Saturday, September 19, 2015

Jesus 'Defended a Woman From Being Slut-Shamed'?

This latest Facebook Polemic is a farrago of contemporary slang applied anachronistically to first-century Palestine - as well as it is full of irresponsible eisegesis.

Among its several errors, the most obvious – and egregious – example of misreading appears in the phrase “Defended a woman from being slut shamed and killed…”

According to an online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “slut shame” designates an act of: “Stigmatiz[ing] (a woman) for engaging in behavior judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative”. Example sentences are given as: “she was slut-shamed for wearing a bikini” and “you can’t talk about sex without getting gossiped about or slut-shamed”.

Presumably, the author of the above picture-text has in mind the episode, recorded by John the Evangelist (John 8:1-11), of the “woman caught in the act of adultery.”[1]

Here is the entire relevant passage, from the New International Version [2]of the Bible:

[B]ut Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

One question is this: If the story of the woman caught in adultery is illustrative of the injustice in a certain sort of “judgmentalism,” what sort of “judgment” is supposed to be forbidden?

The story suggests the following moral argument.

(1) Adultery is morally wrong. [moral premise]

(2) “[T]his woman was caught in the act of adultery.” [observational premise]

(3) Therefore, “this woman” has done something morally wrong. [theoretical conclusion]

(4) Women who have committed adultery should be “stoned” (to death). [punitive premise]

(5) Therefore, “this woman” should be stoned (to death). [practical conclusion]

At what step does Jesus intervene?

Notice that Jesus never disputes the wrongness of adultery. He never questions the moral premise. In fact, Jesus endorses it.

This is apparent from the fact that Jesus concludes his comments to “the woman” with the admonition: “Go now and leave your life of sin.”[3]

If the woman is commanded to “leave [her] life of sin,” then, manifestly, she is presently leading a life of sin. The only relevant information that we have about her life is that she is an adulteress. Therefore, Jesus is either (and implausibly) speaking of “other,” unspecified sins, or Jesus is speaking of her adultery as a sin.

Indisputably, the most natural reading of the text is that Jesus is here saying that the woman’s adulterous behavior is tantamount to “leading a life of sin.” But, if so, then Jesus is acknowledging that adultery is morally wrong.

We may conclude, then, that Jesus accepted the Pharisee’s labeling of the relevant woman. She was an adulteress, with the entire “stigma” that that term implied.

However, if “slut shaming” is characterized by “stigmatiz[ing] (a woman) for engaging in behavior judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative,” and if adultery is included among the list of behaviors “judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative,” then it follows that Jesus was “slut-shaming.”

In the opinion of this writer, “slut-shaming” is a ridiculous and faddish slang term and should be avoided. Jesus’s ultimate purpose was to point “the woman” toward the road of salvation. The politically-incorrect fact is that repentance – or the turning-away from sin and toward God – can only be effected once one acknowledges his or her own sinfulness.

Those who wish to employ “weasel words” like “shaming” such that all (or some subset of) violations of God’s laws may not, for fear of breach of social etiquette, be labeled “sins,” really do disservice to sinners. Insofar as charity (i.e., Christian love) is concerned, it is impossible for a person to express genuine love for John Doe if that person encourages – implicitly or explicitly – John Doe to continue in behavior that will lead to the eternal damnation of his immortal soul.

This, however disagreeable the sentiments may be to the “liberal” mind, is simply the historic Christian view.

In his Quest for the Historical Jesus,[4] Albert Schweitzer criticized those scholars whose attempts to “discover the historical Jesus” merely amounted to the creation of a Jesus in the image of the particular scholar who happened to be writing.

“Modern scholars have routinely reinvented Jesus or have routinely rediscovered in Jesus that which they want to find, be it rationalist, liberal Christianity of the 19th century, be it apocalyptic miracle workers in the 20th, be it revolutionaries, or be it whatever it is that they’re looking for, scholars have been able to find in Jesus almost anything that they want to find.”[5]

Actually, this is not new. In the Second Epistle to Timothy, in the Bible, we read: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”[6]

It is therefore unsurprising that embedded within this “liberal”-biased Facebook Polemic is a “liberal”-colored misunderstanding (if not willful misrepresentation) of a particular biblical episode.

Jesus did oppose the hypocritical Pharisee’s attempt to summarily execute the adulteress. He thus did indeed oppose (what I labeled) the “practical conclusion,” as given in the argument above.

Jesus counseled the woman to quit her adulterous behavior and turn to God in repentance. The Pharisees were out to satiate their bloodlust. However, neither position invalidated – or even called into question – the moral impermissibility of adultery.


[1] I have discussed this passage at length elsewhere. See here and here.

[2] The New International Version, being a sort of “dynamic equivalence” translation, is simply easier to understand than “classics” such as the Catholic Douay–Rheims and the Protestant King James Version. Nothing substantial, therefore, turns on my selection. It is merely for the sake of convenience.

[3] Far from negating the moral premise, Jesus elsewhere extends it. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30.)

We see, then, that Jesus not only “accepts” the notion of the sinfulness of physical acts of adultery, but he broadens the definition to encompass instances of adulterous fantasizes. Furthermore, he indicates one, ultimate punishment: hell. This does not appear at all consistent with the notion that Jesus denies the sin of adultery.

[4] Albert Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, Tübingen: Mohr, 1906; in English as Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Francis Crawford Burkitt, ed., William Montgomery, transl., London: A. and C. Black; New York: Macmillan, 1910.

[5] Shaye I.D. Cohen; interviewed in “Searching for Jesus,” Frontline, PBS, <>.

[6] 2 Timothy 4:3.