Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what say you?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned.—If we interpret the words strictly, the case they contemplate is not that referred to in Leviticus 20:10, and quoted here in the margin, but that of Deuteronomy 22:23-24, which was the only case for which stoning was specified as a punishment. It would be a case of rare occurrence, and perhaps for this very reason, one on which the opinions of later Rabbis were divided. Strangulation was regarded as the punishment intended when no other was specified; and in the Talmudic distinction in cases of this kind, stoning and strangulation are named as the respective punishments:—“Filia Israelitæ, si adultera cum nupta, strangulanda; cum desponsata tantum, lapidanda. Filia Sacerdotis. si adultera cum nupta, lapidanda; cum desponsata tantum, comburenda (Sanhedrin, fol. 51, 2).
But what sayest thou?—The question is, like that about the tribute money (Matthew 22:17), a snare in which they hope to take Him whatever answer He gives. If He answers that she should be stoned, this would excite the opposition of the multitude, for a lax state of morality had practically made the laws against unchastity a dead letter. The immorality of Rome had spread through the provinces of the empire, and although the Jews were less infected by it than others, the court of the Herods had introduced its worst forms, and Christ Himself speaks of them as “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39. Comp. James 4:4). To have pronounced for a severe law against common forms of sin would have been to undermine popular support, and it is this only that the rulers had to fear. To have pronounced for capital punishment would moreover have brought Him into collision with the Roman government, which reserved to itself the power of life and death. (Comp. John 18:31; John 19:7.) Had He uttered a word in derogation of the majesty of the Roman empire, the charge of treason—in which case to be accused was practically to be condemned—would at once have been brought against Him. (Comp. Notes on John 19:12; John 19:15.) It is clearly the more severe view that the form of the question is intended to draw forth. “Moses said, in express words, . . .; what dost Thou say? You surely will not differ from Moses?” But if He had taken the laxer view, then this, like the Sabbath question, would have been a charge of breaking the Law. He would have been brought before the Sanhedrin as a false Messiah, for the true Messiah was to establish the Law.John 8:5-6. Now Moses commanded that such should be stoned — If they spoke accurately, this must have been a woman who, having been betrothed to a husband, had been guilty of this crime before the marriage was completed, for such only Moses commanded to be stoned. He commanded, indeed, that other adulteresses should be put to death; but the manner of death was not specified. It may be inferred, however, from Ezekiel 16:38-40, that though the law of Moses did not expressly enjoin it, the Jews considered stoning as being the proper punishment of all kinds of adultery, for there the prophet represents God as saying, concerning Jerusalem, I will judge thee as women that break wedlock are judged; they shall stone thee with stones. Add to this, we find Philo and the ancient Christian fathers using the phrases, “those that were stoned,” and “those that were punished for adultery,” as synonymous terms. This they said, tempting him, that they might accuse him — Either of usurping the office of a judge, if he condemned her, or of being an enemy to the law, if he acquitted her. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground — Perhaps there were in this woman’s case some circumstances tending to alleviate her guilt, such as her past innocence, known to Jesus, her present repentance, which he could easily discern, and the strength of the temptations by which she had been hurried into sin. There may have been something likewise in her accusers’ characters well known to him, which made it proper for them to desist from the prosecution. Also, Jesus might now, as on other occasions, decline assuming the character and office of a civil magistrate. Lastly, the persons who demanded his opinion were by no means the judges to whom the execution of the law was committed; but Pharisees, who at the bottom were gross hypocrites, notwithstanding they professed the greatest concern for the honour of the divine law. Whatever was the reason, Jesus did not encourage this prosecution; but with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not — Or had not been attending to what they said: for, to write on the ground is the action of one who, being wholly wrapped up in his own thoughts, does not take notice of any thing that passes without.Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22. The particular manner of the death was not specified in the law. The Jews had themselves, in the time of Christ, determined that it should be by stoning. See this described in the notes at Matthew 21:35, Matthew 21:44. The punishment for adultery varied. In some cases it was strangling. In the time of Ezekiel EZechariah 16:38-40 it was stoning and being thrust through with a sword. If the adulteress was the daughter of a priest, the punishment was being burned to death.
but what sayest thou—hoping, whatever He might answer, to put Him in the wrong:—if He said, Stone her, that would seem a stepping out of His province; if He forbade it, that would hold Him up as a relaxer of the public morals. But these cunning hypocrites were overmatched.Leviticus 20:10, commanded that such malefactors should be put to death; but we read of no law commanding this kind of death. And their rule was, that when the law had set no kind of death for an offence, there the mildest kind of death was to be their punishment, which they counted strangling to be. But they ordinarily entitled Moses to their traditional additions to the law; and death being commanded by the law, as the punishment of such offenders, they took themselves to be at liberty to determine the kind of death, as prudence and reason of state ruled them; so as, probably, they, seeing that that sin grew very frequent amongst them, appointed stoning to be the kind of death such malefactors should be put to. The manner of which we are told was this: The guilty person was to be carried up to some high place, and thrown down from thence headlong by such as witnessed against him; then they threw stones at him till they had killed him, if not killed by the fall; or covered him, if he were dead. This they tell our Saviour Moses commanded, because he had commanded in the general, that such a person should die, and their sanhedrim had determined this particular death to such malefactors. But they would know what our Saviour said to this. Leviticus 20:10; for though according to the law there, an adulteress, one that was a married woman, and so an adulterer, that was a married man, were to be put to death; yet the death was not stoning, but strangling; for it is a rule with the Jews (g), that where death is simply mentioned (without restraining it to any particular kind) strangling is intended, and which rule they apply to this law: and accordingly in their Misna, or oral law, one that lies with another man's wife, is reckoned among those that are to be strangled (h): Kimchi indeed says (i), that adulteresses, according to the law, are to be stoned with stones; but then this must be understood of such as are betrothed, but not married; and such a person, Moses has commanded in the law, to be stoned, Deuteronomy 22:23. And with this agree the traditions of the Jews (k);
"a daughter of Israel must be stoned, who is , "betrothed, but not married".''
And such an one we must believe this woman was; she was betrothed to a man, but not married to him, and therefore to be stoned: the Jews (l) have also a saying, that
"if all adulterers were punished with stoning, according to the law, the stones would be consumed; but they would not be consumed;''
adultery was so common with that people:
but what sayest thou? dost thou agree with Moses, or not?
(g) Maimon. Hilchot Issure Bia, c. 1. sect. 6. (h) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 10. sect. 1.((i) In Ezekiel 16.40. (k) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 51. 2.((l) Apud Castell. Lex. Polyglott, col. 2180.Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 8:5. ἐν δὲ τῷ νομῷ … λιθοβολεῖσθαι. In Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 death is fixed as the penalty of adultery; but “stoning” as the form of death is only specified when a betrothed virgin is “violated, Deuteronomy 22:23-24. And the Rabbis held that where death simply was spoken of, strangling was meant [“omnis mors dicta in Lege simpliciter non est nisi strangulatio”]. It is supposed therefore that by τὰς τοιαύτας the accusers refer to the special class to which this woman belonged. The words themselves do not suggest that; and it is better to suppose that these lawyers who had brought the woman understood “stoning” when “death” without further specification was mentioned. See further in Lightfoot and Holtzmann.—σὺ οὖν τί λέγεις; “What then sayest Thou?” as if it were possible He might give a decision differing from that of the law.5. Moses in the law] Of the two texts given in the margin of our Bible, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, probably neither is correct. It is often assumed that ‘put to death’ in Jewish Law means stoning: such however is not Jewish tradition. The Rabbis taught that it meant strangulation; i.e. the criminal was smothered in mud and then a cord was twisted round his neck. But for the case of a betrothed woman sinning in the city, stoning is specified as the punishment (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), and this is probably what is indicated here. Such cases would be rare, and therefore all the better suited for a casuistical question.
but what sayest thou?] Better, What therefore sayest Thou? This is the only place in the whole paragraph where S. John’s favourite particle ‘therefore’ occurs; and that not in the narrative, where S. John makes such frequent use of it, but in the dialogue, where he very rarely employs it. Scarcely anywhere in this Gospel can a dozen verses of narrative be found without a ‘therefore;’ but see John 2:1-17, and contrast John 4:1-26, John 20:1-9.John 8:5. Λιθάζειν, to stone) [D and the best versions read λιθάζειν, instead of λιθοβολεῖσθαι]. Either this woman was betrothed, or else the expression of the Scribes and Pharisees is abbreviated, with this sense: Moses ordered, that adulteresses should be visited with capital punishment; Deuteronomy 22:22, etc., “If a man be found lying with a woman married, then they shall both die;—If a damsel—be betrothed, and a man lie with her, then—ye shall stone them with stones,” etc.; and our ancestors [elders] have defined that punishment to be stoning. See Grot. on this passage.—οὖν, therefore) This particle exhibits their question as more framed to entrap Him, than if they had openly said, but.Verse 5. - Now Moses in the Law commanded us, that such should be stoned (or, to stone such); but what sayest thou? The Law (Deuteronomy 22:23, etc.) prescribed stoning for both parties when the woman is the betrothed bride of another man, and if she make no sufficient attempt to foil the purpose of her seducer. For ordinary adultery the death penalty is left indefinite (Leviticus 20:10). It is no proof that strangulation was the method of punishment in the days of our Lord because the Talmud and Maimonides thus express it. Meyer concludes that the woman was a betrothed bride. This offence is, broadly speaking. "adultery" of an aggravated kind. The reference to the method of the punishment is not demonstrable proof of this, because it would be easily feasible to transfer the method of the death from the extreme case to the ordinary ease of nuptial infidelity (cf. Exodus 31:14 for the punishment of unspecified death for sabbath violation (repeated Exodus 35:2), interpreted of "stoning" in the special illustrative case, Numbers 15:32-36). This is Moses' Law - "what sayest thou?" This query involves an ascription to Jesus of the right of authoritatively interpreting the Law. thus attributing to him the functions of a new legislator. Some have objected to the bare possibility of such an appeal being made to Jesus by any species of Jewish authority. The whole context shows that the process was malicious, ironical, crafty. The entire audience knew that this law had never been accepted or applied literally; that the Sanhedrin had not enforced it; and that, if they had endeavoured to do so, the Roman power had taken from the nation the jus gladii. The question, therefore, became one of casuistry inflamed by a concrete case, and having as its ally a secret sympathy with the offenders. It was not uncommon for the rabbis to discuss the incidence of obsolete laws. Many of the glosses upon the ancient law, and laborious trifling with specific regulations of the so called oral law, turn upon customs that were absolutely impracticable under the new conditions of the Jewish life. This, however, was no mere quibble of words about possible duties. The query was put with dramatic force and in concrete form. The shame and life of a fellow creature were the materials which this eager and bloodthirsty group were utilizing for their vile purpose.
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