The Naive and the Naughty

Morris on the PA

Excerpt for review from: Leon Morris, Gospel of John, (Eerdmans, 1995)

Page Index

Last Updated: Sept 15, 2010

Prologue: - Introduction to Leon Morris

Exerpt: - Morris on John 8:1-11:

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Leon Lamb Morris (March 15, 1914 — July 24, 2006) was a New Testament scholar.

Born in Lithgow, New South Wales, Morris received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England on the subject which became his first major book, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. He served as Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge (1960-64); Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne (1964-1979), Australia (where they have named a library in his honour); and Visiting Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

He published several theological works and commentaries on the Bible, notable among which are:

The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross,
The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance,
New Testament Theology
, and
The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the NT series) and
The Gospel According to Matthew (IVP / Eerdmans, 1992).

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Leon Morris on
John 8:1-11


Exerpt from:
Leon Morris, Gospel of John, (Eerdmans, 1995)

On page 385 (commentary proper) there is only a terse note: "For the commentary on 7:53-8:11 see the Appendix."


The Woman Taken in Adultery (7:53-8:11) pp. 778 f.

The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel. 1 It is not attested in the oldest manuscripts, and when it does make its appearance it is sometimes found in other positions, either after verse 36, or after verse 44, or at the end of this Gospel, 2 or after Luke 31:38. It seems clear enough that those scribes who felt it too important to be lost were not at all sure where to attach it. And if they could not agree on the right place for it, they could not agree on the true text for it either. THe manuscripts that have it do not agree closely. The very large number of variants indicates that the textual history of the pericope is different from that of the Fourth Gospel. In addition to the textual difficulty many find stylistic criteria against the story. 3 While the spirit of the narrative is in accordance with that of this Gospel the language is not Johannine. The passage is too short for this argument to be completely decisive, but for what it is worth it does tell against Johannine authorship. There is also the fact that the passage does not fit well into the context, whereas 8:12 follows naturally after 7:52.

But if we cannot feel that this is a part of John's Gospel, we can feel that the story is true to the character of Jesus. Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. 4 It rings true. It speaks to our condition. And it can scarcely have been composed in the early church with its sternness about sexual sin. It is thus worth our while to study it, though not as an authentic part of John's writing. The story is undoubtedly very ancient. Many authorities agree that it is referred to by Papias. 5 It is mentioned also in the Apostolic Constitutions (2.24). But it is not mentioned very often in early days. The reason probably is that in a day when the punishment for sexual sin was very severe among Christians, this story was thought to be too easily misinterpreted as countenancing unchastity. When ecclesiastical discipline was somewhat relaxed the story was circulated more widely and with greater measure of official sanction.

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...not enough. If the conditions required by Jewish law were as stringent as J. D. M. Derrett maintains, 11 this can scarcely indicate anything other than a trap deliberately set. 12 All the more is this likely to be the case in that the man was not present. Why not? Since the woman was taken in the very act, there should have been two sinners, not one, before Jesus. But if the whole thing had been engineered, provision would have been made for the man to escape. Moreover, the witnesses ought to have warned the woman in accordance with the maxim, "No penalty without a warning." There is no hint that they did anything of the sort. All the indications are that the accusers had some special vindictiveness toward her. This is shown also in the fact that they brought the woman along publicly (cf. Knox, "mader her stand there in full view"). Ther was no need for this. She might have been kept in custody while the case was referred to Jesus.

4 They address Jesus with the polite "Teacher," and explain the circumstances. "Teacher" is appropriate in a context where Jesus is to be asked to decide a point of law. "was caught" is again the perfect tense. The woman's guilt is plain. 13 She was taken "in the act". 14 The word puts some stress on her part of the affair.

5 They put to Jesus the question of what should be done with the woman, first pointing out that the law of Moses specifically provides for the death penalty in such cases. It is perhaps worth noticing that they slightly manipulate the text of the law. They say "such" are to be stoned, where their word is feminine, "such women," whereas both relevant passages (Lev. 20:10, Deut. 22:22) say that the man as well as the woman is to be put to death 15

The accusers are also a little more specific than the O.T., for they speak definitely of stoning, whereas the passages cited do not indicate the manner of the execution. Stoning is prescribed for the guilty pair when the woman is "a virgin pledged to be married" (Deut. 22:23-24). 16 It seems fairly clear that they were envisaging a lynching. There is no mention of a trial, 17 and it would seem that this group proposed to take the law into their own hands. Their "you" is emphatic. The law, they infer, is plain: now what do you say? the next verse makes it clear that they were not sincere, but the exact nature of the trap is not certain. Most interpreters accept the view that Jesus faced a charge under Roman law or the law of Moses. If he said "Stone her.", he would lay himself open to the charge of counceling action contrary to Roman law, which did not provide for a death penalty in such cases. 18 If he said, "Do not stone her.", he could be charged with offending against the Law of God. The question was a loaded one. Either answer would involve Jesus in difficulties. This may indeed be the dilemma his opponents had in mind, though evidence does not seem to be strong that the Romans would, in fact, have taken strong action in such a case. Another possibility is that a verdict for stoning would have set those who favored leniency against him, 19 while one against stoning would leave him out of favor with the legalists. The objection to this is that verse 6 looks for a definite charge, not a shift in popularity. In any case Jesus' views were clearly well known and the accusers almost certainly felt that they could count on him not to endorse the provision of the law, but to take the lenient view. We need not concern ourselves unduly with looking for the consequences of the alternative answer. Jesus could, of course, have refused to give a decision. There was no compulsion, and he would have been safe. But in that case the woman would certainly have been lynched.

6 There motives are made clear. They are not really seeking guidance, but "testing" him (NIV paraphrases). The word is often translated "tempt"; it signifies putting to the test with a view to the tested person failing. They wanted a legal basis on which to accuse him. Jesus' reaction was to ignore them. 20 He simply stooped and made marks in the dust. There is no hint of why he wrote or what he wrote. It is not even certain that he wrote, for the verb used can mean "to draw". 21 But in this context the word more naturally signifies "to write". A not unlikely suggestion is that Jesus wrote the words he later spoke. In other words, he wrote his sentence as well as pronounced it. 22 Derrett is of the opinion that he will have written some words from the ...

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8-9 Jesus stooped again and resumed his writing 26 But as the significance of his words sunk in, the men went out. THe continuous tense in this last verb gives the thought of something like a procession. They kept on going out. The exodus began with the elders, who would naturally be expected to give a lead and whose greater experience would enable them to grasp more quickly the implications of Jesus' words. They, moreover, would have a certain responsibility to see that justice was done. If the witness was false, or not legally valid, and the woman was killed, the oldest men present would have a major share of the responsibility. So they went out. But the action was not confined to them. THe consciences of all were touched, and all went out. 27 The woman was left alone. "Left" is a strong word, and might be translated "abandoned". 28 When the force of Jesus' words struck home they were no longer interested in her sin, but their own. They made no attempt to interfere with her, for she was left "still standing there". 29

10 Jesus addresses the woman. "Woman" is not a harsh form of address. It is used by Jesus on the cross as he addresses his mother (19:26). Now he asks the adulteress where her accusers are, and goes on to inquire whether no one has condemned her. She assures him that this is indeed the case.

11 Jesus' answer brings the incident to a fitting conclusion. He, too, will not condemn her. But that does not mean that he condones her sin; he tells her to sin no more. The form of the command implies a ceasing to continue an action already started: "Stop your sinful habit." 30 And "no

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Original Footnotes:

1. There is a convenient summary of the evidence in Hoskyns, pp. 563-64. The most considerable support for it is D, but the evidence against it is overwhelming. It is not found in any of the oldest MSS apart from D; its only attestation is Western or late, and it is omitted even by some of the Western witnesses. It is generally said that it is not referred to by the Fathers other than the Western ones, but Bart D. Ehrman, on the basis of recently discovered MSS, has shown that it was known to Didymus the Blind, a 4th century Alexandrian (NTS, 34 [1988], pp. 24-44).

2. In this position it may be intended as an appendix to the four Gospels rather than specifically to this Gospel.

3. Note such things as the frequent use of δε instead of John's ουν; πορευομαι εις (v.53) where John prefers προς (14:12, 28; 16:28, etc. though he uses εις in 7:35); ορθρου (v.2) as in Luke 24:1, whereas John uses πρωι (18:28, 20:1); λαος (v.2) is used often in Matthew and Luke, but only occasionally in John, who prefers οχλος ; απο του νυν (v. 11) is not found in John, though it is frequent in Luke (Luke 1:38; 5:10; etc.). Stylistically, the passage belongs with the Synoptics rather than with John.

4. Tenney speaks of "its ancient character and undoubtedly historic truthfulness." Most scholars would accept this as a fair statement.

5. Eusebeius reports Papias as having "expounded another story about a woman who is accused before the Lord of many sins, which the Gospel according to the Hebrews contains" (HE 3.29.17; cited from Loeb edn.). Though Papias speaks of "many sins" and our narrative but one, it is not impossible that Papias is referring to another version of this story. No other is known of a woman accused before our Lord of sinning.






11. In his very valuable article on the incident in NTS, X (1963-64), pp. 1-26, he [Derrett] stresses that the witnesses must have seen the couple in coitu.

"There is absolutely no question of their having seen the couple in a 'compromising situation', for example, coming from a room in which they were alone, or even lying together on the same bed. The actual physical movements of the couple must have been capable of no other explanation, and the witnesses must have seen exactly the same acts at exactly the same time, in the presence of each other, so that their depositions would be identical in every respect"

J. D. M. Derrett, (pp. 4-5).

He points out that conditions were so stringent that they could have been met only on rare occasions. Thus provision was made for the ordeal (sotah) when the husband was suspicious, but had not the proof required.

12. There is more than one possible motive. A good one is the material one. If a man divorced his wife she would take property with her. But if she died he would succeed to it.

13. BDF takes μοιχευομενη as a middle in accordance with Attic use (101); the active would be used of the man. BAGD, however, reminds us of the use of the accusative of the object τινα ( γυναικα) after the active, which "explains the use of the passive in the case of the woman." It cites a number of examples, including this passage. Cf. also Matt. 5:32. LS cites the passive as classical.

14. The word is αυτοφωρος. from φωρ, "a thief", it properly denotes "caught in the act of stealing," but it comes to be used of other offenses. It leaves no room for doubt.

15. In Jewish understanding a man was guilty of adultery only if he had sexual relations with a betrothed or married woman, but a woman was guilty if she had sexual relations with anyone other than her husband.

16. Strangulation is the penalty for adultery according to the Mishnah (Sanh. 11:1), though stoning is the method of execution when the woman is betrothed (Sanh. 7:4). But there does not seem to be evidences of the use of strangling in Jewish penal procedure before the fall of Jerusalem. See Pl Winter, On the Trial of Jesus (Berlin, 1961), pp. 67-74; he notes that Herod had certain people strangled (p. 188, n.21), but denies that Jewish penal procedure knew this form of execution until the 2nd century. Derrett says, "We know now that the traditional punishment for adultery by a married woman was stoning" (p. 11).

17. It is possible that there was no properly constituted Jewish court to conduct such a trial. See the evidence in Derrett, p. 9, n.. 4. Lynching would then be the only way of securing execution, for the Romans would not order death for such an offense.

18. Cf. Bernard, "although the Roman authorities were lax on occasion about such acts of violence (as in the case of Stephen, Acts 7:58), there would have been a good pretext for handing Him over to them to deal with." J. Jeremias similarly argues that the Jews had no right to put anyone to death, so that an answer affirming the death penalty could be construed as usurping the function of the Roman authorities (ZNTW, 43 [1950-51]. pp. 145-50).

19. There is some evidence that a large number of people did view the death penalty as too severe. The main reasons for thinking this are that the death penalty seems rarely to have been carried out, although the offense was common. I. Abrahams speaks of "the great prevalence of adultery" (Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, I [Cambridge, 1917], p. 74); demanding the death penalty would imply a readiness for many executions. He also says that the death penalty for adultery "can never have been frequently enforced" (p. 73). It was apparently much more usual for the husband to divorce his erring wife and receive compensation from the man. The Mishnah tractate Sotah seems to take it for granted that the punishment for adultery would be divorce, and it does not look for the death penalty. For example, it provides that an adulteress is forbidden both to her husband and her paramour (Sot. 5:1), which indicates that neither party was executed.

20. Some think that he did not wish to look at the hideous sight of professedly godly men hounding the woman. Cf. Temple: "But the Lord is tortured with the horror of it all. He will not look at them or at her. He stoops down to hide the burning confusion of His face and relieves his agitation by tracing patterns in the dust." Calvin is of the opinion that the gesture is to show that Jesus despises them.

21. The verb is , not found elsewhere in the NT. The uncompounded , however, is found in v. 8, that points to meaning here of "was writing" rather than "was drawing" (the imperfect tense points to a continuing activity). Godet and others see in the action "a meaning analogous to that of the saying of Jeremiah (17:13); "Those who turn aside from Me shall be written in the earth.' " The gesture would mean that the accusers had "turned aside" from God.

22. T. W. Manson is of this opinion: "the action of Jesus might be explained from the well-known practice in Roman criminal law, whereby the presiding judge first wrote down the sentence and then read it aloud from the written record...Jesus by this motion syas in effect: 'You are inviting me to usurp the function of the Roman Governor. Very well, I will do so; and I will do it in the approved Roman manner.' He then stoops down and pretends to write down the sentence, after which he reads it out: 'whoever among you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her' ....Jesus defeats the plotters by going through the form of pronouncing sentence in the best Roman style, but wording it so that it cannot be executed" (ZNTW, 44 [1952-53], p. 225-56). Against this, it is unlikely...




26. Derrett thinks that this time Jesus wrote, "Keep the far from a false matter.", which the readers would complete with the reset of the verse: "and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty" (Exod. 23:7; but could it be said that this woman was "innocent or honest"?). In the apocryphal book of Susanna Daniel used this very text to condemn the false elders (v. 53). It had thus been themeans of bringing wicked men to their death, and the text might well arouse memories of the incident.

27. "Once at a time" is εις καθ' εις BDF explains the curious nominative after κατα as a development from the distributive use of this preposition, "since καθ' ενα εκαστον became fixed as καθενα εκ. and a corresponding nom. was created." They add, "not many examples of this vulgarism are found in the NT" (305). GT says that "either κατα is used adverbially, or εις as indeclinable" (sub εις).

28. The word is κατελεφθη. It is used of Levi's abandoning his position as tax collector to follow Jesus (Luke 5:28), and of a man's dying and leaving his wife (Mark 12:19).

29. Scarcely a translation of εν μεσω ουσα. The meaning may be that the entire accusing party went out and the woman remained "in the middle" of the group Jesus had been teaching (v. 2). Augustine in a telling phrase says, Relicti sunt duo, misera et misericordia (33.5).

30. μηκετι αμαρτανε.

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