Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 8:1-11


The last verse of the preceding chapter (7:53), and they returned each one to his own home, is clearly in contrast with verse 1 of this chapter, from which, in the division of chapters, it ought not to have been separated.  They went to their own homes to enjoy themselves and concert measures against our Lord.  but, He went out to Mount Olivet to spend the night, as was His wont, in prayer.  The portion from verse 53 of the preceding chapter to verse 11 of this inclusive, is wanting in several MSS., and ancient copies of the Gospel.  Hence, the authenticity of the passage is questioned by many.  It is classed with the portions of Sacred Scripture commonly termed, Deutero-Canonical.  Several arguments, extrinsic and intrinsic, are adduced in favor of, and against its authenticity.  The preponderance, however, is in favor of it.  But, whatever may be said of the arguments on both sides, no Catholic can question it, after the solemn declaration of the Council of Trent  (SS. iv) Decreto de Canonicis Scripturis, in which all are commanded, under pain of Anathema, to receive as sacred and canonical the entire books themselves (which are there recounted), with all their parts, as they are wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and are found in the lod Latin Vulgate.


Joh 8:1  And Jesus went unto mount Olivet.

Went unto Mount Olivet, which was distant, a Sabbath day’s journey, from Jerusalem to the east.  Between it and the city ran the little brook or rivulet, Cedron.  Close by it was the Garden of Gethsemane.  The house of Martha and Mary was near.  Our Lord frequently spent the night in Mount Olivet, communing with His Heavenly Father in prayer.  On this account, it was that the traitor, who well knew His habits and places of resort, directed or conducted there the armed band sent to apprehend Him, thinking it to be the place, where He was most likely to be found.

Joh 8:2  And early in the morning he came again into the temple: and all the people came to him. And sitting down he taught them.

Early in the morning He came again-according to custom-into the Temple.

Joh 8:3  And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst,
Joh 8:4  And said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery.

The Scribes– who gloried in the knowledge-and the Pharisees, in their strict and religious observance of the law, now come to test His knowledge and religious sentiments in regard to the law, of which His decision in the following case, which they submit to Him, would be regarded as a true test, taken in adultery.  From the Greek reading of verse 4, this woman was taken in adultery (ἐπαυτοφώρῳ), it is clear that she was caught in the actual commission of the act.

Master.  They wish to conciliate Him and gain His good will by affecting respect for His opinions, as teacher.  What sayest Thou? as teacher.

Joh 8:5  Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou?

The Law of Moses commanded, that in case a virgin espoused to a man was found guilty of crime with another, both should be stoned (Deut 22:24).  In regard to adulterers also, death was enacted.  No  mention, however, was made of the kind of death (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22).  The Jews, however, following tradition, and guided by the interpretation of the ancients, extended the specific punishment of stoning to adultery, as being a still more grievous crime.  That it was the kind of death actually inflicted on adulterers, is clear from Ezekiel 16:40.  Likely, it was the kind of death in reserve for Susanna, as the elders underwent it, at the hands of the multitude.  This would point to stoning, as their mode of action conjointly (Dan 13:62).  Fr. MacEvilly is referring to the fact that Susanna was falsely accused by the elders of adultery.  They suffered stoning when their deceit was discovered, and this is taken as implying that this would have been the fate of Susanna had she been convicted.

Joh 8:6  And this they said tempting him, that they might accuse him. But Jesus bowing himself down, wrote with his finger on the ground.

Tempting Him Their object was, according to several Commentators, to involve Him in a dilemma, so that whatever answer He gave, they would have an opportunity of accusing Him, either with the civil authorities or the people.  If He decided, she should be stoned; then, they would charge Him with excessive severity and want of the spirit of mercy, so often hitherto commended and practiced by Him.  Moreover, He would be acting as judge; and thus amenable to the civil authorities.  If He said, she should not be stoned; then, He would be the enemy of the law of Moses, a change so often before made against Him.  He would be thus amenable to the Mosaic or religious authorities.  Others say, tempting, had solely for object, to elicit from Him an opinion or decision at variance with, or in modification of, the sentence of the law, which the Jews quote for Him.  This they hoped would bring Him into disrepute as an enemy of the law.

This seems to be their object in quoting the law.  It is not easy to see, how our Lord could be charged with want of clemency in agreeing in the sentence of the law of Moses.  Hence, there seems to be no ground for the dilemma above referred to.

Wrote with His finger on the ground.  What did He write?  It is idle to conjecture, since He Himself has not vouchsafed to tell us.  Why did He write?  The reason generally assigned is, that He wished to convey, that he would decline giving any answer to a question so captious and so dishonestly intended.  Hence, He delineated some character on the pavement of the Temple.

Joh 8:7  When therefore they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Perceiving, probably, from His stooping down and delineating some characters on the pavement or dust, with which it might have been covered, that he meant to decline having anything to say to them, they persevered in asking for an explicit answer to their captious, insidious questions, thus interrupting Him.  He lifted up Himself and said to them, he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at herWithout sin may refer to sin in general, or to the sin with which this adulterous woman was charged.  For, there is abundant evidence, as testified by Josephus, regarding the low state of morality at the time, even among those who affected sanctity and religious observance of the moral law.

Let him first cast a stone at her.  The law prescribed (Deut 17:7), that the accuser or witness should be the first to cast a stone at the guilty party; doubtless, with a view to make men more cautious in bringing forward accusations, from a sense of their responsibility, in being executioners.  The throwing of the first stone was a signal to the bystanders for a general attack on the culprit.

Our Lord does not say the adulterous woman was to be set free, or, that she was undeserving of the punishment provided by the law against such transgressions; and hence, does not interfere with the just sentence of the law.  He implies that she deserved death; and thus baffled the insidious attempts of His enemies.  At the same time, He mercifully stays the execution, which the Roman Governor alone could warrant, although the Sanhedrin might pass sentence, by remitting each to the tribunal of conscience, which convicted them of the crime, for which they would fain execute vengeance on their fellow-creature.  Our Lord does not here mean, that no judge could pass sentence on a convicted criminal, if the judge himself were in sin.  He merely remits His enemies to the tribunal of conscience.  They ask Him to give judicial sentence; this He declines doing.  It belonged to the public authority to do so.  He conveys to us that, in a private capacity, it would be congruous, that a man who, in private, sits in judgment on another and condemns him, would himself be free from the crime for which he judges others.  There is no reference here to public authority, but only to the execution of a sentence by private authorityFirst cast a stone.  Our Lord knowing their guilty consciences, knew well they would not dare submit to the test.

Joh 8:8  And again stooping down, he wrote on the ground.

He then resumes the operation of writing on the ground, in which they had interrupted Him by their importunity.  He probably intended by this to give them, in the exercise of clemency, an opportunity of quietly retiring without being put to excessive confusion or shame.

Joh 8:9  But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst.

The eldest may mean those who, advanced in life, were most hardened in iniquity, like the old judges who falsely accused Susanna (Dan 13); or, the word may refer not to age; but to dignity.  The whole sentence means, that all the accusers meanly sneaked away, without exception, either as regards age or dignity.

Jesus alone remainedAlone regards the accusers, but not the multitude, who remained, as appears from verse 12.

Joh 8:10  Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?
Joh 8:11  Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.

Our Lord mercifully inspiring her with true sorrow for her sin, pardons her guilt, without passing and judicial sentence on her.  Neither will I condemn thee-to legal punishment.  He implies her moral guilt, which was manifest.  Sin no more. At the same time, He shows, in these words, His abhorrence of sin.

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 8:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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