There is a Bible mystery that has perplexed many scholars and teachers for years. It is a scène described in most Bibles, but is NOT found in the oldest available manuscripts. That means it was added later.
The scene in question can be found in John 8: 1-11.
1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the Temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them.
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group
4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.
5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger.
7 When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8 Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go on your way and from now on sin no more.”
The question is what set of circumstances would result in this being omitted from older versions, yet added in later versions.
Some scholars believe the story was omitted because they didn’t want to show how easy Jesus was on adultery, thereby promoting wives to not worry all that much about committing adultery.
Others believe the story was orally handed down from generation to generation and some monk copying Bibles simply added it, since it was so much like Jesus.
I have a different theory. A couple of odd things in the account leads to what I believe happened.
First, why did Jesus stoop down and write something on the ground. Nowhere else in the Bible are we told Jesus disengaged Himself from people trying to test Him.
Secondly, the Mosaic Law states that when a man and woman are caught in adultery, BOTH are to be stoned to death. Where is the man in this account?
Lastly, there are two facts presented in the narrative that finalize my theory; it was dawn and the woman was caught in the very act of adultery.
It is clear … the woman was naked.
- She would be naked if the Pharisees caught her in the very act of adultery.
- If they were testing Jesus, a naked woman would provide a “shock” factor and they might think it would confuse Jesus so they could get Him to respond inappropriately.
- Bringing a naked man to Jesus would not add to the jolt, hence there was no need to bring the adulterous male.
- It explains why Jesus would look to the ground to write something. He would not be embarrassed by a naked female body … He created them. However, He knew how humiliated she would feel and did not want to add to her humiliation.
- It would explain why the scene was left out of the oldest manuscripts, because the assemblers of the Bible did not want to describe our Savior facing a naked woman.
- It is easy to believe someone later, copying the Bible, realized by omitting the fact the woman was naked, the truly powerful scene could be reinserted into the canon with no worry about how people would react.
My inductive conclusion fits all the information and provides the answer.
Nobody knows what Jesus wrote with his finger in the dirt. In my book Catacombs, I had Him write something He actually did say to people during some of His teachings and it is appropriate for this moment. Here is the chapter I put in my book.
Sethur followed a guard across the Temple courtyard to the wall facing it. The guard methodically removed the torches strategically placed in the side to provide light at night and extinguished them. The artificial light was replaced by the soft dawning morning.
As people started their day, the scent of wood burning from nearby houses hovered over the Temple area. Sethur was amazed so many people had already assembled in the open area. I guess Kore’s plan might work. Surely these people have come expecting the carpenter to speak to them this early.
He saw a wave of heads turn in the direction of the Mercy Gate. That will be the Nazarene for certain.
In minutes Jesus walked into the open courtyard and gave the crowd a pleasant smile. Rather than mounting the steps to the porch as he had the previous day, Jesus remained on the ground, several feet in front of the Temple proper and began to teach. “You have heard it said, you should love your neighbors and hate your enemies. Rather, you should love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. By doing this, everyone will see you are children of God. What reward is it to love only those who love you? Even tax collectors and Gentiles do that. No, you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
At that point, Attai dragged a completely nude woman around the corner of the Temple and yelled at the nearest listeners, “Move out of the way.”
The crowd gawked at the display. They automatically formed a human circle as Attai towed the woman toward Jesus.
She struggled against the advance, but Attai was much stronger and dragged her forward. Having no way to cover herself, she held her chin against her chest, which caused her long brown hair to fall forward, providing a small screen.
Sethur positioned himself on the other side of Jesus.
Attai clutched the woman’s arms with his beefy hands and stopped her near Jesus.
Sobbing loudly, the woman continued looking down.
All glared at her, except for Jesus who stooped to the ground. Rather than add his look to her humiliation, he focused on his finger as it pushed the dust to form words.
If you had only known what this means
Attai assumed a pompous posture and showed a caddish grin. “Teacher, we have caught this woman in the very act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded such offenders be stoned to death. What is your sentence?”
Jesus was stoic. He watched his finger as he continued writing in the dust, but he said nothing:
I want mercy
Sethur drew near Jesus and stood on his tiptoes, trying to make his small stature as high above Jesus as he could. He knew the trap was set, but it would only work if Jesus took the bait. His voice dripped with contempt. “You presume to teach the truth, interpreting the Holy Scriptures as to what God really means, so, tell us,…should this woman be stoned to death for committing adultery, or not?”
Jesus raised himself up, glanced at Sethur, and slowly swept the entire crowd.
Everyone was frozen in anticipation.
The woman raised enough she could peek through her hair at Jesus.
Sadness covered Jesus’ expression. His words hung in the air. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After saying this, Jesus lowered himself and continued writing in the dust:
Rather than sacrifice
The entire crowd became conscience stricken when they heard his words. Individually, they slowly slipped out of the courtyard. Sethur was the last to depart and stopped at the edge of the open area. He pivoted. Although several yards from Jesus and the woman, he could still hear them.
Jesus finished writing:
You would not have condemned the guiltless
The only sound now was two birds in the distance arguing over a worm. The lack of any human noise washed the area clean of the former hostility.
The woman straightened and stared at Jesus with a look of admiration.
Jesus returned her gaze, kindness flooding his face. “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”
The woman used her freed hands to cover her nudity as best she could, but she fixed her mesmerized attention on Jesus, rather than dropping in shame. “No one… Lord.”
Jesus pulled off his outer coat, wrapped it around the woman to cover her completely and gave her a tender smile.
“I do not condemn you either. Go on your way and from now on, sin no more.”