practices are commonplace over perhaps a third of the inhabited earth.
Historically, stoning has ceased in the West mainly from the impact of Christian teachings and values such as forgiveness, and the continuing democratic reforms which have established religious tolerance and basic human rights as foundations of our society.
One of the most important advances in human rights for all people has been the recognition that torture is a violation of human rights. Even those who advocate the 'death penalty' for key crimes like murder, understand that torture is an inappropriate and ineffective tool in the search for justice.
Stoning not only inevitably involves torture. Suffering is actually designed and built into the practice as it is prescribed by Law and Religion in many parts of the world. For instance, in Islamic countries, the actual size of the stones used for a stoning is regulated: The purpose is plainly stated. The stones should neither be too large (to kill the person too quickly), or too small (to prevent serious injury).
Typically victims of stonings are tied up and held for days or months in inhumane conditions. To this is added the psychological torture of dispair, while they await their inevitable death. Finally, victims are tied up and buried to the waist or higher, preventing escape or even effective struggle during the killing. Their heads are covered with cloth to further dehumanize them to the crowds, and prevent them from confronting their cowardly executioners.
Modern trials in which people are given basic rights such as the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty are almost unheard of. Instead, people are convicted by hearsay and circumstantial evidence, often using forced confessions. The executions will be carried out by virtual mobs of vigilantes or lynching parties. These killers will typically be local villagers lacking any education other than religious instruction by extremists.
A disproportionately large number of victims in these cases are women. These women are often falsely accused, or framed for the purpose of simply getting rid of them. This allows an unsatisfied husband to freely find another younger or more beautiful bride. The result is an unstable family unit with little support for the basic human rights of women or children.
Obviously and especially in these cases, the issue of women's rights goes far beyond mere Western gender issues or minor inequalities, but extends deeply into violations of basic human rights. The injustice and inequality is shockingly blatant and forms the core of a widespread system of extreme abuse. It is no exaggeration to describe these conditions as a horrific nightmare for many innocent people.
Injustice on this scale deeply entrenches cycles of poverty, ignorance and suffering.
The evolving culture of Western Civilization has undoubtably many flaws. Yet there is still a net difference between Western culture and many other cultures that can be measured as advance. Some of these are the development of democratic principles such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right of peaceful assembly and protest. The principle of equality in the treatment of rich and poor, men and women, and people of different races under the Law is another great advance toward true justice.
Many of these principles and ideals are only imperfectly realised even now. Some remain elusive ideals. Most advances have taken place incredibly slowly against much resistance, and have only taken on a significant physical reality and impact in very recent times.
Without being overly 'pro-Western', or 'Christian-centric', we can reasonably say that some of the key advances in ethics, law and government were assisted by two important factors:
(1) The higher political and social status of women in Roman culture
(2) The championing of women's status in early Christianity.
In Roman culture, women had higher status under the Law, being priviledged to inherit property, control money and run households, as well as participate in business, social and even political discourse. This may have evolved out of earlier Greek philosophical advances, even though the previous Greek, Semitic, and Eastern cultures held women in very low status.
The current trends in politics and philosophy denigrate 'Christianity' and tend to blame both Christians and religion in general for all that has gone wrong with the world. Yet this attitude is essentially non-historical and unrealistic. One of the best strains in Christian thought, and one which helped to give powerful moral and ethical support for the abolishment of slavery, and granted political power to women, was the principle of equality expressed firmly in the New Testament:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ."
(Paul to the Galatians, chapt.3 verse 28)
It was foundational Christian insights and ideals like these that enlightened the men and women who fought for and achieved the freedom and equality (such as it is) that we enjoy today in the modern world.
Whether or not the West could have evolved in the same direction or at the same pace without Christian insight and vision is doubtful. At the least, the brutal institution of slavery would probably have continued for centuries under Roman mandate, and challenges to that paradigm would have lacked the drive and courage that Christian faith provided.
Challenges and political action had to come from outside the oppressed victims and classes themselves, or else face brutal repression, and Christianity was the main vehicle that provided for that political change.
Christianity in its various historical forms and stages of development has had its 'downside'. Extremists and criminals appear in every age and culture, and have often used Christian religion as a vehicle, excuse, or cover for outrageous acts of injustice.
The 'Protestant' flavours of Reformation Christianity did not appear much better in the light of 'witch'-burnings and religious persecution than did the decaying Catholicism that brought on the Crusades and abuses of the Spanish Inquisition.
The more rational strains of religion and science in the West have sought to constrain Christian extremism and excess, not entirely without cause, or wholly unsuccessfully. Yet the idea that we have 'evolved' beyond the need for religion, and Christian values in particular, has been a flop.
Current prejudice, and attacks upon Christianity, in the form of political persecution and ridicule of the Christian faith, is wrong-headed and dangerous. Both Christians and non-Christians need to acknowledge what is of value in Christian religion, and why it is vital for the preservation of civilization and the advances that we have so far achieved.
Some of this activity may have indeed served a useful purpose in keeping extremists and other dangerous individuals in check. But the excesses of modern 'reformers' in attempting to 'downsize' Christianity have often become as extreme and irrational as their alleged targets.
One of the most damaging assaults upon Christianity has been the direct attack upon the Bible itself. Not only is its scientific and historical accuracy ridiculed, but clandestine efforts to erode its authority by mutilation, mistranslation, and misquotation of the Bible continue without ceasing today.
Today however, this naive and childish attempt to erode the authority of the Bible is wrong-headed and ineffective. In the West, few educated Christians would likely be led to engage in 'witch-hunts' or pogroms. Pastors have difficulty even getting their followers to turn out for legitimate and peaceful purposes, like voting.
In ancient times, this passage came under attack for a number of reasons:
(1) It appeared too easily to grant forgiveness for the sin of Adultery.
(2) It appeared contrary to the Law of Moses.
(3) It presented the Scribes and Pharisees as lawless murderers.
(4) It was not a good example of repentance and forgiveness.
(5) It appeared to undermine law enforcement entirely.
(6) It appeared to show favouritism toward women.
The reason other passages of scripture were not attacked with the same ferocity is simple. No other portion of scripture had all of these elements simultaneously.
Other passages might appear to slight Moses' Law, but they could be explained. Gratuitous miracles without repentance or 'faith' could be justified by God's mercy. Elsewhere, the scribes and Pharisees were attacked for more relevant but less 'criminal' sins, like legalism, and hypocrisy. Law enforcement itself was not directly challenged in other scriptures.
It was only in this particular passage, that all these factors came together and made this incident and its teaching overwhelmingly difficult for many people, even Christians, to accept.
Today, many of these factors are not relevant to either Christians or non-Christians. The passage does not meet the same cultural resistance or prejudice that it did when it first entered the world of Jesus' time. In fact, Christians today mostly adore the passage, finding in it a supreme example of the tender mercy of Jesus toward a marginalized and despised class, namely women.
The modern attack upon John 8:1-11 is really about undermining the authority of the Bible. Although the 'ammunition' to attack these verses comes from an ancient assault upon the verses that took place before the Middle Ages, modern Critics have a completely different agenda.
Two serious factors prevent modern critics from leaving this passage alone:
(1) It is the only really serious variant among the New Testament manuscripts, besides the Ending of Mark.
(2) Without it, the whole science of 'Textual Criticism' would be pretty much redundant.
Although there are some 200 significant variant readings among the ancient copies of the NT, most are shorter than a half-verse. The presence or absence of these short phrases or clauses does not significantly erode any fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. At most, leaving out a phrase here and there in a modern translation simply annoys Christians familiar with those readings.
There are two places however, in which a sizeable chunk of Scripture is being challenged by critics: the Long Ending of Mark (found in the traditional text but left out of some ancient copies of Mark), and this passage, John 7:53-8:11, which has also suffered from deletion in some manuscripts.
At this point in time, it may even be less about 'undermining the Bible' (that has been rather successful in the West in academic circles), than about justifying the large budgets of University curriculums and the excessive salaries of professors.
Indeed, Western publishers and authors have made fortunes out of stirring up controversy about the BIble, selling books on both sides of every issue, and fleecing Christians and non-Christians alike for millions of dollars. This money would have been better spent on practical needs, like healthcare, nutrition, or education.
As we have pointed out, without 'serious' cases for the science of textual reconstruction of the Bible, textual criticism would be an obscure 'backwater' curiosity or hobby, and hardly a prestigious career.
But supposing modern critics were successful in erasing John 8:1-11 from the Bible. What kind of Christianity would we have left?
Today we take for granted the rights to privacy and personal freedom we have in our own bedrooms. Past regimes that have attempted to 'police' people's private lives have always perpetrated outrageous injustice, the persecution of innocent people, and abuse of power by authority.
Most modern Westerners know its wrong to elevate personal sexual mores to the level of capital offences, or enforce corporal punishment upon people for minor social infractions. These attempts were a social and political disaster.
But few seem willing to remember that it was profound passages like John 8:1-11 that led to our enlightenment in the first place.
To try to domesticate Christianity to the point where it is virtually empty of any power to bring us freedom and enlightenment is a horrific error by modern 'authorities'. And in an ever-shrinking world it may be catastrophic in future 'culture clashes' .
Articles providing a Background for the Bible and T.C.
Guides to Special Symbols and Abbreviations for Textual Criticism
Introduction to Critical Apparatuses
Short List of Abbreviations for NT Editions
Fuller list of terms and symbols from Bibletexts.com
Reference Charts in Printable .PDF format
Latin Abbreviations in Critical Texts
Abbreviations for Use in TC Articles, from TC Journal
Encyclopedia of NT Textual Criticism
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