Pulpit Commentary - John 8:1 - 8:59

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Pulpit Commentary - John 8:1 - 8:59

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Verses 7:53-8:11

(8) The pericope adulterae. (a) Excursus on the genuineness of Jn 7:53-8:11. It is our duty to examine the various grounds on which this passage has been almost universally concluded to have formed no portion of the original Fourth Gospel; and then the internal grounds on which it has been rejected, and some of the speculations as to its origin and value.

Doubts have beset the authenticity of the passage from the fourth and fifth centuries in the Eastern Church, both on external and internal grounds. The authority and practice of Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome gave it a secure resting place till the criticism of Erasmus re-awakened doubt. Calvin expressed a more favourable opinion concerning it. Jansenius rejected it. Grotius considered it as an addition to John's Gospel from the hand of Papias or one of his friends and fellow disciples of John. Wettstein, Semler, Griesbach, and Wegscheider seemed to leave for it no place in Scripture. Lachmann omitted it from his text. It has been condemned as spurious by the great bulk of modern critics, even of different schools and on somewhat different grounds. Some have rejected it as a spurious forgery (see Hengstenberg, in loc.); Keim derives much the same conclusion from its supposed teaching; others have admitted that, though it is not without a powerful apostolic ring about it, yet its proper place was probably at the close of Luk_21:1-38., where it is found in cursive 69 and three other cursives. Others (Scrivener) that, from its interruption of the narrative, it has no place here, but may be possibly regarded as an appendix to John's Gospel, or a part of the later edition of that Gospel which contained Joh_21:1-25. There is no sufficient ground on which to build this hypothesis of two editions (cf. notes on Joh_21:1). There are, however, manuscripts which preserve the paragraph in this position, viz. the cursive 1, and the majority of the Armenian manuscripts. A very damaging note accompanies it in 1 (see Tregelles, who gives it at length). The following critical editors have either displaced it or entirely rejected it from this place in John's Gospel, though many among them admit its virtual authenticity as a record of a genuine occurrence in the life of our Lord: Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, Lucke, Meyer, Godet, Milligan, Scrivener, Moulton, Westcott and Hort, the Revised Text, and even Weiss and Wordsworth. On the other hand, it has been defended by Mill, Lampe, Michaelis, by Bengel, Scholz, Wieseler, Ebrard, Lange, Stier, M'Clellan, and by some of the Tubingen school like Hilgenfeld, who, attaching it to the Gospel, have made use of it to destroy the historic character of the Gospel itself. Griesbach retains it with double marks of doubt. Farrar, summarizing Lucke's discussion of the evidence, inclines rather in its favour, and thinks it may have been early admitted into the Fourth Gospel from that according to the Hebrews, or from some Ur-marcus (Holtzmann). M'Clellan and Stier vehemently maintain it on both internal and external grounds. Edersheim says that it presents "insuperable difficulties in the 'un-Jewish' account given of the accusers, the witnesses, the public examination, the bringing of the woman to Jesus, and the punishment claimed." Renan, 'Ecce Homo,' and Farrar have made very powerful biographic use of the narrative.

The evidence against it is:

1. That à , (A), B, (C), (L), X, ( Δ ), 33, 131, and 157 omit it. A and C are here defective, but they leave no sufficient space for its insertion; L and Δ leave gaps, to notify some omission, which the copyist for some reason did not or dared not fill. Though found in D, E, F, G, H, K, M, S, V, T, Δ Λ Π , and numerous cursives, it is nevertheless obelized in some of the former as doubtful.

The first Greek writer in the twelfth century (Euthymius Zygadenus) who in this portion of the Gospel refers to the passage distinctly says that from Joh_7:53 to Joh_8:11 the passage was not found, or it was obelized in the most accurate copies; wherefore, he adds, it was first a gloss, and then an appendix ( παρέγραπτα , "written alongside of," καὶ προσθήκη , "added to"), and "a token of this is seen in the fact that Chrysostom had made no mention of it."

2. It was found in different places, even in several of the manuscripts which contain it (see above).

3. Ancient versions, such as some of the Italic, AEgyptian, Old Syriac, Gothic, early manuscripts of the Peschito and Armenian versions, omit it.

4. It was not read by Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuesfia, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theophylact, where it might have been expected.

5. Though found in D (Codex Bezae), yet this testimony, without confirmation, throws doubt over it, by its adoption of the paragraph. D has given us several other additions (such as Mat_20:28; Luk_6:5), which have never passed into authentic Scripture. Moreover, the text of D here differs from that of the later uncials in which it occurs, as well as from the body of cursives which contain it. Lucke powerfully argues, from the silence of Chrysostom and Origen, that they were in positive ignorance of the existence of the passage. The defenders of its authenticity allege that Origen's commentary and homilies are lacking or mutilated over the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters. While this is true, Origen ('Tom.,' 19.) points out the connection between Joh_7:40 and Joh_8:12 without making the faintest reference to this pericope. "No catenae as yet examined contain notes on any of these verses" (Westcott and Hort).

6. The nature of the text differs from that with which it is supposed to be imbedded, as, for instance, in the use of the particle δὲ in place of οὖν (John's favourite particle), and of other words which are peculiar to itself, and certain expressions, such as "Mount of Olives," "sat and taught," etc., which are current in Luke and elsewhere (but see further for the value of this evidence).

7. The Constant. lection for Whit Sunday consists of Joh_7:37-52, followed immediately by Joh_8:12. Such an omission from John's Gospel is only noticeable elsewhere where special reason can be assigned for it.

8. With the exception of the 'Apostolic Constitutions,' the Greek writers and commentators are ignorant of it, and there is no proof of its existence in any extant manuscript earlier than the sixth century.

The sum of this is that the most ancient known authorities are, from one cause or other (whether necessary, accidental, or prudential), silent concerning the passage; that mutilations of Scripture cannot be common offences, even though a strong ascetic spirit might be tempted to refuse a public reading of this paragraph, and to abstain from public comment on so difficult a passage.

The evidence for the paragraph is:

1. First and foremost, the Codex D and the later uncials (E), (F), G, H, K, M, Γ , (S), T, U, Λ (but in E, F, and S great doubts are expressed; F has a space to verse 10; Γ ends at verse 3). D probably belongs to the fifth or sixth century, K to the eighth or ninth, and the remaining uncials belong to the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth century. The whole group is, with the exception of T, representative of the Syrian Recension. Some of the best manuscripts of the vulgate contain it, and the AEthiopic and Memphitic versions. Griesbach enumerates a hundred cursives—Alford says three hundred—and especially in Latin manuscripts referred to by Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome.

2. The supposed presence of it in the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews' turns on the statement preserved by Eusebius in his account of Papias (of which we have other reasons for doubting the accuracy), 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3.40, "He exhibits also another history concerning a woman ( διαβληθείσης ) calumniously accused before the Lord of many sins, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews." On the credit of this statement, that apocryphal Gospel has been supposed to contain the famous passage. The idea is thrown out that John or his earliest editors may have sought to find a place for it, and imagined that the event preceded the solemn assertion of Joh_8:15, "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no one." This ingenious supposition tells both ways. If the passage is an importation from the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews,' Eusebius becomes a witness that, in his day, and by him, it was not regarded as an integral portion of John's Gospel. The very early existence of the narrative is, however, avouched, and the possible method suggested by which either John or the Ephesian presbyters adopted it. But there is no proof that this narrative is identical with a story no details of which are preserved. The slanderous or secret accusation of a woman is not parallel with the antoptic, uncontradicted assertion of Joh_8:4, that she was "taken in the very act." Nor is the accusation of "many sins" identical with the charge of one revolting crime. It is significant that Ruffinus, in his version of Eusebius, substitutes "a woman, an adulteress," for "a woman accused of many sins." This may have been due to his acquaintance with Jerome's translation of the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews.' Moreover, on the supposition of identity, the story would more probably have been found in the cognate Gospel of Matthew than in the numerous manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel.

3. The testimony of ancient writers can be set over against the silence of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, etc. Thus, 'Apost. Const.,' 2.24, refers to the narrative, in vindication of the true reception of penitents. After referring to Luk_7:1-50., the writers say, "Another woman who had sinned, the elders placed before him, and left the judgment in his hands, and went out; but the Lord, who knoweth the hearts, having inquired of her whether the elders had condemned her, and she having said 'No,' said, 'Go, then; neither do I condemn thee.'" This testimony cannot be positively made to show that the passage was in any Greek text earlier than the third century, and no reference occurs in it to the Gospel of John. The reference is valuable for the antiquity of the Gospel, if other reasons establish this passage as an integral portion of that Gospel.

4. The passage was undoubtedly admitted as part of the Gospel by both Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose, and many later Fathers of the Western Church. Jerome did not discard it from the vulgate version, and distinctly says that it was found "in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus," and that it was read on the Feast of St. Pelagia. Ambrose quoted from it ('De Spir. Sancto' 3.2, 15), and reproached those who made a bad use of it. Augustine ('Adv. Pelag.,' 2.17) admits that some were afraid of the passage, lest it should lead to laxity of morals, and so had erased it (auferrent) from their codices. Augustine comments on it verse by verse, and preached from several texts found in it.

5. The internal evidence in favour is the weakness of the objections which are said to arise:

(1) From the use of words and phrases foreign to John, and of proper names without explanations. Thus, "Mount of Olives" is referred to for the only time. But it must be admitted that "Kedron" thus occurs (Joh_18:1). Πᾶς ὁ λάος is said to be discrepant from the Johannine phrase ὄχλος , used so frequently in Joh_7:1-53. and elsewhere, and is scarcely answered by M'Clellan when he says it is antithetic to "the doctors of the Law," itself an un-Johannine phrase. The statement that Jesus "sat down to teach" may not elsewhere be found in the Fourth Gospel. It is implied, however, that he was seated during the discourse of Joh_13:1-38; Joh_14:1-31. The use of such words as καταγράφειν ἀναμάρτητος ἐπιμένειν καταλείπεσθαι cannot prove anything whatever, as we may find in every chapter of John, and still more of the Apocalypse, ἅπαξ λεγόμενα . Much is made of the absence of οὖν , John's favourite particle, and the frequent use of δὲ . But John uses οὖν two hundred and six times in his Gospel, and δὲ two hundred and four times. Moreover, οὖν does not occur in Joh_1:1-20; Joh_3:1-24; Joh_4:12-27; Joh_11:22-30; nor in Joh_14:1-31., 15., 17. (M'Clellan). Very little argument ought to rest on this peculiarity.

(2) It is stated that the paragraph breaks the continuity of the narrative, which properly follows on verse 45 or 52. This is not so clear. The Sanhedrin and the people disperse at the conclusion of Christ's discourse; that last day of the feast is ended. Joh_8:1 introduces a new day, the dawn of the morning when the event occurred providing Christ with his illustration, "I am the Light of the world;" and the recent occurrence, with the potent illustration of the declaration, "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no one."

(3) The judgment of stoning is said to be the punishment adjudged to the man and woman, if the woman be the betrothed spouse of another man. In Deu_22:22 and Le Deu_20:10 death, without specifying the manner of it, is the punishment of adultery; in Deu_22:24 the ease of fornication with a betrothed virgin is punished with stoning. It has been argued by some that the specification of stoning in this one ease excludes it in the other ease, and by others that the one crime resembles the other so much that it is sufficiently near to justify the legal question put to Christ. In 'Sanhedrin,' § Deu_7:4, adultery is not mentioned as a crime punishable with stoning, and in § Deu_10:4 it is made punishable with impalement. That scribes and Pharisees should make use, without perfect accuracy, of Moses to tempt Christ does not appear to be a reason sufficient in itself to doubt the authenticity of the passage.

Our conclusion is that the passage, whether written as it stands by John or not, was introduced, in very early times, into the Western text as a gloss on Joh_8:15); that the external evidence is extremely unsatisfactory and conflicting; yet it must be admitted that the silence of the great Greek Fathers concerning it is accountable without disbelieving in its existence. While Chrysostom ignores it, Ambrose insists upon its teaching, and Jerome does not see sufficient reason to expunge it. The profound originality of the lessons it conveys, and the difficulty involved in a careless reading, may account for the non-appearance of it in the curliest manuscripts, and make the motive which could have maliciously devised or imagined such a scene inconceivable. Lucke, in his elaborate treatment, Tregelles, and Alford, Godet, in loco, Lightfoot (Contemporary Review, vol. 26.), Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, declare against it in the most positive way. Meyer urges that it is not to be for a moment referred to an oral Johannine source, while it is in keeping, he says, with the tone of the synoptic Gospels. This is open to criticism. Scathing denunciations of every kind of corruption are far more frequent in the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 5-7, Mat_23:1-39, etc.) than in the Fourth Gospel.

The most formidable objection is the state of the text, which, in addition to its deficiency of first-class testimony, is unusually discrepant in the authorities which preserve it. Thus there is the abridged form of the narrative in Codex Bezae (D) and the text of T.R., which rests on a large number of later uncials and cursives; and a third text, which seems like a mixture or conflation of the two texts. Lucke and Godet have suggested that the passage contains an extra-scriptural fact preserved by oral tradition that was first placed at the end of the Gospels, and therefore at the end of John's Gospel, and was by some editors and copyists inserted in this particular connection, and by others in Luk_21:8, in the midst of the testing to which the Sanhedrin and the sectional parties submitted our Lord during the last week of his life. Bishop Lightfoot (Contemporary Review, vol. 26:847) thinks it may have been one of the illustrative anecdotes in the Collectanea of Papias. The only other illustration to which he refers is the supposed saying of our Lord preserved in Eusebius's account of Papias, with reference to the extraordinary fertility of the vine in the latter days—a passage which Lightfoot thinks may have been originally attached to Mat_26:29. That such an event did happen, and that we have here an authentic record of what occurred, is accepted by the great bulk of critics, who, nevertheless, expunge it from the text of John, on the combined ground of its internal difficulty and deficiency of external attestation. The difficulty, however, is one indication of the surpassing originality of the narrative. It is hard to imagine the motive which should induce any of the followers of Christ or of John to have invented it, while there are reasons, drawn from the ascetic tendencies mightily at work in certain sections of the Church, for its omission or the silence of homilists.

Though the spirit, atmosphere, and phrase suggest the synoptic tradition rather than the Johannine, yet it must not be forgotten that there are many synoptic passages in John's Gospel, and Johannine phrases in the synoptists. The criticism proceeding from moral timidity has failed to recognize the grandeur of the entire proceeding. It contains no palliation of incontinence, but; a simple refusal of Jesus to assume the position of a civil Judge or Executor of the law in face of the established political supremacy of Rome; while the Lord made a demand for personal holiness, and an appeal to conscience so pungent that, in lieu of condemning to death a sinful woman, he judged a whole crowd of men, convincing them of sin, while he gave the overt transgressor time for repentance and holier living.

Verses 7:53-8:11

The plot against the honour or loyalty of the Lord Jesus foiled.


And everyone went
£ to his own house. If the plural be here taken, it more obviously refers to the breaking up of the assembly, of the divided groups, as well as of the angry Sanhedrin for the day now drawing to its close. The strong opponents of the passage see in the clause the mark of an interpolator who makes use of a phrase strictly applicable from its presumed place to the Sanhedrin, but intended clumsily to refer to the crowds who had been taking part in the dramatic scene. There would, however, be no impropriety in the reference to the cessation of an extraordinary session or committee of the Sanhedrin, when the officers had returned without their prize.


But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
This resort of our Lord is not elsewhere referred to in John's Gospel, although it was mentioned by St. Luke (Luk_21:37
; Luk_22:39) as the scene of the Lord's retirement during the nights of the last week of his life. John's mention of such a habit as this at an earlier period would in almost any other literature be regarded as mutual confirmation of the two documents, while the fact that "Bethany" lay on the opposite side of the hill, and the "garden" was, as a matter of fact, hidden on its slopes, and that both of these facts are known to the writer (Joh_11:1-57. and 19.) deprive the bare mention of the name of any inauthentic character.


Now at daybreak.
The word ὄρθρου does not occur in John; πρωί and πρωία are our evangelist's words for "early morning," though ὑπὸ τὸν ὄρθρον is found in Luk_24:1
and Act_5:21. He came again to the temple (the temple courts— ἱερόν , not ναός , is here used); and all the people came to him. The form πᾶς ὁ λαός is a deviation from John's usual phrase, although λαός is found in Joh_11:50 and Joh_18:14. There is some ground for the deviation. The scenes of the previous day had been broken up into various groups. The favouring crowd from the provinces sympathized with a portion of the Jerusalem populace; then the hostile crowd at the beck of the authorities had been checked by the "officers" who had been themselves baffled and thunderstruck with the dignity and claims of Jesus. Great excitement had prevailed, and before the stormy scenes and recriminations of the previous day recommenced, the whole temple throng came unto him. If the eighth day of the feast was referred to—i.e. if the great day of the feast were the eighth day—the difficulty of the whole people having gathered about him is diminished, because there were special gatherings for the eighth day (see notes, Joh_7:37). It might have seemed that they had composed their differences, and were now waiting some symptom and signal of the great Leader's will. [And he sat down, and was teaching them.£] This expression is synoptic rather than Johanninc; i.e. it belongs to the methods of the Galilaean ministry rather than to the hostile encounters of the metropolis (but see Mat_23:2). He was prepared for long discourse and various instruction. Here, as in Joh_7:14, the word ἐδίδασκε is used without specifying the topic or theme on which he dwelt. The calm morning was soon overclouded, and the people violently excited, by a very ominous disturbance, planned with subtle care and malicious intention on the part of the authorities, who were ready at all costs and by any device to break the spell which Jesus was exerting over some of the people.


And the scribes and Pharisees are bringing
—dragging by main force—(to him £) a woman taken in adultery; £ and, having caused her—forced her, notwithstanding the hideous shame of her discovery—to stand in the midst, they say unto him, Master. £ The "scribes" are not elsewhere referred to in John's Gospel, although the phrase, "scribes and Pharisees," is very frequently used in the synoptic Gospels for the opponents of our Lord and the subjects of his invective. They come together in the final scenes as combining to thwart and tempt him. John refers to "Pharisees" twenty times, and four times in connection with the "priests;" but never with the "scribes." The scribes are elsewhere in the New Testament spoken of as νομικοί or νομοδιδάσκαλοι , and also as "rabbis" in the Mishna. The scribes and Pharisees are no deputation from the Sanhedrin, nor are they representatives of the party of Zealots, as some have pretended. There is no indication of any mere sectional animosity or of any genuine desire to receive an authoritative or prophetic response to their inquiry. The Sanhedrin itself would certainly not have condescended at this epoch to have submitted any question of its own action to the arbitrament of Jesus. Numerous witnesses of the act of adultery are inconceivable, though in the excitement and confusion of the Feast of Tabernacles in a crowded city and suburbs, this may have been more feasible than might otherwise be supposed. The probability is that the act was undeniably committed in such a way as to bring this woman under the cognizance of these reformers or defenders of the theocracy who cropped up on all sides, and that a group of bigots scow at once that capital might be made for their antagonism to Jesus by proposing to him a query which would, however it might be answered, lower his prestige. According to verse 10 (omitted in Codex B), these scribes and Pharisees were, if not the "witnesses" of adultery, the "accusers" ready to take the case before the highest court. Considering the long desuetude of the Law, and the impossibility of even the Sanhedrin legally inflicting the penalty of stoning, even if it were so disposed, the whole question looks like a subtle but ill-considered plot to entangle the Lord in his judgments, and to induce him to sacrifice his influence with the people. The absence of the guilty man is noteworthy (Le Joh_20:10
; Deu_22:22).


—Teacher—this woman has been taken committing adultery, in the very act. Ἐπαυτοφώρω originally meant in ipso furto, "in the very theft;" afterwards more generally in the commission of this particular sin. The burning shame and bestial bluntness of the charge make no excuse or palliation possible.


Now Moses in the Law commanded us, that such should be stoned
(or, to stone such); but what sayest thou? £ The Law (Deu_22:23
, etc.) prescribed stoning for both parties when the woman is the betrothed bride of another man, and if she make no sufficient attempt to foil the purpose of her seducer. For ordinary adultery the death penalty is left indefinite (Le Joh_20:10). It is no proof that strangulation was the method of punishment in the days of our Lord because the Talmud and Maimonides thus express it. £ Meyer concludes that the woman was a betrothed bride. This offence is, broadly speaking. "adultery" of an aggravated kind. The reference to the method of the punishment is not demonstrable proof of this, because it would be easily feasible to transfer the method of the death from the extreme case to the ordinary ease of nuptial infidelity (cf. Exo_31:14 for the punishment of unspecified death for sabbath violation (repeated Exo_35:2), interpreted of "stoning" in the special illustrative case, Num_15:32-36). This is Moses' Law—"what sayest thou?" This query involves an ascription to Jesus of the right of authoritatively interpreting the Law. thus attributing to him the functions of a new legislator. Some have objected to the bare possibility of such an appeal being made to Jesus by any species of Jewish authority. The whole context shows that the process was malicious, ironical, crafty. The entire audience knew that this law had never been accepted or applied literally; that the Sanhedrin had not enforced it; and that, if they had endeavoured to do so, the Roman power had taken from the nation the jus gladii. The question, therefore, became one of casuistry inflamed by a concrete case, and having as its ally a secret sympathy with the offenders. It was not uncommon for the rabbis to discuss the incidence of obsolete laws. Many of the glosses upon the ancient law, and laborious trifling with specific regulations of the so called oral law, turn upon customs that were absolutely impracticable under the new conditions of the Jewish life. This, however, was no mere quibble of words about possible duties. The query was put with dramatic force and in concrete form. The shame and life of a fellow creature were the materials which this eager and bloodthirsty group were utilizing for their vile purpose.


But this they said tempting him, that they might have
(whereof) to accuse him. They sought a ground of formal accusation against Jesus. This implies some court before which the charge they desired to formulate it might be brought. The precise accusation is difficult to determine, and sundry distinguished scholars, Lucke, De Wette, and Alford, declare the problem or question insoluble. Augustine has been followed by a great body of expositors, who have supposed that an affirmative reply would have been inconsistent with the gentleness and mildness of our Lord's treatment of sinners, while a negative reply would at once have given them a charge to bring before the Sanhedrin of such a relaxation of the Law as would endanger his position as a Rabbi, still more as the Prophet like unto Moses. Almost all critics agree as to the use to which Christ's enemies were ready to put a negative reply, and therefore they coincide with Augustine in this part of his explanation. But the interpretation put upon the affirmative reply would not furnish the ground of any accusation before any court. An apparent inconsistency would be no civil charge, and would have no weight before any legal tribunal. The condemnation of adulterers to death by stoning would have been Christ's allowance of the letter of the Law to stand. The Romans could take no umbrage at this until the act had been carried into execution. It may probably have been known that, let the Sanhedrin record what verdict and punishment they pleased, the Roman magistrates would not have carried it into capital execution. How, then, could the scribes and Pharisees have carried an accusation or information before a Roman tribunal? The solution was suggested by Baumgarten-Crusius and Luthardt, and adopted by Moulton, that Christ was asked to say "Aye" or "No" to an instant, tumultuous act of vengeance upon the adulteress. Let him say "No," they would accuse him of deliberately ignoring and repudiating the authority of the Law of Moses; let him say "Yes," they were ready to stone the woman there and then, and subsequently to throw the responsibility of such violation of Roman jurisdiction upon the Lord Jesus as its instigator. Meyer's objection, that no question at all had been put to Christ on this supposition, is not clear. It was this. Clearly apprehending that adultery is a capital offence, and that there was a case before them upon which no doubt could be thrown, they ask him, with the stones in their hands, "Shall we kill this damsel or not?" If he says "No," then they were prepared to denounce the Prophet for his dogmatic trifling with the Law; if "Yes," they are ready to do the deed, and fasten upon Jesus all the shame and guilt of the proceeding before the Roman governor. It was a very analogous problem to that concerning the tribute money recorded in Mat_22:1-46
. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger was writing on the ground ( εἰς τὴν γὴν , into the earth). Some manuscripts, E, G, and about ninety cursives, add, μὴ προσποιούμενος , "not troubling himself with them"—"as though he beard them not" (Authorized version). £ This act is unparalleled in Scripture, even if the custom is still occasionally practised in the East. Mr. O'Neil, in his instructive volume, 'Palestine Explored,' records a curious instance of a youth, who, after playing some practical joke upon an old man, feigned utter ignorance of the surprise and cry of the old man by instantaneously assuming the position of one entirely abstracted from all sublunary thought, in fact, by sitting on the ground and scribbling with his finger in the dust, "as though he heard and saw nothing of what had happened." Such an intention can only be attributed to our Lord on the understanding that it was a current method of indicating an indisposition to have anything to say to the intruders. He was seated; he turned aside from the excited crowd, and by a significant symbol expressed his displeasure at their proceedings, and his perception of their craftiness. Conjecture has been busy, but vainly, with the inquiry as to what our Lord wrote on the ground, and some have urged (Godet) that he wrote the memorable sentence which follows, as a judge might write the verdict upon the case submitted to him. This is not probable, and it would detract from the symbolism of the act.

Joh_8:7, Joh_8:8

But when they continued asking him; he lifted up
himself, £ and said unto them, He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and with his finger £ was writing on the ground. The imperfect tense of ἔγραφεν , twice repeated, seems more in harmony with the symbolic meaning of the act than with the record on his part of any special sentence of his supreme wisdom. Christ refused to act the part of the civil magistrate, or to countenance stormy outbreak of murderous passion against this flagrant sinner, to save himself from their bitter malice. He rose, when the appearance of indifference could not be maintained, and at once arrested the outbreak of their unscrupulous fury without presuming to repudiate the letter of the Law. He lifted the discussion from the judicial to the moral sphere. He does not mean that none but the sinless can condemn, or pronounce verdict upon the guilty; but he calls for special freedom from similar offence on the part of any man who should wish or dare to display his own purity by taking part in the execution. The narrative would not suggest that every one of these accusers had been in his time guilty of like offence, but ἀναμάρτητος must at least mean that he was free from the desires which might lead to the commission of such sin, and Christ calls for inward saintliness and freedom from all irregular propension. He calls for personal chastity as the only possible moral condition for precipitately executing this ancient and severe law. The question before the crowd (asked so craftily) was, not whether Moses' Law was to stand or not, but whether these particular men, with their foul hearts and spurious zeal, were or were not at that particular moment to encounter the displeasure of Roman power by dashing the stones at the head of this poor trembling creature of sin and shame; whether they were morally competent to condemn to immediate death, and carry the verdict into execution. Before this tremendous summons from the Holy One, conscience could sleep no longer. The hypocrisy of the entire manoeuvre stared them in the face.


And they when they heard it
(being convicted by their £ own conscience), they went out one by one. Their conscience convinced them that the spirit of the Law is greater than its letter. The phrase expressing the action of conscience was probably an explanatory and true gloss, which accounted for the sudden change of front. It was a proof of the ally which Divine law has within the human breast. The whole crowd, rather than the humbled woman, is condemned, but self-condemned and silent. This event speaks for the moral sense which had been paralyzed rather than obliterated in this people. (The expression, "one by one," εἱς κὰθ εἱς , in which εἱς is treated as indeclinable, is occasionally found in later Greek, but only once in the New Testament (Mar_14:19
), is not in D, but in several of the codices and cursives, and it is retained in R.T.) The slow rather than simultaneous disappearance of the gang of accusers is a highly dramatic touch, and the remaining clause, beginning from the eldest, even unto the last, heightens the impression. The phrase πρεσβυτέρων need not refer to office, but to age, and the "last" need not necessarily mean the youngest, but those that were left when the most responsible men found that they had carried their question too far, and had retired. And Jesus was left alone; i.e. so far as these accusers were concerned. The multitudes who had gathered round him were still waiting for his words (see Joh_8:2). This fact is involved in the substance of the narrative, whether the pericope belongs to the Gospel of John or not. And the woman where she was, £ in the midst of the assembly that remained, more likely cowering in shame and mortal fear than standing brazen-faced or daring before that awful Presence. These two, "Misery and Pity," face one another, and in the presence of a multitude of disciples and other listeners, Misery waits for Pity to speak—for perfect holiness and perfect mercy to do its will. There is One seated there who is without sin. He is at liberty, on his own showing, to condemn, and even to execute his fierce displeasure against a sin which he had, in his great inaugural discourse, charged upon the ill-regulated desires and evil glances of men.

Joh_8:10, Joh_8:11

And Jesus lifted up himself,
£ and said to her, Where are they? (these thy accusers). £ The question (with or without the additions) implied that our Lord had not seen the obvious effect of his words upon the accusing party. There was no triumph in his eye, no flush of victory over his enemies. Hath no one condemned thee? pronounced upon thee the sentence of condemnation? Has no one declared that thine is a case of stoning?—No one? Then the judgment has yet to be uttered, if it be left with him. Shall he cast the first stone; and leave the multitude, having tasted blood, to complete the terrible work? She said, No one, Lord. And he said (to her), Neither do I condemn thee. He had not come to condemn, but to save. A time is coming when the Father would commit all judgment into his hands—when his awful word, "I know you not," or "Depart from me," will be the signal of doom. But now his mission is to heal, not to wound; to comfort, not to punish; to reveal the heart of God, not to execute the crude judgments of men; to soothe, not to stone. He does not say, "Be of good courage; thy sins are forgiven." he does not say, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; Her faith hath saved her;" but, Go, and henceforth sin no more. £ He justifies the position that he will not quench the smoking flax nor break the bruised reed. He condemns the sin, but for a while spares the sinner. He refuses to set up his judgment against Moses, or take into his human hands the administration of civil or political law. He does not say, "Go in peace," or "Go to peace;" but from this moment, this awful "now" ( ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ), "sin no more." The reticence and abruptness of the narrator are not like the style of apocryphal writers. Such a narrative could not have been invented by the second-century disciples, by docetic Ebionites, by the ordinary fabricators of apocryphal literature. If the text is so varied, conflicting, and ill-sustained as to envelop it in doubt; if the place in the gospel narrative be uncertain; if the use of a few words suggests a non-Johannine source; and if the position between Joh_7:52
and Joh_8:12 be difficult to accept;—there is yet nothing inconsistent with the Johannine teaching, or the sublime and unapproachable originality of the character of the Johannine Christ. The narrative will remain for all time an illustration of the blending of judgment with mercy, which has received its highest expression in the life work and Person of the Christ.

Verses 8:12-9:41

Christ the Light of the world, with consequent discussions.


The solemn and formal assertion. If the passage we have just reviewed were an integral portion of the Gospel, and in its right place, the reference to the breaking of the morning, the first eye of the sun over the purple hills suddenly transforming their dark outline into the aspect of semitransparent jewellery, and their misty hollows into luminous folds of light, would be the obvious meaning or reason of the new imagery which he adopted: "I am the Light of the world." If, however, the entire pericope is not in its correct place, we must link Joh_8:12-20
with the discourses of the previous chapter. On the great day of the feast, in obvious allusion to the mystic drawing of water in Siloam, and transference of it to the temple court, Jesus had said, "If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink." Many critics imagine that now he refers to the habit, on the first evening of the Feast of Tabernacles, and probably, though not surely, on the other evenings, of kindling the golden candelabra in the court of the women, giving the signal for a brilliant illumination which was visible over the city and surrounding hills. As the water was a symbolic memorial of the smiting of the rock, so the sudden blaze in the temple court was a similar reminder of the fiery pillar in the wilderness, and commentators have found in such ceremonial and memories an occasion for our Lord's words. Surely they go much deeper, and have a wider signification. The creation of light by the Word of the Lord, and St. John's own statement in the prologue that in the Logos was life, and the Life was the light, and the Light shone into the darkness before the Incarnation, is a more adequate interpretation. "The Word was made flesh," and this was the grand occasion for the revelation of the glory of God. "We beheld his glory," says the apostle, "that of an only begotten Son of the Father." The gospel narrative supplies the material which induced the evangelist to preface it with imposing words. The life of men produced by him who is Life lightens the world with its glory. He is the Light of the world, because he is the Source of its life. This inversion of the sequences belonging to modern science and even to Mosaic cosmogony, partly shows what is meant by "Light," and the Light of life. Life in the Johannine thought is Divine blessedness, the very essence of Divine activity and essential being. The Father hath it in himself, and he has given to the Son to be similarly self-complete. He can confer this life on others, communicating his own perfection to some of the creatures of his hand, even bestowing upon them some of the essential elements of his own being. There are varied emanations and forth-puttings of this life—vegetable, animal, psychical, spiritual—and in each ease the life becomes a luminous source of direction, a self-revelatory force, a light. The highest Life of all is the brightest Light—the true Lamp of all our seeing (see Joh_1:9 and Joh_11:9, Joh_11:10). Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world," illuminating its darkness far more impressively than temple fireworks, or even pillars of radiant cloud, nay, more than the sunbeams themselves; and that because he was the Holder and Giver of life. Again therefore Jesus spake to them, saying, I am the Light of the world. The "again" may point back to the discourses of the previous chapter, or to the disturbance of the audience and the teaching of that early morning. If it were the morning of the departure of thousands from the holy city, peculiar appropriateness is felt in the continuation: He that followeth me shall not (by any means) walk in the darkness—shall not start off along the defiles of his pilgrimage in the murk of the night and the heavy hiding mists, but he shall, in my companionship, have the light of life. My follower will see his way. Those who have entered into living fellowship with the living One awake from all death slumber and darkness, "walk in the light, as he is in the light;" "become light in the Lord;" "being made manifest are light;" being with the Lord become φωστήρες , torch bearers to the rest; and, more than all (Mat_5:14), are themselves "the light of the world." The Messiah had been anticipated as "Light," as the Light of Gentiles as well as Jews (Isa_42:6; Isa_49:6; Mal_4:2; cf. Luk_2:32, where Simeon had caught the spirit of the ancient prophets). Edersheim (quoting 'Bemidb. R.,' 3 and 15, and 'Yalkut on Isa_60:1-22'): "The rabbis speak of the original light in which God had wrapped himself as in a garment, which was so brilliant that it could not shine by day because it would have dimmed the light of the sun. From this light that of sun, moon, and stars had been kindled. It was now reserved under the throne of God for the Messiah, in whose days it would shine once more." (The Logos was, in the language of Philo, the Archetype and the Outflow of the light.) But the entire meaning of the manifestation of the Divine life in the Messiah is the diffusion of it in others. All Christ's teaching about himself has this practical and ethical bearing. The ἕξει —"will have," "will be in possession of," light—harmonizes with all the wonderful teaching which blends the Christ and his followers in one entity, "I in them, they in me," of Joh_15:1-27., 17.; and Paul's "Christ formed in you," "Christ liveth in me" (Col_1:27; Gal_1:20). "Light," says Augustine, "reveals other things and its own very self, opens healthy eyes, and is its own witness."


The refusal of the Pharisees to accept this claim on his unsupported testimony, and Christ's reply.


The fact that the Pharisees respond shows that the circumstances of the previous day are changed. They have been the secret and organized opponents of Jesus throughout. The synoptic Gospels show with what perverse ingenuity and doggedness they followed him from place to place, venturing to assail him through his disciples, through his omissions of ritual, and by reason of his Divine freedom in interpreting the sacred Scripture; nor did they refrain from attributing his miracles to the power of the evil one (Mat_9:1-38
.). They were the nucleus of the bitter opposition to him current among the rulers in Jerusalem, and they reveal here a reminiscence of the discussion which had taken place in the temple or its neighbourhood after the healing of the impotent man (Joh_5:31, etc.). There the Lord had said that if he bore witness of himself, without any corroboration, his witness, thus isolated and deprived of evidence, would, on the ordinary grounds of a prima facie testimony, not be true; but be went on to say, further, that his testimony was variously corroborated by the manifest presence and cooperation of the Father. Forgetting thus his own vindication of himself—which many months of varied proof of his personality had confirmed for candid minds—they assail his comparison of himself to the Light of the world, with: Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness—according to the canon he had himself admitted and supplemented; but they forgetting the supplement, add—(thy witness) is not true. "If thou art simply making such exalted claims as this, in forgetfulness of the well known maxim about self-witness, we take the liberty to dispute and reject it."


Jesus answered and said to them, Even if I bear witness concerning myself
—in case I bear testimony, I, being who and what I am, and surrounded by Divine attestations, charged with a consciousness of a whole army and legion of approving witnesses, and, above all, with the Father's own testimony to me—my witness is true—I satisfy in superlative fashion your own demand and also my own conceded test—because I know οἶδα , with clear undisturbed self-consciousness I know, absolutely, invincibly, with perfect possession of the past and future—whence I came, and whither I am going. The whole of our Christian verities turn upon the consciousness by Jesus of that which lay before and after that human life of his. He embraced the two eternities in his inward self-consciousness. That "whence" and that "whither," with all their infinite sublimity and solemnity, give adequate evidence and sufficient weight to his personal claim to be the Light of the world, because he is the temporary Embodiment of the eternal life which was with the Father, but is manifest to men (cf. 1Jn_1:4
). But ye know not whence I come—am ever coming forth to you with Divine judgment and calls of mercy—nor £ whither I am going. "Neither the one nor the other;" not that Christ had not repeatedly told them in various and most expressive form. They could neither grasp the origin of his Personality, nor the method in which, as Messiah, through suffering, through an equation of his lot with man's (through the form of a slave and the death of a cross), he was doing the Father's will (cf. notes, Joh_7:27, Joh_7:28; Joh_9:29).


You judge
i.e. you condemn me, you repudiate my claim to be the "Living Water" and the "Light of the world"—after the flesh ( κατὰ τὴν σάρκα ), according to the outward appearance; you look at my mere humanity. Our Lord did not accuse them of the fleshly, blinded, unjust judgments of unregenerate men. The article τὴν , and not the well known formula κατὰ σάρκα , prevents such an interpretation. He rather reasons and pleads with them. He suggests that they might, if they would, look below the surface of his flesh. Tim evangelist, who reports the substance of this discussion, has written. "The Word was made flesh." So if the incarnate Word had always been judged "after the flesh," we should never have seen his glory, nor recognized the nobler part of his Personality. I judge no man. Numerous efforts have been made to find the underlying modification of this assertion. Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril, and many moderns add, "after the flesh," or "as you do" (the latter is the suggestion of Lucke, which, as Meyer says, comes to the same thing), or "now," pointing on to the actual assumption of his judiciary powers at the consummation of all things, and contrasting his earthly ministry of mercy with the ultimate majesty of his judgment throne (Westcott). Storr, Moulton, Godet. suggest "I by myself"—I alone, independently of the Father, judge no man. Meyer rejects all these attempts to add to the text, and maintains that our Lord is claiming the lofty position of Saviour rather than Judge. He came with that as his primary aim, purpose, intent; to heal, not to wound; to save, not to destroy; to give time for repentance, not to hurry sinners to their doom; to illumine, not to cover with darkness. Yet even Meyer admits a practical exception of great importance to be involved in the next clause, which does not differ from Westcott's interpretation.


And yet
(the καὶ δέ , equivalent to atque etiam—so Meyer, Luthardt, etc.—"This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light;" "The light shineth, and the darkness comprehendeth it not." The prince of this world is judged by the simple uplifting of the Son of God; and so, though he did not come to judge or condemn, yet judgments did, by the very necessity of his nature, proceed from him) even if I judge—if by the mere contact of his purity and love and healing power with those who will not come to him for life, judgment is pronounced—my judgment is true; £ i.e. trustworthy. The reading of Tischendorf, ἀληθινή , would mean that it "answers to the fundamental conception of a judgment." This thought would make the apparent paradox of the sentence more difficult to resolve. Because I am net alone, but (or, because, on the other hand) I and the Father who sent me, together deliver this judgment; i.e. it does not rest on my mere human consciousness, on what you who judge after the flesh might suppose it would rest, but on the eternal decisions of him who gave me my commission. The Father is in me and with me. I think the Father's thoughts and do the Father's will. Christ's testimony concerning himself, his implicit judgments on human nature, his indirect condemnation of the whole crowd, by his gracious refusal to condemn the sinful woman to immediate doom, all issue forth with the sign manual of Almighty God, with whom and in whom he dwells as the only begotten Son.


Having laid down the principle on which he was justified in maintaining the truthfulness of the assumption which the Pharisees impugned, he proceeded to vindicate, for these Jewish legalists, its agreement with the very letter of the Law. He adopted here the identical ground which was taken by him when first of all he claimed this fellowship with the Father. Yea, and in your Law it has been written, that the witness of two men is true. Many have said that here Jesus puts himself on one side as in hostility to the Law; Baur and some others plead, from the very phrase "your Law," that Jesus could not have used such an expression, and that John could not have recorded it; and Reuss urges that this expression agrees with the "standpoint of the gospel,which aims at lowering and degrading the old dispensation." Nothing could be less in harmony with the facts (see Introduction, § VII. 2). Even Meyer says, "The words are anti-Judaic … though not antinomian." Surely our Lord was simply appealing to his bitter enemies to recognize the application of the principle found in their own Law, of which they were continually making a proud boast. He simply goes to common ground of argument, and is ready to show that even the letter of the Law sustains his claim for the sufficient reason that he is not alone, but the Father is manifestly with him. Just as he never said "our Father" when addressing his disciples, but either "my Father" or "your Father" (Joh_20:17
), because God is not the Father of men in the full sense in which he was Father to the only begotten Son; so he could not say "our Law" or "Moses gave us the Law" without derogating from the unique relation he sustained to the Law (compare Paul's language, Rom_2:17, Rom_2:21, Rom_2:23). The quotation from Deuteronomy £ is not verbally exact; it even carries the statement of Scripture to a broader generalization, and is so worded that it applies to the case in point, by carrying the position to a legitimate consequence—"the witness of two men is true." By using the word "men," Christ suggests the contrast between two men on one side and the God-Man and the Father on the other. Lightfoot ('Horae Hebraicae') quotes 'Rosh-Shanah,' 1.2, 3, "that two persons well known must testify to the supreme court that they had seen the new moon! If these were unknown persons, they must bring proof that they were credible witnesses." Upon these common principles of jurisprudence the Lord was willing, in purely Jewish fashion, to rest his claim.


I am the
(one) that bears witness concerning myself—I have said it, and abide by it, and I know what I say and how fully I am fulfilling these words—and the Father that sent me heareth witness concerning me. His words reflected his own Divine self-consciousness. They bore one witness to his unique position. They brought out the inner thoughts of Christ, and revealed the life that was light. The word, the speech, of Christ was a fire kindled which would never be extinguished—it was the formal utterance of the eternal reality but it did not stand alone. The Father that sent him, by a long chain of events and revelations, by miracles and mighty energies, by the conference of the spirit of conviction upon the minds that gave candid attention to his verbal testimony, by the providential concurrence of facts with prophetic anticipation, was bearing witness concerning him. The argument is sufficient, so soon as we admit the terms used by Jesus, so soon as we recognize the ideas of the Son of God and of the Father, both alike revealed in the Person of Christ. We can understand, and to some extent sympathize with, the perplexity of the Pharisees. Later experiences have made it easier for us to understand the testimony of the Father, the presence and witness of God over and above the testimony of men and coincident with it (cf. Joh_15:27
; Heb_2:4). All great spiritual revivals have given ample proof of the twofold testimony (see 1Th_2:13; Rom_8:17, where Paul, the writer of the Epistle, shows himself familiar with this "Johannine" thought; cf. Heb_2:4).


They said to him
, in angry, wilful irony, Where is thy Father?—that he may bear to thee the witness which thou art appropriating. "Thou hast freed thyself from the charge of bearing unsupported testimony to thyself, by assuming the coordinate testimony of thy Father? Let thy Father manifest himself!" There is no need to explain this of the absence or insignificance of the earthly father of Jesus, or to suppose that they looked for some human attestation of such a kind. They rather scoffed at his claim of unique relation to the Father, and asked with mockery," Where is he?" not "Who or what is he?" What proof has he given of any special relation to thee? Jesus answered this taunt with sublime patience and pity, with distress at the resolute and judicial blindness they were fastening upon themselves: Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also. Another stupendous utterance, implying the most intimate relation between his own personality and the Father's. Any fair or adequate knowledge of himself must reveal to them that he is in the Father and the Father in him; must bring forth to their consciences the overshadowing presence, the Divine glory. "You are wrapping yourself in impenetrable mists; you are refusing the light of life, and all the evidence given to you that I am the Light of the world. You do not see less recondite truths, nor perceive ideas far more elementary still; you cannot, in your spiritual blindness, apprehend the outline of my human character. If you had done this, you would have known my Father at least enough to prevent the utterance of so crude and disheartening a query. You know me not: why should I talk to you? All this ministry of mine has