The Woman Caught in a Heresy


[the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 8:1-11]


but Jesus went to the Mount of Orthodoxy.

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

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

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 theological parsings.’

bryan-2Bryan Berghoef writes and tweets from the nation’s capital.  His book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God invites you to engage in deep conversations over a good beer.  You can follow Bryan on Twitter @bryberg.


10 thoughts on “The Woman Caught in a Heresy

    1. Ha! Yes, I suppose that would be more consistent with the story. Well done. My point in the post was to note the irony of claiming to follow Jesus while standing around with a rock in your hand.

      There was an interesting column this week by Tim Suttle: Will Evangelicalism Last?

      He notes:

      “Engaging in conversation about sound doctrine is an important part of sticking together. But these days when somebody in our tribe says, “I’m fighting for the truth,” you just know it’s a ruse.

      For one thing “Truth” is not rational abstraction — a concept, doctrine, or idea you can write down — especially not one which you conveniently have right and everyone else conveniently has wrong. Truth-as-a-rational-abstraction constitutes a denial of the incarnation (and big chunks of the New Testament). Doctrines and theologies can point to the truth but they are not themselves the Truth.

      Christians are not meant to believe in a rational account of the truth; we are meant to take up our cross and follow the one who is true; the truth as it has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. But for the truth-police, Christianity has become analyzed instead of lived.

      Most importantly, we must recognize that the fight for truth is nearly always a fight for control. Those who passionately defend the truth are often just grasping for power. It’s a game that only those who have never been transformed by the love of God have the stomach for.

      If evangelicals have a future together, it will not be the way of those who cry “heresy” and let slip the dogs of war. It will be with those who unite around mission and prefer a rich theological landscape.

      Theological diversity is nothing to fear. The Gospel doesn’t need people who will defend it. The Gospel needs people who will become transformed by it and live it out.”


      1. Hi Brian,

        Allow me to begin by noting that upon reflection, my closing quip (nice try, though) was snarky, and unkind, so please accept my apology.

        I think that you make a number of assertions in your response that are unsupported and cannot be accepted at face value, but let me begin by noting that we are in agreement that doctrines and theologies cannot themselves be the Truth. However, that does not mean that doctrines and theologies cannot be said to be true or false. And theologies always lead to practical applications. In other words: what we believe helps steer how we act. You have a theology of the incarnation, and it informs your life and practice – praise God! If someone comes along with a false doctrine of the incarnation, that too has consequences, and you would rightly contend against both the false doctrine and the working out of the false doctrine in life.

        Using the term “truth-police” sounds to me like an effort to appeal to your “tribe” in langauge that is dismisive of those concerned for sound doctrine – I find it unhelpful. Exactly who is this amorphous ‘truth-police”? Is my minister a member of the derided truth-police when he notes the error of open theism during a sermon on a passage that pertains to the sovereignty of God?

        Your two worst unsupported and frankly insulting assertions are as follows: “Most importantly, we must recognize that the fight for truth is nearly always a fight for control. Those who passionately defend the truth are often just grasping for power.” Have you read Fox’s Book of Martyrs recently? Do you care to apply those assertions to those famous truth-police? By making those assertions you have, intentionally or not< maligned and slandered thousands upon thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ who "passionately defend the truth". Can you indeed judge their hearts and conclude that they are really "just grasping for power"?

        "Theological diversity is nothing to fear." Agreed. Equally true, however, is that theological error is a tool of the devil – he used it in the garden and has been using it ever since.

        In your last two sentences, you set up one of the very unnecessary and unhelpful false dichotomies that you hate. It is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and. Contrary to your assertion, the Bible does call us to defend the Gospel (take Jude, verse 3 for example – note the definite article). The Gospel needs to be declared, and in order to be properly declared it must at times also be defended, otherwise a false gospel is declared. There is nothing that stops the person who defends the Gospel from also being transformed by it and living it – again, they are not mutually expclusive. When we see the Gospel compromised, we must rightly step forward in defense of truth. When we see lives that are not transformed, we must rightly step forward and proclaim the necessity of the new birth and all of its implications.

        May you find rest and peace in your Creator today. I wish you well.


  1. Leo Tolstoy, from The Kingdom of God is Within You:

    “Strange though it may seem to us who have been brought up in the erroneous view of the Church as a Christian institution, and in contempt for heresy, yet the fact is that only in what was called heresy was there any true movement, that is, true Christianity, and that it only ceased to be so when those heresies stopped short in their movement and also petrified into the fixed forms of a church. [Heresy] is the effort to break through the petrified authority of the Church. All effort after a living comprehension of doctrine has been made by heretics.”


  2. There is no “other” when we are aware that we are actually “one,” and the same. The connection is there though invisible to many of us.
    And when we realize that what we do for “others,” we do also for God. And what we do for God, we do for ourselves. “I and My Father, are ONE.” to quote a famous part of Scripture.


  3. Two aspects of this story strike me as I read it (these insights are gleaned from Keneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Easter Eyes).
    One is the brilliance of Jesus. According to Bailey, Jesus’ initial ‘dirt script’ has to read something like “kill her” or “stone her” or perhaps the specific passage demanding death for adultery as described in Deut. 22:22. The genius of Jesus of Nazareth is how he “boomerangs” a potential trap into a test of his opponents. While his accusers wait to see if he will advocate for the death penalty (and thereby upset the political power balance in Jerusalem as the Hebrew did not have the authority to execute people for religious crimes) or opt for mercy (and potentially lose support among the people), he asks, “Who is willing to join me [in jail] for obedience to the Torah?” Jesus does not insist that only sinless people can judge, (after all, Jesus doesn’t throw any stones either!) but is posing a question to the community to see who will take up this cause with him.
    The second aspect is the mercy of Jesus. Jesus knows he has beaten his opponents yet turns away while they slowly depart. He doesn’t take the opportunity to stare down his enemies. As his testimony suggests, when he rises he seems surprised to find no one left to accuse this woman. Bailey counters that this incident may only harden the resolve of the Pharisees to try again and their anger may have only grown due to this incident. However, Jesus the “savior” comes into play. He has willingly protected this woman at great cost to himself. The anger that this crew has toward this woman is transferred to Jesus himself. Her life is safe, but his life is still threatened. Perhaps the tendency to see Jesus through the event of the cross may overshadow the willingness to see the life of Jesus as participation with those who suffer unjustly. We teach every Sunday school kid that “Jesus died for your sins” but do we share stories like this one where we see Jesus living to embrace a world so that oppression and fear doesn’t have the last word?
    On a side note the context of this incident takes place around the festival of “Sukkoth.” (Otherwise known as the feast of “booths” where Jews make temporary dwellings and reside in them for a week to remind themselves of their 40 years in the wilderness.) Tensions are high as Israel collectively remembers that while they have returned from exile, they are still under the thumb of Rome. Jesus seems to understand this frustration —when will all of this occupation finally be over? When will we be truly home? As religious leaders go looking for scapegoats, Jesus insists that our own attitudes toward “the other” may be the problem. The extermination of our enemies is not Jesus’ solution. The Jews has essential been a part of an ‘enemy exchange program’ six centuries in the making; first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, next Persians, and now the Romans. Had Israel forgotten its own monarchy and its own history of exploitation? Was the ‘golden era’ of David and Solomon only gilded? I wonder if all the widows of David’s wars and the impoverished citizens of Solomon’s taxes would have the same perspective as the royal court? I think that the question we ought to ask ourselves as we try to work towards ‘paradise’– of some inspiring vision of what life could be, is whether or not our vision of paradise is paradise for anyone else. As Jeremiah instructs the exiles in chapter 29, (my paraphrase)“life isn’t going to start AFTER this disaster is over—you need to build houses, and plant gardens NOW and in so doing bless this nation in which you live. You are going to be here a while!” Could I be so bold as to suggest that the practices that accompany the festival of booths serve as a concrete reminder that our assumptions about what is best for others, the world, and ourselves might be creations of our own hubris? We will need to enact a thousand different ways of submitting our position to the perspective of ‘the other’ to see ourselves from their eyes. Only then can we work to build a world where my paradise isn’t someone else’s version of hell.


    1. Of course I am an idiot who only now realizes the “editing” that Bryan has done to the story which renders my above comments as hypocritical as they are irrelevant. I do love the twist on this story though Bryan.


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