John 8:12—59

The 12 verses that make up the first section of John 8, an incident concerning the woman caught in adultery, are not found in any of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.   That raises the questions:  Did John write them?  Are they inspired if he didn’t?  Did the incident actually take place or was the whole story made up and inserted into this Gospel?

Here are quick facts surrounding these uncertain verses—

  • The story contains language and words not used by John elsewhere in any of his New Testament writings; this leads many to question the authenticity of this section.
  • The oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain the story.  It found its way into the KJV because it does appear in Codex Bezae and later uncials (the Koine text).
  • Many of the old Latin versions of Scripture completely omit this portion.
  • Greek expositors of Scriptures like Origen, Chrysostom, and many others make no comments on this incident.

Many faithful and highly conservative Bible scholars regard this whole incident as a “gloss,” an addition caused by a scribal error; one that is “spurious” and completely “anecdotal” and they believe it should be omitted from the John’s Gospel.

Given what we know about John, his style of writing and use of certain words, and the indisputable manuscript evidence, it is highly unlikely that these verses were written by John and therefore they shouldn’t be considered at part of this Gospel.

Having said that, however, is not to say that this incident never took place and that is unhistorical and a fabric of some scribe’s imagination.  In fact, the Jesus we see portrayed in these 12 verses is completely in agreement with the Jesus of history.  He is seen acting completely “in character” and nothing He said or did is at odds with what we know about our Lord.

So, what do we do with the first 12 verses?  The fact is, they add nothing new to our knowledge of Christ if they are kept, and removing them takes nothing away from Scripture.  That’s why most reputable and modern translations keep them, but usually offset them from the rest of the text by italicizing them and making mention of their uncertain origin.  For the sake of this study, though, which is already a lot longer than it should be, we will omit them for the sake of moving along.

1.  Light of the world, verses 12—20

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (verse 12)

The remainder of chapter 12 makes up a single unit—a single incident—that probably took place just after the Feast of Tabernacles, while Jesus was still in the Jerusalem.  It is within this section of the Gospel that we read a series of declarative statements, beginning with “I am the light of the world.”

The first declarative statement of Christ reminds us of how John began his Gospel—

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  (John 1:4, 5)

The scribes and some of the Pharisees had left the Temple, but Jesus continued to teach the people who remained in the shadows cast by the great golden candelabra, lighted during the Feast of Tabernacles.  This was done to commemorate the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt.  Even as God led His children in the wilderness, so now Jesus is ever present in the lives of His people, guiding them, illuminating the way, and dispelling the darkness.  As John had already stated, light and life go hand-in-hand, and the Light of the world came to give eternal life to all people.

Jesus’ majestic claim was not well-received by the Pharisees, who considered such a claim as a prideful boast.  They saw Jesus as “full of Himself.”  Responding to what they said, Jesus’ response is succinct—

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.”  (verse 14)

In other words, Jesus declares, “I know myself!”  Once again, we see that the judgment of the religious leaders was completely wrong because they did not know His real nature.  Because they did not know who He was, they could not make the right judgment about Him or anything He said.  Their judgment about Him was based on what they saw (verse 15).  This is a very common theme in John’s Gospel and cannot be stressed enough as it is a common problem within His Church today.  Many, many immature or moderate Christians—even leaders within the Church!—don’t know Jesus and therefore are incapable of making correct judgments regarding His Word, His will, etc.  This is precisely why denominations get embroiled in one controversy after another; those involved don’t know Jesus, either well enough or not at all.  Those who don’t know Jesus make judgments about Him based on “the flesh,” or based on their perspective and limited understanding.  The most ignorant person in the world is worldly Christian; someone who thinks they know all about God and His ways.  Without a personal relationship with the Son, what such a person knows about God couldn’t fill a thimble.

The Jewish leaders clearly rejected Christ’s claims, even though He offered the Word of God as proof that His teachings were indeed valid—

I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”  (verse 18)

With great arrogance and disdain, these men also rejected the testimony of God, mocking Jesus, as it were, with the question, “So, where is your father?”  What makes this so sad is that these very religious men were in the process of hardening their own hearts to the truth of God, which was standing right in front of them!  Everything Christ had said had fallen on deaf ears.  When the human heart gets that hard, blindness and woeful ignorance always result.

2.  Consequence of man’s sin, verses 21—30

No wonder Jesus again announced the doom of the Jews; they were so derisive in the way they spoke to Him and their arrogance seemed to be boundless.

Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”  (verse 21)

The significance of this section is in Jesus’ clear declaration of His deity (verses 24 and 28) and the awful consequence of sin:  death.   What is very telling about the state of these Jews was their dense response—

“Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”  (verse 22)

They completely ignored the fact that Jesus declared they would die in their sin, preferring to focus on His statement that pertained to Himself and His will.  This is a classic example of sinful man’s stubborn refusal to see himself the way he really is.  If you have ever wondered why some people never respond to the Gospel in repentance, it is because they don’t hear it, or they ignore it.  The very thing that keeps man separated from God has only one antidote—

I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.  (verse 24)

The fact that the religious leaders continued to ask Jesus who He was shows that His message of simple faith was lost on them.  Our Lord was speaking, yet His words were not getting through to them.  The translation of the second part of verse 25 is difficult; the precise meaning of archen (literally “beginning”) does not seem to fit the overall context of the passage.  The tNIV’s “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning” is a good compromise, but the RSV’s footnote translation may be more revealing of how Jesus was feeling at this moment—

Why do I talk to you at all?

The very last sentence of this paragraph deserves special mention because it shows the power of God’s Word over His mighty acts—

Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.  (verse 30)

Signs and wonders serve to draw sinful man’s attention to Christ, but it is faith in His Word that results in saving faith.

3.  The truth makes you free, verses 31—38

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (verses 31b, 32)

If we compare verses 30 and 31, we notice an interesting thing:  there appears to be a difference between belief and faith.  Consider—

Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.  (verse 30)

To the Jews who had believed him  (verse 31)

It seems that some “regular folk” listening to the exchange between Jesus and the Jews came to have faith in Jesus.  But some of the Jews, we are told, “believed” Jesus.  Remember, when John uses the word “Jews,” he is almost always referring to the religious leaders.  According to verse 31, then, some of these religious leaders had a measure of “belief” in what Jesus was saying.  But that is not the same thing as faith, as evidenced by what follows.  This is a very important distinction that must be noted.  Many people claim to believe in God and believe in Jesus and believe in the Bible, but belief is never enough!   Belief costs a person nothing; it is an intellectual assent to ideas and philosophy.  Faith, however, is something else; it demands repentance and a change of allegiance.  Belief is easy, faith is not.

How exactly does one “hold to” Christ’s teaching?  According to John’s writing “holding to” Christ’s teaching is the same thing as “obedience” to Christ’s teaching; only those who strive to live in obedience to the Word of God are considered by Christ to His disciples.

In what sense does the truth make one free?  This is an oft-quoted phrase, usually misapplied.  A person is free when sin no longer rules over them and the Word of God dominates their lives.   The kind of freedom spoken of by Christ, which is the only true freedom, has nothing to do with being able to “do your own thing” or live any way you want to.

The mention of freedom resulted in a question—

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”  (verse 33)

Of course, they were in bondage of the very worst kind:  bondage to sin, but didn’t know it.  What makes one a slave?  Jesus points out three things:

  • Verse 34:  “…everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
  • Verse 35:  “…a slave has no permanent place in the family”  In other words, separation from the Source of true freedom enslaves one to something else.
  • Verse 37:  “…you are looking for a way to kill me…”  The motivation of these people in looking for Jesus was completely wrong.

In these Jews we see the kind of person who knows about Jesus, knows His message, and maybe even believes parts of that message, but he is repulsed with idea that he is a sinner in need of a Savior.  This is the kind of person who resents being told that their fine morality and sense of ethics is imperfect and even motivated by sin.  This is the kind of person who is deluded into thinking that “good people go to heaven” and that they are essentially a “good person.”  The fact is, apart from Jesus Christ, there are no good people.  Period.

4.  Jesus was before Abraham, verses 39—59

Although these Jews claimed to be Abraham’s children, Jesus informed them that if they were, then they would act like Abraham did.  In other words, they would live by faith, not by legalism and pride; they would live in obedience to the Word of God, as Jesus was advocating.

The Jews’ proud contention was based solely on their lineal descent from Abraham, to whom God gave the great covenant.  However, God demands personal commitment from people.  What your father’s standing before God was or is has nothing whatsoever to do with you.  Your ancestors may have been great evangelists or missionaries, but if you haven’t made a personal commitment to follow Christ, then you’re lost.  This is what Ezekiel 18:4 means—

The soul who sins is the one who will die.

The whole chapter is all about personal responsibility; something these Jews did not possess when it came to their spirituality.

As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.  (verse 40)

These Jews had fallen so far from God’s grace; they were out to kill God’s Son.  What is interesting about this verse is the fact that this is the only instance in the Bible where Jesus refers to Himself as a “man.”  This is, in fact, a pretty power-packed section of verses, for in it Jesus declares that He is a man, and also that:

  • He was sent out from God, verse 42
  • God is His Father, verse 49
  • He Himself is Deity, verse 58

The obtuseness of the Jews was so obvious to Jesus, that asked what amounted to a rhetorical question—

Why is my language not clear to you?  (verse 43)

Jesus’ answer to His own question is vitally important because it applies to all the people you have shared your faith with who seemed to totally miss your point:

  • They were “unable to hear” what Jesus was saying, verse 43.  These unbelieving Jews were spiritually deaf.
  • Their spiritual deafness was an inherited family problem, passed on to them from their father, the Devil, verse 44.
  • They were unable to face the truth even when it was right in front of them, verse 45.
  • Because of their sin, these Jews could only be blinded by Christ’s purity and holiness, verse 46.  They could not prove Jesus guilty of anything, yet they could not see Him for who He really was.
  • They did not belong to God in any way, verse 47.

As if to show just how hardened these men were, they accused Jesus of being a Samaritan (which would have been an insult to a Jew) and demon possessed!  The truth of Jesus, simple as it is, can arouse very strong feelings of antagonism in people.  Since no fault could be found in Jesus, all they could do was ridicule Him and insult Him.  Jesus’ response, though full of pure love, actually added fuel to the flames—

“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.  I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  (verses 49—51)

Verse 51 is the clincher.  Note the word anyone.  Even one of these insulting, arrogant, and prideful Jews were to put their faith in Christ and live in obedience to His word, he would be saved.  This is God’s unconditional love.  No soul is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming grace.

With verse 58, we see that Jesus had had enough and He ends the conversation.  This is His supreme self-disclosure—

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

The two verbs, “was” and “am” (ego eimi) are two different words in the Greek.  The word “was” means literally, “came into history,” and has a temporal connotation attached to it.  The verb “am” is not temporal at all, but refers to “being forever.”  Here is the great contrast between Jesus, the man these Jews hated, and Abraham, the man they thought was so great:  Jesus was around before Abraham was, and Jesus will be around long after Abraham has passed from the scene.  Jesus always was and will always be.  Abraham was just temporary.

These men were so incensed; they wanted to stone Jesus on the spot.  Jesus had forced these men to make a decision.  Jesus forces all people to make a decision:  follow Him or not.  Each of us must make a decision concerning Jesus Christ.  Either His words are truthful or they are not.  He is either a liar or He is what He claimed to be.  The burning question of the moment is as it has always been: what will you do with Jesus Christ?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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