The Woman Caught In Adultery
Fifth Sunday Of Lent
The woman caught in adultery is one of the most merciful stories in the Bible. The message is obviously promoting forgiveness and its meaning does not depend on what the woman caught in adultery really had done.
But let us look at what was her sin? How is the circumstance of the woman caught in adultery described in Ancient Greek? What was the Ancient Hebrew Law that has been called upon to be used against the woman caught in adultery?
Has this really happened or is the story of the woman caught in adultery a writing?
 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.  And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.  And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,  They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?  This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.  So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.  And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.  And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?  She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
The word here translated as adultery the first time is moicheia, the second time it is a verb moicheuein. The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that this word is a Hebraism that found its way into Greek which is used to describe a man being at a woman’s solicitation drawn away to idolatry, i.e. the eating of things sacrificed to idols. This meaning is obviously not represented by the English word adultery, since this is derived from the Latin word meaning to change or to corrupt, meaning to put your own child into another man’s woman so that this man brings up child that did not come forth from his own loins.
Lev. 20: 10 says, ’And the man that committeth adultery with [another] man’s woman, [even he] that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s woman, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.’
In Hebrew the word translated as adultery is na’aph and its meaning is discussed in the so called chapter in Greetings from Paradise. It appears that the custom of na’aph did involve sexual intercourse, but that the sin that it constituted was the worship of other gods and not the sex itself. The custom certainly involved eating (Prov. 30: 20, the way of an adulterous woman is to eat and wipe her mouth …), maybe even chid sacrifice (Ezek. 23: 37, ‘They have committed na’aph and blood is on their hands, …’). Most of the time the word refers to other gods not to women!
So the woman in John 8 was to be put to death according to Lev. 20: 10, but where was the man that was meant to be put to death in the first place? Or was there no man? Was it some idol – worship that she had performed by herself? Or had she been caught in the act of trying to entice a man to eat food sacrificed to idols but he had not accepted her invitation?
Maybe these are futile questions, since the story may very well have been invented. The Old Testament, the Tanakh, contains a number of books which are called the writings. Amongst them are Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, but also books containing stories like Ruth and Esther. The story of the woman caught in adultery at the beginning of John 8 does not occur in the oldest manuscripts of this Gospel!
For Christians, it is important to understand the development of the New Testament also. As mentioned before the New Testament was originally written in Greek, even though Jesus is reported to have spoken Aramaic. The first country which was converted to Christianity was the Roman Empire. Therefore the scriptures were translated into Latin shortly after the conversion in the late fourth century. This translation was done by St. Jerome from Hebrew and Greek sources available to him. This Latin Bible became the ‘Versio Vulgata’ (meaning the common version) or the Vulgate for short which is used until today by the Catholic Church, even though in parallel with translations into modern languages since the middle of the twentieth century.
It is false to assume, that the Catholic Church was a bureaucratic body which entirely and exclusively relied on the Vulgate. There was textual criticism inside the Church which resulted in two new Bible editions in the early sixteenth century, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible which showed parallel texts in original languages and their various translations into Greek and Latin of Old and New Testament and the Textus Receptus which is a parallel Bible of Greek and Latin texts of the New Testament alone. The Complutensian Polyglot Bible was put together by Cardinal Francisco Jiminez de Cisneros (1435 to 1517) and the Textus Receptus, a compilation of Ancient Greek manuscripts from Byzantium, by Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 to 1536).
Erasmus’ work was the basis for the translations into modern languages. The Luther translation into German was based on an early edition of his work, while the King James translators used his final edition. But textual criticism went on, particularly, since Erasmus did not have complete original versions of the Greek texts. In cases of missing Greek originals he had translated the Latin Vulgate back into Greek.
There was another much noted Greek New Testament published in 1881 by Westcott and Hort, Professors working at Cambridge University. They were Protestants. Westcott and Hort worked from Alexandrian originals, written in the Egyptian city, while Erasmus had worked from Byzantine originals, written in the city which is now called Istanbul. The Alexandrian documents are older, but there are fewer of them. Supporters of the Byzantine documents claim, that the Alexandrian text was, even though older, copied from a corrupt original. This controversy follows through into the two major English Bible translations or groups thereof. The King James version is based on the newer Byzantine text, the so – called Textus Receptus, as edited by Erasmus, while the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and many others are based on the Alexandrian text, edited originally by Westcott and Hort, but the process is ongoing and many alterations to the Greek text have been made on the basis of documents discovered in old libraries more recently.
The Alexandrian manuscripts date from 150 AD onwards, most of them were written before 300 AD, while the Byzantine originals were written from 550 AD onwards.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.