Aug 21, 2010
Milligan on the PA
Excerpt from: W.Milligan & W. Moulton, Commentary on the Gospel of John, (London, 1898)
The Pericope Adultera
Contents: The almost unanimous voice of modern criticism pronounces the narrative before us to be no genuine part of the Gospel of John. The section is wanting in the oldest and most trustworthy MSS. of the Gospel, and in several of the most ancient versions. It is passed by without notice in the commentaries of some of the earliest and most critical fathers of the Church. It is marked by an unusually large number of various readings, - a circumstance always highly suspicious. It is full of expressions not found elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, some of the chief of which will be noticed in the comment.
It interrupts the flow of the section where it occurs, - Jn. 8:12 connecting itself directly with that part of chap. 7 which closes with verse 52. Finally, MSS. which contain the section introduce it at various places, - some at the close of the Gospel ; others after Jn. 7:36 ; while in a third class it has no place in John at all, but is read in the Gospel of Luke, at the close of Lk. 21:38.
These considerations are decisive; and the narrative must be set aside as no part of the work in which it occurs. How the section found its way into the place which it now occupies it is impossible to say. Various conjectures, more or less plausible, have been offered on the point, but all of them are destitute of proof.
It does not follow, however, that the incident itself is not true. We know that an incident, very similar to this, probably indeed the same, was related in the early Apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews; and this circumstance lends probability to the belief that the events actually happened.
But the great argument in favour of the truth of the story is afforded by the character of the narrative itself. It bears the almost unmistakeable impress of a wisdom which could not have originated with the men of our Lord's time, and which (as is shown by the objections often made to it) the world even in our own time hardly comprehends.
It may be noted in addition that the incident bears in its spirit a striking similarity to that recorded in Mark 12:13-17 (Matt. 22:15-22 ; Luke 20:20-26). Bishop Lightfoot adduces strong evidence to show that the story was one of the illustrative anecdotes of Papias (Contemp. Review, vol. xxvi. p. 847). If so, it must have been in circulation from the very earliest times.
verse by verse
Ver. 53. And they went each one unto his own house. The first words of the section confirm the doubts which we have expressed as to its genuineness. They are not a natural mode of describing the breaking up of the Sanhedrin which had been in assembly (ver. 45) ; and no other persons have been mentioned to whom it is possible to apply them.
Ver. 1. But Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. No mention is made of the Mount of Olives in any other passage of the Fourth Gospel, but it is more than once spoken of in the Gospel of Luke as a place to which Jesus was wont to retire at the close of His daily labours in jerusalem during the Passion week. He could thus pass from the hurry and confusion of a large city to the solitude of a hillside or of its retiring hollows, where the sense of peace is deepened by the thought of the busy life which is so near at hand. It is probable that our Lord intended to spend the whole night upon the Mount ; and it may be that He would spend it as He did before making choice of His twelve apostles, ' in prayer to God,' (Luke vi. 12).
Ver. 2. And at dawn he came again into the temple courts, and all the people came unto him, and he sat down and taught them. With the return of day Jesus resumed His teaching of the people ; and they, on their part, seem to have been powerfully attracted by His words. According to the custom of the time, He sat with His hearers gathered round Him. The custom may be observed in Turkish mosques at the present day. The sitting of Jesus while teaching is not mentioned elsewhere in this Gospel. (Compare for it, Matt. 5:1 ; Mark 9:35)
Ver. 3. And the scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman taken in adultery ; and making her stand in the midst. . . . For the 'Pharisees,' comp. on Jn. 1:24; for the ' scribes,' on Matt. 7:29. John nowhere else mentions the scribes : they are frequently conjoined with the Pharisees in the earlier Gospels (Matt. 5:20 ; Mark 7:5 ; Luke 6:7, etc.).
The scene described in the words before us must have been in a high degree impressive and exciting. The people are still gathered around Jesus and listening intently to His words, when suddenly His discourse is interrupted by the religious authorities of the land, who force their way through the crowd dragging the unhappy culprit along with them, - their faces bearing all the marks of eager passion to entrap the object of their hatred ; their hands (as will appear more clearly from ver. 7) already grasping the stones by which they would at least indicate their conviction of the woman's guilt ; their words, even before they reach the Saviour, sending a thrill of horror through the multitude, - 'she has been taken in the very act.' Without the slightest feeling of compunction, they compel the woman to stand in the midst of the throng, and then they address themselves to Jesus.
Ver. 4. They say unto him, Teacher, this woman hath been taken committing adultery, in the very act. Not only was the sin grievous : the point is that there was no possibility of denying it. No process of proof was necessary : there was no need to summon witnesses. We may even well believe that the very countenance of the woman would betray her own consciousness of her shame.
Ver. 5. Now in the law Moses commanded to stone such : what therefore sayest thou concerning her? The words 'concerning her,' - which do not occur in the Authorised Version, but which the best authorities lead us to accept, - throw light upon the scene. It is not a mere abstract contrast between Moses and a new Lawgiver that is before us : it is a special case. By the way in which Jesus deals with this woman shall the end of His enemies be gained. The law of Moses expressly decreed death by stoning only to a betrothed virgin who proved faithless, and to her seducer (Deut. 22:23-24). It has been inferred, therefore, that this woman was only betrothed, not married. The supposition is unnecessary. It is enough to remember that adultery (in the ordinary sense of the word) was punishable with death ; and that, in a case of violation of the Sabbath, the Divine command to punish the transgressor with death was interpreted to mean putting him to death by stoning (Num. 15:35). We need thus have no hesitation in believing that the same mode of punishment would be applied to all sins similar in character to that which alone has the penalty of stoning expressly attached to it.
It is hardly possible to pass by without notice the singular italicised clause of the present Authorised Version at the end of ver. 6, 'as though he heard them not.' The clause is intended for a translation of certain words of the Complutensian text which Stephens adopted in his editions of A.D. 1546 and 1549, but not in that of 1550, which became the Textus Receptus. The words are not found in any early English Version, neither in Wycliffe nor Tyndale, nor Coverdale, nor the Great Bible, nor the two Genevan Versions. They are also absent from the Rheims Version of A.D. 1582.
They first occur in the Bishops' Bible. In the Version of A.D. 1611 they are not printed in italics. Dr. Scrivener says that they were not italicised earlier than A.D. 1769.
Ver. 6. But this they said tempting him, that they might have whereof to accuse him. In what, it may be asked, did the ' tempting ' lie? The common answer is that, if Jesus pronounced for the sparing of the woman, His enemies would raise an outcry against Him as contradicting Moses ; that if, on the contrary, He pronounced her worthy of death, they would accuse Him to the Roman Government as usurping powers which belonged to it alone.
The explanation thus given is no doubt to a large extent correct. But the supposition is also possible that these scribes and Pharisees were not thinking of a calm judicial sentence which, if it suited their purpose, they might report to the Romans. They may have thought of a sentence to be executed at the moment.
There before them was the guilty one; the crowd was round about her, - was even pressing upon her in all the excitement which the circumstances could not fail to awaken. Will Jesus reply to their question, No? They will instantly rouse the multitude against Him as contradicting Moses. Will He reply. Yes? They will stone the woman on the spot. Then the Roman Government will itself interpose, and Jesus will be seized as the instigator of the deed of blood.
- But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground. Jesus will not heed them at the first: it will lend more weight to His reply if it be not too quickly given. We are not to imagine that what He wrote was a sentence to be pronounced. He was not thus to assume the office of a judge. What He wrote was probably some text or precept of Divine truth which, had He not been interrupted, He would have proceeded to explain to the people. Such writing on the ground is still to be met with on the part of teachers in the East.
Ver. 7. But when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast the stone upon her". The scribes and Pharisees press for an answer. Then Jesus lifted Himself up (as we may well believe) with slow and solemn dignity, and spoke the words recorded of Him with a glance which must have showed His hearers that He read their hearts. They had no official right to condemn the woman; and our Lord's words embodied the truth, which finds always, as it found now, an answer in the heart of man, that we have no personal right to judge the guilty unless we ourselves are free from blame. There seems no reason to confine the thought of 'sin' here to the particular sin with which the woman was chargeable; the expression is quitegeneral. It is from the mention of 'the stone' that we may draw the conclusion that the woman's accusers had stones in their hands.
Ver. 8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. Jesus returned to His writing on the ground, and left His words to sink into the hearts of His hearers.
Ver. 9. But they, when they heard it, went out one by one, beginning at the elder. It was a correct comment on their state when the words 'being convicted by their own conscience' found their way into the text. They felt how entirely they had misapprehended the relation in which sinners ought to stand to sinners. They were brought to a conception of morality of which they had never dreamed. They learned that they could only vindicate that law upon which they prided themselves by purity of heart. They who came to condemn Jesus went away self-condemned, because He had opened their eyes to that spirit of the law which is so much greater than the letter.
- And Jesus was left alone, and the woman who was in the midst. Nothing has been said of the departure of 'the people' (ver. 2). We may therefore suppose that they were still around Jesus and the woman; but they are silent and awe-struck. To all intents Jesus is alone with the woman. He reads her heart, as if His thoughts were concentrated upon her; and she can see none but Him.
Ver. 10. And Jesus lifted up himself and said unto her, "Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee?" The word 'condemn,' for which it is not possible to substitute another, conveys most imperfectly the sense of the original Greek. The meaning is rather, ' Doth no man doom thee to the sentence of which they spoke? '
Ver. 11. And she said, 'No man, Lord.' Her answer is a simple statement of the fact. Perhaps the word 'Lord' may indicate the deep impression of the greatness of Jesus that had been made upon her mind.
- And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from this time sin no more. The word ' I ' is peculiarly emphatic. The language, it will be observed, is not a sentence of acquittal : it is rather an intimation to the woman that she has still space given her for repentance and faith. Let her use her opportunities, and profit by the tender compassion of Him who drew publicans and sinners to His side, then will still more gracious words be addressed to her. Instead of 'Go thy way, from this time sin no more,' she will receive the joyful assurance, 'Daughter, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.'
We are told nothing of the effect produced upon the woman by the remarkable scene in which she had borne apart. But every reader must feel how worthy of Him who 'came not to destroy men's lives but to save them ' were the words of Jesus upon this occasion. The narrative has lived on through all ages of the Church as an illustration, not less striking than any other recorded in the Gospels, of that Divine wisdom with which Jesus knew how to combine what human wisdom has never been able to unite, - condemnation of sin, and free and unrestricted mercy to the sinner.
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