Pardon, not Acquittal: Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery

The woman caught in adultery as portrayed in The Passion of the Christ¹

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is generally referred to as “Jesus and the Woman caught in Adultery” and is found in the beginning of John 8:2
“Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. 
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 
She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
There are several aspects of this passage that make it stand out to me.

The True Colors of the Pharisees

Here the Pharisees, the supposed keepers of the Law, slip up and show themselves to be less concerned with the integrity of the Law than they are in trapping Jesus in a difficult situation. You see, the Law of Moses did require that a woman caught in adultery be put to death, but it also required the same punishment for the man (Leviticus 20.10; Deuteronomy 22.22).

Since the woman was “caught in the act of adultery,” the Pharisees clearly knew who the other guilty party was, and by not bringing him forward for punishment, showed that they weren’t too concerned with what the Law said. Instead, they were trying to trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place, forcing him to either disregard the Law of Moses, or be the one who pronounced the woman’s death sentence (and thus, likely cause problems for him with the Roman authorities).

Writing on the Ground

Twice in this passage, it specifically mentions Jesus stooping down to write with his finger on the ground. It’s an interesting detail that is included, and helps the scene come to life for the reader. Scholars and commentators have pounced on this little detail over the years and offered various interpretations of it.

Some have suggested that Jesus was writing out the 10 Commandments; others have argued that this was an explicit reference to Jeremiah 17.13, where those who forsake God are “written in the dust”, and that Jesus is making a specific judgment against the Pharisees. I once read a short story called Las Palabras in la Arena (Words in the Sand), in which the words Jesus writes are actually the specific sins of the scribes and Pharisees who have brought the adulterous woman.

All of these suggestions (and others have been made as well) are interesting and, I guess, possible, but ultimately, we aren’t told what it is that Jesus writes on the ground. Personally, I’ve always been inclined to think that perhaps Jesus didn’t write anything of consequence on the ground at all, but just the act and the pause it produced helped to diffuse the energy and volatility of the situation and made the Pharisees more prepared to hear and respond to what Jesus says.

Pardon, Not Acquittal

The story of Jesus and the Woman caught in Adultery ends on a high note, as Jesus’ response to the Pharisees leaves them speechless and causes them to leave the scene, one by one:
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 
She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

What Jesus says here is incredibly important—Jesus pardons the woman, but He doesn’t say that her sin doesn’t matter or that it isn’t a big deal. Instead, he specifically addresses the sin—by telling her to “sin no more,” He indicates that He knew that she was indeed guilty of adultery and that she needed to change her life.

Which leads to an important idea that is central to the Gospel—Jesus offers us pardon, not acquittal. He doesn’t come to us and say, “Your sin is not a big deal; no crime has been committed, you are innocent.” Instead, He says, “Your sin is significant; it must be paid for, but you don’t have to pay the price.

Our sin is such a big deal that Jesus paid the price for it on the cross; because of that sacrifice, pardon can be offered to the adulterous woman, and to the rest of us as well.

• • •

1The Passion of the Christ portrays the woman caught in adultery as the same person as Mary Magdalene. This is depicted often in Christian art and church tradition, but there is no biblical support for it.
2This might seem like an odd statement, since a lot of early New Testament manuscripts do not contain the story of the woman caught in adultery at all (most modern translations either set the passage off in brackets or include it in a footnote), and some scholars would argue that this story should not be in the Bible at all. It seems likely to me that this story wasn’t originally in the Gospel of John, but I agree with this author who believes it belongs in the Gospel of Luke.


A Tip on Using Dropbox on Multiple Computers

Dropbox is pretty cool. From Wikipedia:
“Dropbox is a file hosting service…that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and client software. In brief, Dropbox allows users to create a special folder on each of their computers, which Dropbox then synchronizes so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same contents) regardless of the computer it is viewed on.”
For me, this is a great thing. At work, I have to bounce around between three computers, and since one of those computers (my laptop) is an MacBook while the other two are PCs, they don’t network well with one another and I used to have to carry around a flash drive constantly. Now, I can just use Dropbox as a flash drive—I put the file I want in the Dropbox folder on my computer, and soon, it is available on the other computer I need to use (I say soon rather than immediately, because the file does have to be uploaded from my computer to the Dropbox server and then downloaded by the destination computer—not a big deal though).

The only problem with this is that if you have multiple people who use a computer where your Dropbox is installed, they could potentially access your files or clutter up your Dropbox (you get a limited amount of free storage) with their own files.

I never worry about the first problem (none of the files in my Dropbox folder are secret or particularly important), and the second was never an issue until recently. I noticed over the last couple of weeks that a ton of files were being added to my Dropbox without my knowing, and finally I realized that a setting had been changed where Dropbox had become the default means of importing pictures on one of the computers at the church building. Basically, anytime someone would plug a flash drive into the control booth computer at the church building, it was automatically importing all the pictures from that drive to my Dropbox folder.

The fix was simple—I just went to Dropbox’s Preferences box and unclicked a few options—and now I don’t have to worry about have hundreds of strange pictures mysteriously appear in my Dropbox. If you use Dropbox on several computers like I do, and especially if (for whatever reason) you connect a lot of USB drives to your computer, you might want to make sure that your Preferences have been set up properly.

(If you don’t have Dropbox yet I highly recommend it: click here to get your own Dropbox for free!).


Showing Our Faith By What We Do

I heard this awhile back, and it is always convicting to me:
If you lived in a society where being a Christian was illegal, and you were arrested and put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
For a whole lot of American ‘Christians’, for whom Christianity is more about a box they check on a census form than a way of life, I think the answer is a clear ‘no’.

James 2.14-18 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  
But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Real Christian faith is supported by evidence; it is demonstrated with a lifestyle of good works.


Designed to Break Your Heart: Tom Barlow

Hartford Dark Blues, 1875

This is a first post in a series introduced here

In the early days of professional baseball, in the 1870s and 1880s and even on into the 20th century, baseball was a hard game for hard men.

Protective equipment was rare, the travel was difficult, the wages were decent but by no means extravagant, and job security didn’t exist. College-educated professional ballplayers were rare; for many, a job in the big leagues was a ticket out of the coal mines. Players tended to brawl and misbehave, both on and off the field.

Tom Barlow was a catcher and sometime shortstop for the Brooklyn Atlantics and Hartford Dark Blues in the early 1870s. He is credited as being the originator of the bunt, and had his best season in 1872, when he hit .310, and caught all of his team’s games, a feat which has only been accomplished eight times (and not since 1945).

In 1874, while playing for Hartford, Barlow sustained an injury while catching for Cherokee Fisher, renowned as a devastating fastball pitcher. In a letter to the Boston Times on September 16, 1877, Barlow described the incident:
“It was on the 10th of August, 1874, that there was a match game of baseball in Chicago between the White Stockings of that city and the Hartfords of Hartford, now of Brooklyn. 
I was catcher for the Hartfords, and Fisher was pitching. He is a lightning pitcher, and very few could catch for him. On that occasion he delivered as wicked a ball as ever left his hands, and it went through my grasp like an express train, striking me with full force in the side. 
I fell insensible to the ground, but was quickly picked up, placed in a carriage, and driven to my hotel. The doctor who attended me gave a hypodermic injection of morphine, but I had rather died behind the bat then [sic] have had that first dose. 
My injury was only temporary, but from taking prescriptions of morphine during my illness, the habit grew on me, and I am now powerless in its grasp. My morphine pleasure has cost me eight dollars a day, at least. 
I was once catcher for the Mutuals, also for the Atlantics, but no one would think it to look at me now.”
Barlow was 22 years old the day he was injured behind the plate. He disappears from historical records after 1880; details of his later life and date of death are unknown.

I first became aware of the story of Tom Barlow through Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Baseball. Other details for this post were gleaned from Wikipedia and Bleacher Report.


Funny Things You See On Facebook: Re-sharing To Receive God’s Favor

This appeared in my news feed the other day. Apparently, I am Facebook friends with either Joel Osteen or Job’s three pals.

P.S. In a real sense, this isn’t funny at all. The fact that anyone in a ‘Christian society’ could think this is the way God works shows how far off a lot of biblical teaching has gotten.


Wayne Grudem on Penal Substitution and Baptism

Wayne Grudem is an evangelical theologian, and a smart man—I have read stuff from him before in the course of research—but this quotation of his on the idea of theological disagreements blows my mind (and not in a good way):
“I’m thankful that believers who differ on the issue of baptism can still have wonderful fellowship with one another across denominational lines, and can have respect for each other’s sincerely held views. I certainly do not put the question of baptism in the same category as the denial of penal substitutionary atonement…because that seems to me to be a denial of the heart of the Gospel…But differing views on baptism…do not have serious consequences of that type.
So basically, accepting a view of the atonement that centers on penal substitution is more important than baptism. What?

It has become a trendy thing for Christians to want to distance themselves from penal substitutionary atonement, which I think is unfortunate, because the Bible definitely and repeatedly affirms that Jesus Christ was punished in our place as part of the atonement (John 1.29, Romans 3.21-26, 2 Corinthians 5.21, Galatians 3.13, Hebrews 9.29, 1 Peter 2.24).

However, I am aware of nowhere in the New Testament where possessing the single, correct understanding of the atonement is tied to an individual’s salvation or the forgiveness of sins (which is a good thing, because although Christ’s substitution for us was part of the atonement, the Bible indicates that there was more to it than just that). On the other hand, there are plenty of scriptures that link baptism to salvation and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38, Acts 22.16, Romans 6.1-4, 1 Peter 3.21).

I think Grudem is mixed up on this one.


How I Will Celebrate the 4th of July Without Fireworks

I have enjoyed fireworks for as long as I can remember. When I was little, we always used to go down to my cousins’ house to shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July, and it was always one of the highlights of my year, right up there with Christmas.

In addition to getting a kick out of shooting off my own firecrackers and watching those from the rest of the family, I would also go around collecting the remains of already-shot-off fireworks and then spend the next couple of weeks playing with them (I was a weird kid, what can I say?).

As an adult, I don’t get into it all like I used to, but I still shoot some off every year, and I always enjoy trying to get the best bang for my buck by finding fireworks which are pretty but don’t cost too much. This year though, it doesn’t look like I’ll be setting off any fireworks though. Because of a lack of rain this summer in my part of the world, it is so dry that burn bans have been issued which are prohibiting people from setting off personal fireworks.

I was pretty bummed about that for a while, but after further thought, it occurred to me that I could spend the holiday doing a couple of other things which are pretty important:

First, I can be thankful for independence. It’s a novel idea—spending the 4th of July actually reflecting on independence. I mean, the actual name of the holiday is “Independence Day,” but we don’t really spend all that much time thinking about that, as we are so busy with our plans to visit family, head to the lake, and shoot off our miniature explosive devices.

Ours is a country with many serious problems, but it is also a place of unparalleled blessing and opportunity. I am thankful to live in a place with so many freedoms (including the freedom to complain without fear when we feel those freedoms are being limited by Supreme Court decisions!). James 1.17 says that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….” Regardless of its faults and the things about our country that we would like the change, we should always be thankful for the material blessings, military protection, and political and religious freedom that we enjoy.

Secondly, I can pray for rain. In addition to being a pain for those who like to shoot off fireworks, the lack of rain is a more severe problem for those who rely on rain for the growing of crops (ultimately, all of us), and in a wider scope, is a huge hindrance for those who are putting their lives on the line in an effort to fight raging forest fires out West.

In James 5.16-18, James says that “…the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working,” and interestingly enough, he makes that point in the context of discussing someone (Elijah) whose prayers impacted the rain in Israel. Prayer is not an easy button that immediately fixes our problem, but the Bible consistently teaches that, if we need something, we should pray for it.

So without my fireworks, that’s how I’ll be spending at least part of this year’s 4th of July—thanking God for the blessings of our country and asking Him to bless us with rain. Even if miniature explosives are still okay where you live, maybe you should consider doing the same.

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