This is the famous story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. After challenging the men accusing the woman--"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”--causing them to drop their stones and walk off, Jesus turns to the woman:
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”So far, so good. Jesus doesn't condemn the women like the men have. But that's not Jesus's final word. His parting word is this:
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you...”
"Go and sin no more."The way John 8.1-11 rhetorically functions in many conversations is as evidence that Jesus had moral standards. Jesus's embrace wasn't unconditional, it had strings attached. That is, Jesus's welcoming of tax collectors and sinners wasn't as radical as we might think. We must recall, the argument goes, that Jesus told the woman "Go and sin no more." And so, the argument continues, the church should follow Jesus's lead. We should embrace the sinners of the world but we need to tell them to "Go and sin no more."
The trouble with this, from a practical standpoint, is that way too often this is the first, last and only word the church offers the world. Instead of "Neither do I condemn you" it's always "Go and sin no more."
But I'd like to make a different point today. And it's this:
John 8.1-11 isn't even in the Bible.
Or at least not in the earliest manuscripts we have of John. Check any modern translation.
Now, to be clear, I don't really want to push this too far. I don't really have a problem accepting John 8.1-11 as canonical. I mainly bring this up so we can ponder something.
Let's say John 8.1-11 really isn't a part of the Bible as certain evidence might suggest. Let's say that Jesus never said "Go and sin no more." Imagine those words aren't in the Bible. Then ask yourself this: is there anywhere else in the gospels where Jesus says anything similar?
And if not, what might that mean for our understanding of Jesus's radical embrace of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners?
Food for thought.