THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 8
OPPOSITION IN JERUSALEM CONTINUES
The Adulterous Woman
The Light of the World Discourse

See how the words of the Lord accord with the truth of the Psalm: 'With thee is the fountain of life; in thy light do we see light' [Psalms 36:10].  The Psalmist connects light with the source of life and the Lord speaks of a 'light of life.'  When we are thirsty, we look for a fountain; when we are in darkness we look for light...[...].  Not so with God: he is light and fountain.  He who shines for you to enable you to see, flows for you to enable you to drink.
St. Augustine, In. Ioannis Evangelium,34.6

This is what we have heard from him and are declaring to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  If we say that we share in God's life while we are living in darkness, we are lying, because we are not living the truth.  But if we live in light, as he is in light, we have a share in one another's life, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
1John 1:5-7

Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: 'You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free...'
Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, 12

Feast of

Jesus in JUDEA –JERUSALEM (Fall)

T

III. OPPOSITION IN JERUSALEM

7:1-10:21

A
B

               A.  Feast of Tabernacles: Jesus leaves the Galilee to travel to Jerusalem

7:1-13

E

               B.  The Middle of the Feast

7:14-36

R

               C.  The Last Day of the Feast

7:37-53

N

               D.  After the Feast

8:1-10:21

A

1.  The Adulteress

8:1-11

C
L

2.  The Light of the World discourse - #2 "I AM the Light of the World"

8:12-59

E

3.  SIGN #5 Healing of the man born blind

9:1-40

S

4.  The Good Shepherd discourse - # 3 "I AM the Door of the sheep"; # 4 "I AM the Good shepherd

10:1-21

In the second year of Jesus' ministry on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, probably the 7th day of the feast and not the 8th day which was the "sacred assembly" [Leviticus 23:36], Jesus declared to the crowd worshiping in the Temple liturgical service that He is the promised Messiah.  Sometime after the "Water Libation Ceremony," in association with the singing the last Hallel Psalms, what we designate as Psalm number 118, and the significant verses 22-27 which calls for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus declared Himself the "living water" promised by the prophets.  This declaration is also the last promise made to the faithful by Jesus Christ in Sacred Scripture in Revelation 22:17: The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!'  Let everyone who listens answer, 'Come!' Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.

Question: The invitation to "come" and receive the "water of life" is made by the Spirit and the Bride.  Who is the Spirit and who is the Bride and why do they make this invitation?

Answer: The Spirit is God the Holy Spirit, and the Bride is the Holy Catholic [meaning "universal"] Church, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth established by Christ the King and Bridegroom.  Both are given the authority by God the Son to make this invitation to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is through Baptism in water and the Spirit that the "Bride"'the Church, gives birth to newly re-born children in the family of God.  Like the Virgin Mary, the Church is both ever Virgin and the fruitful Bride of Christ.  This is the reason why we refer to the Church as our "mother." 

CCC #694 describes the miracle of this re-birth through water and the Spirit: The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit.  As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit."  Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life. [#694, quoting 1 Corinthians 12:13; John 19:34 & 1 John 5:8].

Outraged by Jesus' actions and statements in the Temple on the last day of the great feast [John 7:37-39] when Jesus declared Himself the Messiah who will bring spiritual life to all who come to him, the chief priests and Pharisees sent the Temple guards to arrest the uneducated rabbi from the Galilee.  To their disgust, even the Temple guards seem to be moved by Jesus' declaration [John 7:46] of Messiahship. The religious authorities admonished the guards saying: This rabble knows nothing about the Law–they are dammed [John 7:49].

In first century AD Judea class distinction among the religious Jews was based on education, an education which was established almost exclusively on the study of the Sacred Scriptures and on the oral Tradition passed down from Moses and Aaron to the succeeding religious authorities.  This observance of the rituals of the Law came to be known as the Halakah.  The major source of the Halakah was the written Torah but also the oral Torah with its legalistic restrictions and interpretation of the written text [Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 3, pages 26-27].

There are three classes of Jewish society are listed in Bemiddbar Rabba 3.1: (italics = Hebrew term)

  1. The scholars of the Law = bene torah, also called the talmide hakamim,
  2. The common people = am ha'ares, literally "the people of the land", or the masses
  3. The slaves = borim; this word was also used for those "common people" who had the worst collective faults of the masses.

Members of the educated elite looked down on the common people.  Those formally educated in the Scriptures and the Law formed an association known as the Haberim, which means "those of the association" in which they pledged to keep themselves "pure," [meaning religiously undefiled], which included restricted interaction with the common people except during the religious festivals.  The great rabbinic scholar Hillel, the Pharisaic leader of the late 1st century BC and perhaps the founder of the school of Pharisaic rabbinic tradition, is quoted as saying: No bor has scruples about sinning, and no am ha-ares is pious [Professor Frank Cross, "The Am Ha-ares and the Haberim," page 30-440; The Acts of the Apostles volume I, Prolegomena I: The Jewish, Gentile, and Christian Backgrounds]The distain with which the chief priests and Pharisees dismissed Nicodemus' suggestion that they at least hear what it was Jesus preached clearly indicated that they considered this Galilean rabbi to be of the uneducated am ha'ares and therefore it was not worth their time hearing what He had to say [John 7:50-52]'His class condemned Him already: This rabble knows nothing about the Law–they are damned [John 7:49].

Please read 7:53-8:11: The Adulterous Woman
7:53 They all went home, 8:1 and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  2 At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.  3 The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in the middle 4 they said to Jesus, 'Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, 5 and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind.  What have you got to say?'  6 They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him.  But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.  7 As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, 'Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first the throw a stone at her.'  8 Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground.  9 When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left along with the woman, who remained in the middle.  10 Jesus again straightened up and said, 'Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?'  11 'No, one, sir,' she replied.  'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus.  'Go away, and from this moment sin no more.'

John 7:53 They all went home, and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. On the last day of the Feast of Shelters [Tabernacles] Jesus had revealed Himself as the source of "living water".  This may have been during the Rabbah Hoshanna [Great Hoshanna] on the 7th and final day of the Feast of Shelters [Tabernacles].  It was this day, according to tradition, that God would decide if the next year would yield enough rain to nourish the crops and bring the people prosperity.  In Fr. Raymond Brown's commentary he notes: The old agricultural background of Tabernacles as the autumnal harvest feast made it adaptable to becoming the occasion of prayers for rain.  Tabernacles came at the end of September or early October; and if rain fell during this time, it was looked on as an assurance of abundant early rains, so necessary for fertile crops the following year.  Even today, as bitterly as the Jordanian Arabs hate the Israelis, they watch carefully to see if rain falls during the Israeli celebration of Tabernacles as a sign of the weather to come.  The Anchor Bible: the Gospel According to John, page 326-7. 

But the prophet from the Galilee promises more than the natural rain they desire; He promises them supernatural "living water" to nourish the soul! What Jesus promised is what the 6th century BC prophet Zechariah foretold in Zechariah chapters 9-14.  In the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles Zechariah described the triumph of Yahweh's Messianic king as He comes to Jerusalem riding on an ass [9:9].  He tells of when Yahweh will open up a fountain for the house of David to cleanse Jerusalem [13:1].  The living waters that will flow out from Jerusalem will restore and replenish the earth [14:8], and all the nations of the earth will come to Yahweh to celebrate the Feast [14:16]. Just as in the Exodus journey when the supernatural water flowed from the Rock in the wilderness, now Jesus tells the people of God in the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles that all they have to do is to come to Him and the water of life will flow from the Lamb of God [see John 19:34-35; Revelation 7:17 and 22:1].

The crowd returns home and Jesus withdraws out of the Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives east of the city. We know from Luke 21:37 that Jesus stayed on the Mount of Olives on His last trip to Jerusalem during the last days of His life.  On this visit He could have stayed in the home of His good friend Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary.  They lived in the village of Bethany, a town on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives, or He could have stayed in the caves of the Garden of Gethsemane as He will do six months later during His last week in Jerusalem at the Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread in 30AD.  This is the only mention of the Mount of Olives in John's Gospel.

The worshipers would have rested and then returned to the Temple at sundown.  Scholars do not agree if the "Fire Ceremony" took place the night after the final "Water Libation Ceremony" of the 7th day of the Feast or the night before.  The day began at sundown for the Jews and so it is unclear if the Feast began with the "Fire [or Torch] Ceremony" and ended with the "Water Libation Ceremony" or if it began with the "Water Libation Ceremony" and that night of the Great Hoshanna marked the last "Fire Ceremony."  Jesus' "Light of the World" discourse beginning in verse12 is, of course, more dramatic if the people had celebrated the Fire ceremony for the last time the night before.  If the Fire Ceremony had been celebrated for the last time that evening, the faithful would have gathered at the Temple at sundown.  The ritual would begin with the replenishing of the oil for the golden Menorahs [7-branched lamps that stood on bases that were 50 feet tall] placed in the Court of the Women.  On the first night of the Fire Ceremony young men from priestly families had climbed the tall ladders to light the golden bowls filled with olive oil that rested on each golden branch of the Menorahs [Mishnah, Sukkah 5:2-4]. The lighting of the Menorahs was the signal that began the ceremony.  Each succeeding night the oil was replenished.  These flames of the Menorahs were holy fire that burned from wicks made from the worn out fabric of the priestly garments.  But tonight light will come from only 3 of the 4 great 7-branched Menorahs.  This was to be a reminder to the people that Israel had not yet experienced full salvation and God's light had not yet spread to all the nations of the world as the prophets had promised [Mishnah, Sukkos 5.2-4].  But it was understood that when the Messiah came God's holy light would reach every corner of the earth.  According to tradition "Light" was one of the names of the long awaited Messiah [Isaiah 9:1; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3; Malachi 3:2]. Isaiah 60:1 "Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh has risen on you."

 It has been written that when the great Menorahs were lit all of the Holy City was reflected in the glorious light that burned in the House of Water Drawing, the part of the Court of the Women through which the water procession had passed each day. The trumpets would sound, the Levities would begin to play flutes, harps, and other instruments as the dancers, the most handsome young men of Jerusalem, would enter with their torches blazing.  The young men would dance in a circle, tossing their torches into to night sky and catching them again as the great Levitical chorus sang: Blessed be our youth that hath not shamed our later years. Blessed by our later years that atoned for our youth. Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven.  This last night of the fire ceremony all the Scripture readings are about "the light" and the people are once again reminded of God's presence as He faithfully led them through the wilderness enthroned in the great Pillar of Fire and His promise to them in Leviticus 26:11 I will make my Tabernacle among you...  The people looked forward to the time when the true "Light", the promised Messiah, the anointed of God, would bring an end to their suffering and restore Israel, God's holy covenant people, to reflect His light into every nation of the earth!

John 8:1-2 At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

If the previous day had been the Great Hoshanna then today would be the 8th day, the day of the Sacred Assembly, a day of rest to recover from the week long festivities [Leviticus 23:36].  Jesus has probably come to teach in the Temple precincts at the hour of the morning Tamid (Tamyid) lamb sacrifice at about 9AM when crowds would assembly at the Temple for the morning prayer [Shacharit in Hebrew] service.

Question: Verse 20 gives additional information about the location where Jesus is preaching in the Temple precincts.  Where is He teaching?

Answer: In the Treasury of the Temple.  The treasury was located in the Court of the Women. It was where money for the poor was collected.  This was also the scene of Jesus' teaching in Mark 12:41.

John 8:3-6a The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in the middle they said to Jesus, 'Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind.  What have you got to say?' They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him.

The two groups mentioned in this passage are the scribes and the Pharisees.  A third influential group of the scholars of the Torah were the Sadducees.  These are the three groups of the religious authority who opposed Jesus:

  1. The Scribes: The Mishnah and other rabbinic sources refer to the scribes (soperim) as the authoritative teachers to whom rulings and legal interpretations are attributed.  They are often identified as members of the Sanhedrin, the great assembly and ruling body of the covenant people.  Today, we would probably designate them as the theologians.p
  2. The Pharisees: Scholars who based their teaching on a strict interpretation of the Law and who formed one of the principle religious/political groups in 1st century BC-AD Judea.  They stood opposed to Roman rule and refused to take the oath of allegiance to Caesar and King Herod [Antiquities of the Jews 17.2.4]. Jesus' accused both the scribes and the Pharisees of so strictly interpreting the Law as to make it a burden for the people instead of the tutor and guide it was created to be [Matthew 23:13-32].  Considering their harsh stand on all things associated with the interpretation of the Law it is somewhat surprising that the Pharisees were considered to be champions of the common people.  St. Paul was himself a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee [Acts 23:6 & 26:5].  A number of Pharisees did come to embrace Christianity after the Resurrection [Acts 15:5], but had difficulty accepting that the old rites were no longer necessary.  After the destruction of the Temple in 70AD the Pharisees were the sole inheritors of the Old Covenant and established Rabbinic Judaism.
  3. The Sadducees: The third most influential group of 1st century AD Jewish scholars.  Many of the priests and aristocrats were Sadducees as were those who embraced Hellenistic culture and cooperated with the Romans.  Epiphanius, one of the earliest Church historians and Saint Jerome thought the term "Sadducee" was derived from the Hebrew word for "righteous," however, most scholars identify it with the name of the Davidic High Priest Zadok (sadoq), a descendant of Aaron from whose line the Davidic Kings determined all future High Priests must descend [1 Samuel 8:17; 15:24; 1 Kings 1:34; 1 Chronicles 12:29].  The Sadducees did not believe in a general resurrection after the final judgment [Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8], an error Jesus corrected in Matthew 22:31-33].  The first century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded in Antiquities of the Jews 13.10.6 and in 18.1.3 that the Sadducees accepted as valid only those regulations of the Law that were written down in the 5 books of Moses. Josephus also noted their connection to the rich and powerful: the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude of their side [Antiquities of the Jews 13.10.6].  In Acts 23:6-8 both Sadducees and Pharisees sat on the Sanhedrin council.  It may be assumed that a number of Sadducees also converted to the New Covenant since Acts 6:7 records: The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.  Since the majority of the priesthood was of the Sadducee sect, the Sadducees disappeared as a group of influence after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.

There are problems concerning the canonicity of John 8:1-11 and the story of the adulterous woman.  Some scholars suggest if the story is true, that John was not the author.  These scholars often suggest Luke as a possible candidate as the author of this encounter with Christ.   Others who support its canonicity suggest it is a late addition by John and that it is misplaced in this part of his Gospel.  These scholars maintain it should be inserted after the "Light of the World" discourse.  The placement of the "Light of the World" discourse closer to the end of the previous chapter would connect more neatly with events that had unfolded the night before in the Fire Ceremony, and yet the placement of this attempted stoning at the beginning of Jesus' teaching day in chapter 8 does fit with what will occur at the end of His teaching in 8:59 when the Jews will pick up stones in the attempt to stone Jesus.  There are other scholars, however, who doubt the canonicity of the episode of the woman accused of adultery altogether. 

Part of the problem is that the story of the adulterous woman is not found in any of the most important early Greek manuscripts that have survived, nor is it found in the Egyptian Coptic Church's Biblical texts.  However, three eminent 4th century Church Fathers, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, all testify to its authenticity.  Jerome included it in his Latin Vulgate Bible translation, which was translated using the oldest and best Greek and Hebrew texts that existed in the late 4th century.  St. Augustine maintains that this story was always part of John's Gospel but that it was excluded from many copies because Church authorities feared it would be misinterpreted to suggest that Jesus condoned adultery. The ease with which Jesus forgave the woman was hard to reconcile with the stern morality of an early Christian Church fighting pagan debauchery and licentiousness. Sexual purity was a very foreign concept to most pagan gentiles. Evidence to suggest the veracity of this claim does exist.  Many ancient manuscripts that do not contain this story have a blank space between the end of what we designate as John 8:2 and the beginning of the Light of the World discourse [8:12].  Some of these manuscripts not only have the gap but also have scribal notation marks indicating a missing passage. 

We also have the testimony of 4th century Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea who records that "Papias [Bishop of Hieropolis (Hierapolis) and the disciple of St. John the Apostle] relates another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord." [History of the Church III, 39:17].  Then too, the 3rd century document the Didascalia Apostolorum [II 24:6] gives a clear reference to this story of the adulterous woman brought to Jesus and uses it as a well known example of Jesus' mercy and gentleness. 

Jerome included this passage in his Latin Vulgate [late 4th century] and since that translation became the official canonical translation of Sacred Scripture for the Roman Church, down through the history of the Church Roman Catholics, Byzantine Eastern Rite Catholics and even King James Version Bible Protestants have accepted this story as authentic.

The problem for early Christians as well as for us is that this story presents a delicate balance between justice and mercy and between forgiveness and accountability for sin. 

Question: Why did the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus?

Answer: To trap Him and thereby to discredit Him as a false Messiah.

Question: What exactly was the trap?  Hint: keep in mind that the Pharisees believed that they followed the Law so scrupulously that they did not sin [see Philippians 3:5-6]. Also keep in mind that only the Roman Empire had the power over life and death in Judea [18:31-32].

Answer: If Jesus does not condemn this woman to death under Mosaic Law the Pharisees will condemn Jesus to the people as a false Messiah who does not support Mosaic Law.  He had accused them of not keeping the Law [John 7:19]; now they will show that He does not keep the Law.  However, if He condemns her to death they can report Him into the Roman authorities as a traitor to Rome because He fostered rebellion by taking Roman powers unto Himself.  Only Rome had the power over life and death in this Roman province. Treason against Rome is a capital crime punishable by crucifixion.  The Pharisees had also set traps for Jesus in Matthew 19:3 in the question of divorce and in Mark 12:13-17 on the question of taxes paid to Rome.

Question:  What did the Mosaic Law demand when someone was charged with adultery?  Hint: see Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:13-21 and 22-29.

Answer: The punishment is death for a man and woman caught in the act of adultery, although stoning is not mentioned.  The punishment for stoning is mentioned specifically only in the case of a betrothed girl who is caught sleeping with another man or for a bride who is found by her husband not to be a virgin [Deuteronomy 22:13-21].  Although, Ezekiel 16:38-40 does provide evidence that stoning was the form of death penalty for all types of adultery by the 6th century BC, some scholars have suggested that this is a case of a betrothed girl or even more likely, a bride being accused since stoning is the penalty in both these cases and, in the case of a bride, in which no other man would brought forward with her.

Where is the man who shares her guilt and/or where are the witnesses including the husband?  According to the Law no one could be condemned to death without the testimony of 2-3 witnesses [see Deuteronomy 17:2-7].  If this was the case of a bride being accused by her husband when there was no proof of her virginity, she could be condemned on his testimony alone. The question is, of course, were these men so without conscience that they had set up a young girl to be killed simply to trap Jesus?

John 8:6b-7 But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.  As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, 'Let the one among you who is guiltless [without sin] be the first to throw a stone at her.'

Question: What does Jesus do?  Why?

Answer:  He was writing in the dirt. No one knows what Jesus was writing.  Some scholars have suggested that He was writing the sins of those who accused the woman and others that He was writing out the Mosaic Law or perhaps relevant Scripture to condemn the accusers like Exodus 23:7.  I have always wondered if perhaps He was writing a Scripture passage to comfort the distraught woman.  In that case Jeremiah 17:13-18 is a likely passage.  It offers comfort and links this incident to writing on the earth and to the declaration of living water the day before: ...all who abandon you will be put to shame, those who turn from you will be registered in the underworld [or more literally, "written on the earth"], since they have abandoned Yahweh, the fountain of living water. [Jeremiah 17:13]. 

But there may be a reason why John doesn't let us know what it is that Jesus wrote in the dirt.  John 9:13-16 suggests that this day is the Jewish Sabbath.  Writing was forbidden on the Sabbath unless the writing did not leave a lasting mark [Mishnah Shabbat 12:5].  Writing with fruit juice or in sand or dirt was permitted.  We do not know if He was writing Scripture verses or the sins of the accusers but whatever He wrote His actions show that He did keep the Law perfectly.  Not only was the writing not permanent but the record of what He wrote was also not permanent.  Jesus did, however, deftly remove Himself from the Pharisees' trap while placing the accusers in a trap of His own.

Question: How did He spring the trap on the Pharisee accusers with His statement 'Let the one among you who is guiltless [without sin] be the first to throw a stone at her'?

Answer: At first they would have been overjoyed!  "He fell for our trap! Now we'll report Him to the Romans and they will get rid of Him for us!"  But, as the husband and/or witnesses picked up their stones [Deuteronomy 17:7] the thought must have occurred to them: "Wait a minute-- He said 'Let the "one who is guiltless [without sin] stone her.'"  I think it may be possible to assume the husband or witnesses may be present since Jesus does not inquire about them and the Pharisees would surely want to carefully give the appearance of following the Law, something Jesus has already accused them of not doing.

John 8:9 Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained in the middle.

Question: Jesus' statement that only those without sin could stone the woman was the trap.  The Pharisees believed that they were without sin [see Philippians 3:6]...but did Jesus believe they were without sin? Hint: see Matthew 12:34; 15:7-9.

Answer: No, Jesus has condemned them for sins against the people and against God and will call down a greater condemnation against them before His crucifixion in Matthew 23:13-32.  The oldest and wisest Pharisees are the first to understand the trap.  They would have reasoned:  "If we stone her the Romans will ask why we took her death sentence upon ourselves and we will say "Jesus told us to stone her." But He will say He told those without sin to do the stoning and that doesn't mean us because we know He has chastised us for our sins in the past; everyone knows this!   So we did it on our own authority!"  Jesus reset the trap.  He neither authorizes the stoning nor contradicts the Law.  There is no way for them to recover from Jesus' trap except to walk away as sinners discredited in the eyes of the people!

John 8:10-11 Jesus again straightened up and said, 'Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?'  'No one sir, she replied.  'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus.  'Go away, and from this moment sin no more.'
'Woman, where are they?' He asks her.

Question: Was Jesus surprised that the accusers had gone?

Answer: Knowing all things it is unlikely that He was surprised.  Jesus' gentle sarcasm is an ironic contrast to the desperate situation of the woman a few minutes earlier when it must have seemed to her that her life was about to end.

Question: This incident with the woman accused of adultery reminds us of an Old Testament story in which a righteous woman was falsely accused of adultery.  Who was she?  Hint: see Daniel chapter 13

Answer: Susanna.  When Susanna is condemned to death and is being led away a young Daniel, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out 'Are you so stupid, children of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth?'  [Daniel 13:48].

Question: Unlike Susanna this woman brought before Jesus does not seem to be entirely innocent because Jesus commands her to do what?

Answer: He tells her: 'go away and sin no more.'  The Church demands that justice be tempered with mercy.  Mercy does not mean that the sin is completely forgiven without consequence or accountability but that the circumstances that led to sin or the degree of contrition can promote the granting of mercy.  In this case the woman who may have been purposely entrapped has lost her family and her husband and life will be extremely difficult, yet her life is spared.  St. Augustine writes: The two of them were left on their own, the wretched woman and Mercy.   [...] ..gently he asks her, 'Has no one condemned you?'  She replies, 'No one, Lord.'  And he says, 'Neither do I condemn you; I who perhaps you feared would punish you, because in me you have found no sin.'  Lord, can it be that you favor sinners? Assuredly not.  See what follows: 'Go and sin no more.'  Therefore, the Lord also condemned sin, but not the woman.  [St. Augustine, In Ioann. Evang., 33, 5-6].  See CCC #1472-73.

There is another article of the Mosaic Law concerning a woman guilty of adultery that we haven't discussed.

Question: What was the punishment for the daughter of a Priest who was found to be guilty of the sin of prostitution or adultery?  See Leviticus 21:9

Answer: She is to be burnt alive.

Israel is a priestly nation.  Her people are to be a holy people as a witness to the world of the One True God.  Israel is seen symbolically in Scripture sometimes as God's daughter and at other times as God's holy Covenant Bride [Isaiah 1:8; 10:32; Jeremiah 6:23; Isaiah 49:18; 62:4-5; Ezekiel 16:8-14; Hosea 2:18 (16)- 19 (17); Joel 1:8-10].  Apostasy and idolatry in Sacred Scripture are compared to the sin of adultery [Ezekiel 16:15, 35-38; Hosea 2:4 (2)-7 (5)].  Jerusalem is the religious capital.  She is the priestly daughter of Yahweh and when she falls into prostitution with other gods of pagan peoples she will suffer the same fate as a High Priest's daughter [Leviticus 21:9].  In 587/6BC this was her fate; see Ezekiel 16:37-42. Yahweh sent the Babylonians as His instrument of justice and Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed by fire.  This woman of Jerusalem condemned for adultery is also symbolic of her city.  Jerusalem is guilty of sin, she has killed God's holy prophets, she has offered sacrifices for the Roman Emperor and the Roman people twice daily in the sacred Temple [Josephus: The Jewish Wars, 2.10.4; Against Apion 2.5], and now she rejects the Messiah who has offered her mercy and redemption and the invitation to sin no more.

Question:  When the people of Jerusalem condemn Jesus they will shout to Caesar's envoy Pontius Pilate: We have no king but Caesar [John 19:16].  They will reject God and turn to Caesar as their god-king.  What fate will Jerusalem and Judea suffer for the rejection of the Messiah?  What did Jesus warn Jerusalem in Matthew 23:33-38?

Answer: God gave the people 40 years to come to the New Covenant as a new generation in Christ just as He gave Israel 40 years in the wilderness to fully embrace the Old Covenant.  But judgment finally came in 70AD when the Roman army utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple by fire. The Temple will never be rebuilt, it was the house Jesus spoke of when He prophesized: 'Look! You house will be deserted' in Matthew 23:38.

There are some arguments that are not merited in connection with this encounter between the woman taken in adultery and Christ:

  1. Some have argued that in this story of "The Woman Accused of Adultery" Jesus is overturning the death penalty which was set down as a means for justice for man as far back in the Old Testament as the Noachide Laws of Genesis 9:5-6 [in cases of murder].  This could not be the case because the Pharisees would have immediately discredited him for contradicting the Law.  Jesus is not addressing the legality of the death penalty at all instead He is disentangling Himself from the Pharisees' trap. 
  2. There are others who argue that Jesus is allowing the woman to go free because witnesses are not mentioned in the incident.  This is unlikely because it suggests Jesus would not have been prepared if witnesses had been produced and also because it implies in that case Jesus would have authorized the stoning of this woman. 
  3. Still others argue that Jesus does not pronounced judgment because we do not see evidence that the woman's lover is also being judged.  This could not have been the case because, as we read in the case of Susanna, a woman can be falsely condemned for adultery without a partner being present or she could have been a young bride accused by her husband.  This argument also wrongly implies that Jesus would have condemned the woman if the man had been produced. 

Jesus in fact did not judge the woman because His purpose was to elude the trap of the Pharisees and to show the crowd the extent of their sins.  Jesus also stated His mission was not to come to judge the world but to save it [John 12:47; also 8:16].  He condemns the sin but He has given the woman the chance to repent her sin just as He gives us all the same mercy.  His mercy does not negate her accountability for sin; she still has to live with the consequences of her actions and the suffering her actions cause.  His judgment will come later at the end of her life when she has had the opportunity to atone for her sin through His death and resurrection. CCC#1441-3; 1846.

Before we begin the next section it is important to remember the events of the last night of the Fire Ceremony in the Temple.  In this ceremony the people recall the manifestation of God's physical presence with them as He led them in the Pillar of Fire through the wilderness.   They will also remember the promise that He will send the "Anointed One", the Messiah who will be a "Light" to His people who will lead them to be a "light" to the nations of the world.  The following are some prophecies of God's holy prophets which connected the promised Messiah with light imagery and symbolism:

  1. Isaiah 9:1: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow as dark as death light has blazed forth.
  2. Isaiah 42:6: I, Yahweh, have called you in saving justice, I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations...
  3. Isaiah 49:6 [from the Song of the Servant of Yahweh]:  He said, 'It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth.
  4. Isaiah 60:1-3: Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh has risen on you.  Look! Though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you Yahweh is rising and over you his glory can be seen.  The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.
  5. Malachi 3:2-3:  Who will be able to resist the day of his coming?  Who will remain standing when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner's fire, like fuller' alkali.  He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they can make the offering to Yahweh with uprightness.

Please read verses 12-20: The Light of the World Discourse [Jesus' witness to Himself]
12 When Jesus spoke to the people again, he said: 'I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life.'  13 At this the Pharisees said to him, 'You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not true.'  14 Jesus replied: 'Even thought I am testifying on my own behalf, my testimony is till true, because I know where I have come from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one, 16 but if I judge, my judgment will be true, because I am not alone: the one who sent me is with me; 17 and in your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.  18 I testify on my own behalf, but the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf, too.'  19 They asked him, 'Where is your Father then?'  Jesus answered: 'You do not know me, nor do you know my Father; if you did know me, your would know my Father as well.'  20 He spoke these words in the Treasury, while teaching in the Temple.  No one arrested him because his hour had not yet come.

John 8:12-20 covers three basic topics:

  1. Jesus as "The Light"
  2. Jesus' witness to himself
  3. The question of judgment. 

There is also an obvious parallel in this discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees and His earlier verbal duel with them in chapter 7:

John 7:27-30

Topics common to both discussions

John 8:14-20

7:27-28

Where did Jesus come from?'His origins

8:14

7:33-35

Where is Jesus going?

8:21

7:24

Judgment by human standards

8:15

7:28

Knowing Jesus and the One who sent Him

8:19

7:30

The inability to arrest Him because the hour had not yet come

8:20

John 8:12 When Jesus spoke to the people again, he said: 'I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life.'

Once again we have Jesus identifying Himself with the significant and symbolic words: I AM, ego ami, which reminds us of Yahweh's revelation of Himself to Moses 3 times as I AM in Exodus 3:13-14.  In John's Gospel Jesus will use these words 26 times and in 7 different metaphors; each metaphor used with a predicate nominative:

"I AM" with predicate nominative "I AM" without predicate nominative
1. 6:35 "I AM the bread of life" 1. 8:24 "..if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins."
2. 8:12 "I AM the light of the world" 2. 8:28 "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM (He)*"
3. 10:7 "I AM the gate for the sheep" 3. 8:58 "In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM."
[..] = literal
4. 10:11 "I AM the good shepherd" 4. 13:19 "I tell you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe that I AM (He)*"
5. 11:25 "I AM the resurrection and the life"    
6. 14:6 "I AM the way and the truth and the life"    
7. 15:1 "I AM the true vine"    
* The pronoun "He" is not in the Greek text.

In Matthew's Gospel the disciples are told "You are the light of the world."  There is no contradiction because the disciples, like John the Baptist, are the light of the world only as they reflect Jesus Christ, the true Light.

Question: What is the background of the contrast between "light" and "darkness" in the Old Testament.

Answer:

  1. In the opening chapter of Genesis God separates light and darkness at the beginning of creation.  In this statement Jesus is connecting Himself with the "light" the illuminated the world in Genesis 1:3.  It is the sun that lights the world so people can see and find their way.  Likewise Jesus is the "light" that shows the way to men, the way to find God. St Paul wrote about this connection in 2Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' that has shone into our hearts to enlighten them with the knowledge of God's glory, the glory on the face of Christ.
  2. In the Exodus experience, the themes of Yahweh enthroned on the Pillar of Fire guiding the way for the children of Old Covenant Israel to travel through the "darkness" of the wilderness toward the "light" of the Promise Land prefigures Christ lighting the way for the New Covenant children of God journeying through life to the true Promise Land of salvation and Heaven.  In the Old Testament it was the Pillar of Fire and the "light" of the Law of Moses that guided the people; now it is Jesus who is the true Light!
  3. The Psalms speak of Yahweh as the "light of life" and "the light that gives life" in Psalms like 56:13 which contrast life and light with death and darkness and in Psalms 27:1: The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?  Psalms 119:105 describes the Law of Yahweh as "a light for our path"  whereas "the absence of the Law brings darkness."
  4. In the book of Job 33:28-30 contrasting light with life and death with darkness: He has spared my soul from going down to the abyss and is making my life see the light,,...and to make the light of the living still shine...
  5. In addition to the quotations of the prophet Isaiah in 9:1; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3 and the prophet Malachi in 3:2-3 from the discussion of the "Fire Ceremony" in this lesson, there are also other references in Baruch 5: 9: God will guide Israel with joy, by the light of His glory...  In each case the point is that without the glory of the light of God in our lives we are in darkness.

Question: What are some other examples of the contrast between light and darkness found in John's Gospel and the other writings of the New Testament?

Answer:

  1. In John's Gospel he opens his prologue with imagery of light verses darkness: the Word is identified as He who is life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in the darkness and darkness could not overpower it  [1:4-5]; in verses 7- 9 as: The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone (verse 9);....  Other verses which speak of light or darkness include John 3:19-21: the Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light (verse 19); and light imagery in 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-46.
  2. The Synoptic Gospels light and darkness imagery:
  3. Some other New Testament passages with light and darkness imagery:

The Apostles and the Gospels reflect His "light" and act as a guide for those who want to follow "the Light."  2 Corinthians 4:4-6 If our Gospel seems to be veiled at all, it is so to those who are on the way to destruction, the unbelievers whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world, so that they cannot see shining the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God..  [..].   It is God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness, that has shone into our hearts to enlighten them with the knowledge of God's glory, the glory on the face of Christ.'

Light is the symbol of life and joy while darkness is the symbol of death and unhappiness.  Enslavement to sin is darkness but the deliverance from sin and the gift of salvation in the Messianic Age is light!  Please read the 8th century BC prophecy of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 8:14-9:7.

(Beginning in 9:1): The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth.  You have enlarged the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest time...[...].  (verse 7For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and dominion has been laid on his shoulders; and this is the name he has been given, 'Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace', to extend his dominion in boundless peace, over the throne of David and over his kingdom to make it secure and sustain it in fair judgment and integrity.  Note: the mention of the land of Zebulun and Naphtali in 9:1 is the Galilee. See Matthew 4:13-16.

If any of the members of religious community at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scroll were discovered, had heard Jesus they would have responded to His message with enthusiasm.  It was this kind of language that filled their community letters and religious treatises. They described themselves as the "Sons of Light" and their hearts as having been "illumined with the wisdom of life" [1QSII, 3]; while they regarded the Temple priests as illegitimate "sons of darkness."  They also looked upon their interpretation of the Mosaic Law as the "light of life' [1QSIII, 7].  The spirit of God which guided their lives was "the prince of lights" [among other titles] while the evil one who fights against them is called "the angel of darkness" [QSIII 20-21] and it was their teaching that men walk according to either one or the other of these images of "light" or "darkness".

There are so many similarities in vocabulary and concept between St. John's writings and the sectarian documents found at Qumran that some scholars believe St. John was in some way associated with their community.  While there is no conclusive proof of this connection, the community members would certainly have been moved by Jesus' theme in the "Light of Life" discourse.

Question:  How does the location where Jesus is standing in the Temple give emphasis to the symbolism of His words?

Answer: Christ enlightens the world with light just as the great golden Menorahs illuminated the courts of Yahweh's holy Temple and just as the Fire dancers' torches burned with bright light driving away the darkness in the "Fire Ceremony" that took place every night during the Feast of Tabernacles, which must have been just recently celebrated, perhaps even the night before.

Jesus has offered Himself as the true "Living Water" that gives life as symbolized by the "Water Libation Ceremony" in 7:37-39 and now He offers Himself as the "True Light" not only of Israel but of the entire earth! 

Question: How is Jesus statement a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6?

Answer: This statement fulfills messianic prophecies of the prophet Isaiah when he wrote that the Messiah would not only be the King of Israel but that He would the "light" of all the nations of the world.

Jesus applies this image of light to Himself in two ways:

  1. He is the light which reveals to us the divine revelation of the Father through God the Holy Spirit because He is the fullness of divine Revelation [John 1:9, 18], and
  2. He is also the light which sets our hearts afire to enable us to rise beyond earthly understanding to enable us to accept His divine Revelation to us, to live according to its call [John 1:4-5; 14:26], and to be united as One Body in the life of Christ.  It is what John writes about in 1 John 1:5-7: This is what we have heard from him and are declaring to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  If we say that we share in God's life while we are living in darkness, we are lying, because we are not living the truth.  But if we live in light, as he is in light, we have a share in one another's life, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  See CCC# 2465-66

His dramatic statement will be the beginning of another dispute with the Pharisees.

John 8:13-14: At this the Pharisees said to him, 'You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not true.'  Jesus replied: 'Even though I am testifying on my own behalf, my testimony is still true, because I know where I have come from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.'

This passage recalls Jesus' discussion with His critics in John 5:31, where Jesus said: Were I to testify on my own behalf my testimony would not be true.  Both passages, John 5:31 and 8:13 are referring to the Law from Deuteronomy 19:15 where it is stated that a man cannot be convicted of a crime on the testimony of one witness.  Deuteronomy 17:6 and Numbers 35:30 demand that several witnesses must be willing to give testimony for a conviction in the case of capital crime.  It was also apparently part of the oral law that a man could not bear witness only on his own behalf [see Mishnaic tractate Kethuboth 2:9].

I know where I have come from and where I am going...

Question: How does this knowledge relate to His testimony?

Answer: These are two essential facts of His testimony because they identify to His supernatural knowledge of both His origin and His destiny; something natural man cannot claim.

John 8:15-18: You judge by human standards; I judge no one, but if I judge, my judgments will be true, because I am not alone: the one who sent me is with me; and in your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.  I testify on my own behalf, but the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf, too.

The notes in the New Jerusalem translation identifies the words in verse 16 "I judge no one" as used in the Semitic sense of one = the world. In other words, He did not come to condemn the world.

Question: What does Jesus mean when He tells the Pharisees: You judge by human standards; ?

Answer: They are judging only by what they can see and by the Law of Moses.  They only see a man like themselves.  St. Augustine writes: ...in that flesh they fail to see the glory of God's Son shinning.  [ In Ionnis Evangelium 34,6].  But the Pharisees are also using the Law of Moses as their standard.  St. Paul wrote about the imperfection of the Law: While we were still living by our natural inclinations, the sinful passions aroused by the Law were working in all parts of our bodies to make us live lives which were fruitful only for death.  But now we are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code [Romans 7:5-6].

Jesus said: 'I judge no one...' .  He might have clarified by adding the word "now." This line fits well with the story of the adulteress.  Later He will speak of His role as divine Judge during His homily just days before the Last Supper in Matthew 25:31-46.

Question: What are the two types of judgment involved in the two lines of John 8:15

Answer: The judgment of the Pharisees is a judgment of evaluation of Jesus and the judgment of Jesus is the judgment that pertains to salvation.

Question: In chapter 5 Jesus gives 5 witnesses who testify to the truth of His claims but here in chapter 8 He states His testimony can be verified by one witness other than Himself.  Who is that witness and how is the Law fulfilled?

Answer: The Father is His second witness and with His own testimony the requirement for two witnesses under the requirement of the Law of Moses is fulfilled [Deuteronomy 19:15].  Jesus is obviously rejecting the Rabbinical addition that one cannot testify on one's own behalf.  You may recall that in chapter 5:31-39 Jesus listed a series of ways that the Father gave testimony.

John 8:19-20: They asked him, 'Where is your Father then?  Jesus answered: 'You do not know me, nor do you know my Father; if you did know, you would know my Father as well.  He spoke these words in the Treasury, while teaching in the Temple.  No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

The Pharisees are so sure that they know of His origins that they now challenge Him to provide proof that what He claims is true.

Question: What is Jesus' answer that is also restated in John 14:44-46?  Also see CCC # 151.

Answer: To "know" Jesus is to believe in Him and that to accept the mystery of His divinity means knowing the Father.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his "beloved Son," in whom the Father is "well pleases"; God tells us to listen to him.  The Lord himself said to his disciples: 'Believe in God, believe also in me."  We can believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, the Word made flesh: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known."  Because he "has seen the Father," Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him [CCC # 151 quoting Mark 1:11; John 14:1; 1:18; 6:46].

The site of Jesus' discussion with the Scribes and Pharisees is identified in this passage: He spoke these words in the Treasury.   The Treasury was located in the Court of the Women.  This court carried this name not because it was appropriated only for the worship of women, but because they were not allowed to proceed further into the Temple precincts except for sacrificial purposes.  This court covered a space of more than 200 square feet and was surrounded by a colonnade within which, and located against the wall, there were 13 trumpet shaped chests for collecting charitable contributions.  This court was the most public part of the Temple.

Question: What is the unspoken meaning of the phrase: No one arrested him because his hour had not yet come... ?

Answer: Jesus is in charge of His own destiny.  It is the Father's plan and man does not, and indeed cannot, control these events.

Please read John 8:21-30: The Discourse continues

21 Again he said to them: 'I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin.  Where I am going, you cannot come.  22 So the Jews said to one another, 'Is he going to kill himself that he says, "Where I am going, you cannot come?"'  23 Jesus went on: 'You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  24 I have told you already:  You will die in your sins.  Yes, if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.'  25 So they said to him, 'Who are you?'  Jesus answered: 'What I have told you from the outset.  26 About you I have much to say and much to judge; but the one who sent me is true, and what I declare to the world I have learnt from him.'  27 They did not recognize that he was talking to them about the Father.  28 So Jesus said: 'When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing of my own accord.  What I say is what the Father has taught me; 29 he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him.'  30 As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.

Just as with the theme of judgment in John 8:12-20 which could be compared with John 7:27-30, this next section has several parallels with chapter 7:33-36:

John 7:33-36

Related Theme

John 8:21-22

7:33b

Jesus is going away

8:21a

7:34a

He tells them they will look for Him

8:21a

7:34b

Where He is going they cannot come

8:21c

7:35

Misunderstanding by the Jews

8:22

7:36

The Jews repeat Jesus' statement

8:22

John 8:21-24 [Jesus said] 'I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin.  Where I am going, you cannot come.'  So the Jews said to one another, 'Is he going to kill himself that he says, 'Where I am going, you cannot come?'  Jesus went on: 'You are from below; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I have told you already: You will die in your sins.  Yes, if you do not believe that I AM *He, you will die in your sins.' [*the word "He" is not in the original text; it is added by the translators].

In both of the "misunderstandings" of the Jews found in 7:35 and 8:22 it is ironic that the Jews actually do speak the truth.

Question: What was the misunderstanding about Jesus' "going away" statement in 7:35 and how was that misunderstanding fulfilled?

Answer: They thought Jesus may have been speaking about teaching the Jews of the Diaspora (Jews living outside of the boundaries of what was Israel) and of teaching the Gentiles. The Apostles and the Church carried out this mission.

Question: What did the Jews "misunderstand" in John 8:22 and how was that fulfilled?

Answer: This misunderstanding concerns the possibility of Jesus killing Himself. Jesus will voluntarily lay down His own life on the cross.

Jesus said: 'I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin.' The word "sin" is used in the singular in verse 21 and not in the plural as it is in some translations.  It is used collectively to express the whole condition of people's estrangement from God [Brown, page 347].

Question: How many times does Jesus use words similar to this phrase in John 8:21-24?

Answer: Three times:

  1. 8:20: you will die in your sin
  2. 8:24a: You will die in your sin
  3. 8:24b: Yes, if you do not believe that I am (he) you will die in your sins.

The word "sin" is used in the singular in verses 21 and in 24a and in the plural form in 24b [Brown, page 347-350].

Jesus is fulfilling His role as Prophet:  the prophet of God was the "watchman" of God's people and this repeated message: "you will die in your sins" sounds very like the message in the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 3:16-21.  The Septuagint was the Greek translation of Sacred Scripture (Old Testament) which was widely used in the 1st century AD.  The majority of the Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament are from this translation.   Ezekiel is the only prophet Yahweh consistently called by the title "son of man," which is Jesus' favorite Messianic title for Himself.   In Ezekiel 3:16-21 Yahweh informs Ezekiel: ....Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel; and you shall hear a word of my mouth, and shall threaten them from me.  18 When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die'; and you have not warned him, to give warning to the wicked, to turn from his ways, that he should live; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity (sin, singular); but his blood I shall I require at your hand.  19 But if you warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, and from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity (sin, singular), and you shall deliver your soul.  20 And when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits a trespass (sin), and I shall bring punishment before him, he shall die, because you did not warn him: he shall even die in his sins (plural), because his righteousness shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at your hand.  21 But if you warn the righteous not to sin, and he sin not, the righteous shall surely live, because you have warned him; and you shall deliver your own soul.  Jesus' three statements You will die in your sin, 2 statements in the singular and one in the plural, is very much like the phrase repeated three times in Ezekiel 3:18, 19, and 20.

Do you notice an increasing note of urgency in Jesus' warnings to the Jews by using this phrase 3 times?  They must make a decision about Him before it is too late.

Question: What will happen to men if they refuse His gift of life and decide too late?

Answer: They will die in their sins because only the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, can take away sin.  Radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and therefore to refuse life itself. 

Question: John 8:23-24 explain the urgency of Jesus' insisting that they make their decision before He leaves.  What does He tell them about Himself and about their fate?

Answer: He is God: He is the I AM, the One from above who has come into the world to enable mankind to be born anothen = "born from above" [John 3:3, 5] and therefore to be raised up to be a true child of God and to share in His divinity as sons and daughters.

Question: But what will happen to those who refuse to believe?

Answer: They will go to their graves in sin and without the gift of eternal life.  Instead of inheriting the kingdom that could have been theirs, they will inherit eternal darkness.

John 8:25-27: So they said to him, 'Who are you?'  Jesus answered: 'What I have told you from the outset.  About you I have much to say and much to judge; but the one who sent me is true, and what I declare to the world I have learnt from him.'  They did not recognize that he was talking to them about the Father.  

Jesus has clearly asserted His divinity with the reference to Himself as "I AM" in verse 24.  The Jews did not miss this as a clear statement of His claim to divinity, which is why they sought to kill him.

 Question: What does Jesus means when He says 'About you I have much to say and much to judge' ?

Answer: He is not talking about salvation judgment but the impending judgment of the extent of their sin, which He is obligated, as God's holiest prophet, to tell to them [see Ezekiel 3:16-21].

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John 8:28-30: So Jesus said: 'When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I Am*He and that I do nothing of my own accord.  What I say is what the Father has taught me; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him.'  As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.
*the pronoun "He" is not in the text; it is added by the translators [Brown, page 346, 348].

Jesus repeats the "I AM" from verse 24.  This is a second clear instance of the absolute use of Ego Ami without a predicate [nor an implied predicate] in chapter 8.  The Greek words, ego ami, "I am", can be simply a phrase of common speech as we would use "It is I" or "I am the one".  However, as we have discussed, it also has a solemn and sacred use in the Old Testament as the divine covenant name of the One True God, derived from the verb "to be", which most Biblical scholars now translate as 'Yahweh.' [See the document the "Many Names of God" in the Documents section].

In chapter 8 John uses these words without a predicate 3 times:

8:24

"I have told you already: You will die in your sins.  Yes, if you do not believe that I AM."

8:28

"When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM."

8:58

"In all truth I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM."

*I AM with no predicate is also used in 13:19 "When it does happen, you may believe that I AM."

The 7 times Jesus used "I AM" are examples of Jesus speaking of himself figuratively using a predicate nominative.  The difference in these 3 uses in verses 8:24-58 and in 13:19 is that they are a clear reference to Exodus 3:13-14 and the use of the divine name.

Question: What does Jesus mean in verse 28 when He says: 'When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know..' ?  Hint: There are two relevant Old Testament passages.  See Numbers 21:4-9 and Daniel 7:13-14.

Answer: The Jews had the opportunity of knowing who He is by listening to His words but afterwards when they know Him as "the one lifted up" it will be too late.  Jesus is also giving them another Biblical reference using the divine Messianic title of Daniel 7:13 "Son of man" as well as the imagery of Numbers 21:4-9 when the people looked up to their salvation raised on a pole of wood [which prefigured the crucifixion].  Jesus is speaking of when He is Himself lifted up in His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. At that time He will draw everyone to Him who believes in Him.  At that moment it will become clear to those who have been given the eyes of faith [by God the Holy Spirit] that He is truly the divine I AM and that He has the power of raising up God's true children to eternal life.

John 8:31 informs us that because of His testimony many came to believe in Him!  This statement leads into Jesus' address to those who believed:

Please read 31-41: Father Abraham and the Jews

31 To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: 'If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; 32 you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'  33 They answered, 'We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, '"You will be set free?"' 34 Jesus replied: 'In all truth (Amen, amen) I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave.  35 Now a slave has no permanent standing in the household, but a son belongs to it for ever.  36 So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.  37 I know that you are descended from Abraham; but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you.  38 What I speak of is what I have seen at my Father's side, and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father.'  39 They repeated, 'Our father is Abraham.'  Jesus said to them: 'If you are Abraham's children, do as Abraham did.  40  As it is, you want to kill me, a man who has told you the truth as I have learnt it from God; that is not what Abraham did.  41 You are doing your father's work.'  They replied, 'We were not born illegitimate, the only faher we have is God.'

Unlike the previous sections of John 8:12-20 and 8:21-30 this section does not have parallel themes which connect this passage to Jesus' discourse in chapter 7.  Instead the emphasis is on the Jew's descent from father Abraham.

John 8:31-32:  To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: 'If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'

Question: Who is Jesus addressing in verse 31 and what is His challenge?

Answer: The Jews who professed belief in Him.  He is challenging them to more than a superficial belief.  He is calling them to true discipleship that requires His words to transform their whole lives with the kind of faith that will bring them to know the truth and to become children of God free from their bondage to sin. 

The knowledge He is speaking of more than intellectual knowledge.  It is knowledge that comes from divine Revelation as given by God the Holy Spirit. Knowing truth is knowing Christ Himself in the whole Revelation of His humanity and divinity—God become man.  It is realizing that the inaccessible Almighty God has become man in order that we can become, in truth, sons and daughters of God.  This kind of knowledge sets us free because it raises us from our former position as "slaves to sin" in all the attachments of our fallen nature and raises us up in a state of grace as heirs in the family of God. 

In reference to this unique transformation Pope John Paul II wrote: Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: 'You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free' (John 8:32).  These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world.  Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience.  What a stupendous confirmation of this has been given and is still being given by those who, thanks to Christ and in Christ, have reached true freedom and have manifested it even in situations of external constraint!  John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, 12

In his commentary on the Gospel of St. John St. Thomas Aquinas explains the meaning of the kind of freedom Jesus is offering in this passage.  He writes ...being free does not refer to being freed of every type of wrong [...] it means being freed in the proper sense of the word, in three ways: first, the truth of his teaching will free us from the error of untruth [...]; second, the truth of grace will liberate us from slavery of sin: 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death' (Romans 8:2); third, the truth of eternity in Christ Jesus will free us from decay (cf. Romans 8:21)." [Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on St. John].

John 8:33 -34: The Jews protest: We are descended of Abraham and we have never been slaves of anyone; what do you mean, 'You will be set free?'

Question: Was the Jews' statement in verse 33 true historically?  Had they never been enslaved?

Answer: No, they had been in bondage many times: slavery to the Egyptians, in captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians; dominated politically by the Persians, Greeks and now the Romans.  They realize Jesus is speaking spiritually and not historically and so they reply that they have never "sold" themselves to pagan gods—which is also not altogether true. In the Temple sacrifice is made to the Roman god Caesar Tiberius and to the Roman people twice daily, according to Flavius Josephus [Wars of the Jews 2.10.4].

John 8:35-38: In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave.  Now a slave has no permanent standing in the household, but a son belongs to it for ever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.  I know that you are descended from Abraham; but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you. "What I speak of is what I have seen at my Father's side, and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father.

Jesus uses the analogy of the son and heir releasing his father's slaves from bondage.  He is the Son and heir of God the Almighty Father and He has the power, when He comes into His glory, to not only release men and women from bondage to sin and death, but to give those who believe the place as a son or daughter in the family of His Father.

Question: What is the comparison that can be made between the slavery of their ancestors in Egypt, their redemption and salvation through the efforts of God's prophet Moses and what Jesus is offering the people of this generation?

Answer: In Egypt the people were slaves of another nation.  God promised redemption from their slavery and promised them freedom and salvation in a Promised Land.  But what the ancestors faced was a political slavery and a political salvation.  What Jesus is promising is real freedom from the slavery of sin and He is promising real freedom which is to be redeemed from sin by His blood shed on the cross.  He is the only true perfect sacrifice that can be offered to purchase that freedom.  He is the sacrifice that every Old Testament sacrificial animal pointed to, and His salvation isn't a physical earthly one for which they will have to continue to labor.  He is offering the kingdom of Heaven as the real Promised Land.

Question: In addition to slavery to sin was their another bondage the people labored under in order not to be condemned forever under the stain of their sins?  Hint: see Galatians 5:1-5

Answer: The Law of Moses was meant to be a remedy for sin and yet it also convicted them of their sins.  St Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1: Christ has set us free, so that we should remain free.  Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery. For St. Paul slavery was also servitude to the yoke of the Law, which tragically could not take away sin but only made sin more dangerous:

Also see CCC # 1966-64 on the purpose of the Old Covenant law.

At the end of verse 38 after talking about how He does His Father's work Jesus says to the crowd: '... and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father.'

Question: What does Jesus mean?  Who is He suggesting is their father?  Hint: see verse 44.

Answer: Satan.

John 8:39-41: They repeated, 'Our father is Abraham.'  Jesus said to them: 'If you are Abraham's children, do as Abraham did.  As it is, you want to kill me, a man who has told you the truth as I have learnt it from God; that is not what Abraham did.  You are doing your father's work.'  They replied, 'We were not born illegitimate, the only father we have is God.'

Notice how the Jews' objections in verses 33 and 39 balance each other concerning their descent from Abraham:

The interpretation of verse 39, "Our father is Abraham," depends on what the Jews understood Jesus to mean in the second part of verse 38 when He said: 'and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father.'  If they understand that Jesus is referring to Satan as their father, which doesn't become clear until verse 44, then the Jews are responding in protest to Jesus' statement.  However if they believe Jesus is referring to His own Father, then they are declaring that they want nothing to do with Jesus' Father because they have Abraham.

Question:  Later when the Jews understand that Jesus is challenging them that it is the devil that is their father it is clear that it is not the purity of their physical descent from Abraham that He is challenging.  What is He challenging?

Answer: He is challenging their status as God's holy covenant people.

Question: What is Jesus' response to their declaration that Abraham is their father in verses 40-41? 

Answer: Jesus tells them that they may consider themselves to be children of Abraham but they are his children only in the "flesh", meaning in the natural sense but not in spirit. 

Question: How could they show that they are true children of Abraham?

Answer: If they were true children of Abraham they would believe in Him.  St. Paul wrote that the true sons of Abraham live by faith: Abraham, you remember, put his faith in God, and this was reckoned to him as uprightness.  Be sure, then, that it is people of faith who are the children of Abraham.  And it was because Scripture foresaw that God would give saving justice to the Gentiles through faith, that it announced the future Gospel to Abraham in the words: "All nations will be blessed in you."  So it is people of faith who receive the same blessing as Abraham, the man of faith [Galatians 3:7-9]. 

Question: Jesus assures the crowd that He is doing the Father's work, just as true sons normally take up their father's occupation, but the people's unbelief reveals that they are not the true children of Abraham, if they were truly Abraham's children they would believe in Him and in who sent Him just as Abraham believed and trusted God.  This isn't the first time those who profess themselves to be Abraham's children have been accused of being the children of another father.  What prophet of God also accused the unbelieving Jews when they claimed Abraham was their father? Hint: see Matthew 3:4-12.

Answer: John the Baptist had a similar exchange with the Jews in which he called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers.  In other words, little snakes whose daddy was the big Snake–the Serpent Satan!  The Baptist also told them even though they claim to have Abraham as their father if God so desired He could raise children for Abraham from these stones [Matthew 3:9] , making a play on the Hebrew/Aramaic word for son, which is ben and stone, which is eben.  It is not physical descent that shows true sonship but divine descent through Christ. Jesus will make the accusation again in verse 44 by stating that the true identity of the "father" of those who reject Him is Satan.  There is no mid ground.  You either accept or reject Christ's gift of salvation.

John 8:41b:We were not born illegitimate; the only father we have is God.  >The Jews shift their argument from Abraham to God. There are two responses here:

  1. That they are true, legitimate descendants of Abraham
  2. That because Abraham is the physical father God is their spiritual Father.

Question: The crowd's first response to Jesus in the later half of verse 41 that they had not been born illegitimate is a reference to which son of Abraham?  What was the difference between the inheritances of Abraham's sons? Hint: see Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-4, 15; 17:15-21; 21:1-2, 10-12; and Galatians 4:28-31.

Answer: Ishmael was the son born of the slave woman, Hagar.  Isaac, the son born of the free woman and wife, Sarah, would be heir to the promises God made to Abraham.  It was through Isaac that the Covenant was renewed. St. Paul, speaking to the Christians of the Church in Galatia, assured them of their eternal inheritance, quoting from Genesis 21:9: Now you, brothers (adelphoi = brothers and sisters), are like Isaac, children of the promise; just as at that time, the child born in the way of human nature persecuted the child born through the Spirit, so now. But what is it that Scripture says? "Drive away that slave girl and her son; the slave girl's son is not to share the inheritance with the son of the freewoman."  So, brothers, we are the children not of the slave girl but of the freewoman.

Question: Physical descent through Abraham is not enough for inheriting God's promises and the gift of salvation.  How is it that we can receive this same eternal inheritance?  See John 1:12-13.

Answer: The Jews who are refusing to accept Jesus' origin [John 8:42] and who are refusing to believe in Him may be Abraham's physical children but their actions deny that they are his spiritual children.  It is by faith and baptism that Christ gives the power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. Faith, which is a gift of God, is the first step on the road to eternal life [CCC# 153], but accepting or rejecting God gift of faith to assist and move man/woman on his/her journey to salvation, is entirely a free will decision [also see CCC# 154-55].

The second response concerns their place as God's spiritual children.

Question: In the Old Testament how was the unfaithfulness of the Old Covenant Church, the Bride of Yahweh, symbolically described?

Answer: Idol worship is compared to fornication or adultery. The Israelites who engaged in unfaithfulness through the worship of false gods were called "the children of fornication" in Hosea 2:4.  Therefore in verse 41 when the Jews deny that they are "illegitimate", the children of fornication, they are also denying that they have strayed from the covenant.  In arguing that God is indeed their Father they are restating the terms of the covenant with Moses where Israel became "children of God" [Exodus 4:22] and Yahweh became Israel's Father [Deuteronomy 34:6]. They are restating to Jesus what they told Yahweh in Isaiah 63:16: After all you are our Father.  If Abraham will not own us, if Israel will not acknowledge us, you, Yahweh, are our Father, 'Our Redeemer' is your name from old.  Jesus will answer this argument with a blunt denial in verse 42

It is interesting that the Old Testament speaks of Abraham's offspring in the singular using the word sperma in the Greek Septuagint translation.  St. Paul understands this to be a prefiguring of Jesus as the offspring of Abraham.  Therefore, Paul can say to Christians: If you are Christ's then you are descended from Abraham [Galatians 3:7].  All Christians are father Abraham's children through his freeborn wife Sarah and not through the slave Hagar, as are all those who are slaves of the Law [see read Galatians chapters 3- 4].

This passage in John 8:31-41 is somewhat confusing.  Who is really challenging Jesus, the believing Jews or the unbelievers? One thing is clear and that is their response. The Jews had experienced bondage but had never willing accepted it.  Since they believed themselves to be a people chosen by God they regarded themselves as free of the degree of sin and moral degeneracy of the Gentile nations.  In their judgment being "free" meant belonging to God's chosen people and not being a "Gentile dog".

Please read John 8:42-47: 42 Jesus answered: 'If God were your father, you would love me, since I have my origin in God and have come from him; I did not come of my own accord, but he sent me.  43 Why do you not understand what I say?  Because you cannot bear to listen to my words.  44 You are from your father, the devil, and you prefer to do what your father wants.  He was a murderer from the start; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all.  When he lies he is speaking true to his nature, because he is a liar, and the father of lies.  45 But it is because I speak the truth that you do not believe me.  46 Can any of you convict me of sin?  If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me: 47 Whoever comes from God listens to the words of God; the reason why you do not listen is that you are not from God.'

When Jesus says 'I have my origin in God and have come from him,' Jesus is settling once and for all the question of His origin and His mission.

Question: The Jews insist that Abraham is their father, and they use the argument that at Mt. Sinai God took them as His children in the Covenant and He should also be their true Father.  But who does Jesus say has become the "father" of these people and how is it that one symbolically imaged in Scripture.  See Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:3 & 9.

Answer: Satan, the ancient Serpent or Dragon [see Revelation 12:9].

Question: Why does Jesus accuse the Jews of being "sons of the Serpent"?

Answer: The Jewish leaders submitted to pagan Rome in their worship; they made sacrifices to the Emperor daily in the Temple and some leaders completely embrace Hellenistic culture to include making sacrifices to the Roman gods.  They also enforced this submission on the people.  When the Jewish leadership does eventually arrest Jesus they will charge Him with the offense of blasphemy.  But since they do not have the power to condemn a man to death they will then send Him to the Roman authority, the governor Pontius Pilate, to be charged with the capital offense that He is a rival to the supreme power of Caesar [John 19:12-15].  With the words: We have no king but Caesar in [John 19:15], the Jewish Old Covenant authority in effect condemns themselves as sons of the Serpent. 

Some of those in the highest positions of authority in the Old Covenant Church rejected Israel's role as a "kingdom of priests" to the nations of the world and surrendered her position of priority to the Serpent in whose image Israel has been remade, the image of the pagan Roman State.  Instead of the faithful virgin Bride, Israel now becomes the Harlot who rides on the back of the beast–the Roman Empire.  This image of apostate Israel as the "seed of the Serpent" is found in the Book of Revelation where we see Satan as the Dragon in Revelation 12:3: There was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet"; & verse 9  The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan.  Satan is followed by the Sea Beast [the Roman Empire from across the Mediterranean] who is in the Dragon's image in Revelation 13:1: "Then I saw a beast emerge from the sea it had seven heads and ten horns with a coronet on each of its ten horns..; notice they are not the same, the numbers of heads and horns are the same but while the Serpent's seven heads are crowned the Beast's ten horns are crowned so this is a different entity but made in the "image" of Satan.  In Scripture a "horn" is a sign of power.  The Roman Empire in the 1st century AD had 10 provinces ruled by puppet kings like the Herodian rulers.  There were 7 Herodian kings who governed the Holy Land for the Romans.  See the Chart of Roman rulers and provinces in the Appendix to this chapter.

Finally, the Book of Revelation reveals another "Beast," serving both the Dragon/Satan and the Sea Beast/Rome comes the "False prophet"/Land Beast/Israel, in the image of the Sea Beast [Revelation 13:11 & also see Rev.16:13] but who has the appearance of a lamb as Jesus had warned in Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. But this lamb/beast "spoke as a Dragon": Then I saw a second beast, emerging from the ground; it had two horns like a lamb, but made a noise like a dragon. This second beast exercised all the power of the first beast, on its behalf...[Revelation 13:11-12a]. 

This is why Jesus sternly warns the people that Satan has become their "father;" because they have conformed themselves to his image instead of God's image. The Judaism that rejected the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is the not Old Testament first Church religion but is a rejection of the Old Testament Biblical faith which was fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ [Matthew 5:17] in favor of a transformation of that faith by the Pharisees that evolved into a Rabbinical Talmudic religion that does not have a Biblical basis.  While modern Judaism claims to be based on the Bible sadly it is not.  It is instead based only on the authority of men who can no longer abide by the Laws and regulations of the Old Covenant because there is no longer a Temple where the obligations of the covenant can be carried out.  There isn't even a priesthood, God's representatives to the people, in Rabbinical Judaism.  With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD the Old Covenant faith came to an end and a fully established New Covenant Church took its place.  It is what was written in Hebrews 9: 8-9 prior to 70AD and the destruction of the Temple: By this, the Holy spirit means us to see that as long as the old tent [tabernacle/ Temple] stands, the way into the holy place is not opened up, it is a symbol for this present time [the Temple].  None of the gifts and sacrifices offered under these regulations can possibly bring any worshipper to perfection in his conscience...  Salvation for the Jews and for us all comes from Christ.  It is what Peter told the Jews in his great homily on the second great Pentecost: Acts 2:36-38: For this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord [meaning God] and Christ [Messiah] whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified [the Jews, the Romans and all of us].  Hearing this, they [the Jews] were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ''What are we to do, brothers (adelphoi)?' 'You must repent, Peter answered, and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away [gentiles], for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself."

More than thirty years before the Roman state will begin persecution of the New Covenant Church, the Old Covenant Jews who fail to accept Jesus as the Messiah will launch a ceaseless effort to bear false witness and perpetrate persecution against their kinsmen, the Jewish Christian followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  In the book of Acts alone there are many examples of the persecution of Jewish Christians [Acts 4:1-3, 15-18; 5:17-18, 27-23, 40; 6:9-15; 7:51-58; 9:23, 29; 13:44-51; 14:2-5; 17:5-8, 13; 18:5-5, 12-17; 19:9; 21:27-36; 23:6-10; 24:1-9; 25:2-5, 7-12, 24-25].  It must be remembered, however, that this crowd was divided and those who came to faith in Jesus became the nucleus and "first fruits" of the New Covenant, universal Church of Jesus Christ.  They are our older brothers and sisters in the faith and we owe these Jewish men and women a debt of gratitude.  Their faithfulness in the time of trial and testing in the first centuries of the Church can be an example for us all.  The first 15 Christian bishops of Jerusalem were all Jews and most were martyred for their faith in Jesus of Nazareth [Eusebius, Church History, Book IV chapter 5].  St. James, the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem spoke warmly of these early Jewish Christians when he told St. Paul: You see, brother, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law... [Acts 21:20b].  Why were the Jewish Christian converts religious Jews who followed the Laws of the covenant?  Because these were the men and women who understood how Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Messiah recorded in Sacred Scripture. See the chart of the first Bishops of Jerusalem in Appendix II at the end of this lesson.

Question: Do you know the promises in Sacred Scripture and the teachings of mother Church?  You are taking responsibility to learn them by participating in this study and that is commendable. 

Answer: The great 5th century AD Biblical scholar, St. Jerome wrote: To be ignorant of Scripture is to be ignorant of Christ, and St. Anselm, the 11th century Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury wisely  wrote: Faith seeks understanding. The Catechism teaches that to have a firmly rooted faith, the believer must understand what he or she believes: "Faith seeks understanding":  it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love.  The grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts" to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery.  "The same Holy Spirit, constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."  In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe in order to understand; and I understand the better to believe." CCC # 158 quoting St. Anselm, Proslogion; Ephesians 1:18; Vatican II: Dei Verbum 5; St. Augustine, Sermo 43.7.9].

Question: The Old Covenant Church had priests, an altar of sacrifice, incense, Holy Days, water purification, lights which burned continuously to signify the presence of God.  In the Tabernacle there was a box called the Ark of the Covenant in which the manna [the bread from heaven], the words of God [10 Commandments], and the dead branch of Aaron's staff which miraculously came back to life [Hebrews 9:4] rested, and there was also an altar and sacrifice.  None of these elements of faith and worship can be found in Rabbinic Judaism.  Where can these elements of worship be found today?

Answer: It the worship, rites, and sacraments of the Catholic Church.  In the Tabernacle in every Catholic Church Christ is present: He is the living bread come down from heaven, the Living Word of God, and He who was dead who came back to life!  He is the true and holy sacrifice, made present on the altar and He nourishes us spiritually to give us strength for our journey on the road of salvation with heaven as our destination, just as God nourished the children of Israel on their journey to their Promised Land which was only a symbol of the heavenly reality.

Question: Returning to John 8:44 and Jesus' accusation that Satan the Serpent is the father of those who refuse to believe in Him; according to Jesus, how does a Dragon/Serpent speak?

Answer: He speaks with lies, subtle and seductively, to draw God's people into a trap as Satan did to our first parents in Eden when he caused death to come into creation; He was a murderer from the start....a liar and the father of lies.

Jesus is quite clear in His statements in this passage which are a continuation of His discourse from John 5:45-47:

Question: How does Jesus characterize the devil?  What is the contrast between Satan and Christ?

Answer: Satan is a murdered, a liar, no truth found in him:

Question: Jesus says: because you cannot bear to listen to my words...  What is the reason Jesus gives for their failure to listen and their failure to believe?  See John 8:47

Answer: They are not from God.

Question:

  1. What was God's promise to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 18:15-20?
  2. What was His command?
  3. What was His warning?
  4. How is this passage related to Matthew 17:5?

Answer:

  1. He would raise up "the Prophet" from among their people. 
  2. They must listen to everything He tells them.
  3. If they do not listen they must be accountable to God.  To not listen to God's Messiah was a sin in itself. 
  4. God's command on the Mt. of Transfiguration was This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to Him [Matthew 17:5].

It is interesting that David's name in Hebrew means "beloved."  It is from David's line that Jesus was promised as the King who would rule forever.

Jesus challenged the crowd in John 8:46: 'Can any of you convict me of sin?' St. John will write in 1 John 3:5-6: Now you are well aware that he has appeared in order to take sins away, and that in him there is no sin.  No one who remains in him sins, and whoever sins has neither seen him nor recognized him.  John does not teach that believers do not sin but is speaking of the character or habit of sin.  The love of Christ and sin are not compatible and exclude each other as light excludes darkness.  For the Christian to be in a state of grace is to be free of the stain of sin.

Question: Does anyone take Jesus up on His challenge by listing His sins?

Answer: They will accuse Him of two faults in verse 48.

Please read John 8:48-59: The Unbelievers in the Crowd Respond:

48 The Jews replied, 'Are we not right and saying that you are a Samaritan and possessed by a devil?  Jesus answered: 49 'I am not possessed; but I honor my Father, and you deny me honor.  50 I do not seek my own glory; there is someone who does seek it and is the judge of it.  51 In all truth (Amen, amen) I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.'  52 The Jews said, 'Now we know that you are possessed.  Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, "Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death."  53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?'  54 Jesus answered: 'If I were to seek my own glory my glory would be worth nothing; in fact, my glory is conferred by the Father, by the one of whom you say, "He is our God," 55 although you do not know him.  But I know him, and if I were to say, "I do not know him," I should be a liar, as you yourselves are. But I do know him, and I keep his word.  56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my Day; he saw it and was glad.'  57 The Jews then said, 'You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham?'  58 Jesus replied: 'In all truth (Amen, amen) I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I am.'  59 At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

John 8:48-51: The Jews replied, 'Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and possessed by a devil?'  Jesus replied: 'I am not possessed; but I honor my Father, and you deny me honor.  I do not seek my own glory; there is someone who does seek it and is the judge of it.  In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.'

The Jews cannot refute His argument so they resort to insulting Him.

Question: How do they insult Jesus?

Answer:  They accusing Him of being a Samaritan and being possessed by the devil. 

Question: By calling Him a Samaritan of what are they accusing Him?

Answer: They accurse Him of being a heretic, a semi-pagan, and a violator of the Covenant.  A Samaritan in their eyes is worse than being a Gentile.  It is the worse insult they can think of besides being of Satan.

Question: Where in the other Gospels was Jesus accused of being of Satan and what was His very angry response?  Hint: see Matthew 12:22-32 and Mark 3:29

Answer: The Pharisees accuse Jesus of healing through Beelzebub the chief of devils.  That someone may be unable to recognize Jesus as the Son of God may be excusable since He appears as an ordinary man, but it is the most perverse of sins to witness the manifest good of the works of the Holy Spirit and the declare those works evil.  By doing this, those Scribes and Pharisees openly refused to respond to God.  They closed their hearts and minds to Him and therfore have shut themselves off from divine grace and the forgiveness that flows from it.  They have placed themselves outside the range of the forgiveness Christ offers in His perfect love.  This should be a warning for all of us: Mark 3:22-20 [Jesus speaking] 'In truth [amen] I tell you, all human sins will be forgiven, and all the blasphemies ever uttered; but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.'  This was because they were saying, 'There is an unclean spirit in him.'  In the Synoptic Gospels this is when Jesus begins to teach in parables!  In the Old Testament a prophet speaks in parables when the religious authority has completely broken down and no longer fulfills their position as the voice of Yahweh to the people.

Question: In John 8:51 with a solemn double amen what promise does Jesus make to those who believe in Him and what does this promise mean?

Answer: They will never die.  He is promising eternal life to those who accept His teaching and remain faithful to it.  They will experience physical death but not "the second death", which is eternal separation from God.  The "first" death is physical death, but the death to be feared is the "second":

John 8:52-56: The Jews said, 'Now we know that you are possessed, Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.'  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?'  Jesus answered:  'If I were to seek my own glory my glory would be worth nothing; in fact, my glory is conferred by the Father, by the one of whom you say, 'He is our God,' although you do not know him.  But I know him, and if I were to say, 'I do not know him,' I should be a liar, as you yourselves are.  But I do know him, and I keep his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my Day; he saw it and was glad.'

John 8:52: Now we know that you are possessed...  The Jews are saying what they accused Jesus of in 7:20 and in 8:48 has now been confirmed.  This is the third time they have accused Jesus of being possessed/ insane:

Question: Why do they accuse Jesus of being possessed or insane?

Answer: Because He has promised them eternal life, a gift no human being can give.  Therefore, they reason, He is either insane or possessed by the devil which in the ancient world was the same condition.

Question: What is the cause of the eternal death Jesus is speaking of?  What is the difference between physical and spiritual death?  How did physical and spiritual death come into the world? Did God create death? See Wisdom 1:12-15; 2:23-24.

Answer: Sin is the cause of eternal death. God did not create death; it is because of sin that death, both physical and spiritual, came into the world.  The Gospel of John teaches that the real death is the result of sin and sanctifying grace is true life [1:4, 13; 3:15, 16, 36, etc].  It is through grace that we enter eternal life.

John 8:53: Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  The prophets are dead too. 

Question: How did Jesus answer this question in Matthew 22:31-32?

Answer: God is the God of the living, not God of the dead.  Jesus is speaking of those who have accepted God's gift of eternal life.  These verses recall the statement God made to Moses in Exodus 3:6, centuries after the deaths of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in which God told Moses: 'I Am the God of your ancestors,' he said, ;the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'

John 8:54: The Jews ask Jesus: 'Who are you claiming to be?'  Jesus answered:  'If I were to seek my own glory my glory would be worth nothing; in fact, my glory is conferred by the Father, by the one of whom you say, 'He is our God,' although you do not know him. Jesus is not seeking human fame but seeks the will of the Father.  In seeking the Father's will He becomes the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and the prophets like Moses.  It is His testimony that they knew of the promise of His coming.  Writing of the Old Testament heroes and heroines of the faith St. Paul teaches: These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth [Hebrews 11:13].

Jesus calls the Jews in the crowd "liars" in John 8:55.

Question: What is a lie the opposite of?

Answer: The truth. CCC # 2483 states: Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. Jesus is the eternal Truth but those who oppose Him are so blinded by their hostility they cannot see the truth.  Jesus is "the Way the Truth and the Life" [John 14:6]; in denying the truth of His words those who oppose Him have denied He who is the definition of truth.  They have united themselves with untruth and the prince of liars = Satan. See CCC# 574 and CCC# 2483-87.

John 8:57-59: The Jews then said, 'You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!'  Jesus replied: 'In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM.'  At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

This is the third use of "I AM", Ego Ami, without a predicate nominative indicating the divine name Yahweh.

Jesus' "I AM" statements with and without the predicate nominative in St. John's Gospel

"I AM" with predicate nominative

"I AM" without predicate nominative

1. 6:35

"I AM the bread of life"

1. 8:24 "..if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.
2. 8:12 "I AM the light of the world" 2. 8:28 When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM (He)*
3. 10:7 "I AM the gate for the sheep" 3. 8:58 In all truth (Amen, amen) I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM.
4. 10:11 "I AM the good shepherd" 4. 13:19 I tell you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe that I AM (He)*
5. 11:25 "I AM the resurrection and the life"    
6. 14:6 "I AM the way and the truth and the life"
7. 15:1 "I AM the true vine"

* The pronoun "He" is not in the Greek text.

In using these words Jesus gives another revelation of His divinity in a very dramatic claim.

Question: What claim does Jesus make and what is the implication of His claim?

Answer: His claim is that He existed before Abraham who lived approximately 2,000 years earlier. Abraham's life was under the control of time and natural law and therefore had a temporal beginning and end. Jesus is claiming to be one with God whose life in eternity has neither a beginning nor an end but who exists outside of time.

There is another link to father Abraham other than Jesus' physical descent through this great Patriarch as verified by the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Question: God made a 3-fold covenant with Abraham that began with 3 promises in Genesis 12:1-3.  These promises were repeated in the covenant formation with Abram/Abraham in Genesis chapters 15, 17, and 22.  In Genesis 17 Yahweh gave Abram a covenant sign.  What are the circumstances of that covenant sign?  What further promise did God make to Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18?  Were these promises ever fulfilled?

Answer: The three promises made to Abram which will become the corner stone of a 3-fold covenant are:

  1. land/ a kingdom
  2. descendants [as numerous as the stars; Genesis 15:5; 22:17]
  3. a world-wide blessing

However, none of the promises were fulfilled in Abraham's lifetime, nor were they fulfilled in Israel as a holy nation with the exception of the first promise, however, the kingdom did not last.

In Genesis chapter 17 when Abram, in obedience to God, is willing to sacrifice his flesh to God in the rite of circumcision, God rewards Abram by changing his name to Abraham.  God adds the Hebrew letter that has the value of 5 which signifies "grace", and then promises that he and Sarah will have a son through whom the covenant will be continued, and which will then continue through this promised son's descendants [Genesis 17:19].  Later in Genesis 22, because of Abraham's faith in God's promise to give him descendants through the promised son, Abraham is willing, at God's request, to offer that son up in sacrifice, believing, as St. Paul tells us in Hebrews 11:17-19, that God is true to His promises and will raise up his son from the dead.  God does not demand this sacrifice of Abraham, but because of Abraham's faith, God makes a sworn covenant oath to Abraham that a descendant of Abraham's would rise [remember the use of the word descendant, or more literally "seed" in the singular] and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God will not spare His only beloved Son who will be sacrificed for the sins of the world. That covenant oath to Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus' defeat of sin and death through His death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension.  Abraham's spiritual descendants receive the fullness of the promises made in Genesis 12:

  1. Christians are heirs of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ: the Church on earth and the heavenly Kingdom [Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29].
  2. The "seed" of Abraham is now all true believers in Jesus Christ down through the ages, including the Patriarchs of old who waited patiently for His coming [Hebrews 11:39; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 3:19-20].
  3. In carrying the "goodnews" [Gospel] of Christ to the world, all nations of the earth are blessed through Jesus Christ, the descendant of father Abraham [Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8-9].

The covenant oath sworn to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Jesus' words "Before Abraham ever was I AM" also recall the theophany to Moses at Sinai at the burning bush/tree: "I AM WHO I AM" in Exodus 3:14.  These words used by Jesus with such emphasis and with such authority in John 8:58 are the equivalent of His affirming His eternity and His divinity!  Jesus' claim is clearly understood by the crowd.  To claim to be God is blasphemy, for which the penalty is death by stoning [Leviticus 24:16] and so they pick up stones in an attempt to execute Him, but as they turn to stone Him He has already gone from the Temple!  It is another proof of His divinity right before their eyes! See CCC# 590

APPENDIX I:

ROMAN EMPERORS, ROMAN PROVINCES AND THE HERODIAN RULERS OF THE HOLY LAND

The Roman Historian Tacitus in his history, The Annals, begins his list of Roman emperors with Augustus Caesar (Octavian), but the Roman Historian Suetonius begins his list of Roman Emperors in Lives of the Twelve Caesars with Julius Caesar as the first of the Roman Emperors as does Dio Cassius in his Roman History and Josephus in his Antiquities of the JewsThere were, therefore, two official lists in use in the first century AD.

Suetonius' List

Tacitus' List

1. Julius Caesar died 44BC

2. Augustus Caesar died 14AD

1. Augustus Caesar

3. Tiberius died 37AD

2. Tiberius

4. Caligula died 41AD

3. Caligula

5. Claudius died 54AD

4. Claudius

6. Nero died 68AD

5. Nero

7. Galba died 69AD

6. Galba

8. Otho died 69AD

7. Otho

9. Vitilleus died 69AD

8. Vitilleus

10. Vespasian died 79AD

9. Vespasian

11. Titus died 81AD

10. Titus

12. Domitian died 96AD

11. Domitian

LIST OF 10 IMPERIAL PROVINCES OF THE FIRST CENTUARY AD

Italy

Achaia

Asia

Syria/Judea

Egypt

Africa

Spain

Gaul

Britain

Germany

LIST OF THE HERODIAN RULERS

1. Herod the Great died (4BC ?) 1BC

5. Herod of Chalcis died 48AD

2. Archelaus deposed 6AD?

6. Agrippa I died 44AD

3. Herod Antipas exiled 37AD

7. Agrippa II died 100AD

4. Philip Herod died 34/37AD

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1997 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

APPENDIX II:

EARLIEST BISHOPS OF THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM

In Church History, Book IV chapter 5 Eusebius, 4th century Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine writes concerning the succession of the Bishops of Jerusalem: The chronology (dating) of the bishops of Jerusalem I have nowhere found preserved in writing; for tradition says that they were all short lived.  But I have learned this much from the writings, that until the siege of the Jews, which took place under Adrian [135AD] there were fifteen bishops in succession there, all of whom are said to have been of Hebrew descent, and to have received the knowledge of Christ in purity, so that they were approved by those who were able to judge such matters and were deemed worthy of the episcopate."

Bishop Eusebius' list:

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN BISHOPS OF JERUSALEM

1. James, kinsman of Jesus Christ +

11. Justus +

21. Gaius I

31. Dius

2. Symeon, kinsman of Jesus Christ +

12. Levi +

22. Symmachus

32. Germanio

3. Justus +

13. Ephres +

23. Gaius II

33. Gordius

4. Zacchaeus +

14. Joseph +

24. Julian II

34. Narcissus (repeated)

5. Tobias +

15. Judas +

25. Capito

35. Alexander

6. Benjamin +

16. Marcus

26. Maximus II *

36. Mazabanes

7. John +

17. Cassianus

27. Antonius  *

37. Hymenaeus

8. Matthias +

18. Publius

28. Valens

38. Zambdas

9. Phillip +

19. Maximus I

29. Dolichianus

39. Hermon

10. Seneca +

20. Julian I

30. Narcissus

 

+ Jewish descent

*These two names are omitted in Eusebius' Church History, but are listed in his Chronicles and are also listed by the Church historian Epiphanius

Also see Church History, Book V, chapter 12 in which Eusebius lists the first thirty of the bishops, ending with Narcissus, "the thirtieth in regular succession from the Apostles."

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

References used in chapter 8 [for complete information on sources see the bibliography]

  1. The Navarre Bible – St. John
  2. The Anchor Bible: The Gospel according to John, vol. I
  3. Vincent's Word Studies in the New testament
  4. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
  5. The Mishnah
  6. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible-the Gospel of John
  7. The Jewish Festivals
  8. Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus
  9. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  10. The Temple: Its Ministry and Services in the time of Jesus
  11. Homilies on the Gospel of John - Chrysostom
  12. The Works of St. Augustine of Hippo
  13. Commentary on St. John, St Thomas Aquinas
  14. Paradise Restored
  15. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, volumes 3 and 5
  16. The Acts of Apostles, volume I, edited by F.J. Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979; Appendix: "The Am Ha-ares and the Haberim," Professor Frank Cross, page 30-440.

Catechism references for chapter 8 [*indicates verse quoted in CCC passage]

8:2

583*

8:34-36

549*, 601*, 613*

8:12

2466*

8:44

391*, 392*, 603*

8:28

211, 653, 2812*

8:46

578*, 592*, 603*

8:29

603*, 1693*, 2824, 2825*

8:48

574*

8:31-32

89*

8:55

473*

8:32

1741, 2466

8:58

590

8:33-36

588*

8:59

574*

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.