Monday, September 13, 2010

John 8:6-8: Throwing the first Stone Part 1

Ἰωάννην 8·6 τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγον πειράζοντες αὐτόν, ἵνα ἔχωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς κάτω κύψας τῷ δακτύλῳ κατέγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν.  7 ὡς δὲ ἐπέμενον ἐρωτῶντες αὐτόν, ἀνέκυψεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ᾿ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον.  8 καὶ πάλιν κατακύψας ἔγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν. 
And they were saying this, testing him, that they may have something to accuse him.  And Jesus bent down and was writing on the ground.  And when they were continuing to question him, he stood up and said to them, “The sinless one among you must throw the first stone at her.”  And he bent down and was writing on the ground again.  John 8:6-8
The woman caught in adultery.  What a story!  Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing on the ground?  I’ve placed the two verbs in question here in bold type.  The are both form the verb γράφω.  The first one, κατέγραφεν, is a compound verb.  κατ - έγραφενκατ (from κατά*) is actually a preposition that means “down from”.  It can also mean “against”.  Within this context, there would be no reason for the author** to used two different forms of the verb γράφω unless he really wanted to place emphasis on something by placing κατά in order to compound the verb.  It is very probable that the verb means “he was writing against them”.  Some scholars think that he may have been writing down the accusers’ names and the sins that they were guilty of committing!  Can you imagine?   Compound that with what Jesus said to them, no wonder they all left the scene!
So, with this in mind, maybe the passage in question should be translated:
And Jesus bent down and was writing against them on the ground.
*Techy grammar alert!!!  κατά means “down from” or “against” if its object is in the genitive and “according to”, “through out”, or “during” if its object is in the accusative.
**Most likely, this story is not original and was added to John’s Gospel at a later date.  According to scholars, the vocabulary and style are different than the rest of the Gospel.  This passage doesn’t appear in some of the oldest manuscripts and is often placed in different places within the Gospel where it does appear.  It probably was a story that was handed down from early sources and a copyist inserted it in John at some point.  Since it was and is still widely accepted, modern translations include it.  It is almost always bracketed or footnoted due to the lack of evidence for the passage.


  1. The word is also used in the Septuagint translation of Job in 13:26 where it refers to a list of sins. Another significant point is that Jesus was not only offering grace to the woman, but also to the accusers by writing their sins on sand and not on stone. The ten commandments that they were breaking had been written in stone, but not the sins of the woman's accusers. He was telling them that He was also willing to forgive them.

  2. Thanks Martin. I do a little work in the Septuagint, but I have a long way to go in the NT first. Thanks again for the insight.