[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

Not condemned, but not condoned either

[Originally published in The Fishline by The Caltech Christian Fellowship.]

Odds are, you've heard the beginnings of this story, but probably also one of the alternate (and wrong) endings:

John 8:1-7 [RSV]

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?" 6 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. 7 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."

Before the endings, some context:
Mosaic law 1 prescribe death as the punishment for adultery. However, since the Romans were in charge, only they could order a death sentence on recommendation from the Jews. Thus, this was a trap: recommend the Mosaic law, and Jesus is in trouble with the Roman government. Ignore the Mosaic law, and Jesus is in trouble with Jews who took the Mosaic law seriously.

As those who supposedly knew the law, the Pharisees should have been the first to realize that this was a problem, and they should be agonizing over what to do. However, they put theology behind getting rid of the competition, Jesus.

Also, had they bothered to remember the quotes from the Old Testament, adultery happens to require two people, and the Mosaic law explicitly said that _both_ the adulterer and the adultress should have been facing the death penalty. I'd guess that being "sexist pigs" can be added to the list of problems with the Pharisees. Apply the law and kill both or be merciful to both.

Enough ragging on the Pharisees, back to the story...

Alternate (and blatantly wrong) ending #1

Just then, a large meteorite fell from the sky, flattening the woman. Jeses sighed, looked up at the sky, and said, "Dad, you stay out of this!"

This is one of the few halfway theologically correct jokes I know. God is without sin, and God could have 'thrown' at stone at her. However, Jesus was trying to make a point here, and killing the woman would have been unmerciful, unproductive, and not in Jesus's character.

Alternate (and very subtly wrong ending #2-- John 8-11a

8 And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you."

Those of you who are astutue will recognize that I stopped quoting partway through verse 11. As presented, this sounds great. Jesus was writing something on the ground (precisely what is unstated, but a list of the accuser's sins is likely given the reaction), and when nobody is left to condemn her, he says he doesn't condemn her either.

Sounds great and in keeping with Jesus's character. Jesus forgives sins. Jesus doesn't condemn. Jesus is all loving. Jesus is such a nice guy. (Soundtrack: Barney theme song.)

Problem is, it's wrong because it leaves out some very important words.

Correct ending: the end of verse 11:

"Go, and do not sin again."

This is what's needed after the first part of verse 11. Jesus did not condemn this woman to death, and scared off her accusers so that she didn't face judgment from anyone else. However, she was not off the hook-- he clearly called what she had done as a sin, and told her to clean up her actions. Jesus's forgiveness is not a license to sin2 it is not an excuse to keep doing what you'd been doing, it is not a justification for anything but turning away from sin after you've come to Christ.

Lack of condemnation here also does not mean that this woman is off the hook in the long run either. She's still up for Judgment Day like everyone else. Whether you've invited Jesus into your life or not is the big deciding factor then, not mere good or bad deeds.

Why even bother bringing this up? In my experience, non-Christians are fairly likely to have heard the second version of this, with the picture of Jesus as Santa Claus handing out presents and forgiveness to anyone. They (somewhat rightly) think that all Christians should act like Christ and not condemn anyone. However, since they're missing out on the second part in that sins should not be condoned either.

When others quote (usually from a vague memory and poorly) only the first part, they've invited you to quote the full text of the Bible back at them. Use it as an opportunity for evangelism, and invite them to read more of the Bible for themselves.

[1] Leviticus 20:10 "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. Deut 22:22 "If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel. [2] Romans 6, lots of other fine places.

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html