View Full Version : Were Jesus's Actions Towards the Woman Caught in Adultery a Radical Overthrow?
03-05-2004, 05:38 PM
This is something which occured to me while searching through Leviticus for something else. Leviticus 20:10 says, "'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife-with the wife of his neighbor-both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. " It's very blunt, clear language.
The thing is, there's a rather well-known passage which is usually put in John Chapter 8 (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=JOHN+8&language=english&version=NIV&showfn=on&showxref=on)* about a woman who is brought before Jesus before she is to be stoned to death for adultery. (There's no mention of the man she committed it with. I'm rather curious about that.) Instead of condoning the carrying out of the Law He said He came to fulfill, Jesus keeps it from being carried out and sends her on her way. It struck me, the other night, that this is a rather radical act. Christ doesn't work around or surpass the Law; He tosses it out the window and prevents keeps its penalties from being applied. Yes, He does tell the woman, "Go and sin no more," but I'm not entirely sure what He meant by that. Given the standard of the two Great Commandments, love God and love your neighbor, not sinning any more would, I'd say, be impossible, especially since some of those neighbors had been ready to kill her a few moments before. On the other hand, speaking solely for myself, escaping death by Divine intervention would tend to put me off committing adultery, even if I were a fan of it. A fellow might be as handsome as David Copperfield, Pierce Brosnan and Antonio Banderas rolled into one, but he's not worth dying over! :eek:
Christians speak of not being bound by Mosaic law, sometimes over a cheeseburger, sometimes in more serious contexts. It seems to me that if I compare Jesus' actions to the words of Leviticus, something rather radical is happening here.
*This passage tends to move around. According to my Bible, while it can be after John 7:52, it's also been known to turn up after John 7:36, 7:52, 21:24, or even after Luke 21:28! Yet another reason why I'll never make a good Biblical literalist!
03-05-2004, 06:52 PM
My Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Standard Edition) tells this story in John 7:53 to 8:11. A footnote says, "The most ancient authorities omit [John] 7.53-8.11; other authorities add the passage here or after 7.36 or after 21.25 or after Luke 21.38, with variations in the text."
In my view, what's remarkable about this story is that (in most editions of the Bible) it appears in the Gospel of John and nowhere else. John is thought to be of later origin than the other three gospels, the so-called "synoptic gospels", and it appears this story is a late and disputable addition to John. Yet it is one of the best-known stories in the New Testament. What's more, the woman taken in adultery is often identified (or confused) in popular imagination with Mary Magdalen, out of whom Jesus exorcised seven devils (Mark 16:9); and with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42, John 11); and with the "sinner" (prostitute?) who anointed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:36-50).
Two recent GD threads are relevant to all this:
"The Story of Jesus - just a hodge-podge of myths?"
"Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? Were Gospels omitted from New Testament?"
As for the question of the OP: Jesus clearly was a scholar of the Torah, and also an iconoclast with radically new interpretations of it; the NT is full of examples where he argued nice points of law with Pharisees, always coming down on the side of mercy and humanity. E.g., Jesus opposed divorce even though the Torah expressly authorized it -- opposed it, apparently, because he thought it was cruel to women. A divorced Roman or Greek woman of Jesus' time could go on with her life, but a divorced (or otherwise "dishonored") Palestianian Jewish woman was ruined; unless her own family took her back or she found a new husband -- both unlikely -- she could starve, sell herself into slavery, or become a whore. (Like the one who anointed Jesus' feet . . .) And a Jewish husband had the right to divorce his wife for grounds ranging from adultery to bad cooking.
Jesus might have said he came to "fulfill" the Law -- but what the Law meant was a question open to interpretation at the time -- this was the very beginning of the age of rabbinical Judaism, which eventually (after the fall of the Temple) would try to settle all points of interpretation definitively in the Talmud. So Jesus, in his time, could get away with radical interpretations of the Torah that would have been completely unacceptable in a Jewish community one or two centuries later. That's my take on it, anyway. But I'm just an atheist with a well-thumbed Bible.
03-05-2004, 07:33 PM
This act of Jesus did violate the religious law. But, then Jesus taught love, not law. Something hard to understand for many. I am not sure that all the sayings attributed to Jesus were really His. I am also not sure we have all of His teachings in the Bible. However, if you put them together they spell love. Love one another, forgive, don't judge, go the second mile and many others.
Modern Christianity, for the most part, teach doctrine in their churches instead of love. They don't understand, nor want to love their enemies.
I believe Jesus was understood better by His followers during His time.
The teachings are designed to bring life, and life more abundantly to the world.
One who at least tries to follow Jesus' teachings will soon learn their importance.
03-05-2004, 09:10 PM
If it's true and not apochryphal, it looks like a set up that Jesus saw through.
Notice the Pharisees say they caught her red handed in the act of adultery. Were they laying in wait at the place of the act? Was the man involved part of the set up? (Note that they only brought the woman, not the man) Was the whole thing a sham to see what Jesus would do and she, too, was in on the set up?
One way or the other, the circumstances don't seem right.
Also, Jesus seemed more concerned about the intent of the Law and not the letter of the Law. Notice how he condemend the practice of corban. Also, he allowed his apostles to do what the Pharisees considered to be work on the Sabbath, even performing acts of healing on the Sabbath. He berated the Pharisees for following the the tiniest tithe law, while they overlooked justice and mercy. (He really disliked those Pharisee guys!)
IMHO, by saying he came to fulfill Law and not destroy it, he was showing what the One True God had in mind from the outset.
So, instead of condemning the woman (and possiblt setting himself up for ridicule if it was all a sham), he just wrote in the dirt. And his response was classic. If anyone had thrown a stone, they would be claiming that they were perfect, putting themselves above God's judgement.
As with all religious debates I post in, YMMV.
03-05-2004, 09:40 PM
I've always been inclind to think that this -- his carefully nuanced embrace of the spirit of the Law rather than solely (and, where he felt necessary, instead of) the letter, is what he was all about. It's his revolution. His career of highlighting this issue and positioning it so that his society had to address and consider it, was his life's work. (And a few people's ultimate choosing of the letter over the spirit is in large part how he ended up dead).
03-05-2004, 10:06 PM
I think it was also a set up, though I doubtr the woman was in on it.
It was a wonderful show of Grace.
Mercy triumphs over judgment, the Bible says and I am glad of it.
Jesus was radical, he wasn't a "right winger" as some christians think.
03-05-2004, 10:37 PM
(He really disliked those Pharisee guys!)
Well, not anymore than disliking the Religious Right means one dislikes all Christians. Jesus was, in most areas where his personal theology intersected contemporary Jewish theology, a Pharisee rather than either the major rival sect, the Sadducees, or any of the minor sects such as the Zealots or the Essenes.
The people that Jesus had the most contempt for were the hypocritical Pharisees, the Religious Right of their time, who placed far more importance on the appearance of righteousness through strict adherence to the word of the Law rather than placing priority on the spirit of the Law, love and justice.
03-05-2004, 11:16 PM
Well, I actually meant the hypocritical Pharisees. Some of the sect of the Pharisees became followers of Jesus, although at least one did so secretly. I should've been more specific.
Of course Jesus wouldn't have much to do with the sect of the Sadducees, since they didn't believe in the ressurrection, something Jesus taught even while being tortured to death.
One of the notable differences in Jesus' way of teaching vs the typical Pharisee or Rabbi of the time, though, was not to quote any other authority other than the Scriptures or his own "God given" (again, ymmv) authority.
In his sermon on the mount, instead of expounding on the major philosophies of the time, he would preface his sayings with, "However I say to you..." Also, instead of relying on tradition or noncanonical writings, he would constantly point to scripture. Remember when a man asked him, "By doing what will I be counted righteous?" (paraphrased) Jesus replied, "What does it say in the Scripture? How do you read it?" When confronted by the Sadducees about the Leverite marraige problem, the first thing he said was, "Did you not read in the Scripture that...?"
So, saying that Jesus was akin to the Pharisees seems to stretching a point.
03-06-2004, 10:01 AM
I don't think so. Judaism is not based on the Old Testament, but on the Old Testament as it has been traditionally interpreted by Judaism. The Pharisees (who in Judaism are the good guys) deliberately surrounded the death penalty with so many legal technicalities that it was almost never imposed. One said a court that executed one criminal in seven years was a killing court--another said one in seventy years. Either way, Jewish law was kinder that Texas's.
Love isn't new. You can go to the other side of the world and ask a holy man if love is better than hate, and he'll say something like, "Of course it is! You go around hating everyone, you'll spend your next incarnation as a cockroach." God's Great Truths can't be covered up that easily. Or, as C.S. Lewis said, Jesus didn't come to teach us morality, he came to remind us of it.
03-06-2004, 10:37 AM
From Christopher Durang's play, "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You":
DIANE: Jesus wouldn't stone the woman taken in adultery . . .
SISTER MARY IGNATIUS: Oh, that was just a political gesture! In private, he stoned many women taken in adultery!
03-06-2004, 12:16 PM
I tend to agree with the idea that the whole thing was a setup - an attempt to trick Jesus. Of course, being God, he saw right through it and pulled the rug right out from under the Pharisees.
An interesting idea brought up by my pastor: Jesus writing in the dirt. The passage doesn't say what he wrote. My pastor suggested that perhaps Jesus was writing the names of the Pharisees' own mistresses...
03-06-2004, 10:43 PM
Phase42, I like your pastor! :D
As for the rest of you, it's late and I'm sleepy, so I'll beg off until tomorrow morning.
Good night, all,
03-06-2004, 10:50 PM
Go now and snore no more.....
03-07-2004, 08:06 PM
I've always found it interesting that the bible describes Jesus as writing in the dirt during this encounter. It doesn't, however, describe what he was writing. Most likely, it was unimportant and was just doodling or somesuch; but I like to think he was writing the names of the girlfriends of the accusers... :D
03-08-2004, 04:46 AM
My own interpretation of this incident is fairly simple. Jesus refused to be cornered and made to pronounce a death sentence, but his words to the adulteress show that he was not giving her a free pass or setting any precedents. Otherwise instead of saying "Go, and sin no more" he could have said "Go, and do as you please, for none can convict you". So the answer to the question in the OP title is: No.
Was it so out of the question, by the way, for a divorced woman to remarry? The woman at the well had been through no fewer than five husbands. Again, when Jesus speaks about divorce, he also says that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery - which he would hardly have mentioned if it didn't go on.
Just a couple of suggestions, no cites, weigh them as you like.
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