What was Jesus writing?

In the story of Jesus and the adulteress, Jesus writes in the sand twice. I’ve always thought that a bit strange: Why did John leave that in, and what does it signify?

The conventional thought was he was writing down the sins of those who wanted to stone her…which is why they all sulked away.

Where’s the man?

Oy vey!

From Commentary on the Gospel of John * (St. Thomas Aquinas)
1131. Jesus wrote his sentence on the earth with his finger:*** But Jesus bending down wrote on the ground with his finger.*** Some say that he wrote the words of Jeremiah: “O earth, earth, listen…write down this man as sterile” (Jer 22:29). According to others, and this is the better opinion, Jesus wrote down the very words he spoke, that is, "Whoever among you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her." However, neither of these opinions is certain.



One interesting possibility is that he was writing the Law of Moses there in the dirt, the Law which they were using as a basis of condemning this woman AND Jesus. Jesus scratching this in the dirt there before them, highlighting their hypocrisy.

On a side note, this topic a good focus for Lectio Divina.

Yes, and this is an interesting thought. It should also be noted that the Law states that both parties involved in the adultery must be stoned, so this could have been a revealing moment of some sort against one of the Pharisees.

This story does not exist in all of the remaining manuscripts, and has different placement in those examples where it is found. Whatever He wrote, they were convicted of sin either by the letters or words, or by His spoken words or seeming nonchalance. What He wrote is not the issue, or else it would have been recorded. We can surmise anything, from him writing sins and allowing the sinners to see them, to writing particular sins and glancing at each sinner, to simply making designs or patterns in the sand.

We can’t know.

But God seldom leaves behind a durable transcript.

He writes in our souls.


We do NOT know what he wrote so why speculate. Nobody can claim to be right.

Speculation should be encouraged, because speculation can often be food for contemplation and wonder. And in this healthy speculation, no one claims to be right, but rather speculation shows the power and glory of the almighty, not the one doing the speculating.

If we don’t speculate on the many possible anagogical meanings of scripture we stand the risk of relegating scripture to little more than a text book of history or biography.

That is your opinion. I totally disagree with you.

Jesus is ignoring the accusers because they are portraying adherence to the Law while subverting the Law: both parties are guilty of adultery not just the female/s. Further, Jesus uses every opportunity to demonstrate God’s Mercy in His Ministry.

Maran atha!


The original Greek does not say “sand.” It merely indicates the floor.
The context of the passage is that Jesus was going about his customary daily routine.
His daily routine was to teach inside the temple.
The temple’s floor is made of rock. It is not made of sand or dirt. Cleanliness in the temple was a major theme of Moses’s law.

Jesus was writing on rock with a single finger.

Jesus is doing this from a sitting position. When a rabbi comes to teach, he sits down. That is a sign of his authority.

The writing on the ground is a major interruption of Jesus’ teaching. He tries to ignore their rudness, they persist. They are attacking his learning.
Then John notes in very great detail… Jesus start to “bend” and “stoop”.
Bending the knee is a sign of defeat in war. John is almost making the scene out to be Jesus near death and biting hard on the ground as he is “felled”. So each time he “rises” up again, instead of falling … John is majorly intensifying the drama of the scene.

There are three significant ideas behind Jesus writing on the ground.
The first idea, is that only a man of learning knows how to write. The Torah/Bible was memorized, and the scrolls only had parts of words written on them in order to help the reader know what was said. (eg: the consonants of a word were written, but not the vowels.) Because someone can recite passages from the bible (while holding the scroll) is not necessarily a sign that they can read and write.

Many people had accused Jesus of being a simpleton, saying “where does he get all this…”
They did not believe he was a man of learning, but a fake.

So, when Jesus chooses to “write” on the ground, he is upping the stakes. He is taunting them by miming “I am a scribe, too. I can write.”

The passage is one of the most subtle and technical ones John ever wrote. Many scholars are unable to understand WHY Jesus won the argument. Many times, various churches have tried to remove the passage from the bible because they believed it must have been a fake. But in reality, Jesus hung the whole crowd of Pharisees on a technicality of the Law. Note: The trap was not over when the men left. The woman was left there as bait for the same trap.

Since your O.P. does not ask about how the case was won or lost, I will just make a few comments about the finger on the rock as a sign.

The only place in the bible where a solitary finger was able to write on rock, is when God himself wrote on the rock tablets when in-scribing the commandments.
Jesus is in fact, showing the finger of God. ( He who has seen me, has seen the Father. )

This is different than, say, the inferences of the angel writing on the wall in the O.T. with multiple fingers. That is a sign of judicial decrees of a foreign government. Jewish writing is done with a solitary stylus, other countries used clay and multiple fingers.

In Jewish writing, the king exercised power with a single finger. O.T. paraphrase from a Jewish king preparing to sign a tax penalty, “I have more power in my little finger than you do in your entire…” 1 Kings 12:10. ( Father’s loins… all his other children combined. )

The passage in John is distinctly Jewish, and a LOT of taunting/near mocking is going on. Jesus is showing the Jews the sign of God writing the ten commandments, and Kings signing decrees. ( Thou shalt not commit adultery is in that list. )

The whole law of Moses is understood by the Jewish (learned) to be a technical exposition of the ten commandments. That’s why it was so important that Jesus “spell” it out for them.

Quite interesting!

I am completely oblivious to historical values (though I did see it coming when you suggested “finger on rock”); it does gives the passage a new lead!

Maran atha!


Can’t find any stars … you need 5 stars on that answer!

I believe this is the only instance where Christ wrote something.
I would very much like to know what it was.

I will endeavor to ask at the first opportunity.

“10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you lighten it for us’; thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.”

This is actually a euphemism and the reality is far cruder than what’s been rendered in English. Needless to say, King Rehobo′am was consulting a group of young male friends his own age and they were not talking about anything on his hands. They were encouraging Rehobo’am to claim, er… “proof of having superior masculinity” than Solomon.

Jeremiah 17: 13 Lord, you are the hope of Israel;
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the Lord,
the spring of living water.

The written in the dust part is pretty self-explanatory if we’re comparing to John 8. John also has a strong theme of Jesus being the living water and water in general. It starts with his baptism, we see the transformation of water into wine, we see Jesus declare that people must be born from above through water and Spirit, he declares himself living water to the Samaritan woman, and in John 7, very soon before the incident that concerns us, he declares, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water."

I have also heard that Jesus was acting as a Temple priest, writing down the law that had been broken, and that the people who brought the woman before him had also broken the law, as both the woman and the man were to be brought to court together with witnesses in order to make a case against them, and in their hypocrisy they failed to uphold this, but I don’t have good historical references on that, so take it with a grain of salt.

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