The Holy Finger

I always chuckle a bit when I think of our Western concept of “The Finger.” We all have 10 fingers, and refer to each one as “a finger,” with two exceptions.  We call those “The Finger,” even though there’s two of them. This has little to do with what I’m writing about today, I just think it’s funny.

Anyway, there’s an episode in the New Testament where Jesus does something with his finger in a way that’s deeply insulting to the crowd he’s addressing.  The story goes like this:

A crowd of religious leaders, seeking to put Jesus on the spot and expose Him as a fraud, offers up a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. This particular sin, at the time, was considered to be one of the worst a person could commit. They declared, “Our law says we should throw rocks at her until she’s dead, what do you think?”

Jesus knelt down and began to write in the sand with his finger. I’m not sure if he used “The Finger,” but he might as well have. There’s a lot of speculation among Biblical scholars about what Jesus was writing, but that’s not what the author of this passage wants us to think about. He goes out of his way to use the phrase “His finger” and expects us to ask the question “what does Jesus’ finger have to do with the story?

As He wrote, with His finger, these leaders kept bothering him for an answer, so He stood up and said something akin to “you’re not righteous enough to condemn this person,” then bent down again to finish whatever it was that He was writing as the formerly self-righteous crowd dispersed.  See the whole story here.

This passage is written by one of Jesus’ Apostles and can be found in the New Testament’s “Book of John.” If you read the entire book, you’ll learn early on that John believed Jesus to be God in human form – “God in the flesh, fully God, fully Man” as He’s so often referred to throughout history.

Let’s go with that idea for a minute. Let’s say that Jesus was God, and these religious leaders, who confessed to be sold out to God – heart and soul – are standing in His presence.

They know by heart another story in their scriptures of God doing something with His finger, an episode where God writes their law, ironically enough. So here they are, God’s holy army, standing next to Him in every sense of the word, and here He is, again, writing something with His finger, just like He did in the presence of Moses on Mount Sinai. Any one of these leaders would have given their left arm to stand next to God while He writes, but all they want to do is discredit Him, and kill someone.  They’ve somehow become convinced that they have the right.

Jesus knows they don’t understand who He is, nor will they get the insult He’s hurling at them, but their hypocrisy makes Him angry.  Hence the “gesture.”

In the Old and New Testament stories, it’s the people who think they’re in good standing with God who really make Him angry.  They’re also the ones who wouldn’t recognize God if He were standing right in front of them.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that they stand take heed lest they fall.

Apostle Paul from his first letter to the church in Corinth


Self-righteousness, i.e. the idea that the way you live has given you favor with God, is one of the most toxic beliefs a person can embrace.  It’s also something that’s doing a ton of damage in our world today.  You’ve met these people, they love to look at the sins of others while swimming in their own.  They search the world to make a convert and when they find one, to use Jesus’ words, they “make them twice the son of Hell” that they are.

Jesus and the rest of the New Testament give ample warning about all of this, but it frequently falls on deaf ears.  It feels good to think I’m right and you’re wrong.  It gives me a sense of power, makes me feel like God.  But it also strips away the ability to hear God, to see Him, and ironically, to do the stuff He wants us to do while avoiding the things that He truly hates.

43 thoughts on “The Holy Finger

  • I like this post so so so much. I examined this topic with my daughter here We learned that how we judges others might be more about us than them. Thank you.

  • This story and the parable of the good samaritan are delicious bones to chew on! I love your comparison to the great finger of God writing out the 10 commandments while Moses stared gape-mouthed …

    I think one reason Jesus was angry is because they weren’t even thoughtful enough to pick up on the absurdity of sinners stoning sinners. If ever they’d thought it through to the logical conclusion, wouldn’t they ask “So does the last sinner standing stone himself?” But having failed to meditate on that and come to a merciful conclusion (do unto others as …), they instead seize upon the single “law” as authority to carry out their blood lust. In so doing, they effectively blame God for the murder they’re about to commit. Even though elsewhere the scripture says “God desires mercy, not sacrifice”. At the very least, they weren’t honest in applying scripture …

    As for what Jesus was drawing in the sand … it was probably little jewish stick figures with dunce caps … 😉

    • Great thoughts. I think we need to add one thing to where we typically land on this. Their hypocrisy, obvious disdain for humanity etc is in our face. But when you add God’s insult, it brings a sort of “self righteousness makes you blind and deaf to God” flavor to it all… Still thinking all of this through. Good to hear from you as always.


  • We just discussed this in Sunday school last week! I hate to say I think I was a little distracted during the lesson, but your insights brought my focus back. I should go reread this story!

  • “The story of the woman caught in adultery is found in John 7:53—8:11. This section of Scripture, sometimes referred to as the pericope adulterae, has been the center of much controversy over the years. At issue is its authenticity. Did the apostle John write John 7:53—8:11, or is the story of the adulterous woman forgiven by Jesus a later, uninspired insertion into the text?

    The Textus Receptus includes John 7:53—8:11, and the majority of Greek texts do. That is the reason the King James Version of the New Testament (based on the Textus Receptus) includes the section as an original part of the Gospel of John. However, more modern translations, such as the NIV and the ESV, include the section but bracket it as not original. This is because the earliest (and many would say the most reliable) Greek manuscripts do not include the story of the woman taken in adultery.

    The Greek manuscripts show fairly clear evidence that John 7:53—8:11 was not originally part of John’s Gospel. No church father commented on the section until the twelfth century, and, even then, his comment was that accurate Greek manuscripts did not contain it. Among the manuscripts that do contain the section, either wholly or in part, there are variations of placement. Some manuscripts put the pericope adulterae afterJohn 7:36, others after John 21:25, and some even place it in the Gospel of Luke (after Luke 21:38 or 24:53).

    There is internal evidence, too, that John 7:53—8:11 is not original to the text. For one thing, the inclusion of these verses breaks the flow of John’s narrative. Reading fromJohn 7:52 to John 8:12 (skipping the debated section) makes perfect sense. Also, the vocabulary used in the story of the adulterous woman is different from what is found in the rest of the Gospel of John. For example, John never refers to “the scribes” anywhere in his book—except in John 8:3. There are thirteen other words in this short section that are found nowhere else in John’s Gospel.

    It certainly seems as if, somewhere along the way, a scribe added this story of Jesus into John’s Gospel in a place he thought it would fit well. Most likely, the story had been circulating for a long time—it was an oral tradition—and a scribe (or scribes) felt that, since it was already accepted as truth by consensus, it was appropriate to include it in the text of Scripture. The problem is that truth is not determined by consensus. The only thing we should consider inspired Scripture is what the prophets and apostles wrote as they “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

    Those who favor the inclusion of the story of the woman taken in adultery point to the sheer number of Greek manuscripts that contain the passage. They explain its omission in early manuscripts as an attempt by overzealous church leaders to prevent misunderstandings. Here is the theory of those who favor inclusion: John wrote the passage just as it appears in the Textus Receptus. But later church leaders deemed the passage morally dangerous—since Jesus forgives the woman, wives might think they could commit adultery and get away with it. So, the church leaders tampered with the Word of God and removed the passage. To leave the passage in, they reasoned, would be to make Jesus seem “soft” on adultery. Later scribes, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, re-inserted the pericope, which should never have been removed in the first place.

    The fact, however, remains that John 7:53—8:11 is not supported by the best manuscript evidence. Thus, there is serious doubt as to whether it should be included in the Bible. Many call for Bible publishers to remove these verses (along with Mark 16:9–20) from the main text and put them in footnotes.” —

    • Weren’t Augustine’s “Tractates on the Gospel of John,” specifically where he mentions the pericope, penned early 5th century? Why wouldn’t you consider that evidence that a church father acknowledged John as the author significantly prior to the 12th century?

      • Sorry you have to go to the list go see my reply (I forgot to hit reply when I typed and submitted my whole response), so you didn’t receive a notification when I submitted it.

    • That’s interesting Greg, I’ll have to check my own commentaries now.
      The other thing worth noting is that there is no mention of the man who was caught in adultery with the woman. Was he just sent home with a flea in his ear?

  • I do not own the “Tractates on the Gospel of John” so I cannot verify if it is mentioned, but I can say the two oldest papyri (P66 and P75, dated about A.D. 200) lack 7: 53 – 8: 11, the story of the adulteress. This is around 300 years before the “Tractates on the Gospel of John” Remember also:
    “Most likely, the story had been circulating for a long tome—it was an oral traditions and a scribe (or scribes) felt that, since it was already accepted as truth by consensus, it was appropriate to include in the text of Scripture.”

    That could of happened within the three hundred years before the “Tractates on the Gospel of John” were written.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to questioning it’s authorship, or (obviously) siding with Augustine. I just think your info re church fathers and commentaries is inaccurate…
      I’m also with you re the earliest manuscripts, although I do think “difficult readings” should carry some weight.

      • Fair enough. I’d also say, re internal evidence, good point re John never mentioning scribes (grammateis) except for ch 8. Weird that a Jewish follower of Jesus would never mention those guys. I don’t agree on your point re taking the pericope out. You could do the same with the feeding of the 5000 or the samaritan woman. John’s is a somewhat disjointed Gospel even without the pericope… Still, can’t argue the early evidence though.

      • Good points. John’s Gospel is written in poetic type of Greek if I remember correctly. That’s why his Gospel tends to be the most hardest to interpret (at least in my opinion). Its a little ambiguous to me. Do you get what I’m saying?

      • I’m not sure I follow. John’s Gospel would fall under the category of “narrative,” not poetry, and his Greek is pretty simple to read. Interpreting ancient Biblical narrative can be tricky though (as any other ancient text), but I think it’s a blast. There’s so much stuff that’s missed in our modern Bibles because translators/interpreters didn’t respect things like sitz im leben, rhetorical devices, etc.

  • Beautiful, Beautiful and beautiful. Such a wonderful message. And applies to people of all religions who go about digging the dirt in other people’s closets. I feel compelled to add a little bit from my own religion Islam, which is not what gun-toting killers are showing it to be. In a similar episode, people brought a woman to be stoned for much the same crime, and Prophet Mohammad told them that the woman can only be stoned by the person who hasn’t committed a single sin. Needless to say, the deed couldn’t be done. I wish people would really understand that religion is about compassion and solace, and stop making others’ lives hell.
    Love your posts–all of them.

  • Mark, I have been reading your posts for a while now. You are about the only fundamentalist Christian (or are you?) I’ve “met” that I can tolerate because you seem rational and logical. (That why I question how “fundamentalist” you are.) I myself am an atheist, though I love the Gospel of Jesus (which would probably take up no more than a pamphlet!) I love Hinduism and Islam and Judaism. I am fascinated by their rituals traditions, and pageantry and the many ways less critically people worship their god. I support all religions that preach love and compassion and follow Jesus’ teachings. I will admit though that I always keep in mind these are beliefs… not facts. As long as the beliefs are harmless, I support them.

    To date, I have found seven pastors of primarily Baptist congregations, who have not only applauded the massacre of gay people and others in Orlando, but have only regretted the terrorist hadn’t killed all of them. The first two that I heard and saw on videos made me sick to my stomach. They base their hatred on the Bible, as do Muslims citing their Koran. Their level of hate is equal. Both the oh, so reverent Christian and the devout, though conflicted Muslim, each base their hate on what they believe is the “truth” as fostered by their preachers who spew forth bull#@%&.” Hate seems to dwell in some Christians and some Muslims and Jews, alike.

    In this particular post of yours, I would like to imagine, speaking as a gay man, that Jesus would also hold up both those middle fingers to those Christian haters who applauded the terrorist’s actions. I would hope that all of you who understand the power of love will condemn the pastors and their congregations for fomenting hate and violence. This is the result of religious fundamentalism. The specific religion matters not. Religion always pits one person against another. It is the root of all evil!

    The Unapologetic Hippie

    • Hey man, so great to hear from again!
      Amen, and yes I think that people who are so broken that they actually applaud this kind of violence are in big trouble. Jesus threatened people for “much less.” You should read the New Testament if you haven’t already, beginning with the Gospels, (ie, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
      Second, I’m not sure what you could call me, re fundamentalist, Evangelical, whatever. I’m someone who’s tried for a very long time to figure out what surrendering my life to Jesus looks like. I can say that so far it’s been hard, but way harder than if I hadn’t. I’ve also had some powerful moments, and have invested in this life like I wouldn’t have otherwise.
      Rock on bra, I love getting your comments.

  • “Self-righteousness, i.e. the idea that the way you live has given you favor with God, is one of the most toxic beliefs a person can embrace.”

    That is truly convicting. Thanks for this. Something I needed this week.

  • I’ll come back and read this as it looks compelling, however, right now I am on a mission…have you been receiving notification of my posts recently? You are still listed as a follower but I have suspicions…

  • First of all, ” truth is not determined by consensus ” is a very important point made by one of your commenters; I once entered a meeting of a Bible study group, asked a question about a controversial bit of scripture that was the subject of their study and was told that “last week, we decided that …” My response was, “You decided? Did you let God know what you decided?”

    When I read about the history of Biblical construction, I understand how many seminarians lose their faith. That is why I try to get my understanding from the source in my conversations with Jesus. And even then, I attempt to confirm the source of these messages by asking in the Holy Name of Jesus to protect myself from ‘interference.’

    That said, the important point from this text is a truth: we are just as guilty of sin as is an adulteress. In fact, I have been an adulteress. Only the Righteous One can judge and even those judged can be forgiven. Adultery is a forgivable sin and I have repented and have been forgiven.

    This becomes sticky when discussing capital punishment. But, a first-degree murderer has broken a civil law. His or her punishment is based on civil law. As such, the court system is not taking it upon themselves to judge a person in the name of God. God’s punishment and forgiveness can only be handed out by God.

  • God Bless you for your work through Jesus Christ, In our Body as a whole, shining your light before all men and women, nations and the world as a whole. God bless you. Come also visit, let us share each others, word and gift from God, Let us fill the hearts of others. I encourage you and bless you. Let Gods anointing flow through you and place you higher and higher in your calling from God.- Daniel Byzewski
    God Head Disciple

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