This week’s devotional was written by Mark Hathaway.
If you’ve been studying along with me that past several weeks you know that we’ve been in John chapter 8. Let me set the scene. Jesus enters the temple very early in the morning hours. He is teaching the people who have gathered to hear Him. A group of scribes and Pharisees interrupt the lesson Jesus was giving, dragging a woman caught in adultery before Him.
John 8:4-6 says,
4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (NKJV)
We’ve examined verses 1 through 5 in the first six posts, but in the interest of context, I’ve included verses 4 and 5. In a previous post, I made the comment that the scribes and Pharisees feigned respect for Jesus by calling Him teacher. My Pastor graciously challenged my statement. He commented that even though it was probably true, it seemed as if I was reading into the text, because I did not provide evidence for the comment.
My Pastor’s challenge was appropriate, and I’m glad it happened because it gives me opportunity to point out an important principle in Bible study – the very thing of which I was being reminded. True whether we are doing our own study, or consuming the work of another, the principle is found in asking questions.
“How was the conclusion reached? Is there supporting evidence for the postulation?”
Because I had asked my Pastor to review what I had written before it was posted, I had the opportunity to edit it to include the reference. I chose not to, knowing that I would re-visit it when we reached verse 6. The text clearly identifies the reason for their query. They were not hoping to learn something from Jesus or have Him clarify some aspect of the law. These people were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus of breaking God’s law. So I think we have reasonable evidence to support the idea that they feigned respect for Jesus when they called Him teacher.
I’d like to point out another important principle when doing Bible study, which is, “Let the Bible text determine the emphasis.” Let’s take a look at the second half of verse six.
…But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. (NKJV)
From the passage we know that Jesus wrote on the ground, but it does not tell us what he wrote. So we are left to speculate. I have heard sermons preached, and read commentaries that spend a significant amount of time “suggesting” what Jesus wrote.
If we are to be thorough students of the Bible, there is nothing wrong with pondering the unknown, exploring the options, and digging for facts. The danger comes in when we latch onto something we have no contextual proof for, and treat it as truth. First of all, what we’ve concluded may not be true, which would mean that we are believing, and likely perpetuating error.
Secondly, as if the first were not bad enough, there is a more subtle danger in treating speculation as truth. It changes the focus or emphasis of the text from what God intends, to what we’ve determined should be the focus of the passage. When we do this we run the risk of missing what God is saying.
Let’s look at a few verses.
John 8:6-9, This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (NKJV)
I’ve heard so many say that these accusing scribes and Pharisees were convicted by what Jesus wrote on the ground. The problem is, that is not what the text says. Verse 8 clearly says they were “…convicted by their conscience”. It does not say they were convicted by what Jesus wrote on the ground.
If we read the passage carefully, we see that the focus in verse 6 is “….as though He did not hear.”, not that He “stooped down and wrote on the ground”. Whatever His purpose, Jesus spent some time ignoring the accusers. They had to repeatedly ask Him, before Jesus would engage them.
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground twice. One effect it had in this scenario, is it shifted the emphasis from the accusers to Jesus. Jesus controlled the encounter, not the accusers.
Be a careful reader. The Bible is packed full of amazing detail used to communicate truth to us. Let’s spend our study time mining for the Gold, not navigating the minefield of speculation.