This passage was not originally part of John’s Gospel. The vast majority of the smartest people who’ve studied this Gospel most in depth would agree.
The text of John 7:53-8:11 is not found in any of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Doesn’t appear until the 5th century, maybe 400 years after the Gospel of John was written.
Further evidence that it wasn’t originally part of John’s Gospel include:
· The fact that all the earliest church fathers, when commenting on this passage, pass straight over it. From 7:52 and right on to 8:12.
· Also, you’ll find that the text flows very nicely if you read it that way.
· When the story did start appearing in manuscripts, it appeared in three different places in John’s Gospel
· Finally, its style and vocabulary is more unlike John than any other passage in John
Until the year 1516, when the very first printed copy of the New Testament rolled off the printing press, every single copy of the New Testament had been … copied … by … hand. As you can imagine, every once in a while, the copyists, the scribes, made errors.
And none of the first, original manuscripts are in existence today.
Now, be honest. Does that raise questions in your mind? “If this text isn’t part of John, then everything is up for grabs”. “How can I count on any text?” “Can I trust the Bible that I hold in my hands at this moment?”
I’ll tell you. I’ve seen this passage in the distance for months. And I’ve wondered and asked God, “what is a preacher supposed to do with a text like this?”. And I’ve decided. I’ll preach a half-sermon. This message will be half history lesson and half sermon.
Why? Because on one hand, we need to deal with the questions that arise out of such a text. And God wants to do something in us as we deal with it. He wants to instill confidence in us in His Word. But secondly, there is a sermon to be preached here because even though this story isn’t originally part of John, as DA Carson says “there is little reason for doubt that the event here described actually occurred”.There’s a reason the church maintained and kept this story until now. Because it echoes the story of the whole New Testament. And God wants to instill in us holiness, yet on a new foundation. A foundation of grace.
1. Confidence on the Foundation of Preservation
You see, we believe from texts like 2 Timothy 3:16that the Holy Spirit moved upon the writers of Scripture such that the words they penned are the very words of God.
But what if we don’t have any of the original documents they wrote?
It matters because the Holy Spirit has acted equally as powerfully throughout history to preserve the Scriptures. Just as God the Spirit acted to write the Scriptures, God the Spirit has acted to preserve the Scriptures.
Let me explain what I mean.
The Bible is by far the most well-preserved ancient document in existence. That’s not a statement of opinion. Let’s just take the New Testament. None of the originals. How many copies, though, do we have of the New Testament?
Over 25,000. There are 5,801 complete or partial Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, dating back as far as the 2ndand 3rdcentury. And think about it, if you know the history of the church, there probably shouldn’t be any copies available from that era. Why? Because the 2ndand 3rdcenturies were marked by significant persecution of Christians – efforts to stamp out Christianity and the Christian Scriptures. Yet dozens of manuscripts exist. Once you get to about 325, the era of Constantine, the persecution ends and manuscripts are everywhere. The most important among them are called a codex. A codex because they’re bund copies rather than scrolls. The two earliest and most significant are called Codex Sinaiticus. It was written about 350 and it’s the whole New Testament. The other is called Codex Vaticanus. It’s from 325 and it’s the whole Bible.
There are also over 8000 ancient copies of the New Testament in Latin, called the Vulgate. The Vulgate dates back to the late 4thcentury. Beginning in the year 382.
There are nearly 1,000 manuscripts in the Syriac language that go all the way back to the year 200.
I could really go on and on and on and tell you things like the fact that we have over 32,000 quotations of the Scriptures from early church fathers who wrote before 325. Enough quotations to reconstruct the entire NT.
Why belabor all this? Why go through so many numbers? To give you a reference for comparison.
The second most well-preserved ancient document in existence today is Homer’s Iliad. You probably read it in high school. Next to the New Testament, there are more ancient copies of the Iliad than any other ancient document. There are 643 copies of the Iliad. The earliest of which is from the 13thcentury. Nearly 500 years after Homer wrote the Iliad. Nobody doubts the accuracy of our current translations of the Iliad.
You may not know of these others, but some of the other most well-preserved ancient documents are:
· Caesar’s Gallic Wars. 1stcentury BC. Ten copies. Oldest 1,000 years after Caesar wrote
· Livy’s Roman history. Written during Jesus’ time. 20 manuscripts.
Compare these with 25,000 copies of the New Testament. It’s simply staggering.
Now, of course, these are hand-written copies, so they have slight variations. Copyists did make errors. But the science of textual criticism compares manuscripts to determine the content of the originals. For example, if you had only two copies of the Gospel of John and one had the story of the woman caught in adultery and the other didn’t you’d be hard-pressed to know which was more accurate. But if you had 100 copies, even though there are variations, you could tell by the number and age and geographical origin whether the story was original or not.
Here’s a helpful illustration from the late RC Sproul - “Let me say that I hope you are not disturbed to learn that there are copy errors in the early manuscripts of the books in our Bible. Some people hear that and say, “We don’t have the originals, so how can we say that the Bible is the Word of God?” That’s like saying that if someone put a bomb in the National Institute of Standards and Technology and blew up our official yardstick, there wouldn’t be enough accurate yardsticks and copies to allow us to reconstruct what a yard is. Of course, we would have to reconstruct it, and with infinitesimal variation. The same holds true of Scripture.”
Can you then be confident in the Bible that you hold in your hands?
Yes. You can and should be confident and praise God that He, through His Spirit, has acted powerfully in history in a way that is unlike anything ever seen in history, to preserve the accuracy of His Word.
We can read and listen to and study the Gospel of John and know that it is God’s very Word. We can be confident that the passage before us was not originally part of John’s Gospel.
BUT, we can also be confident that this account probably did happen. And we can be confident that there’s probably a reason that Christians preserved this story for centuries. And I believe the reason is because it echoes the entire message of the New Testament.
So, it’s worth our time to learn from it.
2. Holiness on the Foundation of Grace
Jesus is once again in the Temple. Surrounded by a crowd listening to His teaching. At the back of the crowd, there’s a commotion and it’s growing louder and mover closer to Him.
The crowd parts and out from it emerges a group of scribes and Pharisees, religious authorities, guardians of the Law and scholars of the Scriptures. In their midst, there’s a woman.
They declare, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery! Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” They’re referring to Deut. 22and Leviticus 20.
But there’s a detail here that reveals the Scribes and Pharisees motives: the woman is alone. Where is the man? As one commentator says, “adultery is not a sin committed in splendid isolation”. Either the man ran away or the accusers were sufficiently chauvinistic to condemn only the woman or the man was a person of power and it would be to their disadvantage to accuse him as well, but either way, what’s clear is that they’re not interested in upholding the law. They’re interested in, verse 6, hoisting Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma.
You see, if Jesus disavowed the Law of Moses, His credibility would be instantly undermined. If He condemned her, it would be hard to square with His reputation of being compassionate and quick to forgive. Furthermore, they were under Roman rule. Only the Roman courts had the right to convict and execute.
They wanted to catch Jesus in this dilemma. And it was a real dilemma. So what does Jesus do? He stoops down and writes on the ground. There are a hundred theories as to what He wrote on the ground. We don’t know what He wrote. But we do know what He said. He said, “Let Him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
He chose neither option a or option b. They didn’t see it coming. Jesus is referring to Deut. 13:9, which says that the witnesses to a crime punishable by death are to be the first to throw the stones. And those who throw the stones cannot be guilty of the same sin, lest they invite stones to be thrown at themselves.
Jesus is not saying the authorities must be entirely sinless in order to uphold the Law. His words mean, rather, that they must not be guilty of the same kind of sin. And as in many societies, when it comes to sexual sins, men are let off the hook with a simple wink.
How do the accusers respond? One by one, they file out of the temple. Testifying to their own personal guilt.
Jesus was not destroying the whole judicial system of the Law of God. He was speaking to a people who were hypocritically bloodthirsty in their desire to shame and punish a person who had fallen.
Notice Jesus did not try to prove the woman’s innocence. She was guilty and He did not deny it. But He examined her would-be executioners and found them to be disqualified (none were without sin) and found them disqualified. Only He met the qualifications that He Himself had given for carrying out the sin. He was a witness to her sin (He knew. He was God) and He was Himself without sin. Jesus was the only qualified judge and executioner present.
vv. 8-9 all the others have gotten the message and gone away. It’s just Jesus and the woman. Jesus looks at her and says (v. 10) “woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”“Is there no one left to condemn you?” She replies, “No one, Lord”. “There is no one left to condemn me”.
Now don’t miss this. Jesus could have replied, “well, I’m still here”. But instead, what proceeded from Jesus lips were the sweet words of grace: “Neither do I condemn you”.
RC Sproul said of this verse, “If you can’t relate to this verse, your heart has been hardened, because each one of us comes to God like this woman, guilty, ashamed, naked and exposed.”
It’s true, isn’t it? Jesus says in Matthew 5 that anyone who looks upon a woman with lust is guilty of adultery. Anyone who is angry with his brother in his heart is guilty of murder. It all comes from the same place. A sinful heart. We’re all just as guilty as the woman.
And while we might try and build our lives on the foundation of our own goodness, hide our angry thoughts, lustful glances, shameful stories and dark secrets, God sees them all. He sees our foundation of “good works” and sees all the cracks and broken stones. God has borne witness to it all. He has seen every one of your thoughts. He has heard every word you’ve said. He has watched every indecent thing you’ve done when no one is watching. He’s watched you lack self-control. He’s witnessed your every evil thought, word and deed.
And no matter how much you’ve gotten away with. No matter how well you’ve hidden your sin from others, in response to the question, “is there anyone to condemn you”, God has every right and ability in the world to stand. To raise His hand. To Say, “I am. I’ve witnessed it all. He’s guilty. She’s guilty.”
Yet, according to John 3:17, “God did not send His Son into the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him”.
Jesus came into this world for this woman. To be sinless, to die a sinner’s death for the sake this sinner.
RC Sproul continues, “But Christ clothes us with the cloak of His righteousness, covering our nakedness and shame, and says to us, ‘neither do I condemn you’”.
Grace. Neither do I condemn you. This, friends, is grace.
Now, I want you to notice something. Be amazed by this grace. Be stunned. But notice something. Jesus didn’t say, “neither do I condemn you, so go away and what you do next doesn’t really matter”. He said, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”.(cf. 5:14)
God sees our sin. We’re all sinners. But an experience of grace changes a person.
Listen to how one pastor, much wiser than myself, puts it, “I am re-establishing your holy life, my friend. I’m building it again. You threw it away in adultery, I’m building it again. I’m sending you away, not to commit adultery anymore, but here’s the difference, woman, I have just put it on a new foundation: my grace.”
You have to have an experience of God’s grace before you can try not sinning. If you try living a holy and obedient life without an experience of grace, what you get is hypocrisy. You get pharisaical misuses of the law. You get attempts to justify yourself and compare yourself to others.
Imagine what grace must have tasted like to this woman. She was about to be brutally executed. It’s horrible. In most cases, a person was buried to their waist in the ground with hands tied behind their backs as witnesses stood around and hurled rocks until the accused was dead.
She expected to taste this in just a few moments, yet what she heard instead was, “neither do I condemn you”. The sweet taste of grace.
When you taste this grace for your sin, you have a whole different reason for not sinning any more!
Your life and how you live your life is built on a whole new foundation.
It’s going and not sinning because you’ve been cleared of all charges, instead of going around and trying to hopefully convince the judge that you really were a good person! Because I wasn’t as bad as that adulteress!
It’s a life of holiness built on the foundation of grace. Rather than a foundation of my own goodness.
What foundation is your holiness being built on?
As you work to be a better parent? As you try and keep your mind pure and keep your eyes from where they shouldn’t stray? As you try and love your neighbor?
Is it being built on a foundation of your goodness? Are you trying to prove yourself a good person? Or is it being built on a foundation of grace? Fully aware that God sees
The lesson of this story is exactly what Jesus wanted us to see.
It points us to His grace as the foundation for living for His glory.
So friends, if you have trusted in Jesus, neither does He condemn to, go and sin no more.