I want to add a recent discovery of mine,
which resolves a puzzle concerning one part of John 8:1-11
that has been left fuzzy at the least for a long time.
I credit Shabir Ally for his own accidental and unintended tip-off.
He is a muslim apologist who critiques the Bible and prefers the Quran.
He of course has no knowledge of my discovery:
The issue concerns why Jesus used the exact expression here,
"The sinless one among you, let him first cast a stone at her..." (Jn. 8:7)
For previously, (without a second look at a certain passage in Deuteronomy),
I found that this remained a puzzle, because it does not directly
quote an O.T. Law or offer an explanation for Jesus' apparent demand.
The Law of Moses did not require "sinless" men to initiate stonings.
So many have thought that Jesus is here (as apparently in other places)
adding to the law or raising it up to a new higher and stricter standard.
But this new insight which I will offer below,
may suggest that Jesus actually wrote out a reference to Deut. 13:6-21.
If this is the case, then His 'incomplete' quote needs to be taken
in this context, and we need to complete the idea ourselves from the Law.
That is, Jesus may have said little, that is, just enough to call the
Deuteronomic Law into memory for the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus' Shorthand Responses:
When we (often) as modern readers assume the passage is 'self-sufficient'
or 'self-explanatory' on its face, we can make serious mistakes,
or at least miss the historical context and deeper meaning of Jesus.
An example of this is marriage, where Jesus on a few occasions
appears to give a new law or rule on marriage and divorce,
i.e., divorce is only lawful for the reason of actual adultery/fornication.
Knowing that there was a vigorous debate among
the two major Rabbinical schools on divorce,
and that they and the Jews sought Jesus' opinion on it,
makes Jesus' statements much clearer and provides the scope for their application.
Jesus on Divorce:
'Divorce was a controversial topic in Jesus' day, with two main schools
of thought, centered around two of its most famous proponents.
The first was the school of Rabbi Shammai (a more strict and unpopular view)
and second was the school of Rabbi Hillel (a more lax and popular view).
Under the thinking of Hillel, "a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner, if she spun, or went with unbound hair, or spoke to men in the streets, if she spoke disrespectfully of his parents in his presence, or if she was a brawling woman whose voice could be heard in the next house. Rabbi Akiba even went the length of saying…that a man could divorce his wife if he found a woman whom he liked better and considered more beautiful." (Barclay)
Each school of thought understood that the Mosaic law gave permission for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1:
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.Each side knew and believed Deuteronomy 24:1;
the question was, "What constitutes uncleanness?"
The school of Rabbi Shammai understood that uncleanness meant sexual immorality, and said this was the only valid reason for divorce.
The school of Rabbi Hillel understood uncleanness to mean any sort of indiscretion; even to the point where for some rabbis, burning a husband's breakfast was considered valid grounds for divorce.
So in their question, the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to side with one teaching or the other. If He agreed with the lax school of Rabbi Hillel, it was clear that Jesus did not take the Law of Moses seriously. If He agreed with the strict school of Rabbi Shammai, then Jesus might become unpopular with the multitude, who generally liked access to an easy divorce. The religious leaders had reason to believe they had caught Jesus on the horns of a dilemma.
The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce and rabbinical opinions, but Jesus wanted to go back to the Scriptures...
"By answering the question, not from Shammai or Hillel, but from Moses, our blessed Lord defeated their malice, and confounded their devices." (Clarke)
Jesus interpreted the meaning of the word uncleanness in the Mosaic Law, showing that it refers to sexual immorality, not just anything that might displease the husband. Therefore, divorce - and the freedom to remarry without sin - is only permitted in the case of sexual immorality.
To this permission for divorce, the Apostle Paul added the case of abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1st Cor. 7:15).
We note that incompatibility, not loving each other anymore, brutality, and misery are not grounds for divorce, though they may be proper grounds for a separation and consequent "celibacy within marriage" as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 7:11. These words of Paul show us that a Christian couple may in fact split up for reasons that do not justify a Biblical divorce. It may be because of a misguided sense of spirituality; it may be because of general unhappiness, or conflict, or abuse, or misery, addiction, or poverty. Paul recognizes (without at all encouraging) that one might depart in such circumstance, but they cannot consider themselves divorced, with the right to remarry, because their marriage had not split up for reasons that justify a Biblical divorce.
I provided the rather longwinded excerpt above,
to illustrate Jesus' modus operandi or typical habit of
referring back to the Law of Moses on almost all of his conflicts
and controversies with the scribes and Pharisees.
Thus we should also expect Jesus to be referring to, calling to mind,
or referencing some O.T. Laws here as well. And not necessarily only one
law or O.T. reference, but a more whollistic view.
Christians read the passage (Jn. 8:1-11) typically as an independent thing,
and the only O.T. reference in mind is usually the law of stoning for adultery.
It is presumed that this is all that is needed to understand it.
However, there is another O.T. Law, more general and far-reaching in scope,
that ALSO covers adultery and governs legal procedure.
Its Deuteronomy 13:6-21. This law includes Adultery without mentioning
that word specifically, and encompasses a set of procedures that all
such cases ought to conform to in appropriate community situations.
Here is the first part:
6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. ...
- Deut. 13:6-11 (NIV)
At first glance, this does not seem to be about adultery.
However, the commandment against Adultery (Exod. 20:14, Deut. 5:18)
is given as one of the Ten Commandments
which DEFINE the God of Israel, His nature, His very Identity:
Jehovah is the Biblical God, the God of the Ten Commandments.
As a consequence, anyone leading others to break those commandments,
is proposing the abandonment of the worship of the Biblical God,
and the turning towards 'another god', a non-Biblical god, a false god,
and an idol.
Adultery is just a single special case of general Idolatry,
and therefore it falls under the authority of this wider Law.
And in the actual historical context of foreigners in the land
worshipping 'other gods' through temple prostitution and
celebrations of fornication etc., its clear that the main lure
into the worship of other gods was sex, i.e., fornication and adultery.
This was often done 'in secret' inside temples for the purpose of illicit sex,
and prostitution and harlotry.
Israelite men were lured into these temples under a promise of secrecy
and discretion, while Israelite women were lured under a promise of
money and/or threats and blackmail.
Conspirators typically would approach individuals alone,
and sexual crimes like adultery would take place inside homes
and dwellings in private and not visible to the larger community.
Adultery would typically be discovered and reported by those
in the household where the crime occurred, and the head of that house
would be held 'responsible' and accountable, and need to prove
their own innocence in the matter.
One way to force the patriarch, home-owner, husband, or father
into account was to require that THEY be the first to cast a stone
at their own daughter or wife, to prove their loyalty to the Law and God,
and their innocence and/or ignorance of what had been transpiring
in their own house under their nose.
This act was mandatory for the stoning according to this Law,
and ensured that mere accusations from outside parties could not
wreck homes and falsely have people killed for alterior motives or grievances.
And this act of throwing the First Stone was a self-testimony of the
appropriate male in charge of his own innocence in the matter,
and his belief in the accused's guilt.
Thus the expression of Jesus,
"The One Without Sin, Let him cast the first stone at her."
Refers directly to this overruling and preemptory Law,
required especially for the case of adultery, which was typically committed
inside someone's house, home, or private property away from the
eyes of the community.
It was not the absence of the male party in the adultery per se,
which could be simply explained on the basis that
the man was ALWAYS put to death when found guilty of adultery,
and may have already been executed, or could simply have escaped,
which would by no means exonerate the woman.
It was the absence of the OVERSEER, the HomeOwner, the Property Manager,
the Father, the Husband, the Guardian(!) which meant
that no stoning could proceed.
It was THIS man's innocence that must be publicly declared
along with his testimony to the guilt of the accused party,
and consummated by an act which initiated an execution.
It was THIS man's authority that must be thoroughly investigated,
and the crime on his watch explained.
For it must also be remembered that EVERY woman in Israel
was according to the Law of Moses under someone's authority,
supervision, and responsibility, including widows!
A woman was to live with and be under the authority of her father
until marriage, or the patriarch of the household or extended tribe.
A woman was under the authority of her husband during marriage,
with all contracts and permissions requiring his knowledge and assent.
A woman was under the authority of the tribe, king, and priesthood,
when she was widowed, and there were rules for remarriage and
distribution of inheritance of the family line. In cases of dire poverty,
widows had recourse to judges who could impose taxes and provide
food and shelter in Israel.
Thus no Israelite woman was 'free' to wander under her own authority,
and no property in Israel was not under the authority of some adult
and recognized male authority.
Only this man, could by his presence initiate a stoning,
he who had authority over the woman, who lived with the woman,
and who was required to instruct and discipline the woman
as to the Law of God and acceptable behaviour within the community.
The following verses (Deut. 13:12 fwd) give instructions to wipe out whole pockets or towns,
communities which have been hopelessly corrupted and are engaged in
false worship of fake gods, and the subsequent adultery and fornication.
Thus the firmness (merciless) requirement to destroy all those involved,
and burning down of all the property (no profit-motivated excursions allowed). The Law there seeks to stomp out all opportunities for straying from true worship, and also seeks to prevent the abuse of the Law to justify mere pillaging and robbery/murder for profit.