Newsflash: The Adulteress is Dead

It has become a cliche that, if a Christian speaks of holding a woman to account for her adultery, then another Christian will chime in with the story of the adulteress who is brought before Jesus by the pharisees.[1]

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

And with a flourish of contextless Scripture, the conversation is settled along these lines: Anyone who ignores a woman’s adultery[2] is like Jesus. Anyone who has the bad taste to bring it up is a dirty pharisee. I’d like to share with you some context; some light shining forth from the dark spaces between the lines. But before I do that, I want to clear away one bit of false yet commonly believed context.

It is often bawled by the second Christian that there obviously was a man who was caught in adultery with the woman, yet he is not brought before Jesus. This, the second Christian will say, proves that the pharisees were misogynist pigs, and, quid pro quo, wrong no matter what.

It’s more likely that the truth is that the woman was brought because no one likes to see a woman punished. If Jesus had done so it would have lowered his estimation in the eyes of the masses. Jesus was known for healing, gentleness, and forgiveness. Emotionally, the rightness or wrongness of the law is almost always beside the point to people. The crowds would have disdained it viscerally. That’s why the pharisees thought it was such a good trap: If he kills her, they could say how generous they have always been to overlook such poor creatures as this adulteress; not like that brute Jesus. If he lets her go, then they can say Jesus is not serious about God’s commands.

That leads into the second point of context: The pharisees did not believe in God’s commandments. One thing you’ll notice about the Jewish religious leaders is that–with one notable exception–they never get their hands dirty. If they believed in God’s law, and if they believed Jesus was just some backwater hillbilly with the gift of gab, then they would have stoned that woman. They didn’t. To them it was just politics; control tactics for maintaining their power and prestige. Jesus means it when He calls the pharisees and sadducees  hypocrites. Even when they wanted to get kill Jesus they had the Romans do it.

You may be wondering who was that notable exception. It was Saul of Tarsus; who presided over the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and many more persecutions of the first Christians. Saul was a true believer who was willing to stone people. So God chose Saul to be His missionary, changed his name to Paul, and then used Paul to change the world. Paul, like the Romans, was a man of action. And like Paul, Rome was quickly converted. Their salvation makes sense. It was Romans who performed the ultimate Passover sacrifice and painted a wooden post with the Lamb’s blood; albeit in ignorance.

The third point of context is that rebuke without condemnation–without punishment–is gentle and loving. It is no favor to the sinner to allow her to go on in sin. She needed to be told that she stood in danger of the penalty of death. We all do. When we respond to a non-threatening (i.e., no punishment to follow) statement of real sin by using Scripture as an excuse, then we are bearing false witness against our neighbor. The Christian who uses John 8:1-11 to quash any pronouncement of sin becomes a stumbling block to his neighbors; both witness and the sinner. That Christians is fundamentally misunderstanding the righteous nature of Jesus, of God. Jesus did not nullify His law; his judgment of adultery. He reserved it.

Which brings us to the last brushstrokes of context: His reservation of judgment came to an end and that adulteress is dead. Our Lord does not–cannot!–reserve His judgment forever, and no one is snatched from the hand of God. He is a holy and righteous God and that woman was–like everyone else and like all of us will be–put to death. She did not get off the hook for her sins, and He Who is Without Sin will cast the killing stone at sinners; which is all of us. That’s why we need to repent and be born again; so that after that death which satisfies our righteous God’s judgment we can be raised to new life with Christ. The second Christian is wrong to say that Jesus just lets her walk away forever.

[1] This is something I’ve intended to write for some time, yet kept forgetting.

[2] It’s an observation of mine that I’ve never heard this in reverse; I’ve never heard a male adulterer defended under the rubric of John 8. That’s a curious thing, as the sort of person most likely to use John 8 as a conversation-ending rebuttal is very often the same sort of person that clings to the idea of equality of the sexes.

Advertisements

26 thoughts on “Newsflash: The Adulteress is Dead

  1. @CC
    TLDR: We’ll all die. No one can escape death (except Elijah) and only through salvation in Christ we can rise again.

    So does it mean that being fixated over what Jesus wrote in the sand is also missing the wood from the trees?

    There is also the footnote about the apparent “weak manuscript” claim that surrounds this passage.

  2. And Jesus said unto her, (1) Neither do I condemn thee: (2) go, and sin no more

    Well, the churchians are saying what is true: we don’t need to condemn. But they miss the part about correcting behavior. They don’t talk about go and sin no more.

    Go and sin no more = don’t divorce your spouse and go back to them.

    That’s the hardest part.

  3. Let us not forget that while castigating the Pharisees Jesus wrote some things in the sand during that episode, gentlemen. Sometime during that writing He stated, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” and the accusers thus left. Though mere speculation on my part, I’m pretty confident that He was writing the names of women that the accusers had themselves committed the same sin that they were accusing the adulteress of.

    What the Pharisees were doing was thusly a “no-no.” Tis not proper to accuse others when you are guilty of the same crime yourself. They were “Hypocrites and Whited Sepulchers.” Read the Law.

    [CC: Welcome John.]

  4. Pingback: Me so Holy: Evangelicals Love You Long Time | Things that We have Heard and Known

  5. Cane, love your blog. Shared your post with my Pastor and he offered this theological critique. (Concerning the death of the adulteress.)
    “John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

    God leaves the temporal consequences of Sin is place. The wages of Sin is death. The adulteress dies a sinner’s death. But her death does not satisfy God’s judgment. Only Christ’s death does that. And we have been joined to His death in Baptism through faith.

    The author of this statement does not understand the “simul” of being in Adam and in Christ at the same time.

  6. @Stryker

    Welcome, and thanks.

    Consequences and wages, which are in God’s hands, are a type of judgment–a temporal judgment. The judgment that Jesus speaks of in John 5:24 is eternal judgment.

    But her death does not satisfy God’s judgment.

    Satisfy in the sense that it completes it? No. Satisfies in the sense that it is required for justice? Yes.

    By necessity pastors read a lot of Bible commentaries and other theological works, and so they have a tendency to get themselves tangled up in theological terms when they speak to or among the laity; like a lawyer among people on the street. When he reads the words “satisfies”, and “judgment” he reads something very specific that no one outside of theological circles could even know to intend.

    I’m not a theologian or a pastor. I have no training, and I’ve never read a commentary. I don’t interpret Mysteries. For example of what I mean by capital ‘M’ Myseries: I wholeheartedly accept the Trinity, but I would not have proposed it myself. Nor do I expound on how salvation works; what levers and metaphysics are being pulled and evoked. I just know that God is just and loving and so He must satisfy both those aspects, that the wages of sin is death, that we all die, and we are all sinners.

    Let me give you another example: Suppose a man said we must die to self and be born again. If a theologian happened, through some freak accident, to have not read those words in the Bible, he’d warn that whoever said that was preaching something like heresy. He’d continue that it is not our death, but Christ’s sacrifice, that bring’s life.

    The author is fine not wrangling himself with a ‘simul’, but is content to speak in a way common people understand.

  7. Saturday, October 23, 2010
    “We Shall Not All Die”

    Dear Friends of “Dial Daily Bread,”

    One of the most popular axioms that many people have on their lips, even the most righteous who say they wait for the second coming of Christ, is this: “Death awaits all of us, everybody has to die.” You see the statement over and over in church publications. It’s just taken for granted everywhere.

    But the Bible squarely and directly contradicts it.

    “We shall not all die,” says the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51.

    Then he explains more minutely what will happen, in 1 Thessalonians 4: “We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (vss. 15-17).

    Yes, there will be some people who will be “alive and remain” at the coming of Christ, who will be ready to meet Him, and who will be translated.

    Obviously they will have “overcome, even as [Christ] overcame” (Rev. 3:21). Although they are living in the same “flesh” and “nature” all of Adam’s descendants have always lived in, they will have “condemned sin in the flesh,” even as Christ did (cf. Rom. 8:3).

    If everybody has to die on and on, century after century, and millennium after millennium, how could Christ win the “great controversy” with Satan? This nearly universal axiom is not good gospel news. It’s just not truth.http://dialdailybread.blogspot.com/2010/10/we-shall-not-all-die.html

  8. @ Cane: “Which brings us to the last brushstrokes of context: His reservation of judgment came to an end and that adulteress is dead. Our Lord does not–cannot!–reserve His judgment forever, and no one is snatched from the hand of God. He is a holy and righteous God and that woman was–like everyone else and like all of us will be–put to death. She did not get off the hook for her sins, and He Who is Without Sin will cast the killing stone at sinners; which is all of us. That’s why we need to repent and be born again; so that after that death which satisfies our righteous God’s judgment we can be raised to new life with Christ. ”

    It was to answer your assertion that everyone must die. God disagrees. His righteous judgement does not require your or my physical death.

    And yes, there are plenty of 2000 year old people alive and well and walking around in Heaven.

  9. I’ve got a question that I don’t know how to answer.

    I’ve got a friend who’s into a very…. let’s just say “casual”… church. I walked out after seeing them get a younger woman up to teach/preach. I told my friend I did so since it’s rather unBiblical for women to teach in church. In addition, the pastor refuses to teach any doctrine whatsoever and that’s the second reason I left. No Jesus judgment, no wrath of God, just lovey dovey, everything’s fine stuff.

    He accused me of being judgmental. “You can’t go around judging others like that.” I pointed to Scripture and that was my retort but this whole fear of judging really bothers me about Christians now. Why aren’t we allowed to judge others and to refuse our presence amongst others we would rather not be around?

  10. @Bobbye

    It was to answer your assertion that everyone must die. God disagrees. His righteous judgement does not require your or my physical death.

    God may certainly do what He wills with His creation, but His creation proclaims His glory and righteousness. When God has an author of the BIble write that man (as in all mankind) was as grass and flowers that die–was He disagreeing with Himself? Was He lying about Elijah and Enoch?

    And yes, there are plenty of 2000 year old people alive and well and walking around in Heaven.

    Let me be more specific: Are there any 2,000 year-old people alive and walking around on Earth?

    To make it a little more personal: How do you explain your presence here? Are not truly a Christian, and therefore that is why you remain? The verses you quoted at me said that those who are dead will rise from it first, and then into the air before those who are taken alive. By no means shall those who are asleep precede the living, Bobbye. Isn’t that what it says, if we take it as if we know what Paul is talking about?

  11. Hebrews 9: (27?)

    And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…

    Paul wrote repeatedly about his impending physical death. This is the first time I have ever heard of anyone proclaiming that there is no physical death for the Christian.

    Maybe there is something new under the sun.

  12. @ Elspeth: “Paul wrote repeatedly about his impending physical death. This is the first time I have ever heard of anyone proclaiming that there is no physical death for the Christian”
    Where did I say that? Hebrews 9 in context:
    24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

    25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

    26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

    27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

    The subject was concerning whether Christ has to die over and over for the sins of His people as many Protestants erroneously believe the Catholics practice in the Mass.

    @ Cane: Are you angry? The idea that not all persons will have a physical death has been accepted Christian teaching in almost all denominations since the beginning. How am I not a Christian because I accept what has always been believed in the Church? This is your blog so if you do not want some one to comment here why don’t you just say that?

  13. @Bobbye

    No, I’m not angry. I think my combative tone led you to misread my rhetorical question. When I asked:

    “How do you explain your presence here? Are not truly a Christian, and therefore that is why you remain?

    I meant “here” as in Earth. Since you are obviously on Earth and a Christian, then whatever Paul is speaking of in 1 Thess 4 is more mysterious than what we are presented with, and with what you presented. No, I was not saying that you are not welcome here, nor was I saying you are not a Christian.

    The idea that not all persons will have a physical death has been accepted Christian teaching in almost all denominations since the beginning.

    Yes, and before as we know from Elijah and Enoch. Similarly, we don’t “believe” in reincarnation, but there is a sort of reincarnation with John the Baptist. Those–Enoch, Elijah/John the Baptist (who did end up dying), and possibly whoever Paul is referring to in 1 Thess.–are exceptional situations which should not rule our teachings.

    It was good of Elspeth to bring up Hebrews 9, because I think that speaks to what Stryker’s pastor thought he smelled; that our deaths are necessary sacrifices. That’s not what I said or meant. Old Adam has to die, almost always, because he is unregenerate. What about Enoch and others? Well, what about them. I’ll bet Enoch was surprised, too. How are they regenerated? I have no idea. I don’t even know how those who die are regenerated.

  14. @ Cane: Glad you are not angry and thanks for the continued invite. 1Corinthians15 is a good start on how they are regenerated.

  15. @Bobbye

    And thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

    I Corinthians 15 is a good start of what the regeneration will entail, but still not how it’s done. That’s ok with me: I don’t have to know. I think that is what Paul is getting at when he calls out those who ask how can it be that the dead shall be raised.

  16. @Cane

    Question for you on a related topic.

    My older kids an I have been reading through Leviticus, and the last few nights we’ve covered some rough chapters: 18-21. Those are the ones that command the Israelites to not screw their mothers, sisters, a mother and daughter at the same time, animals and other such perversions. Lovely stuff. Oh, and no cursing your parents.

    So, here’s my two-part question. Why did God require execution for those sins back then? Why doesn’t He require execution for those sins now? Keeping in mind, of course, they’re all still sins.

    What do you think?

  17. Well, that’s two questions so I’d better address you both.

    @Sean

    Why aren’t we allowed to judge others and to refuse our presence amongst others we would rather not be around?

    I’m thinking about doing a post on your question. I’m not ignoring you. In simple terms, when Jesus says “Do not judge lest ye be judged”, he is speaking about the full process of judgment. The full process includes the punishment phase. What your acquaintances are saying is that we should to ignore discernment; that we should be imprudent. First of all, if they were right then they sin to have judged you as intolerant.

    More importantly, the gist is to restrain yourself from punishing others or pursuing your right to retribution through the law and flesh; just as forgiveness has been extended to us. There are reiterations of this throughout the Bible: “Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us.”; “Turn the other cheek”; “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”; etc.

    Warning someone against false teachings (female pastors, etc.) and removing yourself from willful sinners (Paul says to flee temptation, and James says to keep ourselves holy. Holy means “separate”.) is not a sin, and it’s not judging them.

    @Oscar

    So, here’s my two-part question. Why did God require execution for those sins back then? Why doesn’t He require execution for those sins now? Keeping in mind, of course, they’re all still sins.

    There is more than one reason, and this is just the thoughts off the top of my head.

    The first thing I would say is that putting something or someone to death is not putting them beyond God’s reach. He has been raising people from the dead for a long time. In other words: It’s not the ultimate punishment. Hell is the ultimate punishment. So, the real problem with murder isn’t that the other person is dead; although that is an unjustness. It’s that God is life and love, and the murderer has committed treason and taken up with death and hate; with Satan. It’s the murderer who makes killing evil.

    In the same way killing for love (for defense of another, or out of loyalty to legitimate authority, for examples) is not murder, and does not soil the killer. We see this with King David and St. Paul; both of whom were ruthless in their zeal. God honored that zeal. He made David king, and He dealt with Paul’s misunderstanding and turned him into a profoundly powerful missionary.

    There’s definitely an aura of seriousness about death that is not able to be ignored, and by which God instructs us. Because we have finite knowledge, death sees, hears, feels, tastes, and smells like the utter end. I think of it along these lines: If Hell is true death, then physical death is a spanking, a warning shot, a glimpse of the horrors that await us if we do not choose to repent and follow God. We have faith that God can save us, and so I have faith that no one is sent to Hell that God has not said should have that sentence. We can’t “cut short” someone’s opportunity to repent.

    Keeping those thoughts in mind, we can see the executions as (among other things) sacrifices unto death for everyone else’s instruction; with the aggrieving party fittingly taking up the more harrowing role, and the executioners taking up the slightly less pleasant duty. Since Christ is the one and only sacrifice needed, that makes blood sacrifices more than irrelevant.

    Another thing is that in the beginning the law was not given to men. Adam and Eve just lived with God and did what He said. Anyone who has enjoyed working and playing with their children can imagine how good that must have been. The mistakes and sins of children during those times are fixed, taught from, and soon forgotten.

    After usurping God’s authority and eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, He showed us that each of the other ways of living were the foolish imaginings of idiots. They could not sustain life, nor did they satisfy us. Like Adam and the animals, all manner of earthly things that God had made were marched before mankind, but no suitable love was found. Patriarchy and familial piety alone was not enough. Benevolent technocrats were not enough (the Egyptians, for example). The Ten Commandments was not enough. The law was not enough. Territorial boundaries were not enough. Calendars were not enough. Freedom and anarchy were not enough. Judges were not enough. Kings were not enough. Prophets were not enough… Nothing but obedient faith in God can satisfy the longing for obedient faith in God.

    Because God is so incredibly smart, and incredibly good, He was able to make all those good things–that are good for us–, while also showing they were never meant to rule man, and also serving as symbols that point to Christ. Those good things, like the animals, were made to be ruled by man and man ruled by God, through faith. In Christ that is achieved. Now that Christ has redeemed us, the elementary principles no longer rule us.

    1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

    8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!

    Nor did they pass away. They are fulfilled in Christ, and we are joined in Him. We are free from the elementary principles, and they serve us through Christ.

    Obviously, there is a punishment aspect to the law and execution also. My comments to Sean should go some way towards explaining why they are unnecessary now.

  18. @Cane

    The whole thing about the touchy/feely Church almost makes me want to start a blog of my own. The Jesus I know about walked everywhere, worked as a carpenter, threw some tables over in anger in a temple and is the really angry and judgmental guy in Revelation. I don’t know this “walk with Jesus”, metrosexual, whiny worship music guy. Who is that?

    I think part of it is the “Doctrine Divides” notion: should we, as pastors, actually teach and shepherd we’ll lose parishoners and bums in pews/foldy chairs. So let’s not and let everyone continue on the path that they, well, shouldn’t be on… but we’re not to judge. Bleh.

  19. @ Cane: “After usurping God’s authority and eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, He showed us that each of the other ways of living were the foolish imaginings of idiots. They could not sustain life, nor did they satisfy us. Like Adam and the animals, all manner of earthly things that God had made were marched before mankind, but no suitable love was found. Patriarchy and familial piety alone was not enough. Benevolent technocrats were not enough (the Egyptians, for example). The Ten Commandments was not enough. The law was not enough. Territorial boundaries were not enough. Calendars were not enough. Freedom and anarchy were not enough. Judges were not enough. Kings were not enough. Prophets were not enough… Nothing but obedient faith in God can satisfy the longing for obedient faith in God.”
    Very well said; worth copying and quoting. Only God can complete each of us in becoming the creation He originally planned us to be.

    @Sean:Are you a pastor? Can you start a congregation that can be taught and shepherded and is not dependent on money from ‘tares’ in order to survive? One in which it will be said by those outside,” look at how these people love one another”? The problem in the modern church is the same as the problem that Israel and Judea had; Unbelief. Look at that quote of Cane’s above. That is the answer. Can you run with it? Will God allow you?

  20. @Bobbye

    Sorry, I should have thrown quotes around the “should we, as pastors…” part. No, I’m not. That seems to be the impression that I get from “church shopping” around where I live. I can’t seem to find one that actually wants to teach The Gospel like it’s written. I only see fear of it.

    I was writing at 530 am in my defense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s