Theme: Background to the Story
In this week’s lessons, we see how Jesus offers forgiveness and new life through his death on behalf of sinners.
Scripture: John 8:1-11
You also have the development of the theology of salvation, as we’ve seen with the witness of John the Baptist, as well as in Jesus’ discussions with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. We saw that teaching is essential. We see the same idea in chapter 8. In verse 2, we’re told that at dawn Jesus appeared in the temple courts where the teachers taught and where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. Now, notice verse 3, where it says that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.
We now need to look at the background because it’s a very significant one. The background is that they’d been trying to trap Jesus all along. Ever since his opposition began over the matter of the Sabbath, back in the fifth chapter, they’d been trying to trip him up because, of course, the way he was doing things was different from the way they did things. He spoke and taught with authority and that meant that their authority was undermined.
First of all, by getting this woman whom they had allegedly caught in the act of adultery, they had fastened upon something which the law stipulated should be punished with capital punishment. The texts for that are clear enough in the Mosaic Law. They are in Leviticus 20:10, and there’s another in Deuteronomy 22:22. In a situation like this the offending party is to be stoned. There are a number of those capital offenses in the Old Testament. Somebody who has counted them says there are thirty-two in all.
We look at that law, and it seems harsh to us. Yet, when you look at the way that the judicial system operated, you find that it provided safeguards, lest that capital offense should be meted out easily. Here are some of the safeguards in the legal system. First, there had to be multiple witnesses. Any fact in a court of law has to be established by two or three witnesses. So, you couldn’t just have an accusation by one person. Incidentally, at the trial of Jesus Christ, that’s what created the problem for them because they were trying to establish his guilt more than one witness, except that they couldn’t get two or three witnesses to agree to anything.
The second thing is that the witnesses had to be witnesses of the very act. If somebody was accused of murder, an allowable witness had to see the murder done. It wasn’t enough to come in and say, “Well, he was standing there with a smoking gun and the victim was at his feet and nobody else was around.” That’s not good enough. You actually had to see him pull the trigger. Now, what would be necessary in this matter? They took this woman in adultery, saying that they had witnesses of her “in the very act.” They stressed that because they needed that second requirement. It was not enough for two or more people to claim that they had seen the man and the woman go into the bedroom together. They didn’t just see them coming out of the room together. They didn’t even just see them lying in the bed together. They had to have witnessed the motions of the couple in a way that would have permitted no other explanation.
Moreover, when they gave testimony, they had to give it in identical language in every single respect. In the Apocrypha there is a book called Susanna, which story illustrates this point. Susanna was an upright and devout married woman. Two of the elders of Israel became attached to her, and tried to seduce her. She resisted them and a result of that they accused her of a dalliance with somebody else, a young man whom they said had gotten away.
Susanna is brought for trial, where she is condemned to death. They supposedly had two witnesses testifying to the same thing. But there is also in the story a young judge by the name of Daniel. I suppose it’s a symbolic name since the name Daniel means, “God is my judge.” He says, “Don’t you understand what’s going on here? They’re lying. The woman is innocent. They are lying and trying to trap her because of their own sin.” He therefore decided that he himself was going to question the two elders separately.
He said to one of them, “When you saw her dallying with this love of hers, under what tree of the garden was she doing it?” The one elder answered, “Under a myrtle tree.” And he sent him out and he called the other one in. Daniel asked the elder the same question: “What tree were they doing this under?” The other elder replied, “An oak tree.” So you see there’s a little detail they disagreed on, and it became evident that it was a lie. As a result, the woman was acquitted, and the two elders were condemned.
Why had the religious leaders been trying to trap Jesus?
What did the Law of Moses stipulate as the punishment for adultery? Look up the relevant passages provided in the lesson.
What safeguards were put in place to make sure that an innocent person was not put to death?