I first became acquainted with Sam Martin, author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy after he graciously shared a copy of his book. Since then, my respect and appreciation for him has only grown. Sam is a Biblical scholar who is devoted to God, and his work to support more families in a greater understanding of grace-filled parenting is bearing tremendous fruit. If you are curious about what the Bible really teaches regarding corporal punishment, he offers his book for FREE by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit Samuel Martin
************************Part I is available here.
When we consider the story we find in John’s Gospel in the first eleven verses of chapter 8, it gives some interesting insight into God’s parenting style. Here though we want to dig in a bit deeper into some of what I might call a more systematic theological approach to the parenting style of Jesus, who is God in the flesh.
The story in John 8 gives some information which is a skeleton of what I will call a greater system of theology and here I am going to introduce another text. It is Matthew 18.
We are all very familiar with Matthew 18 and its approach to addressing grievances between one another. While we often look at this text as one which focuses on human to human relationships, let’s not miss an opportunity to see the potential divine/human interaction in this text and because the question of judgment methods for resolving problems between each other is addressed. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we might find herein a stepping stone to a greater systematic theology of God’s parenting style, at least this is what I think.
The Three Stage Process: Judgment, God and Parenting
Before we develop this system of theology, there is a key point that we have to understand before moving forward. It is something can help us appreciate this idea in a larger, overall sense.
What I am proposing here is that the story we find in John 8 is in fact represents two of three parts of the judgment process that Jesus taught in Matthew 18.
Look at it. First, as I showed in the first part of this series, Jesus takes the place of the first party in Matthew 18. He goes alone to the guilty party. This is the first of the three step process.
Second, it is an interesting dynamic when you think of it, but let’s keep an open mind here because there may be an opportunity here for learning.
Jesus as I am showing is teaching us all something here in John 8, but would we not wish God (and our parents) to be consistent in His approach? I think so! Would we not wish to model His behavior? Would we not wish to follow His example? I also think we would agree that this is desirable.
So, let’s think a bit about this scene again in John 8. So, in looking for some congruence with Matthew 18, let’s think a bit outside of the box, but not stretching things too much.
When you think about this scene, it is not too hard to see the 2nd step of Matthew 18 materializing really fast. Look. When Jesus wrote on the ground the first time, that was the first witness. Jesus was going directly to the guilty party (in secret at first) and trying to get them to repent (in secret). However, something happened. They did not repent at first! So, He was forced to take the second step.
However, in Matthew 18, one should take two or three witnesses who are also clear on the matter and then they jointly with the first party are to confront the offending party urging repentance and starting the process to righting the wrong and pursuing reconciliation and a return to complete harmony and wholeness for all.
Now, here is where we have to put on our thinking caps and realize that Jesus used other witnesses to convict the accusers! When He wrote the second time on the ground, there were a number of persons present. While we can certainly point to the miraculous circumstance and the supernatural knowledge that Jesus had (and this is one of the main messages of John Gospel showing Jesus to be divine, in control of time, space, the elements, matter possessing supernatural knowledge, etc.) , it could very well be due to the nature of the contact between the older and younger accusers and the woman accused, these people could very well have known each other and the second witness could have been a variety of parties. Certainly, the accusers had intimate knowledge of the habits of the accused.
If you have a group of people who are “scribes and Pharisees”, these are almost certainly local people from Jerusalem. One cannot imagine I think that these people were just visiting and they were able to somehow identify a local woman who was engaged in adultery. The scene in my mind is portraying a local group of religious leaders.
So, I am proposing that these accusers would have known each other. This is where it is quite possible that when it says they went out from the “the eldest to the last”, there is something that we have to think about here. Look at the cultural context. Those people who were in positions of being elders were afforded social graces due to their age and when it was the eldest who went out first, here we might be able to learn something.
Imagine the scene of a group of religious leaders and who will be the one’s making the major accusations first? It will be the elder people in the group with support from the younger, but Jesus it appears first targets these elders and one can just see the looks on the faces of people when all realized that the elder accusers themselves were guilty of the same thing they were accusing the woman of.
Let us be clear. Such a circumstance shakes the confidence of the younger people in their elders, particularly those who are in power and influence. When you see an elder (in any faith environment) caught in sin, especially a hypocrite, your faith is shaken and this is what happened in this situation. These accusers did not listen to the first witness (who spoke to them in secret) and they were then taken to the next level (as Matthew 18 demands) and their sins were made just a bit more public because other witnesses were brought to this trial to speak (not through words) in defense of the accused woman.
Here is something else to consider. What is interesting is that it says that all the accusers left from the oldest to the youngest. It is very possible that in a number of cases, the woman accused may have very well become the second witness (with Jesus being the first witness Himself) to the truth of what He wrote on the ground!
It is quite clear from the story that the woman repented and it is clear also from the story the same could have been the case for the men who were also convicted of their sins. Their repentance was not immediately evident, but it is possible that some of these people later became believers. Put yourself in their shoes. When you would have encountered this person who some were saying was the Messiah and you were not 100% sure, definitely having seen this circumstance would influence a person.
What is 100% clear from the story in John 8 is that the men backed down and did not attempt to carry out the sentence that they originally proposed. They changed their view! In a sense, we can say that they repented and backed off. Their repentance may not have been public at first and the story does not necessarily indicate that, but definitely their minds were changed and the thing they proposed initially to do was abandoned due to their being convicted of their own sins.
The third phase that did not happen
We all know what Matthew 18 tells us if a person does not listen to us after we go to them the second time with witnesses? Yes, that is correct. Then the sin is to be revealed publicly in front of all.
Now if Jesus was following the same procedure that He commands you and I to follow in Matthew 18, which is what we as children I think would want our parent to do as a good example for us, then we can imagine what would have come next!
Had those men not repented we can expect that Phase III of Matthew 18 would have been implemented by Jesus and He would have publicly declared in front of all the sins of the accusers! Their sins would have been taken to the whole community to be dealt with since they refused the secret and private resolution process that Jesus outlines for judgment in Matthew 18.