Torah and Grace in John 8

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...
The Torah, a work of Law? Or of Grace?

A bit of light blogging today, since I’m currently working on another project:

The episode of John 8 is widely misunderstood. Many Christian commentators assume that Yeshua was breaking with the Law in His answer, that it illustrated some sort of “cruel law” vs. “loving grace” paradigm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, what we see is Yeshua using the true teachings of the Torah to disqualify the witnesses. Let me explain as I put forth a theory as to what Yeshua wrote in the dust. The fact that He wrote in the dust with His finger means that just as His Father had written in stone with His finger, He was writing words of Torah. What words? Here is my theory:

Deu 17:6-7 – At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hand of the witnesses shall be first on him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you.

Deu 19:15-19 – One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established. If an unrighteous witness rise up against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness is a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother; then you shall do to him as he had thought to do to his brother: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you.

But surely they had many witnesses to the crime! Or did they? Had those witnesses been properly cross-examined? For that matter, who were they? They never step forth. And since the Torah requires that the actual witnesses to the crime step forth, testify, and be the first to cast stones to carry out the sentence, every other person in that crowd didn’t really count. They literally couldn’t cast stones without sinning–indeed, without committing the crime of murder–themselves.

But why did the witnesses to the crime not step forth? Perhaps Yeshua wrote this:

Lev 19:16-17 – “‘You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people. You shall not endanger the life of your neighbor. I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

Had the witnesses–and remember, there had to be at least two–tried to rebuke the woman from her sin before carrying the gossip of the scandal to the crowd and putting her life in danger? We don’t know. They never step forth to testify that they had fulfilled the Law themselves before condemning another.

The Mishnah, the 2nd Century compilation of Jewish Law, actually requires that the witnesses be interrogated about whether they tried to warn the defendant away from his or her sin:

m.Sanhedrin 5:1 – They interrogated [the witness] with seven points of interrogation: (1) In what septennate? (2) In what year? (3) In what month? (4) On what day of the month? (5) On what day [of the week]? (6) At what time? (7) In what place? R. Yosé says, “(1) On what day? (2) At what time? (3) In what place? (4) Do you know him? (5) Did you warn him [of the consequences of his deed]?” [In case of] one who worships an idol: Whom did he worship, and with what did he worship [the idol]?

Failure to give a dis-satisfactory answer on any of these points would disqualify the witness and result in the case being thrown out–and possibly a case being brought against the witness himself!

As a result of His words in the dust–the same words of Torah that Hashem wrote in stone–

Joh 8:9-11 They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Yeshua was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. Yeshua, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

Yeshua said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.”

Why did Yeshua not throw a stone? For the same reason that the crowd dispersed: He was not a valid witness. He had not actually seen the crime with His own eyes. Therefore, to stone her then would have been a sin on His part. So He releases the woman with an admonishment to one who had come within a hairs-breadth of losing her life over her sin, “Go and sin no more.” Mercy yes, but a mercy deeply embedded in the Torah and in the Jewish Law derived out of the Torah.