WHAT DID JESUS WRITE IN THE SAND?
–by Mary A. LaClair
2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” John 8:2- 12 RSV
Actually, all the versions I checked do not say “sand”; they say “ground”. Buildings, such as the Temple where this took place, are seldom built on sand.
What did Jesus write on the ground? Some think it was the names of the men present, men who had sinned with her. Others think there is no way of knowing what was written. I have heard many agree with the former; however concerning the latter I believe there IS a way to surmise from Scripture what Jesus wrote on the ground. Notice that He did write twice.
More than 24 times in Scripture it is recorded that Jesus spoke “It is written” and/or to the effect ‘you should know the Scriptures’. Documentation in the link at the end of this piece lists many of Jesus’ references to the Holy Scriptures.
Once it is established in our minds that Jesus responded to questions, and often spoke, using Scriptures it is easy then to reflect that Jesus most probably answered here with a Scripture also. The Scribes and Pharisees were proud of being teachers of the Law and they were here to test Jesus on the Law but instead Jesus tests them on the Law.
Like Adam, the stronger sex, these male accusers tried to pass the entire blame on to the weaker sex, woman. But Jesus acquits the woman while He calmly and effectively silences her haughty, prideful accusers. These men were quilty of what today is called ‘slut slaming’; Jesus condemned the male for his part but acquited the woman.
I believe Jesus followed His pattern of quoting Scriptures and that He either cited or wrote out Hosea 4:13-14, in the ground; that Scripture which says God holds the male more accountable than the female for sex sins.
Jesus, Himself being the Law Giver, tells us in Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17 that: “not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away.” (jot or tittle = dotting the (i) and crossing the (t)). But these men tried to get Jesus to focus on only part of the Law – the part which they chose, thus they tried to ‘control the moment’ or “to trick Him.”
It is recorded that Jesus wrote in the ground a second time and it is this time “they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest.” (verse 9) I believe this second time He may have written the names, one by one, beginning with the eldest, of the equally guilty male parties, since they left “one by one.” Thus He was showing the men their guilt. Don’t misunderstand; he was not acquiting the men by this action. He would be letting them know they too were guilty.
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to think they knew the Law so well that I believe Jesus answered them from the Law, just as He regularly did when teaching or being challenged on earth. It would be like Him to refer them to what they should have known but which they chose to ignore. Do we ignore this same law ourselves, today? The part which says:
14 “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot,
nor your brides when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with harlots,
and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,
and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.” Hosea 4:14RSV
These men were without understanding; He tells them they will come to ruin. I believe He was letting the men know he had not yet acquitted them of the same sin or of their sin in thinking they needed no forgiveness themselves.
The MESSAGE Bible, a most modern version for today, states it quite clearly:
“Wine and whiskey
leave my people in a stupor.
They ask question of a dead tree,
Expect answers from a sturdy walking stick.
Drunk on sex, they can’t find their way home.
They’ve replaced their God with their genitals.
They worship on the tops of mountains,
Make a picnic out of religion.
Under the oaks and elms on the hills
They stretch out and take it easy.
Before you know it, your daughters are whores
And the wives of your sons are sleeping around.
But I’m not going after your whoring daughters
Or the adulterous wives of your sons.
It’s the men who pick up the whores that I’m after,
The men who worship at the holy whorehouses—
A stupid people, ruined by whores!”
(Hosea 4:11-14 The Message) (emphasis mine)
It is quite clear here that God blames men if women become whores or adulteresses and get involved in sexual sins, and I think that’s what ended the confrontation. He let it be known that he was not acquitting proud men of their same sin. And God does not wink at sexual sin today. Men are to be the protectors of women.
He probably did write the names of the men guilty of the same sin, but I believe He wrote the Law first so they had no bargaining chips left for themselves. He sent the message: If you, as teachers of the law, think you’re following the Law…think again…you are just as guilty and even more so.
He also let them know He sees the unseen, that which is not seen by men or which we wouldn’t want to admit.
A further intimidation of those particular men present would be this: These men would also have left because they, having become false witnesses by accusing only half of the guilty parties, wanted to exonerate themselves from the same guilt but wanted to condem someone whom God would not because of Hosea 4:14. They also knew the law which deals with false witnesses (did they think Jesus didn’t?), and that they themselves could receive the penalty they wished to inflict on someone else. (See: Deuteronomy 19:16-21 regarding false witnesses at the end of the following article, JESUS AUTHENTICATES THE PROPHETS AND SCRIPTURE.
I think Jesus cited or wrote out Hosea 4:14 on the ground the first time, afterwards writing the names of the men present to whom the Law applied. He is also letting them know that He knows secret sins.
(Thank you to Malinda, who in the comment section, applied the fact that Jesus wrote the law the even SECOND time He wrote . Instead of writing the names it is possible He cited this time Deut 19:16-21. I had left it that the men quietly knew it, however Melinda offers that Jesus reminded them of it. She keeps Jesus consistent. I like that. Thanks Malinda for catching this.)
A lesson for today? God can’t be out-smarted or tricked.
P.S. Before completing this article I ‘just happened’ to tune in to Joseph Prince’s T.V. program. https://www.josephprince.org/onlinestore/us/c-93-sermon-cds.aspx?IsTop=1 My ears picked up when he spoke of the incident of the woman caught in adultery. It is just what I was writing on at the time. This is where I was alerted to the fact that Jesus wrote “on the ground” not in the sand as popularly thought. Joseph Prince’s further insights are amazing! Because the temple, he says, was built on large cobblestone squares, not sand, Jesus could well have written on stone with his finger – just as He wrote the Ten Commandments – on stone with His finger – and seeing this the Pharisees would have known that they had come in contact with the Law Maker Himself. Isn’t that just like Jesus.. giving a lesson deeper than the ear can hear? It makes me tingle.
The Scriptures where Jesus said: “It is written” and “You should know the Scriptures” are posted in the following post titled:
JESUS VALIDATES PROPHETS AND SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
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