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What Did Jesus REALLY Write in the Sand in John 8?

10/05/11

Author: Julie Barrier

Preachers have provided us with a plethora of postulations. I think I have a pretty definitive answer to that question. Here are some lame ones. Was Jesus doodling to stall for time until He collected His thoughts? Give me a break. He was the Son of God. His thoughts were definitely collected. Was He writing in “sandskrit?” (Forgive the pun). Did Christ scrawl the names of some prostitute these pious pretenders had visited in town? Highly unlikely.

One interesting theory is that Jesus wrote the name of each “stone-holding accuser” from the oldest to the youngest. They were so amazed at His supernatural knowledge that they dropped their ammunition, stunned and silenced. All accusers departed, from the oldest to the youngest. Many “sermonizers” I’ve heard suggest that Jesus wrote the sins of each religious leader in the sand, and the schemers were so convicted, they dropped their rocks and ran away. A close preacher friend of mine stated that Jesus knelt in the sand because the woman was there and He wanted to support her in those terrible moments.

However, verse three states that the scribes and Pharisees forced the adulteress to stand before the group.

Just to refresh your memory, let me remind you of the passage in John 8:

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

   But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

   9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

   11 “No one, sir,” she said.

   “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” NIV

Jeremiah 17:13 is the secret to the “finger-writing” passage. But before we discuss it, let me give you a little Hebrew history:

Whenever someone was caught in adultery, both the man and the woman would be brought to the Nicanor temple gates and accused. If witnesses could be gathered to confirm that adultery had indeed been committed, then there was a certain ceremony that would be done in order to bring judgment. However, in this instance they only brought the woman. This was a violation of the Oral Law of God. 

Secondly, the priest was required to then stoop down and write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, in the dust of the floor of the Temple (which Jesus did) [actually, the priest could write the law and the names anywhere, as long as the marks were not permanent - and the dust of the floor of the Temple was the most common place]. By doing this, Jesus showed these accusers that THEY were not keeping the law, but He would anyway. (As an aside-two eyewitnesses must be present, and there is no mention of the witnesses’ presence in this scene. The Scribes and Pharisees just say she was caught in the act. By whom?)

The Scribes and Pharisees ignored the law, brought the woman only, and then continued with accusations. So Jesus stood up (after plainly demonstrating they were violating the law themselves)  and said "He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" John 8:7). THEY did not want to cast the stone, they wanted Jesus to condemn her, so they continued accusing.

To truly comprehend the pivotal verse that answers this age-old question, we need to know a little Hebrew history. Every year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the Kohen HaGaddol, or High Priest would immerse up to 11 times in a Mikveh (a baptismal tank) in order to be ceremonially cleansed between each separate portion of the day's sacrifices. (I’ll bet he got a little pruny.) At the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, there was a celebration at his home, and there would be great rejoicing that God had received the sacrifice, and everyone’s sins had been rolled forward another year until Messiah came. To end the day and announce to everyone the party was over (and it was time to go home), the High Priest would come out and quote this verse:

 "'Oh YAHWEH, the Mikveh of Israel...' just as the mikveh (purifying bath) cleansed me on this day, may the Holy One (Messiah), blessed be his name, cleanse all Israel when He comes." Jeremiah 17:13.

Any religious Jewish man had heard this verse quoted by the High Priest every year since he was 12 years old. At 50, he would have heard it 39 times! (although Yom Kippur was NOT a Feast of ascension, many Jews would come up for it anyway, because of it's close relationship in time to the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), when they had to be there anyway). The entire verse is as follows:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
Jeremiah 17:13

The exact Hebrew translation is this:

"Oh YHVH, the Immerser (BAPTIZER ) of Israel, all those who leave your way shall be put to shame (publicly embarrassed), those who turn aside from my ways will have their names written in the dust and blotted out, for they have departed from YHVH, the fountain of Mayim Hayim (the waters of life).."

So Jesus gave them a chance -- they could have been just embarrassed and then repented before the LORD. but instead they refused to repent, rejected the Messiah, and in turn had their names written in the dust. This passage in Jeremiah is a Messianic prophecy of what Jesus would do when He came - and in this passage in John, we see Jesus fulfill the prophecy.

In my opinion, the most interesting part is verse 9 of John 8:

“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

They heard the voice of God in their conscience, the Spirit of God bringing to their remembrance all the times they heard the High Priest quote the verse -- but instead of receiving the conviction and repenting, they departed from Him (just as it was prophesied!). They left from the eldest to the youngest, the older having heard the verse quoted more often.

The verses in John 7:37-39 occurred just prior to this incident. Jesus had just proclaimed that He was the fountain of living waters. (as one more aside, then Jesus returns to his teaching of the multitude in the Temple, by saying "I am the light of the world"... this was the very morning that the four great lamps of the court in the Temple (which were called "The light of the world" were being extinguished after being kept lit for the entire week of the Feast of Tabernacles).*

Now, for some application. What motivated this woman to commit adultery? She knew it was against God’s laws and punishable by death. What was her life like? Little girls were betrothed and married by the ages of 12 or thirteen, usually to an older man in the extended family like an uncle. Fathers always wanted sons to carry on the family name and to provide for them in their old age. Daughters were usually hidden from society until they were adults. Women had no civil rights. They could not be educated or taught the Torah (the Jewish Bible). They could even go to church with the men. They were considered to be property.

Perhaps this young woman had been beaten by her father. He certainly must have told her that he was disappointed in her. Perhaps he said, “I wish I had more sons. All I have is this worthless daughter!” What must she have been feeling?  Humiliation, terror, shame….What would have driven her to the point that she would risk her life to be with a man in an illicit affair?  Was her husband abusive?  Did she feel trapped?  Was she desperately unhappy?  Was she depressed—did she really want to be found out to end her miserable existence?

What did Jesus see in those tear-stained eyes? …fear, condemnation, shame? Perhaps this man that she had the affair with, was the one person she could talk to. Maybe he told her she was beautiful. Maybe he told her he loved her and he was sorry she had to be forced to marry someone she didn’t love.

Now this does not excuse her sin. She had broken the Law of Moses and the consequence for adultery was stoning. Jesus knew that. The leaders caught her, dragged her into the Temple grounds where Jesus was teaching. She was probably half-dressed, ashamed and terrified.

Jesus knew the Scriptures. Adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments, all four Gospels, and ten other books of the Bible.

So why did Jesus respond to this woman with such compassion and forgiveness? Jesus knew that those trapped in even the worst sins were not hopeless. They could be redeemed.

Let’s look at the second group of wounded people. The religious leaders: the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Scribes were like lawyers, they wrote, taught and interpreted the law. The Pharisees were middle class people. They weren’t rich like the Saduccees but they spent every waking moment trying to live of to the 643 laws and a huge list of what the New Testament calls “traditions” of men. They washed their hands until they bled, they were afraid of the diseased and sinful in their society, because they were unclean. The religious leaders were terrified of failing to measure up to a demanding God-an angry taskmaster. So the thought that this Rabbi could give grace-undeserved love and forgiveness to people instead of working for a mean, demanding God just made them furious. After all, they had racked up a few brownie points and deserved favor with God and respect from men. Jesus came claiming to be the Messiah they had been waiting and praying for all of their lives, He did miracle after miracle, even raising the dead, but he didn’t look or act like they expected. Christ wanted them to repent.

The Scribes and the Pharisees were proud of how hard they tried to please their “inspecting” God.

John the Baptist said of them:

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, He said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father''" (Mat 3:7-9).

Jesus also said:

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:20).

Jesus came to the religious leaders as the hope they had waited and prayed for. But this was what happened when you try to please a demanding God: you become filled with hypocrisy, pride and prejudice. You can never know the rest of God's grace.

Two kinds of people faced Jesus that day. The religious leaders were the pretenders who thought that if they were just smart enough, worked hard enough, prayed hard enough, that somehow they would earn their way into Paradise. The woman had given up. She thought she was hopelessly trapped in a cycle of sin. God could never love her. God could never forgive her.

Both the woman and her accusers needed forgiveness, restoration and hope. Jesus offered all three.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

*Historical information by Kevin Cornette, of prophecyfellowship.org.

Don't forget Jeremiah 17:13, "Hope of Isra’el, Adonai! All who abandon you will be ashamed, those who leave you will be inscribed in the dust, because they have abandoned Adonai, the source of living water."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

As I read this I thought "well duh!" Thank you Julie! You so simply and eloquently explained a verse I have often wondered about.
Betty Kruszka , 10/05/11 05:52 PM
Julie - Well and simply done. Good job. Blessings, George.
George Erhardt , 10/13/11 07:01 AM
Wonderful read! As always, you speak to my heart. Miss you.
Diane Walters , 10/16/11 06:32 AM
Wow! Thank you so much for explaining this so well and so Biblically! I feel so good about this because the other explanations never sounded nor felt accurate.
Jackie Mondi , 07/31/12 02:46 PM
Julie,

May God continue to give you revelation of the scriptures. Thank you for the history lesson, it was well received. Blessings.
Donte J , 08/12/12 12:03 AM
Excellent. We'll researched and supported. While I've never heard the connection to Jer. 17:13, I believe this is true. It's obvious that whatever he wrote convicted them. Merely writing their sins would not have done so. They already knew their sins.

Each year every man examined himself (as Paul said we should do in order to determine if we are faithful) during the ten days of Rosh Hashanah, one day for each of the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. Then, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, they prayed that God would write their names in the Book of Life (not the Lamb's Book of Life) for the coming year.

The greatest fear (and akin to the unpardonable sin) was that their names would not be written, but forever blotted out. These men who brought this woman before Jesus (and by so doing recognized his jurisdiction and authority) and in so doing broke the Law and subsequently failed to repent when confronted by the High Priest (Jesus), left believing that there was no hope for them, that they could not be forgiven and redeemed. Had they stayed, they would have learned the truth—that God can and is willing to forgive every sin, remember them no more, and write our names in the Lamb's Book of Life where they can never be blotted out—when Jesus pardoned the woman.

His final words to her, "Go and sin no more," were not a command: "Don't do this again, or else." Jesus liberated her and as the Great Emancipator, set her free. He proclaimed, "You're free! Sin no longer has dominion over you." Had his words been a command, he would have been telling her to do the impossible—never sin again. As a proclamation, he empowered her with the truth.

This is what Andrew Wommack calls the "almost-too-good-to-be-true news." Thanks for your post.
Jeff Adams , 08/31/12 11:03 PM
Thank you so much Julie, I often wondered what Jesus wrote. Blessings to you.
Donna Archambault , 10/12/12 08:23 AM
Disappointed father's beating, abusive husband, or some man's love leading her to illicit affair do not justify her sin and perhaps not the cause of Jesus' compassion, I think.
Samson Dass , 11/09/12 06:21 AM
See Jeremiah 17:13 Hope of Isra’el, Adonai! All who abandon you will be ashamed, those who leave you will be inscribed in the dust, because they have abandoned Adonai, the source of living water.
Batyah Yensen , 11/10/12 12:35 PM
Julie,
I Know that you are right. He woke me at 4am, led me to what you had written, and showed to me what I must do. Praise his name.
Martin.
martin murphy , 11/20/12 11:03 PM
Thank you, Julie for listening well to the fathers heart and then sharing it with us!
Shalom
Werner Klotz , 12/01/12 08:33 AM
Thank God, Julie for that wisdom about your approached of John 8: 2-11 (particularly verses 6, 7, 8)and the correlation with Jeremiah 17:13. It's wonderful and amazing! Shalom uvracha be upon you.
Godofredo Rasonable , 02/05/13 09:13 AM
Where is it written that "the priest was required to then stoop down and write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, in the dust of the floor of the Temple"? I see something similar in Numbers 5, but that is for a case of suspected adultery, and while dust is used, nothing is written in it.
Jim Stenberg , 03/16/13 11:29 AM
I recently read these scriptures in John & wondered what on earth the Saviour could be writing! I had been investigating a church, and a few days later I was asked by several members to fast and pray for the Lord to give me an answer if I should join them. I fasted, and took myself to a place where the Spirit could dwell, prayed, and listened. As I listened, I was walking along the coast that night and came upon some writing in the sand. It read "DESTINY".

I believe it was no coincedence! The beauty of this testimony - finding "Destiny" in the sand - reminds me of this story in John, and the redemption our Saviour brings.
Damon Brewer , 03/30/13 03:59 AM
Your comment that it was violation of the Oral Law is incorrect:

(This was a violation of the Oral Law of God.)
The Oral law is what the master took issue with, it was the written law that the master defended.
Written law was given at Mt. Sinai
Oral law was made up while and after the house of Judah were in Captivity.
Eternal Law is the word, and the Word became flesh, it was the Torah given to Adam and Eve in the garden.
hope this helps your understanding.
Peter
peter dewein , 07/04/13 02:03 PM
Hello!

As a seminary student, I really found the concept of "what Jesus wrote in the dirt" being the cause of the Pharisees' convictions (John 8:9) to be initially appealing - it makes sense, after all.

But then I read it in the original Greek, and there was a problem.

8:9 opens with a more accurate translation "those that heard", from the transliterated word, "akousantes" - which is the word for "to hear" but parsed for past-tence. It would seem that the writer of John is conveying that it was hearing the ultimatum of Jesus that made them abandon their trap.

That being said, I think it is very possible that Jesus wrote the Pharisees' names into the dirt. Where I'd really like to go with liberty of ambiguity here is that he even wrote their sins (as your article hints toward), but that would lend itself to a divine omniscience of Jesus, which detracts from is humanity which JOHN is so adamant to stress in the opening verses of the gospel.

But "what is in the dirt" is not knowable, as you mentioned. It could have been their names and sins. If your theology/Christology permits Jesus walking around as an unexplainable hybrid of fully-god, fully-man, with all the omniscience and omnipotence attributed to the divine, then it could have very easily been my name, and my sins. It could have also been an image of Homer Simpson. "Superman Jesus" will allow for lots of things!

At any rate, I found your article helpful, though I hesitate to preach the notion that what Jesus wrote over against what Jesus said reflects what the gospel of John presents. It is an important part that should not be overlooked, but also not overstretched - at least, in my opinion. As you rightly and wonderfully articulated, the most important part of the passage is Jesus (living water) offering grace, forgiveness, and hope to all the people involved.

Thanks for insight. May the Great Love be with you, always, and may you participate in the superabundance of divine mercy always.

Very Sincerely,

Benji Van Fleet
Bejamin Van Fleet , 09/16/13 10:18 PM
tear
God Bless
in His service
jim c
jim carlin , 10/24/13 11:01 AM
I appreciate the History you shared Julie about the Priests being required to write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused in the dust of the floor of the Temple, interesting it was not sand but dust that had been trodden on many times. This rule must have been in reference to all sin not just Adultery because it was not just their names but also the broken that had to be written down too. I had no knowledge of this or what others understanding is of this Scripture when I was commenting on a Blog last year and in March this year or when sharing about it a few days ago.

I had commented on a Post early last year and shared that Jesus had written their names, as often happens this knowledge just came to me. But when I received the Post a second time, in my quiet time that day which covers most of my day because I'm often talking with Jesus, I asked Him what He wrote in the sand, although I never hear Him audibly like others do, He first confirms His Truth in my heart, He said it was their names and the second time their sins, which they alone could see, this is why they couldn't argue anymore, if He was just a man, He wouldn't have known and it was why He said if you are without sin caste the first stone, they knew He knew, they were not sinless and so they walked away not wanting to be exposed but as we know they didn't repent they killed Jesus instead ...the big cover up.

Jesus also said of the Pharisees that they studied the Scriptures but rejected Him who they were about -John 5:38-40 Scripture confirms Scripture - Jeremiah 17:13

I have been very much like the Adulterous woman having sinned greatly in my life but like her I have been forgiven and yes God said to me very clearly in my heart ... go and sin no more but He also empowered me through The Holy Spirit as He does all of us, so I didn't sin, when I ask, He gives me the strength to reject sin and walk in victory, He has set me free from it's slavery John 8:34-36 the old has gone the new has come we have God's seed or Nature, 1John 3:1-12 (9) so it's very True, No Temptation will be greater than we can bear but this is about what God calls sin , not man's fleshy rules and regulations or our weaknesses and short comings, which we all have and are not to judge critically or our own reflection and plank will be shown.

Christian Love from us both -Anne
Anne Stocks , 11/15/13 05:20 PM
this elaboration is wonderful.....well done
robert quarcu , 12/09/13 08:27 AM
Ms. Barrier,

I truly appreciate your response to this question. I lack faith, but not hope in Christianity and re-building my fundamental understanding of God. This said, I find myself reading and a lot of both secular and non-secular articles about Christianity, many times I find myself reconciling many discrepancies discussed without issue. I recently have been confronted with, apart of a larger context, John 8 was not recorded in the first records of John (Greek Manuscripts) The passage appears a lot later in Greek copies of the manuscript and Latin translations. Non-secular belief is it was added by scribes. I ask secular authorities and I am left with my faith is not strong. I am not trying disprove to promote disbelief, but to better understand the Bible and how it came into existence. Your reply to the questioned pose leads me to believe, I may receive a reply that does not question my faith for asking, but may want to help me build my faith with a reasonable discussion on the subject that is not dismissive.
Charles Roosa , 12/14/13 10:15 AM
Julie, Thank you. Had often wondered what Jesus wrote .Had heard several ideas. Until today as I was studying on line did I ever really do a search .Your answer seemed to me to truly reflect Jesus's intentions. Hope you and Roger both are doing well. Miss you. Blessings , Harley Nutter
Harley Nutter , 12/27/13 09:34 AM
This article was super helpful in my personal study of John 8. Well supported with reference to the context of Jerusalem at the time.
Peter Wing , 02/26/14 10:24 AM
Interesting...I believe as well that Jeremiah 17:13 is linked with Jesus' writing in the dust in John 8. However, the word מקוה in Jeremiah is not Mikveh like a ritual bath. God is not the immerser of Israel here in this passage. The word literally means hope, as the verse reads "YHWH the Hope of Israel...". Modern Hebrew uses two vavs to spell hope (מקווה) but Biblical Hebrew, which modern Hebrew is built from, uses a different spelling. Indeed the Lord is the fountain or origin (מקור) of living water, but not an immerser as is noted above. Just wanted to chime :) No disrespect intended. Blessings (ברכות) to you
C Wagner , 04/02/14 04:39 PM
This is a fascinating problem -- not only WHAT Jesus wrote on the ground, but WHY he was writing on the ground at all. I have always pictured the scene as Jesus writing on the ground as a kind of idle play -- a way of ignoring or dismissing the busybody accusers. Or perhaps as a way for Jesus himself to think things through. I am not putting forward either of these ideas as "true". Julie writes:

". . .the priest was required to then stoop down and write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, in the dust of the floor of the Temple (which Jesus did) [actually, the priest could write the law and the names anywhere, as long as the marks were not permanent - and the dust of the floor of the Temple was the most common place]."

I would like to know the source of this information. I have not heard it before.

There is another strange things about the whole story. People usually say that Jesus "forgave" the woman. That is not quite accurate. What he says is that he does not condemn her. When Jesus says, "Judge not," he does not (in my opinion) mean "Judge -- condemn -- but then forgive." He means, "Judge not." In my experience, Christians are outstandingly zealous in judging others, particularly for their alleged sexual misdeeds. I think: better not to judge at all.

John Plotz , 06/15/14 05:24 PM
I appreciate what you are trying to do here but the bottom line is this is all an exercise in futility. If God wanted us to know what Jesus wrote in the sand the Bible would tell us. What he wrote in the sand is not paramount to the account. No one can possibly know what he wrote and time spent trying to figure it out is really wasted. Your article is filled with so many suppositions and assumptions without factual support that it renders the entire thing moot.

I suggest we stick to the Bible as our authority and leave our opinions where they belong.
Denny Bohss , 06/26/14 08:42 AM
Great article!

@Denny Bohss: We should never let our desire to honor Scripture as our ultimate source of truth get in the way of using historical and linguistic study of Hebrew language and culture to help us understand what the Bible is teaching. These are many mysteries in the Bible, some that we may never know, but the act of searching them out can be an exciting thing as we try to learn more about the heart of God in His-story. That OT verse comes to mind: "It is to the glory if God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out." :-)

@John Plotz: I'm not sure the original source she is referring to regarding the High Priest writing down sins, but I do know of a similar passage in the Old Testament.

Here is a helpful explanation from another blog:

"In Numbers 5:11, the priest brings the woman accused of adultery and has her stand before the Lord and has her take an oath. He also sweeps up some dust and dirt from the tabernacle floor and puts that dirt into cup of holy water from the tabernacle. The priest also pronounces a curse that if she is guilty, then when she drinks the dirty water, she will get deathly sick but if she is innocent, then she will not be harmed by drinking that cup of dirty water. But before she drinks that cup, the priest also writes down the curses that he pronounced on a scroll. Then he takes some holy water and rinses the scroll of curses into the cup of dirty water. So now the dirty cup of water has the curses in it as well. Then she is made to drink that cup of dirty water.

Jesus Drinks the cup of dirty water.

It is these versus starting in Numbers 5:11, which gave me the idea of why I think Jesus wrote in the dirt and what he probably had written.

I believe that Jesus wrote this woman’s name and her sins in the dirt in order to forgive her for her sins! What, how is that. In order for Jesus to forgive this woman’s sins and to let her go, to give her a pardon for her sins, he had to first write down her sins and put them in a cup of water and then he needed to drink that cup of filthy water.

Jesus knew that very soon he would have to drink the cup of sin. This cup would contain not only this woman’s sin of adultery, it would contain your sin and my sin, it would contain the sin of Adam, it would contain all sin that has been! or would ever be committed!

What a dirty, bitter cup!

No wonder in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father to take away this cup.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Did you ever wonder what cup Jesus was referring to here while he was praying feverishly to His Father? It was this bitter cup of sin."

Taken from: http://yonkomali.com/WhyDidJesusWriteInTheDirt.html

Aaron Gray , 07/11/14 09:55 AM

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