LESSON 84.

THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE PERICOPE.

682.     That this narrative of the woman taken in adultery has the living truth of God in it is proved by its amazing vitality. What but truth could hold its own and progress through the ages with such adverse winds against it? For all through the ages, particularly since the supplanting of female kinship by male kinship, men have held that woman must be more chaste than man, as otherwise man might have more children than his own reckoned in among his progeny; in female kinship no such danger must be guarded against, in genealogical tables. Herein is the chief cause of the persistent maintenance of two standards of chastity, one for men and one for women. But the teaching of Jesus Christ is that man must first show himself to be chaste before dealing with woman’s unchastity.

683.     The Talmud, for instance, during a discussion between rabbi and scholars, reproduces words incidentally which show that some of the most honored among them,¾married men¾expected women to be furnished them when away from home in the performance of their duties as religious leaders; and yet the Talmud teaches that a man should repudiate his wife as a proved adulteress, if merely found abroad with her head uncovered. And we know of pagan customs dealing no less cruelly with women guilty of the least indiscretion. Further, we have only to read the discourses of some of the “Church Fathers,” as Tertullian, particularly on the veiling of women, to see exhibited the same spirit of injustice to women. And surely, no one can pretend that anything more than lip-homage to the teaching of the pericope has ever been exhibited in the Church up to the present day, excepting in rare instances.

684.     Where ever has existed the man, in ancient times or modern, so jealous for the rights of women, so skilful in drawing a picture of absolute justice, and yet so unscrupulous in character, and so influential, as to have foisted this story upon the credulity of the Church, so that the ecclesiastical authorities, who live so far beneath its principles of justice in dealing with fallen women, are compelled to let the story persist, and dare not wipe it out of existence? No stronger proof than this is needed that it is a true incident in the life of our Savior. That we should find that a few attempts have been made to discredit it (such as the Revisers), is no more than we should expect. The textual critics, Westcott and Hort, are the chief one in England to cast doubt upon its authenticity, and yet they say: “The argument that has always told most in its favor in modern times is its own internal character. The story itself has justly seemed to vouch for its substantial truth.”

685.     Besides the oppressive measures instituted by the male in order to maintain male kinship making it necessary to see to it that women are chaste, whatever men may be, another factor has worked prejudicially against the authenticity of this story. This is well expressed in the words of Dr. Philip Schaff: “The story could not have been invented, the less so as it runs contrary to the ascetic and legalistic tendency of the ancient Church which could not appreciate it.” We have only to think of the days when monks fled to the wilderness, that they might never be defiled by looking upon the face of a woman; and when celibacy was so exalted that marriage was looked upon as a mild sort of adultery (Tertullian spoke of married women as “women of the second degree [of modesty] who have fallen into wedlock”), to understand these difficulties in the way of a preservation of the pericope. Augustine tells us (died about 430 A.D.) that men “from fear lest their wives should gain impunity in sin, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of indulgence to the adulteress.” Ambrose, twenty-five years earlier, intimated that danger was popularly apprehended from the story; “while Nicon, five centuries later, states plainly that the mischievous tendency of the narrative was the cause why it had been expunged from the Armenian versions.”

686.      Furthermore, to quote Dean Burgon again, “In the earliest age of all,¾the age which was familiar with the universal decay of heathen virtue, but which had not yet witnessed the power of the Gospel to fashion society afresh, and to build up domestic life on a new and more enduring basis;¾at a time when the greatest laxity of morals prevailed, and the enemies of the Gospel were known to be on the lookout for grounds of cavil against Christianity and its Author,¾what wonder if some were found to remove the pericope de adultera from their copies, lest it should be pleaded in extenuation of breaches of the seventh commandment? The very subject-matter, I say, of John 8:3-11 would sufficiently account for the occasional omission of those nine verses.”

687.     We need not fear, however, that this story has ever done any mischief, or ever will. The story does not suit the views of men who are over-careful as to the prudent conduct of their wives, while loose in their own morals.  Christ’s blow was aimed at two standards of morality; at injustice; at hypocrisy.  It was not a blow in defense of adultery in either man or woman. Those who have made use of the narrative, or its principle of justice, in dealing with fallen women, have discovered how it encourages the victim of society’s cruel injustices to try again, in the strength of Him whose sceptre is “absolute justice.” We have known the story to bring a hardened woman sinner to instant repentance,¾for the reckless immorality of a fallen girl is generally to be accounted for in the words of Jeremiah, which so vividly describe the effect of hopelessness upon women: “And they said, There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord: Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing: (Jeremiah 18:12,13).

688.     There is absolutely nothing which destroys morality out of the human heart so effectually and quickly as injustice, and there is nothing which so quickly lights the Divine flame of penitence and aspiration for holiness, in the heart of the fallen, as the hope of justice.  Justice is the kindest thing in the world; Injustice is the cruelest and the most depressing.  We have seen, repeatedly, the softening effect of this story upon the dark, pagan hearts of women of shame in the Orient,¾“Our gods have taught nothing so wonderful as this,” they have said, “yours must be the true God.”

689.     Jesus Christ would not have said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee,” had she remained impenitent,¾so no harm was done.  If the effect of the story upon the fallen is so marked, we do not infer too much when we say that the Savior’s sentence of justice was quite enough to bring the woman to instant repentance. His kindness was such a tremendous contrast to the Pharisees who had dragged her into publicity while they let her male partner go free,¾for the details of the story convict them of having had the man in their power, had they cared to make an example of him. Thus they had come, red-handed in compromise with male adultery, to make a chance to strike at the Holy One.  What cared they if a woman must be made to suffer, too, with the Christ,¾if only they could entangle Him!

690.     The truth is, no quality whatever it happens to be, has anything of use or morality in it unless it be founded upon the basic principle of all morality,¾justice. The lack of justice vitiates any moral quality which we may seek to exercise apart from justice. Hence, no good was every done, and no good can ever be done, by legal enactments for the benefit of society, which, for reasons of “prudence” omit principles of justice. Here is where the great mistake is being made on the “woman question.” Is it “prudent” to allow women to do thus and so?¾men ask themselves at every step of woman’s progress. The only question that should be asked is, Does justice demand this?  If so, “let justice be done though the heavens fall;” anything short of justice is mere mischief making.

(To be continued.)

Lesson 85           INDEX      Home