“Before Abraham Was, I Am”
John Chapter Eight
It is questionable by scholars whether John wrote portions of John Chapter eight. This chapter lacks Johannine features but resembles pronouncement stories found in the Synoptic Gospels.[i] The debate continues as Jesus is teaching in the temple. While he is teaching, the Pharisees and teachers of the law brings before him and the crowd, a woman caught in adultery. According to Old Testament law, the woman and man should have been brought before the leaders, but somehow the man was not there (yall know I had to mention that). The law states that anyone caught in adultery should be stoned (Lev. 20:10). They brought this woman to Jesus to tempt and/or accuse him. Jesus ignored them, stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
“While Moses’ law commands the death penalty for adultery, Roman law did not – the Romans reserved the law for themselves – shall we obey the Bible or the Romans?”[ii] Jesus finally stood up and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” The statement is so profound that it has its own force and conviction for those Jesus encountered. Can you imagine them thinking of their own sinful ways while pointing to Jesus to stone this woman? While they kept on questioning him, Jesus stooped on the ground again, and began writing with his finger. “Jesus here assumes the universal sinfulness of humanity, which is not only a Pauline doctrine, but the general perspective of biblical theology.” [iii] One by one, those who accused her began to walk away, because of their own conviction of sin. I defer to Boring and Craddock for their interpretation:
“Jesus does not condemn the woman, but his forgiveness does not mean he is non-judgmental in the sense that he has no judgment about her behavior, as though that were her own business. Jesus is clear that he condemns what the woman (and the man) did as sinful, but he forgives the woman herself. She is set free from the guilt of sin but is not free to continue her sinful life.”
In other words, Jesus judged her, but he didn’t condemn her. He was not accepting of her behavior, but he did not cast her away, condemn her to death, or reject her. As the church, we fail to talk about sin in the context of judgment, however, Jesus makes it clear that there is a need for forgiveness of sin and a turning away from sin. As in the synoptic gospels, Jesus does not take on the divine role of forgiving sin, however, he just said to the woman, go and sin no more.” [iv]
The reader is invited to hear the debate between Jesus’ identity claims in God and what the Jewish leaders believed to be their own understanding of God. In these verses we hear explanations of light and darkness, God versus the devil, who is from above and who is from below, freedom and bondage, deeds done in God versus evil deeds, children of light, and those who love darkness. “These opposites are examples of the dualism that forms the framework of John’s thought.” [v]
The Pharisees questioned the validity of Jesus’ testimony. During this exchange, Jesus reminded them that in their law, the testimony of two witnesses was valid. He puts forth the testimony of him and his father. They asked him,” where is your father?” Jesus shoots back with, “If you knew me, you would know my father.” Every question they asked Jesus, was with the intent to entrap him.
Jesus then says that he would go away, and they would die in their sins. The Jews thought by this statement that Jesus intended on killing himself. They never understood that Jesus spoke of God, the Father. As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in him. To the Jews who believed in Jesus, he shared that the truth would set them free. This is where we get the famous quote, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
What is clear is that the Jews thought that their father was Abraham (heir of the covenant of God), and because Abraham and the prophets died, they asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are – are you greater than our father Abraham?” While the Jews understood the biblical understanding found in Abraham, they did not see Jesus as God’s son.
The culmination of this chapter leads to an attempted stoning of Jesus. Jesus had just challenged them to cast the first stone at the woman found in adultery. Here we see them ready to stone him as well. Jesus shared, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad. Because of his age, they questioned that he had seen Abraham. Jesus revealed to them, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews could not grasp what Jesus was trying to reveal to them – that he was God’s Con, sent to them by God to fulfill the works of God – i.e.., the fulfillment of their Old Testament law and prophecies. “Jesus refers to his preexistence, which mystifies and scandalizes his hearers but is by now well understood by the Johannine reader.” [vi]
[i] Boring and Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 314.
[ii] Ibid, pg. 315.
[v] Ibid., pg. 316.
[vi] Ibid, pg., 317.