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Bible Commentaries
John 8

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-59

VIII 1. The Mount of Olives from which Jesus came to the temple at dawn is not elsewhere so named by Jn; cf. 18:1.

2. The people came early (cf.Luke 21:38; Acts 5:21) and Jesus sitting—as in Galilee—began to teach them.

3. Scribes and Pharisees—there is no other example of the combination in Jn—i.e. lawyers and legal zealots, bring a woman taken in adultery and set her well in view.

4. There is no need of an inquiry, for they attest that she was taken fiagrante delicto.5 f. The Law, as they combine its statutes, appointed the death penalty for adultery, Leviticus 20:10, and stoning was specified for the infidelity of a betrothed woman, Deuteronomy 22:24. The question: ’What sayest thou?’ was meant to destroy the ascendancy of Jesus over the people. What the party expected was a sentence of mercy which would publicly brand Jesus as one who flouted the Law of Moses. Even a rigorous sentence would make him lose in the eyes of the crowds. To embroil him with the Roman authorities is not an intention that clearly manifests itself yet. Most probably Jesus, in writing with his finger on the ground, wrote neither the sins nor the names, Jeremiah 17:13, of those spiritual adulterers who were seeking to embarrass him. It was simply the gesture of a man not attending to their captious question but absorbed in something else.

7. In his divine response to their persistence Jesus carries the matter into the secret tribunal of their own consciences: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’. Jesus did not thereby announce a principle that sinful persons may not judge or punish a criminal, but he gave the accusers the discomfort of feeling their hypocrisy.

8 f. As he turned again to the silence of writing (that is meditatively making figures on the ground) they retired one by one, the oldest first, because quicker to take in the situation, and on account of their dignity more fearful of further possible embarrassment before the people. All accusers gone, there was only Jesus and the woman standing before him in the midst of the crowd. 10. Looking up he said, ’Woman, where are they . . .? Has no man condemned thee?’

11. Her simple, respectful answer shows that she felt in some way that she had found not a Judge but a Saviour. The absolution given by ’him who had power on earth to forgive sins’ is here negative in form: ’Neither do I condemn thee’ (present rather than future). He does, of course, condemn the sin which he remits. Hence the admonition: ’Go and (from) now sin no more’.

12-20 Discourse at the Treasury —The place is the gazophylacium or place of the collection boxes within the court of the women, where stood the great candelabra for the illuminations of the feast of Tabernacles, now perhaps already terminated but fresh in the memory of everybody. The light recalled the pillar of fire which had guided the Israelites through the wilderness. This is the third great ’I am’.

12. As the Word of God and universal Revealer of heavenly truth Jesus is the light not of one nation but of the world. The image is probably from the column of fire, but God, Ps 26(27):1, and the Messias, Isaiah 49:6, are called light in the OT. To ’follow’ the light means discipleship consisting in active faith, which delivers from the darkness of human ignorance, error, and sin. ’The light of life’ is light coming from the living God (the Word 1:4) and leading to life everlasting.

13. The Jewish objection is: Self-testimony is legally worthless—presumed not true, as not being receivable.

14 f. Jesus who condescendingly had let this axiom pass after Bezatha, 5:31, does not do so now, when the light of his self-revelation has grown stronger. Thorough knowledge is a guarantee of testimony, and Jesus knows himself thoroughly—is fully conscious of his origin and his destiny. Hence his testimony has inherent value. The Jews, ignorant both of his origin and his destiny, condemn with a prejudice based on mere appearances, or fleshly, human views, such, for instance, as would exclude a Nazarene carpenter without a moment’s consideration. With such a superficial condemnatory judgement Jesus judges no one.

16. As there is now question of judgement not testimony, Jesus seems to say here: If I judge (when the time comes) my judgement is all that a judgement should be (a?????ó?), ’for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me’. He reminds them that, although he has come to save, he will be their judge one day ’since the Father has given all judgement to the Son’, 5:22. Then he passes to the twofold testimony which fulfils all legal requirements.

17. Deuteronomy 19:15 was constantly quoted to show the legal sufficiency of the testimony of two witnesses.

18. Here the condition is fulfilled, for Jesus witnesses by his words and the Father by miraculous works and the prophetic Scriptures.

19. The question: ’Where is thy Father?’ is not a reference to Joseph of whom the thought could not occur in this context; rather it is the sneer of unbelievers at appeal to the testimony of one who dwells in light inaccessible— calling a witness from the clouds, as it were. Hence the answer: ’Neither me do you know, nor my Father; if you did know me, you would also know my Father’. ’Perhaps’ derives from forsitan, a misleading Latin rendering of the Greek particle ?aí.

20. The place of this discourse is given as indicated above. It is because the arrest of Jesus was sought at every moment, that Jn notes so often that it did not take place, ’because his hour was not yet come’.

21-30 Christ’s approaching Departure and Passion — This discourse repeats the warning that the time for decision is short; it strongly asserts that Jesus is the divine Envoy he claims to be; and it declares that his claim will be recognized in the light of the cross.

21. Since this first word is repeated, with an insertion, from a former occasion, 7:34, and is again referred to at the Last Supper, 13:33, it is clear that Jesus meant it to be very solemn. After he shall have gone (six months from now) the Jews shall seek him—that is, shall seek the Messias that he is, although their unbelief rejected him—and they shall die in their sin of unbelief. Their responsibility, therefore, is personal and so great as to lead to obduracy. ’Whither I go, you cannot come’.

22. With more odious mockery than before, 7:35, they think of Jesus committing suicide and thus signalizing himself as one of the great failures of the world.

23. ’From beneath’ and from above’ as also ’of this world’ and ’not of this world’ are descriptions that mark the Jews and Jesus as belonging to different spheres. The natural man who lives by his five senses and has his heart fixed in the earth cannot receive the spiritual things that are apprehended by faith.

24. On account of their terrestrial blindness, Jesus says twice that the Jews shall die not only in their sin of unbelief but in all the sins (Gk text) from which faith justifies. To the phrase: ’Unless you believe that I am’—supply what I claim to be’ (cf. 28; 13:19).

25. They ask the question: ’Who art thou?’ as if he had not been telling them. The first words of our Lord’s answer are difficult and have received many interpretations. DV ’The beginning, who also speak to you’ is as clear as Vg seems to be, but what St Jerome left to the Latin Church was not qui et loquitur but quia et loquitur, which is anything but clear. It is to the Gk and to the Greek Fathers that we must turn. The words t?? Á???? ö t? (or öt?) ?aì ?a?? ?µî? may be translated: ’At the beginning [i.e. absolutely] what I say to you’. The meaning will then substantially be: ’(I am) just what I say I am’. Considering, however, the depth of incomprehension which the Jewish question supposed, it seems better to follow the exposition, wholly or partly given by the Greek interpreters and most satisfactorily worded by St Chrysostom and his school: ’Indeed, why do I continue to speak to you at all?’ Such a rebuke, similar to Mark 9:18, is not alien to the context, and, it has the advantage of doing justice to the verb ?a?? and to the particle ?aí.

26. The sequence of thought seems to be: rather than say more about myself as you expect me, ’many things I have to speak and to judge of you’. But (I content myself with affirming once more that I speak the truth), he that sent me is true and I speak nothing in the world except the things I heard from him’.

27. ’And they understood not that he spoke to them of the Father’. We must, therefore, suppose a different audience from that at the gazophylacium, 18 f. 28. When they shall have crucified the Son of Man —lifting up is a veiled but sufficiently intelligible expression for crucifixion probably quite as clear in Aramaic as our ’swing’ for ’hanging’ but more dignified, 3:14; 12:32—then they shall know, to their loss and pain and not to their gain, that he was what he said, and that he had only acted and taught as an Envoy of the Father.

29. There is perpetual unity of action between the two, for the whole programme Jesus is the will of the Father—’I do always the things that please him’.

30. Many began to believe at this first mention of the mystery of the cross—intelligite gloriam crucis ipsius—genuinely, indeed, but not with full freedom from the trammels of human respect, 12:42.

31-47 Matters of Spiritual Paternity —31 f. Initially the words are addressed to the convinced believers (pep?ste??óta?), but the strong mixture of hostility in the audience soon appears. Perseverance is the mark of true discipleship, and the truth of Christ known and practised is the great emancioative power.

33. The perverted pride of Abrahamite blood (racereligion) was conspicuous in the Jews and had been denounced from the beginning by the Precursor, Matthew 3:9. It asserts itself here. Children of Abraham were never slaves (at least by voluntary submission to an alien yoke), they said, and therefore needed no emancipation.

34. Jesus solemnly points to the spiritual slavery of sin.

35. Whereas the slave has no permanent rights in a house, the son has.

36. Therefore emancipation by the Son will be true emancipation. Thus far, on the question of freedom from slavery. 27. With regard to their Abrahamitic dignity, it does not show itself in practice. ’You seek to kill me, because my word takes no hold, does not root itself in you’.

38. Knowledge in terms of ’seeing’ is reserved to Jesus in Jn. He speaks what he has seen with (i.e. in the bosom of) his Father; the Jews do what they have heard from their father.

39. They indignantly raise the cry of their Abrahamite paternity. Jesus tells them that their works show them to be no true children of Abraham.

40. Homicidal intentions and voluntary resistance to heavenly truth is not the mark of Abraham.

41. There is another father whom they imitate—neither God nor Abraham. They understand this at once (in terms of their Scriptures, e.g.Jeremiah 2:20) as meaning that they are the children of a people that has spiritually prostituted itself to the service of a false divinity. ’We were not born of fornication, we have one Father, God’ (original Rheims Tr.).

42. Their conduct gives them the lie, for they do not love the Son and the Envoy of God.

43. They do not know his language, because their dispositions make them incapable of understanding his word.

44. Then comes the fearful sentence: ’You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do. He was a murderer and an enemy of truth from the beginning’. His original pride was untruth, so that the truth is not in him; by lying deceit, Gen 3, he brought death into the world, Wis 2:24. In this place Christ does not mention the envy of the devil which, however, belonged to his murderous hatred of mankind. That he is a liar and the father of lying has special prominence. Falsehood has, as it were, become his second nature.

45. Hence the Jews, in resisting the truth spoken by Jesus, have ranged themselves in the family of the devil. In the words of Apoc 2:9 ’they are the synagogue of Satan’.

46. Jesus is supremely worthy of credence, for no one can convict him of sin: ’If I (the unassailably holy) speak the truth, why do you not believe me?’

47. He concludes with a declaration meaning the same as his solemn assertion before Pilate, 18:37, but here the form of words is: ’He that is of God heareth the words of God. Therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God’. It is to be remarked that Jesus, at a moment when he is convicting the Jews and their father, the devil, of sin, openly challenges them to convict himself of any sin whatever. True, they accused him of breaking the Sabbath, of associating with sinners, of drinking wine, but these were charges launched by hypocrisy. They do not hear him because by moral disposition they are of the devil; their lives are not dominated by the spirit of obedience to God.

48-59 Insult and a Great Climax —In this series of discourses the great climax occurs in 58: ’Amen, Amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am’. No thoughtful Israelite could hear such a saying without thinking of the words: ’I am who am’, Exodus 3:14, spoken from the burning bush by him who called himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ( ibid. 15 ). The gentle and strong Saviour brings this climax out of an atrocious affront.

48. Those whom truth exasperates easily turn to insult. ’Samaritan’ was as opprobrious as apostate (cf.Ecclus 50:28), and ’thou hast a devil’ meant in this context impious madman’.49. Jesus, who had found faith in Samaria and who was later to speak the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30 ff., and to praise the grateful Samaritan, Luke 17:18, took no notice of this national term of insult.

49. The sons of the devil who treated him as demoniacally insane he answered with a simple denial, adding: ’(Rather) I honour my Father, and you dishonour me’.

50. It belongs not to Jesus himself but to the Father to vindicate his Son’s honour, which he does by a judgement of condemnation—an allusion to the vengeance that was to fall in a.d. 70.

51. Turning doubtless once more to the group of believers he said: ’Amen, amen, I say to you, if any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever’. He meant spiritual death, which primarily strikes the soul but also excludes the body from a glorious resurrection.

52 f. The Jews, with the malice inherent in their unbelief, twist the words to mean escape from corporal death, experience of which was not so much ’seeing’ as bitterly ’tasting’. Jesus was thus making himself greater than all the great dead, including Abraham and the Prophets. That was the utmost arrogance of self-glorification.

54. Again Jesus remits his glory to the care of the Father whom the Jews called their God.

55. In reality they did not know God. They lied in pretending they did, but on the contrary, if Jesus should say he did not know him, he would be like the Jews themselves—a liar. To know is to obey, for truth is lived in charity, Ephesians 4:15.

56. What follows is stupendous. ’Abraham your father rejoiced (in the hope and desire) of seeing my day: he saw it and was glad’. The day is the whole time of the Incarnation rather than any single day. Abraham could only have seen it by supernatural vision, either by prophetic light in the revelation concerning his seed, Gen12-3, or in the theophany of Genesis 15:8 f., or in the theophanies which many Fathers held to be apparitions, of the Logos, Genesis 18:2, or in the joy and divine consolations of the birth of Isaac, the child of promise, Genesis 21:1-5. The last of these seems the most probable. That day was Abraham’s Christmas. The hypothesis of the Patriarch’s spirit seeing the actual day of Christ from Limbo may be considered less tenable.

57 f. The Jews, inverting our Lord’s words, proclaim the absurdity of a man under 50 claiming to have seen Abraham. Jesus was probably between 35 and 40 at the time. St Irenaeus thought he was near 50 ( Haer. II, 22, 5 f.). We need not suppose that he looked older than his age. The Jews used the round number of a half-century—hundreds and fifties being common reckonings even then, Mk6-40.

58. The solemnity of the words: ’Before Abraham came to exist, I am’ defies comment.

59. In the ears of the Jews it was horrible blasphemy. They wished to stone him then and there. Jesus hid (by calmly mixing in the crowd) and left the temple.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 8". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-8.html. 1951.
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