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What about John 8:1-11?

If you have any familiarity with the Bible, you will undoubtedly know the story about the woman caught in adultery found in John's gospel. According to the story, a group of religious leaders, scribes and Pharisees, bring a woman caught in the act of adultery demanding that Jesus act as judge over her fate. Jesus' famous retort: "let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" is one of the most famous lines in all of scripture, known to most in the Western world.

Without going into many details, there is essentially good reason to believe that the Apostle John did not actually include the story in his original writing - the chief reason being it's absence from early manuscripts. This is not to say that the story isn't historical - clearly Jesus historically was at odds with the religious leaders, and the gospel of Mark, the earliest of the gospels, records several instances in which the Pharisees confront Jesus (Mark 7, 8, 11, 12). Putting aside the theological implications of Jesus' death for a moment, this climate of hostility towards Jesus eventually culminated in his crucifixion, an act of both religious (from the Pharisees) and political (from the Romans) persecution. That being said, an event that encompasses both of these forces at work seems to be well within the realm of possibility, that is, it seems fitting that the religious leaders would use a scenario in which Jesus would have risked a swift and deadly response from Rome for approving the use of capital punishment outside of Roman law - i.e. the Jewish legal responsibility to stone persons caught in the act of adultery.

Some scholars, such as Bart Ehrman for example, consider the story to be an addition by early New Testament scribes, who simply transcribed the story from the "margin notes" into the actual biblical text. Certainly this story, at the very least, was a known tradition at the time which is attested to in the Church Father's early writings.

Regardless of whether the story should be in the cannon or not and regardless of whether John recorded the story or not, I think there is value to this story when approached from a different perspective. If you know me, you know that I am deeply interested in the question as to how the early Christian community understood Jesus. If there is one thing I am thankful for in living in a post-modern framework, it is the recognition that there are many levels that barrier our understanding of history. The difference however, is that I believe it is possible to find a workable definition. I think there needs to be a resurgence in the way in which we approach our scriptural exegesis, it's a valuable pursuit to attempt to "turn back time" and view Jesus as close as possible through the original eyes that viewed him. We will never have a truly "objective" point of view, which is certainly obvious from the hundreds of differing theological positions, but we may indeed find comfort in the realization that the Holy Spirit has ensured a coherent framework for how the Church should function and think. In fact, I believe that the answers to understanding Jesus lie in this pursuit of history, from the past forward - our modern concept of individual exegesis, that is, projecting a purely personal point of view from the present backwards is foolishness. There is a reason that Christians have "interpreted" scripture to justify anything from war to abortion to the prosperity gospel - many of us are ignorant of the value of historical-exegesis.

In that sense, the beginning of  John 8 (if it was a scribal addition) acts as an exciting window into how the early church understood the message of Jesus. It is a sort of early church commentary on Jesus. We can read the beginning of John 8 and see the strong connection between Jesus' ethic and his Church, we see the impact. In a present world where people are still being stoned, both physically, and psychologically, for their "sins", we can find some model for how the Church is to respond. One thing remains, whether John did or did not record an actual event in history, the early Church certainly understood the implications of the radical message of Jesus Christ, which is something I am attempting to allow to develop my Christian worldview.

In any area where you land regarding John 8:1-11, one thing is for certain, it's something that can't be ignored.


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