Question: In St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 8 describes the woman caught in adultery. Wasn’t the man with whom she was committing adultery subject to the same consequences? Why is he not also brought before Jesus?
— B. Quinn, Philadelphia
Answer: Yes, he should have been subject to the same penalty. Scripture says, “If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman, as well as the woman. Thus shall you purge the evil from Israel” (Dt 22:22). And again, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Lv 20:10).
That only the woman is brought forward shows the hypocrisy and duplicity of those who reported this woman to Jesus. The text of John 8 says that the woman “was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (Jn 8:4), so they know very well who the man involved was.
It is difficult to say if the practice of accusing the woman and not the man was widespread in Israel. Many today assume a kind of duplicity in the ancient world regarding these matters, but, again, we are not sure.
What is clear here is that only the woman is reported. Jesus does not point to this fact, but more personally appeals to each of her accusers by his action of tracing on the ground, thus demonstrating that some record of sin exists for them as well. One by one they leave. Perhaps something among the things the Lord recorded there implied their duplicity in not reporting the man as well.
Question: A person I know, hostile to Church teaching, dismisses the Bible as a moral source because it approved of slavery. How can this be answered?
— Maryanne Taylor, via email
Answer: Slavery in biblical times tended to be an alternative to the more modern tendency of incarcerating people for long periods in prisons. People were generally enslaved for three reasons: They had debts they could not pay, they were guilty of certain crimes, or they had been soldiers who had waged war against the Roman Empire.
Slavery was sometimes for the duration of one’s life, but might not be, depending on the seriousness of the cause that led to it. It also was possible for some to be liberated from slavery if their family could purchase their freedom.
This sort of slavery was quite different from the slavery of the colonial period (the 16th to 19th centuries), when the people who were enslaved had not committed crimes, owed no debt and had not waged war or threatened the nations that enslaved them. This more recent practice clearly was far more egregious and deserving of condemnation than the slavery of biblical times.
The fact that Scriptures do not explicitly condemn slavery must be seen in the context of the times in which they were written and how the slavery then was different than our modern understanding of it.
Much reform was needed, even in the ancient system. But Christian teaching, with its emphasis on the dignity of the individual as a child of God, greatly helped ameliorate that system and ensure that the acceptance of slavery would wane and all but disappear.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.