Expositors, almost with one consent, do note that this story of the woman taken in
adultery, was not in some ancient copies; and whiles I am considering upon what accident
this should be, there are two little stories in Eusebius that come to mind. The one we
have in these words, He [Papias] tells us also another history concerning a
woman accused of many crimes before our Lord, which history indeed the Gospel according to
the Hebrews makes mention of. All that do cite that story do suppose he means this
adulteress. The other story he tells us in his Life of Constantine: he brings in
Constantine writing thus to him: "I think good to signify to your prudence, that you
would take care that fifty volumes of those Scriptures, whose preparation and use you know
so necessary for the church, and which beside may be easily read and carried about, may,
by very skilful penmen, be written out in fair parchment."
So indeed the Latin interpreter: but may we not by the word volumes of those
Scriptures understand the Gospels compacted into one body by way of harmony?
The reason of this conjecture is twofold: partly those Eusebian canons formed into such a
kind of harmony; partly because, cap. 37, he tells us that, having finished his work, he
sent to the emperor threes and fours: which words if they are not to be understood
of the evangelists, sometimes three, sometimes four, (the greater number including the
less,) embodied together by such a harmony, I confess I cannot tell what to make of them.
But be it so that it must not be understood of such a harmony; and grant we further
that the Latin interpreter hits him right, when he supposes Eusebius to have picked out
here and there, according to his pleasure and judgment, some parts of the Holy Scriptures
to be transcribed; surely he would never have omitted the evangelists, the noblest and the
most profitable part of the New Testament.
If therefore he ascribed this story of the adulteress to the trifler Papias, or at
least to the Gospel according to the Hebrews only, without doubt he would never insert it
in copies transcribed by him. Hence possibly might arise the omission of it in some copies
after Eusebius' times. It is in copies before his age, viz. in Ammonius, Tatianus, &c.
1. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
[Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.] But whether to the town of Bethany, or to
some booth fixed in that mount, is uncertain. For because of the infinite multitude that
had swarmed together at those feasts, it is probable many of them had made themselves
tents about the city, that they might not be too much straitened within the walls, though
they kept within the bounds still of a sabbath day's journey.
"'And thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents,' Deuteronomy 16:7.
The first night of the feast they were bound to lodge within the city: after that it was
lawful for them to abide without the walls; but it must be within the bounds of a sabbath
day's journey. Whereas therefore it is said, 'Thou shalt go unto thy tents'; this is the
meaning of it. Thou shalt go into thy tents that are without the walls of Jerusalem, but
by no means into thine own house."
It is said, chapter 7:53, that "every man went unto his own house"; upon
which words let that be a comment that we meet with, After the daily evening sacrifice,
the fathers of the Sanhedrim went home.
The eighth day therefore being ended, the history of which we have in chapter 7, the
following night was out of the compass of the feast; so that they had done the dancings of
which we have spoken before. The evangelist, therefore, does not without cause say that
"every man went unto his own house"; for otherwise they must have gone to those
dancings, if the next day had not been the sabbath.
3. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and
when they had set her in the midst.
[A woman taken in adultery.] Our Saviour calls the generation an adulterous
generation, Matthew 12:39: see also James 4:4, which indeed might be well enough
understood in its literal and proper sense.
"From the time that murderers have multiplied amongst us, the beheading of the
heifer hath ceased: and since the increase of adultery, the bitter waters have been out of
"Since the time that adultery so openly prevailed under the second Temple,
the Sanhedrim abrogated that way of trial by the bitter water; grounding it upon what is
written, 'I will not visit your daughters when they shall go a whoring, nor your wives
when they shall commit adultery.'"
The Gemarists say, That Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai was the author of this counsel: he
lived at this very time, and was of the Sanhedrim; perhaps present amongst those that set
this adulterous woman before Christ. For there is some reason to suppose that the
"scribes and Pharisees" here mentioned were no other than the fathers of the
5. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest
[That such should be stoned.] Such. Who? what, all adulteresses? or all
taken in adultery, in the very act? There is a third qualification still: for the
condition of the adulteress is to be considered, whether she was a married woman, or
God punisheth adultery by death, Leviticus 20:10. But the masters of traditions say,
that "wherever death is simply mentioned in the law," [that is, where the kind
of death is not expressly prescribed,] "there it is to be supposed no other than
strangling." Only they except; "a daughter of an Israelite, if she commit
adultery after she is married, must be strangled; if only betrothed, she must be stoned.
A priest's daughter, if she commit adultery when married, must be stoned; if only
betrothed, she must be burnt."
Hence we may conjecture what the condition of this adulteress was: either she was an
Israelitess not yet married, but betrothed only; or else she was a priest's daughter,
married: rather the former, because they say, "Moses in the law hath commanded us
that such should be stoned." See Deuteronomy 22:21. But as to the latter, there is no
such command given by Moses.
6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus
stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them
[Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.] Feigning as
though he heard them not, had of old crept into some books: and it is plain enough
that it did creep in. For when Christ had given proof enough that he took cognizance of
the matter propounded to him by those words, "He that is without sin among you,"
&c., yet did he stoop down again, and write upon the earth.
Many have offered their conjectures why he used this unusual gesture at this time; and,
with the reader's leave, let me also offer mine.
I. The matter in hand was, judging a woman taken in adultery: and therefore our Saviour
in this matter applies himself conformably to the rule made and provided for the trial of
an adulteress by the bitter water, Numbers 5.
II. Among the Jews, this obtained in the trial of a wife suspected: "If any man
shall unlawfully lie with another woman, the bitter water shall not try his wife: for it
is said, If the husband be guiltless from iniquity, then shall the woman bear her
"When the woman hath drunk the bitter water, if she be guilty, her looks turn
pale, her eyes swell up, &c. So they turn her out of the Court of the Women; and first
her belly swells, then her thigh rots, and she dies. The same hour that she dies, the
adulterer also, upon whose account she drank the water, dies too, wherever he is, being
equally seized with a swelling in his belly, rottenness in his thigh, or his pudenda. But
this is done only upon condition that the husband hath been guiltless himself: for if he
have lain with any unlawfully himself, then this water will not try his wife.
"If you follow whoring yourselves, the bitter waters will not try your
You may see by these passages how directly our Saviour levels at the equity of this
sentence, willing to bring these accusers of the woman to a just trial first. You may
imagine you hear him thus speaking to them: "Ye have brought this adulterous woman to
be adjudged by me: I will therefore govern myself according to the rule of trying such by
the bitter waters. You say and you believe, according to the common opinion of your
nation, that the woman upon whom a jealousy is brought, though she be indeed guilty, yet
if the husband that accuseth her be faulty that way himself, she cannot be affected by
those waters, nor contract any hurt or danger by them. If the divine judgment proceeded in
that method, so will I at this time. Are you that accuse this woman wholly guiltless in
the like kind of sin? Whosoever is so, 'let him cast the first stone,' &c. But if you
yourselves stand chargeable with the same crimes, then your own applauded tradition, the
opinion of your nation, the procedure of divine judgment in the trial of such, may
determine in this case, and acquit me from all blame, if I condemn not this woman, when
her accusers themselves are to be condemned."
III. It was the office of the priest, when he tried a suspected wife, to stoop down and
gather the dust off the floor of the sanctuary; which when he had infused into the water,
he was to give the woman to drink: he was to write also in a book the curses or
adjurations that were to be pronounced upon her, Numbers 5:17, 23. In like manner our
Saviour stoops down; and making the floor itself his book, he writes something in the
dust, doubtless against these accusers whom he was resolved to try, in analogy to those
curses and adjurations written in a book by the priest, against the woman that was to be
IV. The priest after he had written these curses in a book blots them out with the
bitter water, Numbers 5:23. For the matter transacted was doubtful. They do not make
the suspected woman drink, unless in a doubtful case.
The question is, Whether the woman was guilty or not? If guilty, behold the curses writ
against her: if not guilty, then behold they are blotted out. But Christ was assured, that
those whom he was trying were not innocent: so he does not write and blot out, but writes
and writes again.
V. He imitates the gesture of the priest, if it be true what the Jews report concerning
it, and it is not unlikely, viz. that he first pronounced the curses; then made the woman
drink; and after she had drunk, pronounced the same curses again. So Christ first stoops
down and writes; then makes them as it were drink, in that searching reflection of his,
"He that is without sin among you"; and then stoops down again and writes upon
9. 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.
[Being convicted by their own conscience.] Our Saviour had determined to shame
these wicked men before the common people: and therefore adds that peculiar force and
energy to what he said that they could not stand it out, but with shame and confusion
drawing off and retiring, they confess their guilt before the whole crowd. A thing little
less than miracle.
12. Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that
followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
[I am the light of the world.] "R. Biba Sangorius saith, Light is the
name of the Messiah. As it is written, Light dwells with him," Daniel
2:22. We have the same passage in Bereshith Rabba; saving that the author of these
words there is R. Abba Serongianus.
They were wont to adorn their Rabbins and doctors with swelling and magnificent titles
"A tradition. His name is not R. Meir, but Nehorai. Why therefore is he called R.
Meir? Because he enlightens the eyes of wise men by the traditions. And yet his
name is not Nehorai neither, but R. Nehemiah. Why then is he called R. Nehorai? Because
he enlightens the eyes of wise men by the traditions." O blessed luminaries
without light! Begone, ye shades of night! for "the Sun of righteousness" hath
now displayed himself.
13. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy
record is not true.
[Thou bearest record of thyself.] This and the following passages uttered in
dispute, whether Christ was the light or no, bring to mind what was wont to be transacted
amongst them in their witnessing about the appearance of the new moon. We have it
in Rosh Hashanah.
I. It was to be attested before the Sanhedrim by two persons that they saw the
new moon. So Christ mentions two witnesses attesting him to be the light, viz. the
Father and himself, verse 18.
II. They did not allow the testimony about the new moon, unless from persons known to
the Sanhedrim: or if they were unknown, there were those sent along with them from the
magistracy of that city where they lived, that should attest their veracity. Compare
verses 18, 19: "I bear witness of myself, and ye know me not. My Father also bears
witness of me; but ye have not known my Father."
III. One witness is not to be believed in his own cause. So the Pharisees, verse
13, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true."
IV. The father and the son, or any sort of relatives, are fit and credible witnesses:
verse 18; "I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth
witness of me."
20. These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man
laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
[In the treasury.] In the treasury, that is, in the Court of the Women;
where he had transacted the matter about the woman taken in adultery. It was called the
treasury upon the account of thirteen corban chests placed there. Of which we have
spoken in another tract.
25. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the
same that I said unto you from the beginning.
[The same that I said unto you from the beginning.] I. Amongst the several
renderings of this place, this seems the most proper; The same that I said unto you
from the beginning. So Genesis 43:18: The money returned.....at the first time":
and verse 20, We came indeed down at the first time to buy food.
The words thus rendered may refer to that full and open profession which our Saviour
made of himself before the Sanhedrim, that he was 'the Son of God,' or 'the Messiah,'
chapter 5: "Do you ask me who I am? I am the same that I told you from the
beginning, when I was summoned to answer before the Sanhedrim."
II. However, I cannot but a little call to mind the common forms of speech used so much
in the Jewish schools, the beginning and the end. Where, by the beginning
they meant any thing that was chiefly and primarily to be offered and taken notice of: by the
end what was secondary, or of less weight.
The question is, whether it were lawful for the priests to sleep in their holy
vestments. The end or the secondary question was, whether it was lawful for them to
sleep in them. But the beginning, or the thing chiefly and primarily to be
discussed, was, whether it was lawful for them to have them on at all but in divine
service. Hence the Gemarists, The tradition is, that they must not sleep in them, if
you will explain the end [or secondary question]: but let them put them off and fold
them up, and lay them under their heads [when they sleep]: this, 'the beginning'
[or chief matter in hand] determines: that is, that it is not lawful for the priest
so much as to wear his holy garments but when he is in holy service.
"It is a tradition of the Rabbins. If one, in walking near any city, see lights in
it, if the greatest number in that city be Cuthites, let him not bless them; if they be
most Israelites, let him bless it. They teach 'the beginning,' when they say, Most
Cuthites. They teach 'the end,' when they say, Most Israelites." For the
chief and principal scruple was, whether they should pronounce a blessing upon those
lights when there might be most Cuthites in the city that lighted them up: the lesser
scruple was, whether he should bless them if there were most Israelites in that city.
"There is a dispute upon that precept, Leviticus 17:13, If any one kill a beast or
bird upon a holy day, the Shammean school saith, Let him dig with an instrument and cover
the blood. The school of Hillel saith, Let him not kill at all, if he have not dust ready
by him to cover the blood."
The end, or the secondary question, is about covering the blood if a beast
should be killed. The beginning, or the principal question, is about killing a
beast or a fowl at all upon a holy day, merely for the labour of scraping up dust, if
there be none at hand.
There are numberless instances of this kind: and if our Saviour had any respect to this
form or mode of speaking, we may suppose what he said was to this purpose: "You ask
who I am? The beginning. That is the chief thing to be inquired into, which I now
say, viz. That I am the light of the world, the Messiah, the Son of God, &c. But what
works I do, what doctrines I teach, and by what authority, this is an inquiry of the second
place, in comparison to that first and chief question, who I am."
26. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and
I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
[But he that sent me is true.] "I have many things to say and judge of you;
but he that sent me hath of old said and judged of you; 'and he is true,'
and they are true things which he hath said of you." Of this kind are those passages,
Isaiah 11:10, "Make the heart of this people fat," &c.; and 29:10, "The
Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep," &c.: and from such kind
of predictions it is, that Christ concludes this concerning them, verse 21, "Ye shall
die in your sins."
33. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man:
how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
[We be Abraham's seed, &c.] They were wont to glory of being Abraham's
seed beyond all measure. Take one instance of a thousand:
"It is storied of R. Jochanan Ben Matthias, that he said to his son, 'Go out and
hire us some labourers.' He went out and hired them for their victuals. When he came home
to his father, his father said to him, 'My son, though thou shouldst make feasts for them,
as gaudy as the feasts of Solomon, thou wouldst not do enough for them, because they are
the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'" And yet they confess "the merits
of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ceased from the days of Hosea the
prophet, as saith Rabh; or as Samuel, from the days of Hazael."
But how came they to join this, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage
to any man?" Is it impossible that one of Abraham's seed should be in bondage? The
sense of these two clauses must be distinguished: "We are of the seed of Abraham, who
are very fond and tenacious of our liberty; and as far as concerns ourselves, we never
were in bondage to any man." The whole nation was infinitely averse to all servitude,
neither was it by any means lawful for an Israelite to sell himself into bondage, unless
upon the extremest necessity.
"It is not lawful for an Israelite to sell himself for that end merely, that he
might treasure up the money, or might trade with it, or buy vessels, or pay a creditor;
but barely if he want food and sustenance. Nor may he sell himself, unless when nothing in
the world is left, not so much as his clothes, then let him sell himself. And he whom the
Sanhedrim sells, or sells himself, must not be sold openly, nor in the public way,
as other slaves are sold, but privately."
37. I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath
no place in you.
[But ye seek to kill me.] From this whole period it is manifest that the whole
tendency of our Saviour's discourse is to shew the Jews that they are the seed of that
serpent that was to bruise the heel of the Messiah: else what could that mean, verse 44,
"Ye are of your father the devil," but this, viz. "Ye are the seed of the
43. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
[Because ye cannot hear my word.] You may here distinguish between the manner
of speaking, or phrases used in speech and the matter or thing spoken.
Isaiah 11:4; "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth." But they
could not bear the smart of his rod; they would not therefore understand the phraseology
or way of speech he used.
44. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.
He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no
truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the
father of it.
[A murderer from the beginning.] For so the Hebrew idiom would render he was
a murderer from the days of the creation. And so Christ, in saying this, speaks
according to the vulgar opinion, as if Adam fell the very first day of his creation.
[He abode not in the truth.] I. He abode not in the truth: i.e. he did
not continue true, but found out the way of lying.
II. He did not persist in the will of God which he had revealed concerning man. For the
revealed will of God is called truth; especially his will revealed in the gospel.
Now when God had pleased to make known his good will towards the first man, partly fixing
him in so honourable and happy a station, partly commanding the angels that they should
minister to him for his good, Hebrews 1:14; the devil did not abide in this truth, nor
persisted in this will and command of God. For he, envying the honour and happiness of
man, took this command of God concerning the angels' ministering to him, in so much scorn
and contempt, that, swelling with most envenomed malice against Adam, and infinite pride
against God, he chose rather to dethrone himself from his own glory and felicity, than he
would bear Adam's continuance in so noble a station, or minister any way to the happiness
of it. An angel was incapable of sinning either more or less than by pride or malice.
48. Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a
Samaritan, and hast a devil?
[Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil.] But what, I pray you, hath a
Samaritan to do with the court of your Temple? For this they say to Christ whiles he
was yet standing in the Treasury, or in the Court of the Women, verse 20. If you would
admit a Samaritan into the court of the Gentiles, where the Gentiles themselves
were allowed to come, it were much, and is indeed very questionable; but who is it would
bear such a one standing in the Treasury? Which very thing shews how much this was spoken
in rancour and mere malice, they themselves not believing, nay, perfectly knowing, that he
was no Samaritan at that time when they called him so. And it is observable, that
our Saviour made no return upon that senseless reproach of theirs, because he did not
think it worth the answering: he only replies upon them, "that he hath not a
devil," that is, that he was not mad.
57. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou
[Thou art not yet fifty years old.] Apply these words to the time of
superannuating the Levites, Numbers 4, and we shall find no need of those knots and
difficulties wherewith some have puzzled themselves. Thou art not yet fifty years old,
that is, Thou art not yet come to the common years of superannuation: and dost thou talk
that "thou hast seen Abraham?"
58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
[Before Abraham was, I am.] They pervert the question. Christ had said, 'Abraham
saw my day': on the contrary, they ask him, 'Hast thou seen Abraham?'
This phrase, I am, sometimes is rendered from the single word I. So the
Greek interpreters in the Books of Judges and Ruth: for you seldom or never meet with it
Judges 6:18; "I will tarry or sit here." Ibid. chapter 11:27; Wherefore
I have not sinned against thee. Ibid. verse 35; For I have opened my mouth.
Ibid. verse 37; I and my fellows. Ruth 4:4; I will redeem it.
As to this form of speech, let those that are better skilled in the Greek tongue be the
59. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of
the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
[Then took they up stones, &c.] Would you also murder another prophet in the
very court of the Temple, O ye murderous generation? Remember but Zacharias, and surely
that might suffice. But whence could they get stones in the court of the Temple? Let the
answer be made from something parallel:
"It is storied of Abba Chalpatha, who, going to Rabban Gamaliel at Tiberias, found
him sitting at the table of Jochanan the moneychanger, with the Book of Job in his hand
Targumized [that is, rendered into the Chaldee tongue], and reading in it. Saith he to
him, 'I remember your grandfather Rabban Gamaliel, how he stood upon Gab in the mountain
of the Temple, and they brought unto him the Book of Job Targumized. He calls to the
architect, saying, Ram him under the foundation.' R. Jose saith, They whelmed him
under a heap of clay. Is there any clay in the mountain of the Temple?" Gloss:
"There was mortar which they used in building."
It may be noted, by the by, that they were building in the Temple in the days of the
first Gamaliel, who sat president in the Sanhedrim about the latter days of our Saviour;
which confirms what I already have noted in chapter 2:20; and further teaches us whence
they might have stones in readiness; for they were now building, and they might have
pieces of stone enough there.