It is my experience in pastoral care and counseling that the issue of sexual sin is common among both men and women. All too often people are accused, either rightly or wrongly, of sexual sin and the effects of society’s perception of these people can be quite damaging. Illicit sexual experiences, sexual assault, and false accusations can all leave someone feeling extreme guilt and shame for years, even a lifetime. As a pastor, I have certain Scriptural texts I go to for admonishing or comforting those in need of God’s specific word regarding these issues. I have found John chapter 8:1-11 to be one such passage.[1]

This passage of Scripture means a great deal for any Christian who has ever questioned the Bible or Jesus on issues of grace, forgiveness, capital punishment, and gender issues in society. It is my position that this moment in Jesus’ ministry is the result of two primary factors: one; Jesus’ nature is divine for He is the Son of God and came to save the world and two; His nature is also human and was influenced by His divine knowledge of the scandalous stories of the women in His lineage. Jesus knew His family’s history of scandal far better than those who only knew of His birth scandal. Because of Jesus’ divine character, He was able to respond graciously based on His family’s history of divine grace. Jesus’ character was fully divine within the limiting, human context. Matthew’s genealogy found in chapter 1, verses1-17 has four specific women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba; each having their own scandalous introduction into this famed family tree.[2] The three common threads that I have found between the four women in Christ’s genealogy are their scandalous stories of either true or implied sexual action, none were born Jews, and they all had irregular entry points into the line of Jesus. Mary, though born a Jew, shares the same qualities as the Old Testament matriarchs. Though some feminists may question why Matthew points out the women’s morally ambiguous situations, Doctors of Biblical interpretation Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, believe that Matthew’s point was to stress that even Jesus had such women in His ancestry and came to identify with and remove the stigma attached to such women.[3]

The situations regarding each of these Old Testament matriarchs support Jesus’ act of grace toward the woman caught in adultery, found in John chapter 8. Regarding the woman caught in adultery, Jesus showed divine grace; the same grace that had been present in each of the lives of the five women Matthew lists in Jesus’ family of origin. In this paper I make an exegetical hypothesis: the women in Jesus’ genealogy all had histories of scandal with three main points; their sexual actions, their foreigner status (sans Mary), and their irregular entries into the line of Jesus; and the divine grace shown to them was the same as the grace Jesus demonstrated to the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8.

Uncommon Grace

As I nestled into my chair, preparing for a quiet Friday morning at the office, the phone buzzed. I picked up the receiver and the church secretary informed me that there was a woman on the phone who was requesting to speak with a pastor. “Sure, put her on,” I said. The voice on the other end was a gentle sounding female voice, but when I asked how I could help, she quickly broke into sobbing. “Can you meet with me right now, in like 20 minutes?” the woman asked between convulsive tears. Without any frame of reference of who this woman was, I said yes. Scrambling, I buzzed the office to find out any information on this woman; how long she’s attended our church; if she’s single or married; with or without children—anything to prepare me for what type of crisis she could be in. My reconnaissance was to no avail and I quietly prayed that God would speak through me during this, one of my first official pastoral counseling experiences.

The twenty minutes passed and she made her way up to the steps and into the church building. I opened the door for her and as our eyes met she instantly began to sob. We sat down in my office and she confessed why she needed to talk; “My boyfriend and I broke-up last night.” I was empathetic and compassionate, but in my mind I was thinking that a break-up hardly warrants an emergency 20 minute trip to the pastor. But I listened, and the Lord showed me what was really going on with this 20-year-old woman. My cynicism melted away. I heard her story of multiple boyfriend relationships all beginning with a sexual experience, turning tricks to pay rent, and the death of her father at an early age.[4] I also heard the story of a young woman who knew Jesus and desperately needed a special encounter with him. She gave me permission to read some scripture to her so I showed her John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

The Accused

A woman is caught in the act of adultery and brought shamefully before Jesus. He is asked what the right thing is to do. He squats down toward the earth. This seems like an odd gesture, but Liz Higgs suggests that if the woman was literally “caught in the act” she may have been naked and by squatting down, Jesus, not bringing further shame on her by looking at her nakedness, preserved some of her dignity.[5]

Next, He writes in the dirt, in an unknown script. He is asked if stoning is appropriate. Jesus knows the trap. Yes—the Law prescribed such punishment, but He also knew that in the first-century the rabbinic courts rigorously tried to avoid the death penalty.[6] He also knew that the Law required death for both parties and saw a double standard taking place.[7] If she was caught in the act, where was the man? Jesus makes the statement, “If you are without sin, then you can throw the first stone!” Jesus was demonstrating that the woman’s sin and the sin of her accusers is the same. This is a commonality between men and women; we’re both sinners! Men are no better than women are because sin totally levels the playing field. In the story, Jesus was the only one who stayed with the woman. He was the only one without sin who could remain present. Even then, He did not accuse, but instead gave a call to repentance.

In my office, the woman’s sobbing changed from that of bitterness to softness. Though her story was not exactly like the one in John chapter 8, I could tell she understood that the same gracious forgiveness offered by Jesus 2000 years ago is offered to her today. After an hour of talking, crying, and praying, the young woman left to go home. She was encouraged but still sad over her broken heart. However, I didn’t want her to leave still feeling any emptiness. I wanted her to stay and hear more about Jesus. I wanted her to know the history behind Jesus’ act of grace. The message of uncommon and divine grace found in John 8:1-11 is even more fascinating when seen in the context of Christ’s family of origin.

Strange Fruit[8]

Tamar is the first woman mentioned in the Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.[9] Her first husband, Er, was the son of Judah and a wicked man. Genesis 38:7 states that because Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord, “the Lord put him to death.” At the time of his death, Tamar was left childless. Because Er is explicitly stated as being wicked, it may have been for the best that Tamar had no children with him, as they would have been raised by a wicked father. Still, Tamar is left childless, which is ironic because her name means “Date palm tree.”[10] So as her name implies, Tamar is to bear precious fruit. But this fruit isn’t guaranteed, for Tamar’s fertility rests on the need for male pollination.

Judah calls upon his other son, Onan, to perform the levirate duty, the duty of a brother-in-law and thus, bear fruit with Tamar. But this son was also wicked as he spilled his semen on the floor, fearful Tamar’s children would take his portion of his not-yet-dead father’s inheritance. This too was considered wicked in the sight of the Lord, and Onan was put to death by the Lord.

Judah then offers Tamar his younger son, Shelah, to bear children with when he is of age. Jewish custom implied that any son over ten years of age is to take the widow into his home and mate with her, or it is the father’s duty to mate with his deceased son’s widow.[11] Judah was probably the husband of only one wife, Shua, and because the text states that when she dies he grieves her death, we may infer he loved her and wouldn’t want to mate with/marry another woman.[12] This explains why Judah did not fulfill the levirate duty himself.

After two marriages and one in the queue, Tamar goes to live with her own father. I can only imagine the humiliation and rejection she must have felt. She was childless after two marriages and without children; her value in the patriarchy was limited. It was expected in society that daughters were to be married off by their fathers soon after puberty and devote themselves to their husband, their children and his family.[13] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, a Jewish woman and feminist scholar points out that, “all women come into the family from outside of it,”[14] meaning a women’s value in genealogy is purely based on her husband. This is an important point in the story of Tamar; for her to be important, she needed a husband’s family in which to participate. Paralleling Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, Tamar enters into the genealogy of Christ by unconventional means.

There is also the manner in which her husbands died. I bet the town was talking and Tamar was perceived as a “killer wife.”[15] At this point, we understand Tamar is seen as inadequate within the structure of her culture. This inadequacy must have led to feelings of shame and embarrassment, being ridiculed by others, and ultimately her isolation from the community while living with her father. Her story is shaping up to be like those of redemption and healing in the New Testament, particularly that of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

Finally, after “a long time”[16] Tamar was reunited with her father-in-law Judah, but under vastly different circumstances than as before. After Judah is done grieving his deceased wife, Shua, he ventures down to Timnah with his old friend Hirah. Tamar is notified of Judah’s arrival and schemes a plan to bear fruit, though strange as it might be (she knew Shelah was of age for her, yet hadn’t been given to her by Judah). She will play the harlot, though not for sex, but for fertility.[17] By disguising herself as a prostitute, Tamar agrees to trade sex with Judah for his seal and staff until he can send a proper payment of one goat.[18]But, when Judah sends the payment by way of Hirah, she cannot be found. Of course what Hirah and Judah don’t know is that the supposed shrine prostitute is Tamar… and she’s pregnant.

Some disagree if what Tamar did was ethical or not. Matthew Henry, a Puritan commentator, stated that, “her good intention was accepted, which magnifies the grace of God, but can by no means be admitted to justify or encourage the like.”[19] Tikva Frymer-Kensky sticks with what the text explicitly states: though Tamar’s action was disguised as sin, Judah clearly declares her as, “more righteous than I,” in Genesis 38:26.20 Judah says this because when he found out she was pregnant he wanted her burned for her sin of prostitution. Tamar is saved by Judah’s realization of her righteousness and his own sin.

There are parallels between this story and that of John 8. Tamar is literally brought out to her public death, just like the woman caught in adultery. Like the story in John 8, why is only the woman being accused of sin? Where was the man? Also, Jesus was most likely labeled as being conceived out of wedlock[21][20] and understands what a wrong and shameful accusation feels like. God’s grace and peace prevailed for Tamar and similarly, when the woman in John 8 is brought before him by her accusers, he shows compassion.

Tamar sends Judah a message declaring the owner of the seal and staff is responsible for her pregnancy. Realizing what he’s done, Judah states, “She is more righteous than I since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”[22] This statement by Judah is profound for he is claiming what she did is to be counted as righteousness, not sin. What Tamar is guilty of is wanting a child, one that would guarantee her worth in society and give her place in Judah’s family. Because Judah was guilty of withholding seed from her (similar to Onan) she took a proactive measure to ensure motherhood. Tamar and Judah’s offspring would be Perez and Zerah, twin boys. Perez links Judah to Jesus in Matthews’s genealogical records.

The transferable principle from this story is: our Lord acted graciously toward those who deserved the punishment of death for their sin, even before Jesus stated that only the ones without sin may cast the first stone, and this hasn’t changed. Another point to be made is that Judah was the actual sinner in the story, not Tamar. Similarly, when Jesus stood up for the woman caught in adultery, He did not accuse her of sin, but actually called her accusers sinners. There is also a strong parallel between the assumptions Judah and others made toward Tamar and the assumptions of the religious leaders in the days of Jesus, and yet, we today still make the same assumptions regarding women; particularly pregnant ones without wedding bands. I am reminded of my own biases and presuppositions regarding the accused of sexual sin and need to constantly keep those in mind. Jesus came to remove the stigma of those in the margins; to identify with those in the margins; and to stand in the gap for those in the margins. I also realize that the hesed (covenantal love) of God toward humanity is extended beyond the Abrahamic covenant; into the era of Christ; and also for us today.

From the Wall of Shame to the Hall of Fame

Of the women in the genealogy of Jesus, it is Rahab about whom we know the least. However, this Canaanite prostitute fits right in with Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, even the woman caught in adultery. The circumstances by which Rahab married into the Israelite nation and experienced the hesed of the Lord are as unique and gracious as any of those experienced by the other women in Jesus’ lineage.

Rahab’s story begins in Joshua chapter 2, but her Old Testament legacy continues in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. She is also counted among those of great faith in Hebrews 11:31, and James 2:25 affirms her faith by calling her deeds of faith “righteousness.” Rahab, like Tamar, used trickery to bring about the Lord’s will. Rahab lies to the King’s messenger when asked to bring out the Israelite spies:

Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.[23]

Rahab didn’t just tell one lie, but four! She knew where they were from; they didn’t leave the city gates; she knew where they were; and she misdirected the king’s men by stating that they could catch up with the Israelites. Yet, through all these lies, Rahab’s deeds were considered righteous and done in great faith.

Rahab is considered a woman of faith and righteousness because she trusted in the Israelites covenant promise to spare her and her family. She also confessed to believe in their God, YHWH. The Israelites were charged with God’s herem, which is His total war against the land of Canaan. Rahab’s confession of YHWH was seen as a supernatural confirmation of their future successful conquest.[24] As the spies entered into hesed with Rahab, they violated their newly charged herem by the Lord. However, Rahab was spared by a scarlet cord tied over her window. Though I Clement stated that the scarlet cord was indicative of the saving blood of Jesus,[25] it is more accurate to associate the scarlet cord with the lamb blood that spared the Israelites during the first Passover in Egypt. Tikva Frymer-Kensky associates the scarlet cord on the window as a link between Tamar and Rahab. Tamar’s son, Zerah, had a scarlet cord tied on his wrist to identify him as the first to emerge from the womb. However, his twin Perez was actually born first and his name means “barrier-break.” “The scarlet cord brings Rahab into the august company of the barrier-breakers of David’s ancestry.”[26] Like the situation with Tamar, Rahab believed in YHWH to come through and bless her. For Tamar it was with a child, and for Rahab it was with life—hers and her family’s. But, Rahab’s faith and deception are not what earn her a place along side the women in Christ’s genealogy, for there is still the issue of harlotry which must be addressed.

Curtis Smith, author of The Brothels of Bellingham quotes a Bellingham native saying, “A call girl is simply a woman who hates poverty more than sin.”[27] When Rahab is referred to as a prostitute, some scholars and Bible translators believe this may simply mean she was an innkeeper.[28] Richards states this idea does not hold up to the uniqueness of her position in Christ’s genealogy.[29] If Rahab was only an innkeeper who lied for the sake of the Israelite spies, she would have less in common with Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba as having a scandalous and uncommon entry into the Israelite family and may not have been included as a matriarch in Matthew’s genealogy. It is likely Rahab was both a prostitute and an innkeeper. She was a woman who loved and cared for her family. She also worked with flax, possibly as a means of income.[30] Rahab was a woman of questionable vocation, but also a woman who worked hard, was a believer in YHWH, and took bold risks because of her faith.

Because of who Rahab was—her faith, scandalous means of income, and initiative in saving the Israelite spies—she earned a special place in Jesus’ unique family tree. We read in Matthew’s genealogy that she married Salmon and their son was Boaz. Boaz was the great-grandfather of David, the King of Israel. Had Rahab not taken the initiative in hiding the spies and lying to the King’s men, she would not have been spared, married Salmon and ultimately brought about the future King of Israel and the Messiah, Jesus.

If the woman brought before Jesus was guilty of adultery, He still would have saved her. Even if she was a prostitute, I believe He would have saved her, for His bloodline relied on such a woman. Jesus is forever indebted to a prostitute. Jesus loved the woman brought before Him in John chapter 8 because He loved her back in Joshua chapter 2.

Redemption Song

During the dark-age when Israel had no king and “everyone did as they saw fit,”[31] comes the redeeming story of Ruth.[32] Like most of the stories in Judges, Ruth begins with negative circumstances. However, the story quickly gravitates toward the positive, and we soon read hope into an otherwise hopeless story of loss and singleness. Though not known for any sexual misconduct, it was her inter-racial marriage, her initiative, the fact that she was a Moabite (a city later prophesied to have the fate of Sodom- see Zephaniah. 2:9), the connection between her kinship-redemption (Tamar), and her understanding of hesed (Rahab) predisposes her to the predominant motifs of Christ’s lineage.[33] Her story of redemption restored her honor and dignity and provided a future hope for Israel through her great-grandson David.

By the time of Moses, the levirate duty had been grafted into the Mosaic Law. In Deuteronomy 25:5-10, we read how the brother, or nearest relative of a deceased husband must continue his family line by marrying and having children with the deceased’s wife. This man was called a kinsman-redeemer. If the kinsman-redeemer chose not to fulfill the redemption of the widow, he was charged with not fulfilling his duty and another could come in his place to fulfill the levirate duty. The book of Ruth well articulates how all of this would practically come about.

Ruth, a widow without children, moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Like Rahab, Ruth made a profound confession of faith regarding her relationship with Naomi, who was a professed believer in YHWH. Ruth declared, “Your people will be my people, your God my God.”[34] Because of Ruth’s hesed toward Naomi, she began a new life and ultimately a family.

As was the custom for widows, Ruth went to the barley fields to glean for herself and Naomi. While gleaning the fields, Ruth was noticed by the farm owner named Boaz. Boaz was a close relative of Naomi’s, a kinsman-redeemer in fact, but not the immediate one. Naomi plays a match-maker of sorts and orchestrates one very profound and somewhat questionable meeting opportunity for Ruth and Boaz—one involving something being “uncovered” while Boaz slept.

On the evening Boaz threshed grain, he ate, drank, and then slept. Naomi knew this standard protocol and suggested that Ruth smell and look her best. As Ruth crept up to the slumbering Boaz, she, “uncovered his feet,”[35] euphemistically speaking, and lay beside him. Up until this point in the story, only pure and chaste behaviors are demonstrated by Ruth. This questionable business of “uncovering” Boaz has baffled ancient and modern scholars alike.

Josephus states three main reasons why nothing sexual happened between Ruth and Boaz the night of the alleged “uncovering.” The first is Naomi suggested this behavior to Ruth as to provide some alone time for her and Boaz, that he may, “discourse with the girl.” The second is that Naomi had never led Ruth astray and Ruth had no conceivable reason to doubt her mother-in-laws integrity. The third was when Boaz awoke at midnight, he and Ruth exchanged marriage gestures and he then sent her home before sun-up so no ill rumors would circulate, for nothing sexual was done.[36]

More recently, Tikva Frymer-Kensky has explored the Hebrew words in this passage and her exposition is worth citing at length.

The phrase for uncovering the sexual parts is glh ‘rwah, but there is no ‘rw here. The phrase galah kanap appears twice in the Bible (Deut. 23:1, 27:20) in the sense of “uncover under the robe.” But here galah is followed by margelotav, itself a word that appears only one other time in the Bible. It may be possible to understand margelotav as a rare form of regel, “leg” so that Ruth would uncover his legs, and euphemistically, even his genitals. But more probably, margelotav is the same formation as mereshitav. Since mereshitav from ro’sh means “at the head,” so too margelotav, from regel, means “at the feet”? There are only two possibilities: she is uncovering him, or herself, and the narrator may be playing with the reader by not making the scene absolutely clear.[37]

The debate is whether “uncovering” is a sexual gesture or not and what exactly was uncovered—feet, legs, or genitals. Tikva Frymer-Kensky continues to state that what Naomi sends Ruth to do is indeed inappropriate for a virtuous woman to do, yet she trusted Boaz to do right in the situation by not taking advantage of Ruth. Naomi had the confidence that the covenantal and enduring love shown to Ruth by Boaz would hold up in the midnight hour.[38]

What exactly the narrator intended to communicate when telling this story we may never know. Yet we do know that the covenant between Boaz and Ruth was maintained. The next day, Boaz went to the town gates, or what Bakke translates as “city hall”[39] to state his intentions for Ruth. As the covenantal relationship continues to unfold, so does the kinsmen-redeemer role that Boaz will play. But, one obstacle was in the way. Boaz was not the primary kinsman-redeemer; another man was ahead of him. So for Boaz to marry Ruth, he had to do some creative dealing with the primary kinsman-redeemer. Some spit and one sandal later,[40] his efforts paid off and Ruth became his wife. They bore a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David, who became King of Israel and from whom Christ Jesus descended. By Boaz marrying Ruth, she was redeemed and ultimately played an integral role in the birth of Jesus. For Israelite women, child bearing was fundamental to their honor and dignity. For Ruth, honor and dignity were fully restored by God through Boaz and their offspring.

The story of Ruth shows us the power of God’s restoration for those whose honor and dignity have been stripped. Throughout His ministry, Jesus restored wholeness to the broken virtually everywhere He went. Some of those Jesus redeemed from sickness and sin were: Matthew the tax collector (Matt. 9:13), those with leprosy and those with paralysis (Matt. 8 & 9), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), restoring the deaf, mute, and blind (Mark 7:31-35 & 8:22-25), Sachems (Luke 19), the woman with blood (Luke 8:40-48), and the list can go on. Redemption and making whole that which was broken is part of the miracle work of our God. But it didn’t end with Ruth, or even with the woman caught in adultery; Jesus offers us the same restoration today as He did then. Fortunately, the upbeat story of Ruth gives us a second wind to tackle the problematic issues faced by her great-grandson David and the affair he had with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite’s.

The Little Lamb Whose Fleece Was White as Snow

All was well for the man after God’s own heart. He had his kingdom, an everlasting ruler-ship covenant with God, a great view of all that Jerusalem beheld, and an army that fought without him even being there—could it get any better! Actually it got worse, real quick too. The combination of a restless evening, wandering eyes, and too much power got David into a huge mess with God. As a shepherd, David knew what it meant to care for the fold, but he got restless with his flock and desired someone else’s sheep, one as white as snow… or was she?

Bathsheba’s union with David is shrouded in adultery and murder. Yet, like the other women already discussed, Bathsheba is grafted into the Israelite family as an outsider, possibly a Hittite like her husband. Where the parallels between Bathsheba’s story and those of the other women bifurcate is with David. Unlike the other women, Bathsheba’s place in the hesed comes not by her own faith, like Tamar and Rahab, but by the Davidic Covenant already established in 2 Samuel chapter 7. By chapters 11 and 12 we see the bond between God and David tested and we get to see that God’s promises hold up even under most heinous circumstances. The Davidic covenant didn’t initially include Bathsheba, but due to circumstance, she participates in its fulfillment and is ultimately blessed as a result.

From what the Scripture declares; all sin committed in the Bathsheba/David story was David’s. Bathsheba was merely bathing in what was probably an appropriate location of her abode.[41] The king, filled with lust for her and knowing full well that the consequence for adultery was death, summoned her to his private chamber. Pregnancy ensued. David attempted to cover it up by calling Bathsheba’s husband Uriah home from war for respite. David hoped Uriah would lay with his wife and then David’s child would be considered Uriah’s. But Uriah was loyal and would have no sex while his men were still away on campaign. Seeing as though this plan didn’t work, there was another way David could avoid being discovered. If Uriah found out about Bathsheba’s infidelity, then he could have her stoned (the evidence of adultery would be in the pregnancy without disclosing the guilty man, who according to Deuteronomy 22:22 would also be punished by death).

The story only gets worse as David then has Uriah killed by ordering him to the front of a city siege, knowing the casualties would be heavy and Uriah would be one of them. David does what would otherwise be seen as a good and noble thing:[42] he consoles the grieving widow Bathsheba by taking her hand in marriage. All seems well and good, until the prophet Nathan shows up.

Nathan tells a parable that calls David on the carpet and exposes the heinousness of his sin.[43] The result of David stealing Uriah’s only yew lamb would be that his first offspring with Bathsheba would die soon after birth. How will this situation be redeemed? In their grief over the loss of their son, David goes in to comfort his new wife Bathsheba and lies with her.[44] The death of the first child was punitive due to the adulterous conception. However, after David confessed his sin, he and Bathsheba conceived a child not in sin. Their second son was named Solomon, and the Lord loved him.[45]

Bathsheba was firmly rooted into the hesed between the Lord and David by way of marriage and child bearing. It would be their son Solomon who would fulfill God’s promise to David as he would become king in his father’s stead. This kingship was threatened when David was on his death-bed and his son Adonjah was erecting himself as king. It was Bathsheba’s direct intervention and initiative through counsel and petition that brought about Solomon’s reign.[46]

Bathsheba wasn’t perfect, yet the Scriptures never state her sin. Though she is caught up in the top scandals of her day, she isn’t actually blamed for any of it. In fact, one could hypothesize that due to her initiative she is actually part of Israel’s solution, not problems. This is just like God to use someone unexpected and from a morally ambiguous situation to bring about his will.

Though Bathsheba became royalty, she still had all the ingredients of a woman worthy of the genealogy of Jesus; she was involved in sexual scandal, she was a foreigner (possibly a Hittite), and she had an irregular introduction into the family of Israel. These three are the common thread between the women in Matthew’s chronicle of Christ’s family tree. Ultimately, Bathsheba had a profound place of honor as King David’s advisor on the succession of his throne. Furthermore, it was speculated by Edith Deen that Bathsheba may have provided the template for Solomon’s Proverbs, “…opening as it does with many dark pictures of a woman as man’s seductress, but closing happily with the picture of the ideal woman who is a trusted companion and devoted mother.”[47]

We may not revere the woman caught in adultery with the same awe as we would a queen, but then again, without God’s grace, even Bathsheba would just have been a woman found to be an adulteress, given away by her impregnated uterus. Uriah may have drug her out to the town square and condemned her to death, the punishment fit for her crime. And maybe like the woman found in John 8, nobody would have asked, “Where is the man?”

Hail Mary… And Joseph Too

Mary is the fifth woman in Christ’s lineage and the only one not of Old Testament origin. Matthew included her in his record of genealogy, and this implies that he saw her as one of the great matriarchs in Jesus’ family tree. Though she was the mother of the Savior, she was not spared any of the scandal of those in whose steps she followed. Being the mother of the Savior of the World would be no easy task. Bakke cites Raymond Brown’s tongue-in-cheek analysis which suggests Matthew was providing pastoral care to Mary by compiling all the similarly scandalous stories of women in the family tree, a sort of “historical support group” for the mother who was having a hard time telling people where her baby had come from.[48] Though Mary was the chosen virgin to birth Jesus, the role Joseph played in Jesus birth narrative is often overlooked, yet still very important.

Joseph was a “righteous man.”[49] When Mary was “found to be with child,”[50] Joseph had planned to put her away quietly. Betrothed yet not having had sexual relations, Joseph could very likely have assumed Mary was an adulterer. Because he was upright, Joseph would have observed the law accordingly. This observance left him with two options: divorce or stoning. Here scholars debate as to the definition of “uprightness” in Joseph.

Raymond Brown offers three popular interpretations of Joseph’s uprightness.[51] The first is that Joseph’s uprightness meant he was kind and merciful. Though popular among many, especially Catholics, this meaning doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny. Had Joseph’s uprightness been solely based on kindness and mercy, why did the angel who visited him state, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife”?[52] Joseph’s uprightness had nothing to do with mercy and kindness, but because he had a scruple with marrying a potential adulteress. The second opinion is that Joseph was upright because he had such reverence and awe for God’s plan. This theory suggests that Joseph would have known Mary’s conception was by the Holy Spirit, but had that been true, why would he plan on a divorce? This theory does not hold up either. The third opinion, and the one that Raymond Brown feels is most plausible, is that Joseph was considered upright because of his adherence to the Law. Because Luke states that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both upright in their observance of all the Law
[53] it is most likely that Joseph’s uprightness is too because of his lawfulness. Though upright by the Law’s standards, he still displayed mercy in his desire to not expose Mary to public disgrace by as secret of a separation as possible.

Did Mary feel blessed to have such an “upright” and law abiding fiancée? Or did she feel like those who had gone before her, shamed by all the rumors and gossip. Humiliated, she could do nothing but retreat to her cousin Elizabeth’s house for solace and care. This poem by Carl Winderl titled Accused of Adultery[54] gives a possible commentary on Mary’s feelings and beautifully connects the birth narrative with the situation Jesus faced in John chapter 8.

The woman brought before My Son
accused of adultery

was me

…could have been me, they ringed
with their stony eyes and

hardened hearts
fingers itching, bodies aching
to be next, too late to be the first

to cast a stone before the One
Who would know
what it’s like

to bear the Last Straw (Light

as a Cross) if Joseph
hadn’t stepped forward,

which is what
My Son
probably wrote in the sand, in
Belshazzar font, those oh so many
Years ago:

Where is the man?
“If Joseph hadn’t stepped forward.” This line is what makes Joseph as much part of the story as Mary and all the women in the Old Testament. Place yourself in the story. As you can imagine, people were probably doing the math and gossiping. Mary and Joseph’s marriage was not even nine months old when their son Jesus was born. Knowing that they would be ridiculed and gossiped about, Joseph accepted the call from God to marry this pregnant virgin and become the adoptive father to Jesus. Joseph modeled for Jesus what it means to stand up for those who are being oppressed and count oneself among them. Joseph allowed himself to be marginalized alongside Mary, not choosing the easy way out, but standing up against an oppressive system of injustice. Over thirty years after his birth, Jesus finds himself in a situation not unlike the one Joseph was in. He is faced with either following the Law and being considered “upright” or taking the countercultural risk of extending grace. For Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and even us today needed Jesus; One who will forsake uprightness and draw a line in the sand, in “Belshazzar font.”


All of this is what I wanted to tell the woman in my office that day. These are the stories of covenantal love and redemption that add to the profundity of Jesus and His treatment of the woman caught in adultery. These are the stories that add to the profundity of Christ’s treatment of us today, whether rightly or wrongly accused. Today’s situations are not so different from those found in antiquity. Women are still suspected of scandalous behavior and often men are not held as accountable as we should be for our actions toward women. Today we can still suspect that all sexually questionable behavior is illicit, but these stories state that sometimes the situation brings about the Lord’s will. Jesus understands this. Jesus bore for us the “Last Straw (Light as a Cross)” so that only those without sin could cast a stone… and when we look up and only see Him, there is no stone, only the command to go and sin no more.

End Notes
[1] There is speculation as to whether or not this account in Jn. 8 is authentic. It seems to have been added after several other more ancient manuscripts and its location in John or even Luke changes in some manuscripts. Regardless of where it belongs in the text, it has found its way into the cannon and I believe it must belong.

[2] Raymond Brown’s book The Birth of the Messiah, chapter 2,points out that there are two distinct connections between all five of the women in Jesus’ lineage: there is an extraordinary or irregular union with their partners, and these women all showed initiative in fulfilling God’s plan. 

[3] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1993), 455.

[4] I began with a single true story, but here the story becomes a composition of true stories that I’ve heard during my time in ministry. To tell each in their entirety would be exhaustive. 

[5] Liz Curtis Higgs, Really Bad Girls of the Bible (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2000) 80-82

[6] Richards, Every Woman in the Bible, 180.

[7]Glen H. Stassen, & David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 318

[8] The title for this section is in no way a reference to the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit”, but merely a reference to Tamar’s name and circumstance.

[9] Matthew 1:8

[10] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Old Testament: A New Interpretation of their Stories (New York: Schocken Books, 2002), 266.

[11] Ibid., 267-268.

[12] Gen. 38:12

[13] Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Old Testament, 99.

[14] Ibid., 276.

[15] Ibid., 267.

[16] Gen. 38:12

[17] Alice Bach, ed., Women in the Bible (New York: Routledge, 1999), 122.

[18] Gen. 38:18

[19] Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Ge 38:12. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991)

[20] Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, 273.

[21] Consider how hard it must have been for our Savior to explain who his parents were and where he came from. Luke 3:23b says, “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph…” I sense the challenge Luke faced stating that Joseph was Jesus’ dad. 

[22] Gen. 38:26 NIV (New International Version).

[23] Joshua 2:4b-5

[24]William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 72.

[25] Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizions in Hermeneutics: A Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1992) 165.

[26]Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, 39.

[27] Curtis F. Smith, D.D.S., The Brothels of Bellingham: A Short History of Prostitution in Bellingham, WA (Bellingham, WA: The Whatcom County Historical Society, 2004) 60.

[28] NIV Bible translations include a footnote referring to Rahab as a “prostitute” meaning “innkeeper”.

[29] Sue Richards & Lary Richards, Every Woman in the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 79.

[30] Joshua 2:6:b

[31]Judges 21:25

[32] For a wonderful and concise narrative on the book of Ruth, see Ray Bakke’s The Urban Christian, chapter 5.

[33] John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Volume One—Israel’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 548.

[34] Ruth 1:16b

[35] Ruth 3:7b NIV (New International Version)

[36] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus, 17th ed. trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) 5.9.3

[37] Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, 247-248

[38] Ibid., 248.

[39]Ray Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1997) 58. 

[40] This phrase is in reference to the action taken by the deceased’s widow toward the disobedient kinsman-redeemer in Deut. 25:7-10.

[41] Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, 144.

[42] Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City, 123.

[43] 2 Sam. 12:1-4

[44] 2 Sam. 12:24

[45] 2 Sam. 12:24b-25 says that the Lord loved Solomon and Nathan the prophet, by the Lord, named him “Jedidiah” meaning loved by the Lord.

[46] 1 Kings 1:17-31

[47] Edith Deen, All the Women of the Bible (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1955) 117.
[48] Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City, 124.

[49] Matt. 1:19

[50] Matt. 1:18b

[51] Raymond J. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (New York: Doubleday, 1977, 1993) chapter 4. 
[52]Matt. 1:20

[53] Luke 1:6

[54] Carl Winderl, First Things 90(February, 1999) 26.