At church this morning, the topic in both the service and the Sunday school was the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.
Here are some items:
A. The story in John 8:1-11 is in around nine-hundred manuscripts but not in the earliest manuscripts. Is the story consistent with what Jesus says and does elsewhere? Jesus comes to the Mount of Olives in John 8:1-11, and Jesus frequently goes to the Mount of Olives for teaching and prayer (Matthew 21:1; 24:3; 26:30; Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26; Luke 19:29, 37; 21:37; 22:39). Interestingly, John 8:1 is the only place in the Gospel of John where the Mount of Olives explicitly occurs. Does that show that the pericope is not Johannine?
B. The pastor commented on details in the pericope. John 8:2 says that Jesus sat down and taught; according to the pastor, Jesus sat down, while everyone listening to him stood up out of respect. Jesus in John 8:10 calls the adulteress “woman” rather than by her name. Did he not know her name? The pastor said that the author of the story preferred to keep her anonymous rather than naming her to the public, due to the shame that comes with being an adulteress. The pastor referred to other occasions in which Jesus called women “woman,” and in these cases we know their names: Mary the mother of Jesus (John 2:4; 19:26) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:13, 15). The pastor did not explain this, though. His point was probably that John 8:10 is consistent with Jesus addressing women as “woman.” Incidentally, as far as I can see, that mostly occurs in John. Does that show that the pericope is Johannine?
C. The pastor talked about Matthew 12:30-37, which concerns blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The pastor said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief. That is why Jesus said at the beginning of that pericope that whoever is not for him is against him: he was stressing the importance of faith in Christ, of being for Jesus. Peter denied Christ and spoke idle words, but he never blasphemed the Holy Spirit because he had faith in Christ; he never sunk towards complete unbelief. Jesus in that pericope says that corrupt words come from corrupt hearts. In such a situation, the pastor said, the response should be, not unbelief, but going to Jesus for spiritual heart surgery. This interpretation makes some sense, but questions still occur in my mind. For one, Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven, but God forgives unbelief, right? Paul was an unbeliever before he became a Christian, and he received forgiveness from God. That is why people come back and say that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is persistent unbelief: never, ever believing. If you never believe in Christ, you will never receive forgiveness of sins. Second, Jesus says that speaking against the Son can be forgiven. How is that different from blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Is not speaking against the Son unbelief? Or does that refer to what Peter did: he spoke against the Son, but he was still a believer? The same would be true with Paul: he spoke against the Son, but he then became a believer rather than persisting in unbelief.
D. Jesus said to the adulteress, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The pastor noted that Jesus did not say, “Go and sin no more, and I will not condemn you.” I am in an online grace group, and people there made that sort of point. They said that God, in Christ, never condemns us or keeps score, even if we sin. That does not entirely set right with me. Jesus in John 5:14 tells a man he healed to sin no more, lest a worse thing befall him. That probably refers to temporal consequences rather than eternal consequences, but there is still the implication that a person needs to stop sinning to avoid punishment, even after Jesus forgives and heals. Still, the Gospel, especially as Paul defines it in his letters, affirms that God’s forgiveness of sin (justification, no condemnation) precedes the bearing of spiritual fruit. One gets to live, not in light of one’s old identity as a sinner, but in light of one’s clean slate and forensic righteous standing before God.
E. The pastor said that Jesus was taking the law more seriously than the people accusing the woman of adultery, notwithstanding their pretense of devotion to the law. Jesus said that whoever is without sin among them should cast the first stone. The oldest left, since, due to the brokenness and self-awareness that comes with age, they knew that they were sinners. Others, not wanting to look like they thought they are holier than the most respected among them, the oldest, then left as well. Indeed, there was an Old Testament tradition that all have sinned. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says that. But how were the woman’s accusers sinners? Well, they were plotting to kill Jesus, and one commandment is “Thou shalt not kill.” They did not even take the law about stoning adulterers seriously, for, even though they caught the woman in the act of adultery and saw the man with her, they did not bring the man to Jesus for stoning, even though Leviticus 20:10 stipulates that both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. Their goal was trapping Jesus, not faithfulness to the law. In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, the Pharisee despises others and boasts about himself and his own adherence to a checklist of legal righteousness rather than seeking God. That contradicts the command not to hate one’s neighbor but to love him or her as oneself (Leviticus 19:17-18), and also the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5).
F. The pastor quoted H.A. Ironside’s definition of repentance as changing one’s mind about self, sin, God, and Christ. That, in my mind, is preferable to defining it as ceasing to sin and instead to do good, since it entails more of a mindset and an orientation. Sinning less and doing good may flow from such an attitude, though.
G. The pastor talked about a tension regarding the law. Under God’s law, we are all condemned. If God does not condemn us, then God is being lax with respect to the law. The solution, for the pastor, is that Christ bore the punishment for our sin. I have long wondered if that solves the problem. God punishes an innocent party, and that allows God to be lax with respect to the law? The thing is, though, the Gospel can be a pathway towards sinning less. When we recognize our flaws, we turn to God for mercy, meaning that we cultivate an orientation towards God. We can recognize our own helplessness and inability and open ourselves up for God to work within us.