Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A really wild guess

I found a very interesting article by John F. Walvoord entitled "Thirty-three Words for Sin in the New Testament" published in 3 parts in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1943. It may be a very old article, but priceless nonetheless. He did quite a good word-study on all the words that are derived mainly from 10 main ones.

He says, "The present study is limited to the thirty-three words for sin found in the New Testament. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has pointed out that there are thirty-three aspects to the riches of grace bestowed upon the believer in Christ at the moment he believes. It is interesting that there should be, in contrast, exactly thirty-three generic words for sin in the New Testament, excluding specific names for acts of sin."

There is one part which caught my interest. He expounded on the adjective, αναμαρτητος, which has 2 possible meanings: one who has not sinned, and one who cannot sin.

It is only found in John 8:7. For context:

John 8:2-11
2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" 6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. 10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." (emphasis mine).

According to Walvoord, it is obviously the former of the two meanings, one who has not sinned, though the latter is not impossible, one who cannot sin. In that case, Christ would have meant, "He that is not capable of the same sin," i.e., adultery, "let him first cast a stone."

This is very interesting because before this whenever anyone brings out this narrative and tries to give a guess what Jesus would have written on the ground, I would always smile to myself - only because I really have this wild conjecture what Jesus may have written on the ground. I did not discuss it because I am not sure if it can be supported. But now I think it can!

The usual guess is this: Jesus could have written the laws and commandments, by which the Jewish leader should submit to and Jesus said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." It was said that when the leaders heard that and saw the writing of the laws and commandments on the ground, they began to realise that indeed they cannot be without sin after all. They could very well have disobeyed some along the way.

But I don't think so. I feel that this bunch of leaders, who have been portrayed as oh-so-holy and righteous, would never have admitted to that. They would even be in utter joy if Jesus were to have written their laws on the ground. They would have demanded that the stoning be carried out. They will claim that Jesus had agreed to it and will condone the stoning of the woman.

In taking the second definition, it will be translated: "He that is not capable of the same sin of adultery, let him first cast a stone." And what I think Jesus wrote on the ground were names of women - who knows, these names may be linked to the leaders one way or another and therefore to avoid anymore embarassment and disgrace, they quietly moved away.

I did say it was a wild conjecture! I have not done any historical and cultural background check on this except for Walvoord's word-study, so I think it will remain just a wild guess. But I am contented that it is just possible.

Photo © 2003 Louis Glanzman


  1. thanks, pearlie, I really enjoy observing how your mind works. This is a 'feminist' practical theologian at work (and I am not using the word , feminist, in a derogatory way.)

  2. Great thoughts, Pearlie! I think you have a very good conjecture here. Knowing my own pride, I can certainly see how your description of the Pharisee's reaction might be just that if not confronted quietly with the reality of their own ability to sin.

  3. Hi Pearlie,
    Err...err....budding NT says, if you do textual criticism, this narrative is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts....So how realiable is this narrative, if it is a later addition to the text?

    Haha - naughty as usual!

  4. Alex,
    haha ... me a feminist? hmmm ...

  5. Missy,
    Now we really want to know what Jesus wrote, right? We will find out soon enough ;)

  6. Kar Yong,
    Hmmm ... interesting ...
    yeah, now that you mention it, I remember it.

    Checking Morris (NICNT), he even said that "textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel," and "the evidence against it is overwhelming."

    But then again, he also said that "throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic."

    So there ;)

    Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (NICNT, 1995, p.778-9)