Introduction: John 7.53-8.11 Debate
Some of you may have noticed this and others may have not. But if you did or did not, I think it is important as a public Bible teacher that I explain to you why. There is a major debate among Christians surrounding John 7.53-8.11. I don’t want you to think I will hide things from you. So, let me give you a few brief statements about that text. I cannot stress enough they will BE BRIEF. If you want to study more on this please talk to me or the other elders (particular pastor Stephen) and we would be happy to help.
The issue is the earliest Greek manuscripts we have do not include John 7.53-8.11. This has led some scholars to believe the text is not Scripture. We also don’t have any early Christian commenting on this passage like it is Scripture. They do not even use it as a cross-reference. Now that does not mean we do not have any record of the “story” in early church history. Most scholars are not saying the story did not happen, but merely it does not belong in Scripture. That is the source of the controversy.
Now let me give you a few pastoral insights. First, this should encourage us as Christians to continue to trust the Word of God. I say that because we can trust God is continuing to make sure His Word is being preserved. If it is Scripture then let’s be thankful it was recovered. If it is not then let’s be thankful there are people who are so dedicated to God’s Word that they will not let tradition distort the Word of God. Second, there is nothing in the content of this text that is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Even if we were to remove this text it does not mess up the flow of the passage. If it were skipped then we would pick up right where we left off in the Temple at “The Feast of Booths.” If John 7.53-8.11 remains it fits within the rest of the content found in John 7 & 8.
Friends, there is nothing to worry about in this debate, but I thought it was important share. Since I am skipping over it I think you can understand where I currently stand on this issue. If you disagree it does not mean you are not a Christian or some lesser Christian. There are many issues Christians disagree on. In the words of Rosario Butterfield “acceptance” and “approval” are not the same thing.
1. Capturing the Context—John 8.20
It can be a funny thing to start preaching a text from the end instead of the beginning. But John’s Gospel is not a normal Gospel on many levels. We cannot forget the theme of His Gospel is at the end (John 20.31). Therefore, much like the end of His Gospel the context of this section of John is at the end and not the beginning—READ John 8.20.
Capturing the context gives us a clearer picture of what these statements would have meant to the original audience. What John 8.20 tells us is Jesus is making His statements in a significant place in Temple. The “TREASURY” was also referred to as “The Court of Women.” According to scholars it was one of the busiest places in Solomon’s Temple, especially during “The Feast of Booths.” One of the great ceremonies of the FEAST took place in “The Court of Women.” The ceremony was called the “Illumination of the Temple.” They would set up FOUR torches in four corners of the court. Some scholars believe these torches were taller than the wall. The point is they were SO high that no one could miss them. The purpose of the flames was to remember the “PILLAR OF FIRE” that God used to lead the Israelites through the wilderness. This context sets up what I believe John has to tell us today, which is…
Theme: The light of Christ illuminates our understanding of everything.
2. Relieving Light—John 8.12.
Now that we have established the context I want you to imagine with the scene of Jesus’ powerful statement—READ John 8.12. Can you imagine standing in one of the Seven Wonders of the World, seeing these high flaming torches burning through the night, and then Jesus stands up and says this? Jesus is revealing to these Israelites the same fire that led their ancestors through the wilderness is standing right before them.
Can you imagine how comforting that fire was as the Israelites were traveling through the dark dangerous desert? The same fire that held back the Egyptian army so the Israelites could escape is continuing to lead them. That fire was a steady comfort in the midst of confusion. This glorious light was leading from death to life. This light was leading from a desert to an oasis—a land flowing with fresh water, green grass and trees, pomegranates, and so much more. All they had to do was FOLLOW the light. The light was leading them to LIFE.
As we think about this statement today friends nothing has changed. Jesus makes this same promise today. Jesus is still the light of the world, and if we follow Him He will lead us through the dark desert of this world to a land flowing with life-giving nourishment. When we have Jesus’ LIGHT we have LIFE. Jesus’ light brings this comforting relief in the midst of such much stress and turmoil. And the beautiful thing is the light is not just for us, but everyone. Listen to these promises from Scripture:
I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.—Isaiah 49.6b
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.—I Peter 2.9
God gave us this warm, comforting, convicting, illuminating, relieving LIGHT to be enjoyed and shared. We are called to enjoy the fullness of Jesus’ light, but we are also called to invite our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and anyone who wants it, to come sit with us by the ever-burning fire of Jesus Christ.
3. Treacherous Technicalities—John 8.13-19.
Sadly, we see in our text that not everyone wants the light Jesus is offering—READ John 8.13. This is not the first time these strict religious leaders have tried to trap Jesus. All throughout the Gospels the elite religious leaders of Jesus’ time tried to find ways to trap Him. The strategy here is no different than any other time. The religious leaders would always try to trap Jesus through “TREACHEROUS TECHNICALITIES” in the Law. They are quoting texts like Deuteronomy 17.6 & 19.15-21.
Once again these men are samples of people we still see today. For instance, people can use examples like John 7.53-8.11 to walk away from Christianity or not give it a chance. They think the answers to this debate are not satisfying or they don’t want to hear the answers at all. They get caught up in “treacherous technicalities” like these prideful religious elites. They think they have found the “ONE” thing Christians have not noticed. They think they have trapped Jesus and His followers on a technicality. The truth is many of these people were looking for a reason to NOT believe, and as soon as they think they found something they say, “SWEET! I’m out!” They want a reason to not have to submit their lives to Christ. Usually they don’t want to submit to anyone except SELF, thus proving once again God’s assessment of humanity.
In John 8.14-19 Jesus answered these critics. The answer He gave is still true for today’s critics. We are in danger when we try to understand God, and His Word, without God—READ John 8.18, 19b. There is no way for us to have an intimate personal with God without Jesus Christ. Jesus hints at this in John 8.15 when He says, “You judge according to the flesh.” The Gospel of John has already discussed this in John 1.29-34, so it is assuming we understand it. But as a way of refresher let me summarize it. John the Baptist declares Jesus as the one who takes away the sins of the world, thus allowing us to receive the Spirit of God. And it is the Spirit of God that allows us to have an intimate relationship with God. Listen to this description from Paul in I Corinthians 2:
For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.—I Corinthians 2.11-14
Pastor Kent Hughes puts it like this, “When Jesus is loved, followed, and trusted, he becomes light. But when he is neglected, darkness descends.” (Hughes, p. 235) Friends, when we trust Jesus as the light of the world then a universe of understanding opens up to us. But apart from Jesus we move further into darkness and confusion. Our text today compels us all to work through where we stand on Jesus’ bold statement.