jzheadshotby John Zokovitch
Pax Christi USA Director of Communications

Most, maybe all, biblical scholars agree that John 8:1-11 is not original to John’s gospel, and that it actually reflects Lucan artistry and themes much more. For this reason, some commentaries neglect to reflect on the passage at all. It is a problematic passage for our study because we’ve stressed the importance of studying passages in their narrative context, especially paying attention to what comes just before and immediately after the passage as we unpack everything going on within it. So if John 8:1-11 isn’t original to the gospel, its importance within the overall narrative is compromised, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take it for what it is in itself.

The passage opens within a highly public setting—the place being the “temple area” and “all the people” coming to Jesus (v. 2). The scribes and Pharisees, traditional opponents of Jesus, enter in v. 3, dragging along a woman that they presumably have caught committing adultery. Immediately we should be aware that it takes at least 2 to commit adultery, and while the Pharisees and scribes have no problem apprehending the woman, her presumed partner, a man, seems to have given them the slip. The whole scene strains credulity. On their way to the temple area, the scribes and Pharisees just happen to come across (where, in the middle of the road?) at that very moment a woman in the act of adultery? How convenient! More likely is that this is a set-up, from beginning to end. Perhaps the scribes and Pharisees “entrap” this woman, for the purpose of challenging and embarrassing Jesus. Perhaps the woman’s adultery was a widely known “secret”, the subject of Jerusalem gossip, but only now do the scribes and Pharisees act, using her as a prop in their confrontation with Jesus. Regardless of the exact circumstances, it smells of a set-up, and the woman is nothing more than a tool, a prop, used in the scheme.

The “question” posed to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees is whether Jesus agrees with the law of Moses that the woman should be stoned for her transgression. Interestingly enough, the law they refer to (whether in Deuteronomy 22 or Leviticus 20) emphasizes that both parties—man and woman—should suffer the punishment; here, of course, this group of men concern themselves only with the woman and with what should happen to her…

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2 thoughts on “REFLECTION: On John 8:1-11, seeing the sin of the accused through our own sinfulness

  1. Dear John – I can’t open this reflection, on John 8:1-11. Canyou send it again?As we near Easter in this house we are so hoping for peace.Bless you. diana

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