The Adulterous Woman Revisited
About a year and a half ago when I first began writing this blog I posted on the adulterous woman (link here) mentioned in John 8:2-11. The post was inspired by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s study of the Life of Messiah from a Jewish Perspective which I highly recommend. At the time I finished my original post I was at a loss to find bible passages that explicitly support what Dr. Fruchtenbaum called a “true and faithful witness” (sometimes I need things spelled out very clearly for me). That is no longer the case and I would really like to share what I found.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum taught that the key to Christ’s backing the Pharisees down was based on what he called being “true and faithful witness.” The Mosaic Law apparently disqualified witnesses who had committed the same crime that the defendant is accused of from testifying at the trial. If the Pharisees were guilty of adultery then they could not testify against the adulterous woman. In support of this he referenced Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 17. No matter what I did I could not get a clear picture of that rule from those passages. I’m not saying it isn’t there but that I was not capable of understanding the full meaning of those passages. The other day I found a reference to that rule (or a very similar one) at a Jewish website and I was finally able to pull it all together. Hurray!
Most Christians talk about the Mosaic Law at one time or another. Some love it while others hate it but they all seem to act like they know all about it. I have come to the conclusion that we Christians know basically nothing about it and should really keep our mouths shut. That seems harsh but it’s true. Every once in a while I go to the Judaism 101 website and read through some of the materials there. The site is run by an Orthodox Jew so I doubt many Christians would waste their time looking at it. I think those Christians are making a mistake. Among the many interesting nuggets to be found at that site is a list of all 613 Mitzvot (commandments) that are found in the Mosaic Law. I was reading through the list when I found commandment 243 on the list:
243. That a transgressor shall not testify (Ex. 23:1)
That sure sounded a lot like the true and faithful witness provision that Dr. Fruchenbaum had mentioned. That in itself was great but in addition the list referenced Exodus 23:1 which, unlike the Deuteronomy passages, I was able to find some detailed information about. Oh happy day!
Gary Kukis is a Christian with a good, solid doctrinal underpinning. At his site (link here) he has posted much of his work in exegeting some of the Old Testament books including the Book of Exodus. I checked and he had indeed exegeted Exodus Chapter 23. Here is his write-up on Exodus 23:1b (link here):
“You will not join hands with a criminal [or a malevolent person] to be a malicious [and/or, corrupt] witness. [Ex. 23:1b]
The word usually translated wicked (an unfortunately out-of-date term) is râshâ‛ (ע ָש ָר) [pronounced raw-SHAW] and it often means criminal (Ex. 2:13 Num. 35:31 Deut. 25:2 II Sam. 4:11 Psalm 109:7 119:53, 61). It is in contrast with the righteous (Gen. 18:25 Deut. 25:1 Mal. 3:18) and with the just (Psalm 37:12) and is occasionally translated ungodly (II Chron. 19:2 Job 34:18 Psalm 1:1, 4, 6). This is clearly unregenerate man (Psalm 101:8 119:55); however it is more than that. This is the man who is criminal and condemned, if not by man’s laws, then by God’s. An outstanding, modern, one-word rendering would be malevolent [pronounced ma-LEV-a-lent] for those whose vocabulary exceeds 1000 words. Other good renderings would be maleficent, reprehensible (worthy of blame), corrupt, reprobate; and reasonable but less satisfying would be the translations ungodly, corrupt, unredeemable, unregenerate, iniquitous, wicked. If you have been raised under the KJV, wicked, with an annotated use criminal would cover the meaning here. In this verse, the adjective acts as a substantive, so the renderings criminal, malefactor, reprobate would be apropos.
When we give a worthless report, joining hands with a criminal, our witness is châmâç (ס ָמ ָח) [pronounced khaw-MAWCE], a word usually translated violence (Gen. 6:11, 13 49:5 II Sam. 22:3, 49); however, there are a number of instances where violence would be totally inappropriate (Gen. 16:5 Deut. 19:16). Therefore, a more suitable translation should be sought. The behavior described by châmâç is consistently wrong, often involving violences and/or criminal activity. It is a noun which here is used to modify the word witness. I personally lean toward the words malicious, cruelty, corrupt or corruption, because such terms can imply criminality and/or violence in the right context. Several of our laws place a person who lies in a legal proceeding in the same category as the criminal. He becomes an accomplice to his criminal activity. This concept is based upon the solid Biblical principles found here. A gang member or a friend may give false testimony or lie when questioned by police officers in order to protect a criminal; that person by his testimony is a witness of corruption, maliciousness, and cruelty.
Lev. 19:16 carries a similar prohibition: You will not go about as a slanderer among your people and you are not to take a stand against the life of your neighbor; I am Yahweh. Deut. 22:13–19 deals with a specific act of perjury involving marriage. If a man turns against his wife and falsely accuses her of not being a virgin at marriage in order to get out of the marriage, he would be fined and he must remain in the marriage. In I Kings 21, we have an example of Ahab who indirectly kills a man by false testimony against him, and gains possession of his land. Under these circumstances, God intervened and punished Ahab. God continues to intervene. We become discouraged at times because we live in an unjust world and people commit crimes for which they are not punished. We do not have to worry. If all legal action has been pursued for naught or if the criminals have never been apprehended, God will see to justice being done. We may not be able observe God’s justice, but He will leave no crime unpunished, no wronged saint unavenged. I have had personal situations where I could have taken various individuals to the civil courts where I have instead left the matter in God’s hands and God saw to it that I was repaid and they were punished. I’ve had to put innumerable matters into God’s hands and I was not always allowed to see the results—but I know that God took care of the matter. This does not means that we do not avail ourselves of the legal system nor do we disregard the civil court system; however, if we are at a point where we are trying to obtain legal revenge, God can avenge us must better than any court system can. No one gets away with anything on this earth, including you and including me.
I don’t know about anyone reading this but that clinches it for me. My guess is that there are other Old Testament passages which speak to this but I think this is rather clear. Jesus found their testimony to be malicious and criminal so He disallowed it. It is so nice to have a doctrinal point that has been nagging at me for some time now finally get cleared up.
UPDATE 5-11-2012: Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s teaching on the Adulterous Woman has been posted at the Ariel Ministries blog (please see: The Adulterous Woman). I encourage any readers to read it in it’s entirety!