For my latest scriptural query, I call John 8 to the stand.
My question is simple: Why did Jesus write on the ground with his finger when the adulteress was presented to him, and why was it important for John to include this? What’s the exegetical significance?
So much to say, so little time. Let’s divulge, shall we? And bring a spoon, ‘cause the finale is rather sweet.
Occasionally gawky myself, I’m captivated by the awkwardness of the whole situation. Jesus, who is teaching at the temple courts at the Mount of Olives (v. 1-2), is disrupted by a parade of Pharisees and religious fanatics, carrying not only an adulteress, but a devious plot to derail him of divine influence. Talk about Satan in motion! He had troops in the red zone preying on perfection with the clock winding down, despite the eminence of inevitable loss. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Satan to have tried Jesus away from the Temple, where he wasn’t preaching and in Word delivery mode? Honestly…
Now before I continue, have you ever wondered how the woman was actually caught? The text states Jesus was at the temple at dawn. So was she discovered literally in the act? Or could the woman’s partner have been the one who turned her in, as part of a preconceived plan to assault Christ’s sonship? Surely, the man at fault couldn’t have been too allusive to the point of disappearance altogether. I’d imagine he would want to be in on this dramatic scene unfolding.
Bottom line: If justice had been closer to the heart of these teachers, the better approach would have been to present both to Jesus and to have rephrased the following statement/question:
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (v. 4-5)
Hold the phone though, Mr. Teachers O. De’Law. What is this nonsense? Your profession is studying the Torah – the law of Moses - and yet, you still “interpret fail” in front of the King of Kings? Ouch! Clearly, you have denied the authority of Jesus with malicious intent. Clever that your pitch offers little room for deviation. I will give you that. Swing high and Jesus is guilty of condemnation. Swing low and he has contradicted the law of Moses. But little do you know your curveball is about to be smashed out of the ballpark. Don’t you know Jesus is like superman? He’ll outmaneuver you as opposition with the cunning of a champion chess player and the strike of a Expecteria Trouserius. He will succeed and remain preyless to your accusations, both to the woman and his identity. Honestly…
Of everything in this story, this is what astounds me most: Christ could have very well voiced the correct response right away. However, he yielded and referenced his Father. He deliberately chose to seek him at one of the most crucial points in his ministry. The decision to honor authority manifested itself through wisdom – the timing and nature of his spoken words. But first, he had to align his lens to the Father, so that his words were in sync with His. He had to be initially silent to fulfill his calling in this instance.
Then, what does the Word say he did? He stooped down and wrote on the dust with his finger, no doubt, basking in open communication with God as he sought the right response. Interestingly enough, this is the only report of Jesus writing in the Bible, and the allusion to ‘finger’ may, in fact, point to the only other ‘Deity writing’ reference – God’s commandment inscription on the stone tablets in Exodus 31.
But what did Jesus actually write? There’s no direct answer - only speculation based from context clues. Truly the act bore symbolic significance, as the ‘finger’ represented Jesus’ ‘Messiahship’ – that he offered the same authority as God because he is God. Obviously, the Pharisees were blind to this truth.
“But when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said unto them, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’” (v. 7)
Imagine hearing this response live; talk about chills! Fittingly, Jesus based his answer from the Scriptures. So what started with silence, ended with silence.
Deuteronomy 17:6-7: "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people."
Was/were the witness/es actually present? That’s up for debate. Assuming the partner turned her in, you still only have one witness! So the ultimate clincher is the witness had to be without sin. This is what the Lord was after. Jesus' smarts fully concealed the Pharisees’ trap.
But wait! There’s more!
In v. 8, we find Jesus stooping down a second time to write on the ground. Again, what could he be drawing up in that dirt? Well, a big hint comes in v. 9, when John claims the teachers began filing away one by one, starting with the oldest.
This tells me Jesus had a deliberate plan and order set, most likely exposing each accuser by jotting down his/her sin within. In some form or fashion, the iniquities of the Pharisees and teachers were miraculously on display, to allow the power of Christ to triumph.
One of the greatest victories in Jesus’ ministry, topped off by a Mufasa-ish ending:
“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ No one, Lord,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and sin no more.’”
We are all like the adulteress; every day we are guilty of death. Every day we are saved from it. Every day we can go and sin no more. For so much in this life would not have happened perhaps, if it weren't for his finger in the sand...