:::Ask the Alliance Question #2:::
Liam Baker asks: If Moses was in the crowd in John 8v1-11, when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, would he have stoned the woman? The law saying that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death, came through Moses.
Below you will find first the officially submitted answers, followed by a more conversational set of answers gleaned from two threads started in the CAA Facebook group. Don’t miss the excellent resources and submissions from newbie and seasoned apologists alike. This was an overall great conversation!
Officially submitted answers:
Moses had written the law that God had given him, he knew the requirements of the Law.
Lev. 20:10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.
Deut. 22:22-24 “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel. If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
The picture should be clear by now. They only brought the woman before Christ and were guilty of not fulfilling the Law of Moses by bringing the man as well.
Remember that the scribes and Pharisees were trying to set a trap for Jesus (John 8:6).
Simple answer: No Moses would not have stoned the woman caught in adultery.
William F Luck
The Law required there to be two independent witnesses in a capital case (Deut. 17:6 & 19:15). The chances of catching an adulteress “in the act” are highly unlikely, unless she was set up, and such a setup would make the “witnesses” a party to the event. Assuming that the account in John 8 is genuine, which I sincerely doubt, Jesus may well have written those legal passages in the dirt.
Part of my concern about the genuineness of the passage is the fact that soon after Moses died (according to the Jewish rabbinic historians–cf Instone-Brewer’s “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible”) the death penalty was commuted to divorce in cases of adultery. Though we do not know exactly when that happened, we do see evidence of it in the oracles of Hosea (2), Isaiah (50), and Jeremiah (3). Since people hadn’t been stoning women for adultery for over a thousand years, it is unlikely that the question they raised to Jesus would have ever come up. Given that God Himself used the commutation to teach discipline, and enable correction, forgiveness, and restoration, it is highly unlikely that Moses, had he been there, would have disagreed with the way Jesus allegedly handled the case.
Mike Warren www.christianciv.com
1. “Without sin” must refer to not being liable to being punished for the same sin. It can’t mean without any sin, because we would have to abolish all crimes and all courts, because no one is sinless. The accusers should have been the stonees, not the stoners.
2. They didn’t bring the man as required by Deut. 22:22-24.
3. Rome had removed the authority from Israel to use capital punishment (the scepter had been removed from Judah when Shiloh came – Gen. 49:10), so if Moses had been there, he would not have had the authority of the leader of an independent nation as he did when he was alive.
– So no, Moses would not have stoned the woman, but neither does this conclusion mean that Jesus abolished the obligation of states to execute adulterers according to the law of Moses.
Moses was a man of God and, while he made mistakes, he usually sought after Godly wisdom, either from God himself or other wise counsel. I think that if Moses witnessed Jesus’ response to this event, it would have rocked his world. Let me give you two reasons. The first is that Moses would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God by that point of Christ’s ministry. Moses therefore would have been ready and willing to listen to what Christ had to say, as opposed to the Pharisees, who did not. I believe, had Moses been in the crowd before Jesus came to address the situation, he would have been all for stoning her under the Mosaic Law. This leads to my second reason Moses’ world would have been rocked. As Moses and the crowd prepared to legally stone this lady, Jesus came and said, “Hold on, people.” Jesus then proceeded to challenge the onlookers. God himself was challenging the legal world that Moses created through God’s guidance. I believe at that point, Moses, already acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, would have repented and aligned himself with the teachings of Christ. Moses would have been confused, but not enough to ignore the Word of God.
Were you hoping for a good, long conversation? Read on!
The following answers are gleaned with permission from two different threads in the CAA group on Facebook, with as much of the conversational tone preserved as possible:
Is this perhaps applicable? – Mark 10:5 “’It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied.”
Actually, Moses would have asked the white elephant question and said, “Where is the man you caught her with?”
The phrase ‘without sin’ is regularly misunderstood. It does not mean ‘not having any sin in one’s life whatsoever’. If this was the case, why would God have given his people the law in the first place? For how could they be expected to carry out his will for judging sin if they were precluded from doing so, because no-one is without sin in the sense defined above? However, ‘without sin’ is defined biblically in the law as ‘not having committed the same sin that you are judging the other person for.’ There is ample evidence of Moses judging others’ sin, so we cannot say that Moses wouldn’t have judged the woman caught in adultery based on the argument that he knew he was not ‘without sin.’ What Jesus is doing in that story is showing that the Pharisees are hypocrites, in that he knew AND they knew that they (the Pharisees) were all guilty of committing the very sin they were accusing the lady of. They slink off shame-faced. Jesus then upholds the requirements of the law by not pressing for prosecution when there is no-one to make an accusation.
My guess is yes, if Moses was in Jesus’ position. Moses was a serious dude. If Moses had been in the crowd, I don’t think carrying out the law necessitated being sinless. Jesus just turned it on them, because they put him in a ridiculous position. Secondly, your interpretation would have us believe that the entire gathered crowd was full of adulterers.
Seth, regarding your first point: I fully agree with you. I think my point fits in with yours i.e. Jesus can be both turning the tables on the Pharisees because he hates being put in that position, and also to show their hypocrisy. Regarding your second point: I am not sure the ‘entire’ crowd dissipated. I think the text is referring specifically to the accusers.
I think Moses would have said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. *You must listen to him.*” (Deut. 18:15).
Liam wrote “If Moses was in the crowd…”
The assumption then would be, if Moses threw the first stone, he wouldn’t know God if he saw him. I think it more apt that Moses would have been a disciple of Jesus…
If Moses said to stone her, that wouldn’t mean that Moses was right, because Jesus is the very word of God and the Law of God is a reflection of God’s character. If Jesus, who is God, decided not to stone her, then he, being God, is in the perfect position to do that. What Moses would have done doesn’t really matter, other than a fun question of speculation. What really matters is the fact that our sinless and perfect God said, “I will forgive her.”
Jesus didn’t say he would forgive her. He simply said he would not accuse her and then told her to go and sin no more. Her forgiveness, like ours, would have been contingent on her repentance.
Moses, like Jesus, listened to and obeyed God, and if God wanted the woman to be let go, I feel that Moses was sufficiently in tune with God to recognize it and would act accordingly; therefore, I feel that Moses would have done precisely what Jesus had done.
Agree, Ron. And let’s not forget that Moses offered to give up his salvation if that was what it would take to spare the nation God’s judgment on their idolatry.
I always wondered if Jesus’ comments were a double entendre. After all, who is the One who is without sin, and who has the right to judge? Jesus knew it was only Himself who fit the bill.
As for Moses, I think he would have recognized Jesus and followed him.
I want to say two points that I didn’t see:
1. The earliest documents don’t have this story, so it’s possible it is a later addition.
2. OT law dictated that, if both the male and female were caught in adultery, they would be stoned. The Pharisees did not bring the male caught in adultery! This has led some to speculate that perhaps one of the Pharisees was the male adulterer.
“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22: 22)
“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” (Leviticus 20: 10).
W Russell Crawford
If Bart Erhman were in the crowd, he would say “This portion of the text is not in the earliest manuscripts. Let’s take it to the house.”
Oh, I don’t think it was originally in John, but I do think it happened. Sounds like Jesus, to me. And lynchings are not really so inimical to human nature. Jesus was his boss. So no, Moses wouldn’t have stoned her, unless he wanted to get fired.
Most scholars agree that the story of the woman caught in adultery (specifically, John 7:53-8:11) was not originally a part of the Gospel of John. The principal reason is that this passage is not found in our oldest manuscripts; a secondary reason is that it contains several linguistic features that are not particularly Johannine. However, a sizeable number of scholars also think that the event actually took place — it may, for example, have been something John recounted orally that was later written up by someone else and inserted in his Gospel.
Had Moses been in the crowd, he would have been one of the first ones to leave without throwing any stones. After all, they left “beginning with the eldest,” and Moses would’ve been well over a thousand years old at that point.
Whether it is “in Scripture” is in fact the question. The passage is printed in some bibles; it is omitted from others, and in others it is put in brackets or printed at the foot of the page with an editorial note.
I’m convinced (more by the textual argument than by the lexical one) that it was not part of what John originally wrote; I also find it quite plausible that the event actually took place.
Check Bruce Metzger, ed., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), pp. 220-221. [Note: this is an edition from before the years when Bart Ehrman became involved; it is also, and for that reason, the edition Metzger suggested I consult.]
As for its antiquity, Eusebius (Church History 3.39) makes a passing remark that gives us some reason to believe that it was quoted by Papias. There is some dispute over whether Papias had this passage (or this story) in mind or another similar one; I’m inclined, like J. B. Lightfoot in The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1898), p. 529, to count this as a reference to the story now found in John 7:53-8:11.
For a detailed argument for its actual occurrence, see F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John: With a Critical Introduction, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1881), pp. 308-12.
Here is John Piper tackling the issue of the story’s historicity. It is a sermon, so it’s 40 or so minutes long, but it deals with this issue directly.
Here’s the text of James White’s summary of the textual evidence (sorry I don’t know how to type Greek and Hebrew letters on here, so I’ll write them out by name):
JOHN 7:53-8:11, THE “PERICOPE DE ADULTERA”
“The evidence against the originality of this pericope is extensive and wide-ranging, including both external and internal elements. Externally we note that the passage is omitted by a truly diverse group of ancient manuscripts, including P66 P75 Aleph B L N T W Delta Theta Psi 0141 33 157 565 1241 1333* 1424, the majority of lectionaries, Latin versions, and Syriac versions. Both A and C most probably did not contain the passage, though both are defective in this section of John and, hence, cannot be consulted directly. Other manuscripts that do contain the passage mark it off with asterisks or obeli. This amount of evidence alone would be sufficient, but there is more. In the manuscripts that contain the passage, it is normally found after John 7:52. However, in ms. 225 it is found after 7:36; in others after 7:44; in a group of other after John 21:25, and in f13 it is not even found in John, but after Luke 21:38! Such moving about by a body of text is plain evidence of its later origin and the attempt on the part of scribes to find a place where it “fits.” Such is not the earmark of an original passage in the Gospel.
The primary internal consideration, aside from issues of vocabulary and style, is to be found in the fact that John 7:52 and John 8:12 “go together.” The story of the woman taken in adultery interrupts the flow of the text and the events recorded by John regarding Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem (7:45–8:20).
All of these things taken together make it a near certainty that this passage was not originally part of the Gospel of John. Yet, the story itself is certainly in harmony with the ministry and teaching of the Lord Jesus. Most feel it was an early oral tradition that was popular primarily in the West and that it came to have a part in the Gospel of John over time.”
-James White, “The King James Only Controversy,” (1995), 262.
Let me ask a silly question. What does this do for the reliability of the rest of the text if there are verses that don’t belong?
Not a silly question. The answer, in a nutshell, is that the same methods by which we can determine that this passage was inserted in John’s gospel or that the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) is not the original ending of the gospel also serve to confirm about 98% of the rest of the text as genuine beyond reasonable doubt. No matter of significance for life or doctrine depends on the questions regarding the remaining 2%.
If only I had middle knowledge…
Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton
Cameron Aanestad, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Absolutely. Good thing time travel is not possible. But the circumstances depend on what Moses knew about Jesus, and he would have also demanded the man who committed adultery; both must be present. Supposing that both adulterers are present, I do think Moses would have approved stoning that woman for adultery. As Jesus pointed out, she was indeed guilty. The amazing thing was that all the Pharisees themselves knew they were guilty of sin–a deliberate misuse of Jewish laws to follow their own desire instead of following the mosaic laws. Moses, however, did not misuse the law and did obey it, so he is more righteous than most Pharisees in Jesus’ time on Earth. But as I said before, that depends on what Moses knew about Jesus. If Moses came in to the picture not knowing who Jesus was, then he would cast a stone if both adulterers were present. But, if Moses knew who Jesus was, then Moses would not dare pick up a stone. Apostle Paul, when he was Saul, was able to approve of stoning the first martyr, Steven, to death. If Saul knew who Jesus was, he wouldn’t have approved.
I remember the gospels saying that Jesus was brought before Pilate because, under Roman occupation, they did not have the right to put someone to death for a capital crime under their own law. So if this text is in the bible (which is debatable) it was an illegal court. Moreover, as has been pointed out, the law only allowed stoning when both parties were caught in adultery, and the whole point of the incident was to set a trap to get Jesus to either reject Moses or to advocate illegal activity under Roman law. His response is to say, you have set this woman up to try and kill me. That’s what he means by “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Actually, what I remember is that the Sanhedrin were afraid that, if they handled it themselves, there would be an insurrection that would have lead to a Roman crackdown. As far as whether or not the Romans would have gotten involved for the stoning death of a non-Roman woman–that would have been fairly unlikely. Assassinating a potential political leader for internal political reasons would be more likely to get the Romans involved.
One point no one seems to have mentioned is that the punishments set in the Torah are *maximum* penalties, not the only sentence the guilty party could receive. I believe the only crime in Scripture that specifies the death penalty as the only punishment for the crime without exception is first-degree murder. There are occasions when other capital offenses are described and a “ransom” is mentioned in passing, as if assuming the reader knows that lesser punishments were on the table for the judge to administer. The fact that we read really severe punishments being administered in some narratives that describe a person committing an offense (e.g. breaking the Sabbath), does not mean that this was meant to be the norm, but such a narrative within the context of the covenant writings functioned to set a social precedent to instill fear and a legal precedent for the viability of a maximum sentence actually being applied. But this did not mean it always had to be applied. For this reason alone, Moses may have administered a lesser punishment than death, assuming he wasn’t setting a precedent.
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