THAT’S THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
It comes from Tom Temple, who gets a free, signed copy of one of my books for taking the time to send me the question.
Here’s how he asked it:
I have heard a lot opinions on this but what do you think Jesus was writing in the dirt…during the scene of the women about to be stoned?
Here’s the scene.
Early morning. Jerusalem. Jesus is at the Jewish temple. A crowd gathers around him. He sits and starts teaching them.
A group of Jewish religion scholars arrive, including Pharisees—a Jewish sect famous for its over-the-top legalism. The men have a woman in tow.
They interrupt Jesus and say “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:5 NLT).
Jesus apparently knows they are trying to trap him.
- If he recommends stoning, he doesn’t seem so peace-loving and “forgive 70 times 7” anymore.
- If he orders her released, he’s a heretical law-breaker.
Here’s the odd twist in the story.
“Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (John 8:6-8 NLT).
One by one the religion scholars walked away.
No stoning today.
What did Jesus write?
I don’t know and I’ll bet the Bible writer didn’t know either.
If Jesus had starting writing names of the scholars alongside the names of ladies with whom they had dillied and dallied, as some theorize, the writer probably would have said so—if he had any sense. That would have added a juicy hook to the story.
Or maybe Jesus was listing other sins they had committed.
Or maybe the lady was still naked, “caught having sex,” and Jesus was diverting his eyes.
Let me add another theory. For fun.
Jesus was playing tic-tac-toe.
Why not? It’s a game of entrapment. Romans played it with stones.
Romans called their version of the game Terni Lapilli, “Three Little Stones.” Romans had been playing this game for 100 years by the time Jesus arrived.
Each player had three stones, which they kept moving around a board until they got three in a row.
Egyptians had a similar game.
But the short, honest answer to Tom’s question is that the Bible doesn’t give one solid clue about what Jesus wrote.
Besides, what Jesus wrote in the dirt is a detour from the point the writer was trying to make.
If the point of the story had been a game of rock, scissors, paper—forgiveness beats condemnation.
Jesus: “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?”
Woman: “No sir.”
Jesus: “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore” (John 8:10-11 CEV).
Grace. It accepts people right where they are in life’s journey—just as they are.
But it doesn’t leave them there. It points them to a new and better place.