We are continuing on in the Gospel of John, where previously Jesus explained that you have to be invited by God to be Saved, causing several disciples to stop following Him. When Jesus then asked the Twelve Disciples if they were also going to leave, Simon/Peter replied that they could not leave the Holy One of God. This was followed by Jesus sneaking into the Passover feast in Jerusalem, only to make a public spectacle of Himself.
John 8:1-11, for example.
Known as the Pericope Adulterae, John 8:1-11 is the famous story about a woman who was caught in the middle of an act of adultery. She is brought to Jesus by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Pharisees and Law teachers state that the Law of Moses (God's Law) says that such women should be stoned to death, and then ask Jesus what He has to say about it.
Supposedly, this was done to trap Jesus. How exactly was He to be trapped? The text does not say, but there seems to be an implication that they were hoping Jesus would say something to contradict God's Law. Of course, that seems unfounded, given that Jesus blasted the Pharisees for not having children stoned to death according to God's Law in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23.
Anyway, after drawing in the dirt, Jesus answered their nagging questions by saying that the person without sin should throw the first stone. Instead of telling Jesus that the Law does not work that way, the accusers instead take Jesus' words to heart (which seems highly unlikely given the contentious spirit in which they supposedly approached Jesus), and they all left, one by one. With all of the accusers gone, Jesus tells the woman that then He will not condemn her either, and tells her to sin no more.
It is a great story, right? But what if it is just that? A story? A work of pious fiction? Curiously enough, the older manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not have this anecdote included in them.
But what does that mean? Is it a true story? Or is it a fake which people just want to believe? In a section of a book by Lyman Abbott regarding the Gospel of John, you can read about this enigmatic passage from the eyes of the pious. Abbott presents three different researched opinions:
- The author of the Gospel of John originally wrote this, but some piously conservative copyists edited the episode out because they thought it might promote adultery and other sins. That is hilarious! This opinion suggests some person thought that they knew better than Jesus, and had to censor Him! Not only that, it does not provide a satisfactory answer for why it is the older manuscripts which do not have this story.
- It was an interpolation (that is, a made-up story). But (notes Abbot, objectionably), the writer of such a story would have had to have been of Christ-like brilliance because of how closely it resembles what Jesus said elsewhere. Abbott's argument is that this is just too good to be made up. Of course, that is silly, given that there was a lot of fertile ground from the other Gospels and oral stories available at the time to create some pretty good fan fiction.
- This story came from a traditional narrative about Jesus which had been floating around for some time, in different forms, possibly even in other now-lost gospels.
This sounds somewhat like what we have in John 8:1-11, except John's woman is only accused of adultery, not "numerous sins." Yet that distinction is critically important...
According to God's Law, in Leviticus 20:10, BOTH the man and the woman should be killed if there is a case of adultery, but in John's version, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law only brought forth the woman. That is against what the Law says, so it seems very unlikely that they would have presented this case before Jesus without dragging the man into it as well. After all, why would they leave a blatant opportunity for Jesus to correct them if they were trying to "trap" Him?
Instead, what I think this reveals is how a story evolves over time. The original was probably about a woman accused of multiple sins before Jesus. Over time, or over the telling of it, the details got dropped, changed, and/or appended, to become what we find in John 8:1-11 today. (Caught in the act of adultery! Now that is a story!) Yet in the evolution that occurred, the story teller forgot to flesh out the details correctly, and so left out how the man who committed adultery should have been accused as well.
At a bare minimum, we see a likely case where truth was likely bent to make a better story. That just makes you wonder what else in the Gospels has been adulterated...