If the woman caught in adultery got caught again, would Jesus this time say ‘stone her?’
The other day I posted a tongue-in-cheek, redacted version of John 8, the passage where the Pharisees haul an adulteress up the Mt of Olives to Jesus.
Pointing out how the bible clearly mandates that this woman be stoned to death for her sin, they ask Jesus for his judgment.
Jesus responds with the brilliant but now cliched parry ‘whoever is without sin cast the first stone’ and, seeing no one left to condemn her but himself (who is indeed without sin) Jesus tells her ‘I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.’
Now my intent in the original post was to point out how I think conservatives read scripture in such a way that mutes the revelation of Christ, particularly when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. Emphasizing the bible’s language of sin, holiness, judgment and wrath on the subject they inadvertently (or not, perhaps) obscure the revelation of God in Christ, for here in John 8 is but another instance of Jesus, when faced with the clear, black and white command of scripture, choosing mercy.
For the post last week, I received the expected amount of pushback, including several breathless emails desiring to enlighten me to the fact that Jesus does conclude their exchange by telling her ‘Go and sin no more.’
He wasn’t giving her carte blanche to keep on committing sin nor was he declaring sin no longer to be sin.
Said one respondent: ‘Jesus chooses to show he can be merciful in this instance but sin is still sin and God is still holy.’
In other words, Jesus’ opting for mercy not sacrifice in this episode does not negate the command of scripture nor does it-evidently- reveal God’s holiness.
Said another, in what I take to be an unintentionally revealing comment: ‘Jesus tells her to go and sin no more. It’s not as if Jesus would keep on forgiving her if she remains in sin. That would be cheap grace.’
Translation: If they catch her again in her sin, she’s a goner.
All cheek aside, I think that begets a fair (and fairly significant) question.
If the Pharisees caught this woman again in adultery a few months later and again brought her to Jesus, how do you think Jesus would respond the second time?
Or, let’s say, the fifth time?
Do you think Jesus would say to the Pharisees ‘You’re right guys. The bible’s black and white on this. Stone her. Since I’m without sin, I’ll throw the first one?’
Do you believe Jesus would say to the sinner ‘I showed you mercy and told you to sin no more but because you’ve continued sinning and because I’m holy…?’
Doesn’t jive with the Jesus story does it?
To read the bible in such a way that your logic would have Jesus casting stones is biblicism not Christianity. It privileges scriptures over and against the revelation in Christ.
Biblicism, not so ironically, turns Jesus into a Pharisee.
You can draw out the contrast by asking a more general question:
Are passages like John 8 just revealing episodes on Jesus’ way to placate an angry, holy God upon the Cross?
Or do passages like John 8 reveal God?
Is scripture the full revelation of God? Or is Jesus Christ the full revelation of God?
If the former then, whether it jives or not, we’ve got to swallow a logic that eventuates in Jesus casting stones. If the latter then we can confess that the identity of God is revealed more fully in this refusal to condemn a sinner on the Mt of Olives than to Moses on Mt Sinai.
Insisting on the latter doesn’t make me a Marcionite. It makes me a reader of the New Testament, of John in particular.
In his first chapter, John frames his Gospel to come with this audacious claim:
‘No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.’
And again, John doubles-down in his first epistle:
‘No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other (as Christ loved) then God remains in us…’
Those aren’t just pious sounding asides- that’s John up-ending the entire way we read the bible because, of course, it’s not true.
According to the bible.
According to the bible, lots of people have seen God.
Adam and Eve and Enoch walked with God. Abraham and Sarah ate with God by the oaks of Mamre. Jacob freaking wrestled God on the shores of the Jabbok.
Moses saw God in a burning bush.
And Moses saw God again later on top of Sinai where he received from God that very law (and the 632 others) which commanded that woman on the Mt of Olives be stoned to death.
Moses encounter with God on Sinai was such that Moses’ face was left shiny and glimmering. Moses wasn’t alone up there either. Scripture says 70 Elders of Israel ate with Moses and God atop Sinai so they saw God too.
So did the prophet Isaiah in year a king Uzziah died; he saw God enthroned in the Temple.
Daniel, meanwhile, in his vision of the Son of Man saw the throne room of heaven, which is but a reverent way of saying he’d seen God, and Ezekiel’s long book of prophecy begins with a God sighting.
The Old Testament is replete with patriarchs and prophets seeing God so what could John possibly mean by (falsely) asserting that no one has ever seen God?
He means Jesus, not scripture, is the full revelation of God. Jesus is the one in whom we believe. The words, work and witness of Jesus are not secondary or subsidiary to scripture; rather, scripture must now be read in submission to Christ.
If we want to know what God’s holiness looks like, we look to Jesus.
If we want to know how God judges sinners, we look to his suffering because of them and listen to him say ‘…forgive them…for they know not…’
If we want to know how God feels about war and violence, we look to the sermon on the mount.
And if we want to know how God treats sexual sin, we go up to the Mt of Olives and listen to this exchange with a woman caught in adultery because God is more fully revealed in that moment than God was in giving of the law which condemns her.
‘No one has ever seen God. God the only Son…has made God known.’
Translation: Jesus is what God has to say.