691.     We have now considered the principal weak arguments against the pericope, and the strong arguments in favor of it, in internal evidence. Other arguments against it must be briefly considered. Many of the Church Fathers do not mention the pericope in their commentaries. This objection is serious. The lesson of the incident was not palatable, as we have shown, because of the ascetic views of the early Church, teaching that the very face of the chastest woman was a cause of corruption. How much more the presence of an adulteress, brought to the thought of a congregation by discussing her case! How could the leniency of the Lord be accounted for by men who harshly put away from their midst the purest of women as a source of defilement of their imagination? Then, if husbands and brothers, they did not care to teach that a fall in a woman was no worse than a fall in a man,¾especially as they believed that every fall in man was due to some woman. They could understand that the integrity of family life (at least, a man’s ability to know his own children), depended upon the chastity of women; but they could not understand that in the remoter sense it depended even more upon the chastity of men. In fact, few men understand this up to the present hour. Again, many of these Fathers’ writings are comments on the Church lessons, and as the pericope was for a special occasion, and not so well suited to a public address, in their opinion, it would naturally be passed over.

692.     Other modern expositors declare that the chief difficulties in the way of crediting the pericope are textual. The story contains words that John uses nowhere else in his Gospel. This is true; but, on the other hand, the style of the writing is also much like John’s. Supposing, then, that John wrote this portion when the event occurred, and while it was fresh in mind? He did not write his Gospel until fifty or eighty years afterwards, when he was living in Ephesus. This would explain a change of words. Or, supposing the woman herself wrote the account down for him, and allowed him, long after the event when none could identify her, to put it in his Gospel, for the encouragement to repentance of other sinning women; then the pericope would, as the woman’s account brushed up by John, exhibit precisely that mixed character which it does. As for its containing several unusual words and expressions, the entire nine verses contain scarcely any more than the first two verses of John 19; and no one has ever questioned the authenticity of the latter, where nine unusual words (for John) occur.

693.     On the other hand, note how characteristic, for John, is the expression, “This they said tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him.” Compare it with John 6:6; 6:71; 7:39; 11:13, 51; 12:6, 33; 13:11, 28; 21:19. We pass over many other points of similarity to John’s own style, in the pericope, because they could only be appreciated by those acquainted with the original Greek, for the most part.

Then there are other doubters who have claimed that this incident is an interruption in the text; that the story of Christ at the Feast of Tabernacles runs more smoothly if it is left out; but Dean Burgen contends that the exact truth lies quite at the other extreme: If this pericope is torn out of this place, either to be put elsewhere (some would place it at the end of the Gospel of John, others after Luke 21,¾in accordance with a few ancient manuscripts), or to be thrown aside as discarded, then “ragged ends,” he maintains, show where the violence has been done. Let us see: Let us join up 8:12 next to 7:52, dropping out all between, and study the result,¾holding in mind all the time, of course, that this mutilation represents the wishes of certain critics, not our own view as to events.

694.     But, let us first pause to consider the fact that no other place or time could better suit such a story of moral corruption. According to John, the Feast of Tabernacles was on, and hundreds of thousands of people were living in tents all about Jerusalem. Life was very irregular, and afforded opportunities for such a deed. As for the rest, Jesus had been speaking to the common people, in the temple precincts, in the informal way which was allowed to religious instructors. The rulers of the people were angry, but doubtless as on other occasions feared to arrest Him openly (Matthew 21:46). They were angry because they knew He was making great claims for Himself, by such expressions as, “If anyone thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” So the Pharisees and chief priests held a council and concluded to arrest Him,¾probably when He ceased to speak, and the people dispersed. They sent officers to fetch Him (7:32), as they had opportunity to do so, quietly.

695.     Finally the last day of the Feast comes (7:37), and at its close the Pharisees and priests assemble, confident that surely, at last, He will be brought. But their officers return to them without Him, and all they can say regarding their failure to bring Him is “Never man spake like this man” (vs. 46). The Pharisees enquire of the officers, “Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on Him?”¾both in derision at the very idea of it, and yet, perhaps, because they wished to really know whether the officers had spied any of their own class and caste in the crowd about Him. It is to be noted that these Pharisees had disdained to go and listen to Him for themselves.[2] Then Nicodemus, who had gone to Him by night, and felt the force of the officers’ testimony that “Never man spake like this man,” remonstrated with them, to the effect that it was contrary to their own principles of justice to condemn a man wholesale to whom they had never listened, to know what he had to say for himself. His feeble defense of the Master in whom he secretly believed, acted like the “apple of discord” in the meeting, and “every man went unto his own house.”

696.     But according to the theory, after all the assembly did not break up,¾for verse 53 must drop out, and all as far as verse 12 of the next chapter; and we must read to the effect that immediately after the words of Nicodemus, and the retort of the others of that council to him, “Then spake Jesus again [note the word] unto them” (8:12); and (v. 13) “the Pharisees” replied to His words. Now when had He spoken to the Pharisees at this Feast, that it can be said that He spoke “again” to them? Had not Nicodemus just declared that they had refused to give Him a hearing, but were in ignorance of His exact representation of His case condemning Him? We must account for that “again” somehow; and those who rule out the story of the woman cannot do it. But put that story back in its proper place and all becomes clear.

697.      Convicted by the words of Nicodemus that they must hear something from His own lips that will be His own condemnation,¾hear Him for themselves,” to make the testimony sure, the Pharisees take with them some experts as to points of law¾scribes¾and dragging a wretched woman into His presence, demand His decision as to what should be done to her. Thus they accept the challenge of Nicodemus.

698.     This is on the day following the last day of the Feast, when Jesus is teaching those who have not yet returned to their country homes. If Jesus rendered a decision contrary to the Mosaic law, they would have something of which to accuse Him; if He condemned the woman to die, they might entangle Him with the Roman law. How truly they were to experience the fact that “Never man spake like this man!” They became, in His presence, as useless as the officers; they “went out one by one.” Instead of succeeding in bringing Him to judgment, He had brought them to their own judgment of themselves. The effect of hearing Him for themselves was what Nicodemus had anticipated; they could not bring Him to the bar of their judgment and condemnation. But their Judge did not let them escape so easily. He followed them, still, in His mercy, offering them light and life: “Again [later] He spake unto them,” and a long argument followed, in which they resisted all His efforts to enlighten their darkness, until at last, in a rage, they took up stones to cast at the Judge who would not allow them to be cast at the sinful woman. This discourse must have occurred later in the day.

Additional Note

This decision of the Lord, as regards the adulteress, is well-founded in O. T. Scripture, as the scribes and Pharisees must have recognized. Hosea 4:14 (R. V.) reads: “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with prostitutes.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zachi ordered the discontinuance of the trial of jealousy, on the authority of this word, saying, “If you follow fornication yourselves, the bitter waters will not try your wives.” Indeed the Sanhedrin had abrogated the ceremony of trial of jealousy, on this word,¾since the second Temple, B. C. 520, it is said. But there are evidences of its use in later times.


[2] See verse 32.

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