Listening to General Conference expecting something new or revelatory is like looking through a mountain of hay for a needle. There is nothing new under the sun, the Preacher tells us, and nothing new in General Conference for over a hundred years.
But last Saturday was different. In the afternoon session, Elder Oaks served up a lukewarm homily about how Mormons can show true love for their neighbors by publicly backing the Church’s anti-gay marriage agenda.
This type of message from Elder Oaks hardly raises an eyebrow anymore, so firmly has he snugged on Elder Packer’s tattered cowboy boots. It was the three words Elder Oaks added to the scriptures in the middle of his talk that caught my attention, though.
Three little words can mean so much. But the three words used by Elder Oaks were not, “I love you.” Instead, the three little words were, “at that time.” And the way they were used conveyed a message somewhat antithetical to, “I love you.” Elder Oaks used these words to modify the New Testament story of the woman taken in adultery.
I. The Woman Taken in Adultery
Elder Oaks introduced the story at the 5:10 mark, speaking of “the woman who had been taken in adultery, in the very act. When shamed with their own hypocrisy, the accusers withdrew and left Jesus alone with the woman.
“He treated her with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time, but he also firmly directed her to sin no more.”
My wife and I looked at each other. “What on earth did he mean by that?” is a moderately altered version of what I asked out loud. “Why would he add those three words to the story?” Both my wife and I were surprised by the extra-scriptural addition.
First, we have to understand that those words are found nowhere in the story, nor is there anything in the story to suggest that Jesus did something other than simply forgive the woman on the spot.
So why say that Jesus “treated her kindly by declining to condemn her at that time”?
Is Elder Oaks saying that Jesus will condemn her, but just not “at that time?” What “other time” could Elder Oaks be referring to? Is he saying there will still be a score to settle when Jesus comes again in glory? Is he saying there is an unrecorded story that happened subsequently where this woman underwent some form of Church discipline?
It was that last question that tripped the light-bulb for me.
This story standing alone seems not good enough for Elder Oaks. “At that time” must be added to restore the proper LDS disciplinary balance. Adultery is a serious sin. An adulteress in the LDS Church must go through a Church court, receive some form of discipline, and work her way back into the good graces of the Church.
But none of that happens in the story of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus just forgives her. On the spot. Case closed. No Church court. No discipline. No probation. Nada.
It seems this is too simple for Elder Oaks. There must be something more than just forgiveness. It can’t be that easy. The woman must have undergone Church discipline at some point and worked her way back into God’s favor by appeasing her priesthood leaders with a trail of tears. But none of that is recorded in the New Testament. Is that why Elder Oaks added the words, “at that time”?
At its heart, the story of the woman taken in adultery is a bugbear to those who believe forgiveness can be mediated only through a formalized Church disciplinary process. The story must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. The words must be modified.
Perhaps most disturbingly, with the addition of these three words, Elder Oaks seems to put himself squarely in the camp of the stone-throwers. A penalty must be paid. Not death perhaps, but some form of Church discipline. Only Elder Oaks is not ashamed into retreat by Jesus’s challenge that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Perhaps this is because it is not proper to criticize Church leaders—even if the criticism is true.
II. The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Todd Compton observed a similar type of unconditional forgiveness in the parable of the prodigal son:
“In dealing with sexual transgression, Christ evidently would teach complete forgiveness and forgetting of the transgression for the repentant sinners; the value of the returning son is much greater than his mistakes. Furthermore, the loving father does not require the prodigal son to undergo an extended and humiliating public probation before he receives forgiveness; he is not accepted under a cloud; he does not have to wear a scarlet A on his clothes. Forgiveness, in the parable, is immediate and total.”[i]
As with the parable of the prodigal son, so with the story of the woman taken in adultery—Forgiveness is immediate and total.
III. The Sons of Mosiah
In a recent Mormon Stories interview, Brent Metcalf told of the disciplinary council that resulted in his excommunication. Brent’s stake president approached him after the proceeding and told Brent he hoped Brent would come back to full activity in the Church and do much good, like the sons of Mosiah.
Brent looked his stake president in the eye and silenced him with the words, “There’s just one difference—the sons of Mosiah weren’t excommunicated.”
IV. Imposing Modern Views on Ancient Scriptures
Sometimes we unconsciously impose our modern church practices and beliefs on the scriptures so firmly, we are unable to see that the scriptures do not always support our modern practices and beliefs—sometimes the scriptures even contradict them. When we impose the idea that God’s forgiveness comes only through the Church disciplinary process, sometimes we have to add words to the scriptures to make that meaning clear. Is this what is behind Elder Oaks’ adding those three words to the story of the woman taken in adultery?
Why should we feel indignant or upset that Jesus can forgive sins outside a structured process administered by Church priesthood leaders? Is this not why the scribes and Pharisees got so mad at Jesus? “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). The scribes and Pharisees knew that forgiveness of sins came from God alone, but only through the structured process of temple sacrifice God had instituted through Moses. Where did Jesus get off saying he forgave sins apart from the established priesthood practices and procedures?
If people can receive forgiveness outside the Church disciplinary process, how necessary is the Church to salvation? It is this distinction between the Church and the Gospel that got Elder Poelman into hot water three decades ago. And it is this distinction between the Church and the Gospel that Elder Oaks seems to try to blur by the addition of his three words to the story of the woman taken in adultery.
V. Unconditional Forgiveness?
How could Jesus simply forgive the woman on the spot? Could he see into her heart that she was truly remorseful and repentant? Was his grace sufficient to cover her transgression with no strings attached? Could he tell she wasn’t just pretending to be remorseful in order to receive “cheap grace” and go out and continue her sinful ways?
If so, why cannot LDS priesthood leaders do the same? Why can they not use the spirit of discernment? Are they not denominated judges in Israel?
And is the modern LDS discipline process a tacit admission that the spirit of discernment is fled by which a priesthood holder may look upon the hearts of the penitent to forgive those who are truly remorseful, but instead put all through a rigorous re-unification program that the sincere may be made known by their works? Is this what requires the modification of the story of the woman taken in adultery?
VI. Who was that Woman I saw you with last night?
The historical context of Elder Oaks’ recasting of the scriptures must be taken into account. Only half a year ago, Elder Oaks was speaking from the same pulpit in General Conference Priesthood session explaining why it is that though women in the Church exercise priesthood power, they nevertheless cannot hold priesthood office, and certainly cannot be allowed into the Priesthood meeting. All this while members of Ordain Women were waiting for the second time in the stand-by line a stone’s throw away fruitlessly seeking admission.
What has happened in the interim? Well, for starters, some members of Ordain Women have been excommunicated or faced other Church discipline for their activities–activities which most would rank lower on the sin-scale than adultery.
How does this compare with the story of the woman taken in adultery? And what is that story about? The core of the story is about how Jesus rescued a woman from the hands of a mob of angry men determined to execute the penalty required by their religious code–the ancient version of the Church Handbook of Instruction.
And yet, Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery on the spot. Jesus did not condemn her. Jesus did not excommunicate her. Jesus did not make her go through a priesthood disciplinary process. Jesus just forgave her. Immediately. With no strings attached.
Where was Jesus when Ordain Women members faced a similar scene? Where were the apostles? Where was Elder Oaks? Like Saul of Tarsus, Elder Oaks seems to have stood by as a silent witness and held the cloaks of those who did the stoning.
Viewed in this light, it is possible to see why Elder Oaks might be uncomfortable with the implications of the story of the woman taken in adultery, especially at this particular juncture, and why it is he felt the need to add those three words—“He treated her with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time.”
Viewed in this light, it is also possible to see how Elder Oaks may have added those three words as a justification of Church disciplinary action against some followers of Ordain Women.
In summary, Elder Oaks’ address raises more questions than answers. It is possible Elder Oaks meant none of the things proposed above when he added those three words to the story; although Elder Oaks is by profession an attorney, and attorneys tend to choose their words with care.
It is impossible to say for sure, because general authorities have removed themselves so far from the general membership of the Church that questions for clarification are not well-received and seldom answered. And so we are left to examine the words of Elder Oaks’ conference address for meaning, somewhat like scrutinizing the viscera of slaughtered chickens to divine the will of the gods who sit ensconced in the everlasting hills.
But it is also possible that by adding those three words, Elder Oaks has revealed more about himself than about Jesus. And it is possible that, after centuries of languishing in obscurity, Elder Oaks has finally revealed the name of the woman whom Jesus “treated with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time.”
She who has ears to hear, let her hear.
[i] Todd Compton, “Heaven and Hell: The Parable of the Loving Father and the Judgmental Son,” Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon Thought 29.4 (winter, 1996), 41-46, at 40.
I took it to mean that, regardless of what would happen at the final judgment (in which Christ would participate), Jesus treated the woman with kindness and without condemnation. In other words, he forgave her, gave her every benefit of the doubt and encouraged her to live a righteous life. The final judgment, and any possible condemnation, was to be left for another time and place.
But if Jesus forgave her, why would any future condemnation even be a possibility?
To answer some questions:
Maybe she becomes a repeat offender.
Elder Oakes isn’t talking to a judicial body.
“At that time ” is a mountain west idiom with different inflection than supposed in this article.
Straining at gnats.
I noticed “the three words” too, but didn’t imagine any of the scenarios you’ve listed. I also find it somewhat offensive to say those three words somehow lumps Elder Oaks in with the mob that would have stoned the woman. Regardless, those three words ARE accurate, are they not? He did decline to condemn her at the time, did He not? Perhaps Elder Oaks simply didn’t think the members who heard his talk would infer that he meant, “…but then Jesus totally condemned her later.” His added words are actually not added at all. Why? Because he was not quoting the scripture. He was summarizing it. He didn’t quote the scripture verbatim and then add three words of his own, so saying that he is adding to scripture isn’t factual.
All I can say is that @UTAHMORMONDEMOGUY seems to have imagined one of the scenarios I listed–that of a future condemnation at judgment day.
So at least I am not alone.
If Elder Oaks did not mean something by those three words, why did he add them?
Elder Oaks is a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court.
He knows what his words mean, and he chooses them carefully.
The fact he added those three words to the story suggest he meant something by them.
Don’t you agree?
No, I don’t necessarily agree. In fact, I don’t agree that he added three words at all, since he wasn’t using a direct quote of the scripture in the first place.
As for the fact that both you and @Mormondemoguy came up with a similar scenario after reading into “the three words,” doesn’t take away from the fact that you had to read into them to get there. You’re welcome to read into it all you’d like. You can even create conspiracy theories around the ideas you come up with. But it’s what you are inferring from what he said. Not what he actually said,
Then why did he say it?
I’m bad at the “let’s create a conspiracy theory out of three words from General Conference” game, so I don’t know!
>He did decline to condemn her at the time, did He not? Perhaps Elder Oaks simply didn’t think the members who heard his talk would infer that he meant, “…but then Jesus totally condemned her later.”
Adding “at that time” does strongly imply that her condemnation would come later. In other words that Jesus didn’t consent to her stoning but would consent to send her to hell at a later date. Otherwise “at that time” is completely superfluous.
And lawyers are quite familiar with the legal maxim that when interpreting a statute, meaning is to be ascribed to all language in the statute where ever possible so as to render none of the language superfluous.
In other words, if it had no meaning, it is unlikely Elder Oaks would have said it.
I have heard the view of elder oaks many times but never in such a suggestive and judgemental manner. Others say that just because Jesus did not condemn her that does not mean He forgave her.
Some say that God condemns no one until the day of judgement because before that time they can repent and exercise faith in Chrisf unto forgiveness.
I would like to think the woman was forgiven but the scriptures to not state unequivocally that she was forgiven, just that she was not condemned.
My opinion is that oaks comment was unwarranted and offensive. He may have been suggesting that the possibility still existed that the woman would be condemned if she did not repent, but the way he said it almost suggested that the woman would be condemned without question. Very interesting.
Here you have it wrong, Minorityofone.
Elder Oaks’ comment is not “unwarranted and offensive.”
I am the one who is “offensive” for understanding it the way I did.
And the way you did, too, for that matter.
I guess that makes us both “offensive.”
It’s no “conspiracy theory,” Mark.
Elder Oaks had a message to give.
He gave it.
I got it.
Ah, but it IS a conspiracy theory by its very definition. The conspiracy is that Elder Oaks knowingly changed scripture so the actions of Jesus Christ would more closely be aligned to modern Church disciplinary practices. But, because this theory has– as of yet– not been proven to be true, it is a theory.
Look, I think your blog posts have always been very thought provoking. Sometimes I think you’re right, sometimes I think you’re wrong. But it always leads to a very interesting and often fun discussion. This is still a good discussion and conversation to have. I just happen to think you’re wrong on this. I’m not telling you to blindly follow anyone, but I also don’t think assuming the worst of what an apostle says is the best approach, either. The facts are very simple; Elder Oaks told the story of the woman taken in adultery before the Savior. While summarizing the story (and not quoting the scripture verbatim), he says that Jesus “did not condemn her at that time,” which is scripturally correct. Jesus DIDN’T condemn her at that time. Those are the only things that can be proven about this passage in Elder Oak’s talk. You can assume any and everything under the sun about what Elder Oaks was suggesting, or “trying to say,” or that he was trying to change scripture and say the woman was later brought before a church disciplinary council, or that Elder Oaks would have stoned the woman himself had he lived at the time or anything else you’d like. The fact is he didn’t say it. Any of the pages of possibilities you’ve suggested here. I love ya, man, but perhaps the “three words” have unintentionally become a mirror; we see what we want to see, and that says something profound about us. Just my take.
I hope I didn’t come across as too snarky before. I think we can agree to disagree on this one.
Although I want to point out I explicitly left open the possibility that Elder Oaks did not mean anything that I suggested in my article. It is certainly a possibility that is the case, though I think that possibility somewhat small.
As to the “conspiracy,” I still don’t understand why you think that is what I am claiming because this is just something Elder Oaks decided to say (with or without the intent I suggest) and nobody else is involved.
A “conspiracy” by definition involves more than one person.
On another note, what if I said that Gabriel came to deliver the message to Mary that she would become pregnant with the Savior, but that Gabriel did not have sex with her “at that time”?
My statement would be technically correct, but the implicit message would be inescapable.
(For the record, I am not saying that is what happened–at that or any other time–I am just using it as an example.)
I appreciate your readership and your comments, Mark.
Ah! You’re right about the conspiracy part; it wouldn’t qualify. I’m okay with leaving it as being a theory. 🙂
Love reading your stuff. God bless.
God bless you too, my friend!
Ha ha yeah I really think it is hard to misunderstand what he is implying! I hate it how when I point out false or suspicious doctrines or teachings from general authorities the true blue mormons always listen and then say “well, I am sure he meant ….”
These guys have months to prepare a talk to share with the world. Their talks are reviewed and re-reviewed many times and even given the pass by the first presidency. Oaks is no idiot. He intentionally added the three words knowing exactly what implications were involved. Maybe he wanted to draw guys like you out to say the truth about it so he could sick the strengthening members committee lapdogs your way. Be careful my friend!
I don’t think I am a big enough fish for the SCMC to fry, Minority!
Hang on a second.
There seems to be someone knocking at my door . . .
I noticed it too, and agree with your possible explanations, but I did think the overall feeling of his talk was more conciliatory than his efforts of the last few years.
I thought he had accepted that gay marriage was a coming reality and that he would now have to focus his efforts elsewhere. Whether this will be another political focus or perhaps even the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he did after all seem to be trying to be more loving and accepting.
That was the thing that caught me off guard, Geoff.
Elder Oaks was talking about love, love, love; and how we need to love others as Jesus loved.
Then he uses this story as an example of how Jesus loved others–even sinners–as an encouragement for us to do the same.
But really, Elder Oaks wasn’t talking about adultery–he was talking about homosexuality and gay marriage.
The woman taken in adultery was a type for that. She is really the woman taken in homosexuality.
What with the position the LDS Church has taken regarding homosexuality and gay marriage, I can understand why Elder Oaks felt he had to justify the Church position by changing the story so that Jesus wasn’t simply forgiving the woman outright.
Because the modern LDS Church would require a formal disciplinary process in such a circumstance, it simply MUST be that the same would be required in New Testament times.
The Church never changes, after all.
And hence,the addition of the three words . . .
I too was incredulous at those three words. My reaction was “What? Jesus immediately forgives her, telling her to go her way and ‘sin no more.'”
It pissed me off to hear the added GA script. An insinuation of full judgement at another time.
It strikes me that Elder Oaks is rather full of himself. So recently speaking for impending judgement on ‘The Woman Taken in Adultry”; as well as telling LDS members to not criticize their leaders (him) even if the criticism is true. Blech.
Evidently, Jesus has no final words on anything. Not even a well dusted off story about a sinful woman that people in church use to illustrate how merciful and loving The Saviour is.
Elder Oaks gets the final words. In General Confernece.
It’s not the first time this idea has been taught, unfortunately. I remember hearing Oaks’ interpretation of the event many times before
This is an interesting point you raise, Mermaid.
Who does get the final word on this? Jesus or Elder Oaks?
If we go by President Benson’s “Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet,” then the answer to that would be Elder Oaks.
Because the words of the living prophets are more important than the words of dead prophets.
Not excepting even Jesus, apparently.
I love the part though, where we find out what condemnation the man caught in adultery got.
Oh, but it was probably the woman’s fault for being “walking pornography” and showing too much heel, so the man’s totally off the hook.
Or maybe our leaders are always more quick to punish women in an uneven power dynamic.
I agree with you, Laurel.
The story as we find it in John’s Gospel is especially powerful because Jesus is dealing with a woman, who at the time was considered inferior to men, and hence his response was the more remarkable.
The irony, of course, is that when the story is told by Elder Oaks with the addition of the three words (“at that time”), Elder Oaks seems to be undoing what Jesus did and once again putting the woman in her place as inferior to men.
The more I think about this, the more it seems to me that Elder Oaks is siding with the rock-throwers in this argument and against Jesus.
He clearly instructed her to sin no more. If she wasn’t able to follow that council would she not be subject to future judgement?
Possibly, Brian, but I take it from your response that you are okay with the idea that Jesus could simply forgive the woman without making her go through some sort of formalized repentance process.
This is what makes the story radioactive, I think, to those who believe repentance can be achieved only through a church disciplinary procedure.
In other words, if Jesus can just forgive us of our sins (and this is critical–even of what the church considers “serious sexual transgression”), then why is a church disciplinary procedure necessary?
I noticed the exact same thing. I agree that this isn’t an entirely new presentation of this idea, but maybe the first from General Conference.
I think it’s actually a rather common interpretation of the story in the church. People get seriously hung up on this story and Christ forgiving the thief on the cross. I recently witnessed a gospel essentials class on repentance, where an investigator brought up the story of the woman taken in adultery as an example of quick, immediate forgiveness and grace. The teacher (and ward mission leader) then singled her out and in a tone of complete disbelief said, “Wait, you don’t actually believe he just forgave her, do you?” A discussion ensued, and it was basically me, one of the Elders, and this investigator against the rest of the group – who even thought it was remotely possible that Christ could have just forgiven her on the spot. For everyone else, further discipline awaited, he was just holding off to make a point about the sinfulness of her accusers. That was a hard one to explain to the poor investigator afterword: we’re really not all like THAT! Well, maybe I’m wrong.
Unfortunately we still have a hard time letting go of the idea of “auto atonement” – that we must suffer for our own sins
Thanks for relating that story, Corey.
I agree with you that this limited view of Christ’s grace is endemic within Mormonism.
I am constantly amazed at how willing many Church leaders (and members following suit) are to put limits on what they allege is the “infinite Atonement.”
I have a friend who is going back through Joseph Fielding Smith’s three-volume “Doctrines of Salvation,” (edited by son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie), and he can’t believe how many roadblocks to salvation JFS throws up.
For example, JFS claims that once a person has left the church, even if they come back at a later time, they have extinguished their celestial possibilities.
That seems to limit the Atonement to my mind.
Why bother coming back at all, if that is the case?
Other examples of limiting Christ’s Atonement abound, even on the pedestrian level of washing white handkerchiefs in inky water as visual demonstration in class; and then saying that no matter how much you wash the handkerchief, it will never be as white as if you had never gotten it inky to begin with.
Similar lessons on hammering nails into wood and licked cupcakes come to mind . . .
I,too, noticed his snarky addition, but took it to mean that while she got this one free pass we don’t know how the story ended. Did she sin no more? Or did she sin? If so would she be condemned? We don’t know the rest of the story, but Elder Oaks left the impression that he hoped (and Jesus would have too) she would be condemned if she were a repeat offender.
Thanks for your comment, Ken.
Again, I think it important to emphasize that if we take the story as Jesus giving her “one free pass,” then that one exception to the rule of requiring church disciplinary proceedings in order for members to be forgiven of serious sin threatens to undermine the necessity of the entire Church court system.
“…nor is there anything in the story to suggest that Jesus did something other than simply forgive the woman on the spot.”
Actually, Corbin… that’s not true. After the accusers had been disabused of their barbaric intention of stoning her to death, Jesus doesn’t “simply forgive” but, instead, makes it a point to speak to the adulteress woman and put her on very specific notice to “…go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11).
The implication here is obvious: While Jesus does not “at this time” condemn her, yet he lets the woman know that what she has done is a “sin” (which by Jewish definition most certainly has consequences) and then specifically telling her not to commit adultery again. This certainly implies that were she to disobey, there might well be condemnation on his part, if not God’s, as well.
Good points, Khemin.
Though I know I am repeating myself, I think it bears stressing that if Jesus did not condemn her for committing a serious transgression (a transgression we are expressly told in the story she was found committing “in the very act”–i.e., her guilt is established), then is it possible for Jesus not to condemn somebody else for committing a similar (or worse) act through his grace and mercy, without the need of going through a formalized disciplinary process whereby we are expected to work our way back into God’s good graces?
This way of understanding the story undermines the control the LDS Church has over its members and therefore must be subverted and reinterpreted to make it fit the modern mold.
In this way, the Church puts itself (and its priesthood holders) between the sinner (i.e., all of us) and God’s forgiveness.
God’s grace can be mediated only through the Church’s discipline system.
This is the LDS position that Elder Oaks cannot allow the story to challenge.
At least, that’s my take on it.
Well said, Corbin! It was disturbing to hear. What’s also frustrating is to see all the back-bending going on trying to explain away what he must have meant, rather than recognizing that his words were well prepared and chosen carefully, and adding what he did to the story is… well, disturbing.
And Laurel, I’m with you — where is that part of the story?! Although it’s a different issue than what Corbin’s article addresses, it’s something I often think of when this story comes up.
Who, exactly, is doing the back-bending about what Elder Oaks was trying to say? Corbin has written pages of imaginative explanations here, ranging from “Elder Oaks added to scripture” to “Elder Oaks was accessory to the spiritual stoning of Ordain Women” and finally “Elder Oaks would have been in the angry mob that stoned the adulterer.” You agree with him in lock-step. I (and others) point out the rather obvious fact that he’s reaching (to say the least) and WE’RE the one’s bending logic?
On another note, there are a surprising number of people here that listen to or read conference talks with the HOPE of being offended. I mean… Wow.
Hi again, Mark.
Just for the record, I do not listen to General Conference with the HOPE of getting offended.
I would like it if those who claim to be receiving constant and continuing revelation from God would maybe share some of it with the rest of us on occasion.
But so far, no dice.
I will tell you that, in speaking with others, one of the things that seems to get people REALLY offended is that our Church leaders seem oblivious to the issues that have set our modern world on fire.
They seem to want to play it safe, saying nothing that hasn’t been said a million times before.
They lead from behind.
Usually about 20 years behind.
It has come to the point where the expression “LDS Church leaders” is almost an oxymoron.
I said it!
Thanks for your comments, P. I am, of course, heartened that you see things the way I see them. It is a sign of intelligence! ;^)
I wouldn’t want to say that others are “back-bending” to come up with a different interpretation, though. Sometimes people just genuinely can see the same thing (or in this case, the same words) differently.
It’s all part of the human equation.
But, the thing I find amusing is that we have to sit out here in the hinterland and examine Elder Oaks’ talk from just THIS PAST WEEKEND as if it were a 2,000 year old text and the author is not around to just ask what the heck he meant by it!
Why can’t somebody just ask Elder Oaks what he meant by including those three words and get some clarification?
Well, that is not the way we do things in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is a sign of the times as to how far removed the general authorities are from the lay members.
God only knows, and God makes his plan.
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.
He clearly told her to go and sin no more. If she doesn’t keep this instruction, would she not be deserving of future judgement?
I don’t think oak’s words imply that she would be judged in the future for that act (Jesus did not condemn her), nor do I think he was adding to scripture. He was not quoting.
Here is the point I think you and I are dancing around, Brian.
The fact is that, according to the story, the woman was caught “in the very act” of adultery.
This was a serious transgression of the Mosaic law.
She wasn’t deserving of “future judgment” if she sinned again–she was deserving of “immediate judgment” based on the sin she had already committed.
But Jesus did not condemn her for her established sin.
That is the crux of the entire story.
It is not about whether Jesus would have been justified in condemning her for a future sin the story has nothing to do with.
It is about the fact that Jesus was justified in condemning her for the sin she already committed–but chose not to.
It is a story about God’s grace and mercy, unmediated through a formalized Church process.
That is why Elder Oaks needed to add the qualifying three words, I think.
Corbin, thank you for the always thoughtful posts. I wonder here, however, if you aren’t inserting something into the text every bit as much as E Oaks. E Oaks assumes that a condemnation might (not did, but might) have occurred at some time other than the described painful minutes of the accusation. Condemnation has several meanings, but it usually seems to imply some permanence, does it not? Her journey of faith was not yet fixed. It is possible to interpret E Oaks’ words to men that Christ freely forgave her, but that he would be watchful over her (just as he is of you and me). If such a thing existed the way we understand it, her calling and election were not sure. He told her to go forth and sin no more for a purpose–she needed to be watchful, follow him, succor the poor and keep his commandments. I’m not saying that I buy that that is what he was saying or that this comports with E Oaks’ view of this vignette. I too would hope that if Christ were to condemn her it wouldn’t be for one act and it certainly wouldn’t be in front of the crowd of Pharisees who still remained after her stone-bearing accusers left. Still, to your point, v 15 suggests he didn’t do any judging at all.
Here is where I wonder, however, whether you have added something to the story. We have examples of him saying, “thy sins are forgiven thee” but where is it recorded that he says that here? All that we have are his words: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Those words may or may not equate to forgiveness or maybe they just mean that he doesn’t condemn her and that she should go and sin no more.” By the way, the injunction to “sin mor more” implies that he found some sin in her. That isn’t a condemnation in my book, but migh imply a finding of some guilt. Big surprise since it could be uttered a thousand times over for me and every other accountable human.
In truth, we all add something to the scriptures or to any other text that we read. I agree with you that what we add often says more about ourlselves than what it says about the subject. For what it is worth, I like what your addition says about you. I also yearn for a day when our institutional forgiveness looks more like what happened in these verses and on the cross.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Hagoth.
I think I have in previous comments already addressed the fact that I agree with you that the story is structured in such a way as to make it clear that the woman was deserving of condemnation. She was caught “in the very act.” Those words in the story are important.
(Sort of like Elder Oaks words “at that time” are important to his recasting of the story.)
And I agree with you that Jesus did not say the words, “I forgive you.”
My take on this is that the forgiveness offered by Jesus is the functional equivalent of his refusing to condemn her.
She who is not condemned needs no forgiveness, is the way I would look at it.
I think the story is also about how Jesus would frequently get in the face of religious leaders who used their hyper-religious-devotion to God’s law to injure others.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan deals with that issue, too.
In another context, but on the same issue, Jesus asked the Pharisees who were upbraiding him and his disciples for plucking wheat on the Sabbath, “Is the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?”
I think Jesus is in effect asking the same question in the story of the woman taken in adultery–“Is the Law of Moses made for women, or women for the Law of Moses?”
It is a question that has become significant in my own life.
I have been compelled on more than one occasion to ask myself, “Is the Church made for the members, or are the members made for the Church?”
The entire direction of my spiritual journey has been altered by my answer to that simple question.
Interesting analysis of Elder Oaks’s addition! I might agree with other commenters that I’m not sure that we can tell he had specifically the idea of Church discipline in mind, but on the more general point that he clearly wanted to hold open the possibility of extra condemnation later, I think you’re spot on. And it’s disappointing that he would want to do this, but not surprising.
Great comment, Ziff.
I think we as Mormons sometimes get the wrong impression of the Book of Mormon axiom that “mercy cannot rob justice.”
We seem to take that as meaning that we cannot obtain mercy without being penalized ourselves in order to satisfy the demands of justice.
(Hence the Church disciplinary process.)
My take on the Book of Mormon message, however, is that a price must be paid, but it has been paid for us by Jesus on the cross.
Mercy does not rob justice because Jesus through his sacrifice has already appeased the demands of justice.
All that is left for us to do is accept the gift from Jesus that has been freely given.
That is what the “grace of God” is all about, to my mind.
“Grace” isn’t working to get something in return. That is “hire and salary.”
Rather, “grace” is getting something that you don’t deserve and do not merit.
Otherwise it would not be “grace” at all.
I think this is the point Paul strove so hard to get across, but which still has difficulty penetrating some Mormon minds.
It seems that many of those who don’t agree with Corbin here have a “quantum” view of sin and repentance, by which I mean sin is a specific event associated with a specific action and repentance is a specific event to remedy some specific sin. There is certainly some validity to such an approach, but I think it falls far short of adequately describing reality.
I think that we can find the beginnings of such a view in the list of commandments which Moses brought down, and we can see such a view enshrined in our laws (which Elder Oaks is very aware of).
However, there is another way to view sin and repentance which is quite different yet is at least equally accurate. Sin is estrangement from God. Sin is being oriented in a direction away from God. In Hebrew Shuv (repentance) means to return to God. Obviously with this view, full and true repentance will be after this life, with a lesser degree of it as we change our direction towards returning to the influence of the Spirit. In Greek Metanoia (repentance) means to change one’s mind. We change our mind from focusing on the fleeting and fruitless to the Godly and good. This is again indicative of a state of being rather than specific, quantized events.
When considering what the words themselves mean, revisiting the scriptures can shed new light on many accounts. It seems to me that most scriptures resonate more with this view of sin and repentance than with a quantum/quantized view. With this view of sin and repentance there is no need to say that Jesus didn’t condemn her “at that time.” With this view of sin and repentance the message in the scriptures is very clear: His arms are outstretched still. He’s always willing to forgive. He’s not sitting and waiting to deliver punishment, He’s crying and striving to aid us to return (repent). He wants to help us turn to him, not smite us when we turn our backs. With this view of sin, sin is simply part of this life/existence and through grace we can strive to improve our aim towards God.
I like your analysis, Geoff.
I agree we tend to think that we have to pay so much in order to make restitution for so much sin. It is not exactly “Ten Hail Maries and Twenty Our Fathers,” but it isn’t very far removed.
I believe your view explains why it is that some pretty smart people throughout history have opined that the worst sinners are the closest to God.
They are the ones most in need of forgiveness and the ones most likely to turn to God upon realizing that need.
The Book of Mormon contains a host of stories that support that line of thought. From Alma the Younger, to King Lamoni, to King Lamoni’s (unnamed) father; all these are examples of extraordinarily wicked people in the Book of Mormon who were converted to the Lord in an instant.
And in each case, the story is told in such a way as to ensure that we understand none of them could have done any physical work in order to be redeemed, because they were all incapacitated physically while the work of redemption took place inwardly–without any work performed by them except for crying unto God for mercy and accepting the mercy freely extended in response.
I wrote a paper about this over twenty-years ago for The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.
Let me see if I can provide a link for those interested.
Here we go!
I finally watched his whole talk. It's very interesting. He really throws in the towel on trying to stop the legalization of gay marriage. He implies that gays are "our adversaries" but then calls for rejection of "persecution of any kind" including "sexual orientation." Is that the first time the the phrase "sexual orientation" has been used in a GC talk?
I see some internal contradictions here, though. Even though he is talking about someone in a "cohabitation relationship," he's clearly implying that married gay couples should not be invited to stay together in the home of their LDS family. He instructs his listeners that the example of Christ is "forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong." We could easily interpret this talk as instructing us not have a married gay family member into our home at all. How is that non-contentious?
I was troubled by those comments, too, Mike.
First, Elder Oaks says he is going to talk in specifics, but then he just talks in generalities such that pretty much any kind of bigoted and un-Christlike action can be taken and deemed to be within the counsel Elder Oaks has given.
And again we come back to the story of the woman taken in adultery.
By refusing to condemn the woman, was Jesus “forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong”?
Yes, it seemed to condone what Jesus knew to be wrong! Otherwise he would have been hucking rocks with the rest of ’em!
What the story teaches is that love for others trumps the appearance of condoning what “we know to be wrong.”
When those things are brought into conflict, love is supposed to win. Not how we may appear to others.
It is how we appear to God that matters, and God seems most interested that we love one another.
If Elder Oaks had understood the story of the woman taken in adultery, he would not have “gone there” in the latter part of his talk.
But because Elder Oaks not only “went there,” but “lives there,” he had to modify the story to make it conform with his beliefs in this regard.
Hence the addition of the three words.
I agree. Why do we drag people through the mud? Good points.
Although it sounds good, I don't entirely agree with comparing the woman who committed adultery to the women of ordain women. I am sure the adulterous woman was humble and not seeking to encourage other women to have sex with whoever they wanted. Ordain women, however humble they/we are, were rallying their troops and that is what scared the church leaders.
I am not against the OW movement, but we too can choose our words to fit our argument just as Oaks did. But I get your well put point.
I think you are right that how OW was “rallying the troops” is what “scared church leaders,” Missy.
Now, WHY church leaders should be scared by a group requesting they pray to God to ask if the time had come for women to receive the priesthood is another question, entirely.
Thanks for you comment!
I don’t know for sure what he meant but it seems to me it could be he is putting our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the spot of the woman taken in adultery. At least those choosing to not live a celibate life. The mob is the church membership and the Jesus is the the leadership of the church. Encountering one taken in sin and telling the membership who from my estimation of my classes at church some weeks are ready to throw stones. So he’s telling the church members that they need to settle down, they are not without sin, let the leadership handle this. Then as the crowd gives up this battle the leadership interacts with the gay or lesbian person in a relationship, the institution says, stop and go live your life no more than way. Leadership continues, but I’m retaining the right to judge you more harshly if you don’t comply.
I think you make a good insight, Dovie, that the issue here isn’t adultery per se, but rather homosexuality.
There just isn’t a good NT story of “the man taken in homosexuality” for Elder Oaks to use.
(Darn that NT!)
I tend to think the LDS Church has gotten way too much in the business of judging and not enough in the business of forgiving.
They can use the Orwellian phrase “Courts of Love” all they want, but the bottom line is still the same–judgment and discipline–not grace and mercy.
That’s just my take, though.
Good point, Fred.
I know Mormons frequently apply Isaiah’s words to Christ–“with his stripes we are healed”–but in actual practice, it seems that it is only “with our stripes are we healed.”
This is a genuine tension in Mormon Doctrine–On the one hand, we believe Jesus suffered for our sins, but on the other hand, we believe we must suffer for our sins in order to be forgiven.
I think this tension lies at the heart of Elder Oaks adding those three words to the story of the woman taken in adultery.
I don’t think Oaks was saying there was to be a Church court. I think he was saying Christ suspended the moment of consequence. The scripture doesn’t tell us anything about whether the woman forsake her sinfulness or was repentant. Only Christ knows it; the narrative doesn’t reveal it. But to suggest that there shouldn’t be consequences for our actions is to deny basic human agency. 13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. Christ atoned for our error, but only if we access it, and that part of the story just isn’t written.
Thanks for your comment, weekonthecape.
I think the whole idea that there must “be consequences for our actions” and that we are the ones who must pay those consequences is antithetical to the foundational message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is supposed to be the good news.
How is it good news that we must pay the consequences of our own actions?
If we pay the consequences for our own actions, are we not the ones who are offering atonement for our sins?
And if we are the ones offering atonement for our sins, do we not usurp the role of Jesus Christ?
I am not saying this is an easy issue to resolve, but it is the very issue the story of the woman taken in adultery is intended to thrust upon us so we may not ignore it.
It is Christ who atones for our sins. Not us.
Several years ago Elder Faust gave a similarly unmerciful interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son. At first I was disturbed. Then I was moved to compassion. I believe Elder Faust was a good man who was teaching what he had been taught. He inherited a god whose ability to show mercy was inhibited by arbitrary laws rather than by the ability of the sinner to receive grace and experience a change of heart. I feel certain he knows better now. 😉 Someday, Elder Oaks will also.
Good point, Cate!
The problem I have seen with Mormons trying to figure out the Prodigal Son Parable is that they keep trying to put themselves in the position of the older brother.
Ironically, it is pretty clear Jesus intended the older brother to represent the Pharisees. (That point is also made in the Todd Compton piece I referred to in the article above.)
It is tough to understand that all of us are the Prodigal Son.
And God will be just as merciful to us in our return to him as the Father was to the his returning child in the parable.
On another note, it has long struck me as odd that included in the LDS Hymnal is “God of our Fathers,” which promotes faith in the traditions of our fathers . . . well . . . simply because they are the traditions of our fathers.
But it is the traditions of our fathers that Joseph Smith called the very chains and shackles and fetters of hell.
Maybe it isn’t so strange we sing that hymn after all . . .
Mercy and grace be with you, Cate!
It is funny because we could just take the case of alma the younger and Paul and King Lamoni and many others from what the LDS calls scriptures and rip the case for probation, disfellowshipping, etc to shreds.
Also the limitation of callings that people can have for certain transgressions they have committed in the past. The question is why people of the church have allowed it to happen for so long.
I read a conference talk a while back where an “apostle” said that some sins take longer to receive forgiveness of than others… Uh what the hell? Boyd k packer once completely prevented scripture and taught that we must be punished for some sins before we are forgiven. These guys are either imbeciles in the gospel of Christ or they are deliberately twisting scripture to fit the mold of church discipline. Either way they are teaching falsehoods.
While I would be hesitant to use the word “imbecile” to describe most anybody, I think my post is another piece of evidence in support of your assertion that some Church leaders are “twisting scripture to fit the mold of church discipline.”
I can’t say as it is “deliberate,” as you allege.
But in the final analysis, the result is the same.
Compare his article, “‘Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, Aug. 1999 (based on a CES fireside address, March 1, 1998).
I find it instructive that the woman was taken “in the very act” and yet, her partner was not brought forward as well.
Some scholars suggest that the Pharisees laid a trap in order to throw this situation before Christ and her partner in crime was probably standing in the midst with a rock in his hand. The Lord’s rebuke is even more profound in this context. Identifying them all as complicit in her guilt.
You note, rightly, that his forgiveness is immediate, unconditional, and any interpretation otherwise by Elder Oaks is proof-texting the New Testament to his particular philosophy.
To me, the damnable heresy in Oaks’ interpolation is that Jesus is incapable of forgiving her sin outright. Being that HE was the one who atoned for her, I think we should take The Lord at his word.
I agree with you that the problem with Elder Oaks’ three-word textual gloss is that he seems incapable of believing that Jesus could simply forgive the woman outright without the need of some formalized kind of disciplinary process.
I mean, the CHI at the time (the law of Moses) already decreed what kind of “formalized disciplinary process” was required–the woman had to be stoned to death.
If we view the “formalized disciplinary process” of Jesus’s day as the functional equivalent of the “formalized disciplinary process” in our day, the meaning of the story is clear . . .
. . . Jesus, by virtue of his grace and power, avoided the perceived need of a disciplinary process altogether by forgiving the woman outright before the disciplinary process had commenced.
The moral seems to be that Jesus makes religious disciplinary processes obsolete.
This should not come as a surprise as most would agree that Jesus also made obsolete the formalized sacrificial processes for forgiveness of sin.
Because of Jesus, animals need no more be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin.
And because of Jesus, people need no more be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin, either.
I think you missed the point he was making, in that the scripture never says Jesus forgave her. Since word choice is so important and the reason for this whole discussion, you have to believe there is a specific reason why Christ didn’t use the word “forgive” (or forgiven or any of its counterparts). Christ simply says he doesn’t condemn the woman. You are taking his not condemning and saying it means forgiveness. That simply isn’t the case according to scripture. Christ never said the woman’s sins were forgiven; she still had to repent.
Let me push back respectfully on what you say here, Gates.
I don’t want to give offense, but your comment is a good illustration of what I mentioned in the initial article–that we have a tendency to read our current beliefs into ancient scripture.
You say “she still had to repent.”
There is nothing in the story to indicate that this is the case. Whereas Elder Oaks added three words to modify the story, you have added five.
If “she still had to repent,” would we not expect the story to have included that admonition from Jesus?
Like Elder Oaks, I think your view indicates a reluctance to believe Jesus can simply forgive the sins of others with no other requirement on their part.
The woman did not have to do anything to obtain Jesus’s forgiveness, or lack of condemnation.
It was a free gift offered by Jesus himself through his mercy and power.
That is why they call it “grace.”
Very insightful, I quite enjoyed your analysis. I too, think Elder Oaks was suggesting more. I remember a fireside at BYU with Elder Packer as the keynote speaker. In his talk he states “We are taught all men are created equal” Then adds “By way of note….has no scriptural basis” I have wondered over the years what he was implying. So many possible extrapolations to make. I agree, something more was meant. These talks are all proof read and checked for doctrinal errors.
Perhaps the real irony is that this particular passage of scripture (according to bible scholars) was added by a scribe a few hundred years after Christ’s death. Apparently Jesus never said this. Its just folklore. Which is troubling for me on a few levels. Apparently the LDS camp never got nor embraced this “memo” And it saddens me since I found this particular passage comforting and seemed to illustrate the true love Christ has for us all. Great observations! Keep the questions coming!
Interesting example from Elder Packer!
I am afraid Church leaders have become experts at attempting to communicate through the use of veiled language. They hint at their meanings, but seem reluctant to just come out and say what they mean.
Why they do this is a mystery to me, although the phrase “plausible deniability” comes to mind.
And you are absolutely right that the story of the woman taken in adultery is almost certainly a late addition to the Gospel of John, as it appears in none of the earliest and best manuscripts of that gospel, but makes its first appearance, if memory serves, in a manuscript some hundreds of years later.
As Bart Ehrman said about this story, though, if it didn’t really happen, it should have!
Maybe Elder Oaks was holding open the possibility of future condemnation if the woman taken in adultery continued to live in sin. Jesus commanded her to sin no more. If she continued in sin after receiving forgiveness, she would have been particularly ungrateful for the grace she received and thus deserving of condemnation at the judgment day.
This is certainly a possibility, Bryce, and as long as I am speculating about Elder Oaks’ meaning, I cannot reproach you for doing the same. ;^)
The one thing I would bet on, though, is that Elder Oaks will never come forward to explain exactly what he meant, so that leaves us free to guess!
I do think it important when attempting to understand a Bible story to recognize that the person who crafted the story did so with a specific intent in mind–i.e., the author has a message he is trying to convey.
The author will include what the author wants to include in order to get his message across, and will similarly not include extraneous details that do not support the message.
This mode of exegesis is commonly accepted among Bible scholars.
It is for this reason I am reluctant to try to add things to Bible stories in order “understand” them better.
Typically what I am really doing is adding things to Bible stories to make them comport with my own preconceived notions.
This is what I believe Elder Oaks did to the story of the woman taken in adultery.
I believe that Jesus forgave her on the spot. I think he knew what was in her heart, and I wonder if she really was an adulteress in truth or if she was labeled as one because rape was most likely considered the victim's fault in those days–even by today's standards, rape victims still suffer stigma and doubt from society. You make a very good case that Elder Oaks could very well be trying to justify the Church's disciplinary procedures. The question I have is, if Jesus is the sole judge of our actions here on Earth, why would he even need to have a disciplinary council in the first place? He's Jesus Christ, who knows our hearts and minds and therefore needs no help to determine anything about the person in question. I can see where he would believe that it is necessary to have more than one on a disciplinary council in the Church given what Alma (?) said about the number of witnesses to determine if something is true. And given that we are human and therefore fallible, it makes sense to me that you would need more than one person to sit in judgment here on Earth. Somehow, I find it chilling that people could be excommunicated so lightly despite claims to the contrary. How long were we living with God in the pre-mortal realm before the war in heaven took place? Yet if a person commits a sin x number of times that's it, you're out? (Or, as in OW's case, continue to request further revelation from God so that women may have a greater role in the institution which is supposed to serve and protect them as well). While they may say that continued revelation guides them, I seriously question this when the motives seem to be to continue the status quo for as long as they are able to maintain it without serious loss to their membership numbers.
Great comments, Lydia.
You say, “The question I have is, if Jesus is the sole judge of our actions here on Earth, why would he even need to have a disciplinary council in the first place?”
This is exactly the question I have, Lydia. And it is the issue that Elder Oaks seems to be trying to get around by adding the three words to the story.
Disciplinary councils have nothing to do with restoring a person’s relationship with God.
Disciplinary councils have everything to do with restoring a person’s relationship with the Church.
The moment we begin to equate the Church with God is the moment we begin to get into trouble.
Elder Oaks did not add to the scriptures, as Corbin has alleged. Rather, he demonstrated a mastery of the scriptures that seems to be lost on Mr. Volluz. The scriptures are clear that there will be a final judgement and that Christ will be sitting in the judgment seat. As such, observing that Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman “at that time” is accurate and consistent with all other scriptures regarding final judgement.
The story of this adulterous woman is often quoted out of context by those who would have us believe that the Savior has a permissive attitude toward sexual immorality and sin in general. The implication is that Jesus’ teachings are somehow easier than the Law of Moses (reading Matthew 5:21-37 should disabuse them of that notion). Adding “at that time” is appropriate recognition that it is not easy and that we will all eventually stand before the judgment bar of God and be held accountable for our unresolved sins.
Thanks for your comment, Bill, and for taking the time to read my post.
I think the fundamental problem with your exegesis, though, is that you are taking scriptures from one place in order to try to understand scriptures from another place.
For instance, you quote from Matthew in order to interpret John.
Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus, however, is extremely pro-law of Moses, and was likely written to early Christians who believed that following the law of Moses was required in order to be a Christian.
John’s portrayal of Jesus, however, is the exact opposite, and we find no indications that following the law of Moses is necessary, but only belief in Jesus is required for salvation. (John 3:16) John also emphasizes salvation by knowledge (“ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”), suggesting his gospel may have been written to a more gnostic-brand of early Christians.
Mixing two such disparate portrayals of Jesus and his teachings in an attempt to understand his message is like mixing oil and water.
Or comparing apples to oranges.
By themselves either gospel perspective is incomplete. They are not apples and oranges because the ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Nonetheless, you accused Elder Oaks of creating scripture or inventing doctrine, which he did not. He integrated simple doctrine that is supported by numerous other scritpural sources.
Otherwise known as “proof-texting.”
By definition, prooftexting is reliant on the usage of isolated quotes to alter the original intent of the author. There is nothing isolated in the scriptures regarding the doctrine of the final judgment. It is found throughout the New Testament, Old Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Nor is this belief is not unique to Mormons. To the contrary, the belief is ubiquitous among Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Nonetheless, if you want to keep the discussion in the Gospel of John, we can play that game. John 5:
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
And again, John quotes Jesus referencing final judgment again in John 6:54: “54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” There are probably other examples I cannot think of right now.
So is it prooftexting for Elder Oaks to invoke this well established doctrine that is plainly taught in the Gospel of John? No it is not. It perfectly logical for Elder Oaks to recognize that though Jesus declined to condemn the adulterous woman in life (I am comfortable believing that He forgave her of the sin of which she was accused), that she would face Him again when she is resurrected. “Go, and sin no more.” Why? Because eventually she will stand before the Savior again, only this time He will be executing his divinely appointed responsibility to judge her worthy of either life or damnation.
How ironic that in an article that accuses Elder Oak’s of adding scripture that you would “interpolate” (I.e. Mathematical method of constructing new data points) to what Elder Oak’s actually said. Elder Oaks did not say, nor did he imply, that Christ was incapable of forgiving anyone of the sin of adultery. To the contrary, Elder Oak’s has spoken frequently on the redemptive power of the atonement, so your accusation of “damnable heresy” is baseless and asinine.
Perhaps, Bill, but I think it safe to say that any statement by Elder Oaks as to the “redemptive power of the atonement” is footnoted with the idea that it can be mediated only through a formalized Church disciplinary process.
Or do you think Elder Oaks would agree with the idea that an adulterer may receive forgiveness without going through such a formalized Church disciplinary process?
I think it is safe to say that any statement by Elder Oaks as to formal Church disciplinary process is footnoted with the idea that he recognizes that bishops and stake presidents are only doing so with delegated priesthood keys that authorize them to represent the Savior on earth for purposes of hearing confessions and facilitating repentance of serious transgressions.
You seem to want to impugn Elder Oaks by implying that he believes that the adulterous woman he spoke of needed to speak to a church delegate to obtain forgiveness after she spoke directly to the Savior. That’s not what he said.
Not quite, Bill.
What I am saying is that the story of the woman taken in adultery portrays a woman being forgiven of a serious transgression automatically and on the spot, without the need of a protracted and formalized repentance process.
What I am saying is that such a process is completely foreign and antithetical to the disciplinary procedures used by the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There is a contradiction here.
And when a contradiction appears between the actions of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament and the policies and procedures of the LDS Church, I think we can see which has to be modified in order to resolve the contradiction.
Your bio says you are an attorney? Then you should understand that you have already impeached the credibility of the Pericope Adulterae passage (Devin: “Sorry guys, never happened.” Corbin: “You are correct, Devin.”), so you cannot then use it as a reliable witness of Jesus’ actions while allege a supposed contradiction between it and modern church practices.
It may be worth pointing out that the JST adds this to John 8:11:
“And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”
Thanks for adding that point, WalkerW.
But even with the JST in mind, it is remarkable that the woman “believed on” Jesus AFTER she was forgiven of her sin.
What a paradox! No doubt Elder Oaks put the extra words in there for a reason.
How about this? What if you take “at that time” to mean “in this circumstance”. What if he’s trying to say that Christ’s forgiving of the adulteress was a “fluke”, a one-time thing, and for this woman and this woman only. Any other future adulteresses out there would not be given such a free pass, so don’t go out and think you could commit adultery and be forgiven so easily without your disciplinary council!
After all, if women knew that they could get out of their stoning, everyone would be doing it!
All of this discussion is a moot point because John 7:73-8:11 (which includes the story of the woman taken in adultery) was a scribal interpolation around the 9th century. This story is not found in any ancient (2nd, 3rd) century transcript. Look it up.
Sorry guys, never happened.
So, Corbin, all of you laboring about exact words (both in the NT and with Elder Oaks) is purely academic, and neither’s exact wording gets us an inch closer to Jesus.
You are correct, Devin.
I think I acknowledged that point in a previous comment where I quoted Bart Ehrman on the subject.
But for purposes of this discussion, it makes no difference when the story was added to John.
John itself is a late gospel and has little in common with the other three earlier synoptic gospels, for that matter.
What is important for purposes of this discussion is how the story stands in the KJV (i.e., LDS) version of the Bible; that Elder Oaks presumably considers the text authoritative enough to cite to establish a proposition; but nevertheless needs to tweak the story a little so as not to undermine the Church disciplinary process.
A process used not so long ago on a rather public female figure, I might add . . .
Wow. Too much over thinking for 3 words. Why doesn't someone ask him why he said it? Maybe he didn't even realize he said it . Or maybe he did Way to many people over analyze words in my opinion
Can we “overthink” the words of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Even three words?
Especially when those three words are not in the scriptural story to which the apostle is referring?
I hear what you are saying, though, Heather.
It would be nice if somebody could just ask Elder Oaks what he meant.
Unfortunately, the path is steep and thorny to the place where Elder Oaks lives, and the lines of communication are down.
If you want, you could ask Elder Oaks what he meant and get back to the rest of us.
I won’t hold my breath, though . . .
He didn't "add to the scriptures". By saying "at that time" simply means that Christ did not "at that moment" condemn her. Perhaps He was giving her a chance to confess and forsake, we don't know. Perhaps later on in His ministry, she came forward with a broken heart and a willingness to do what was right. Perhaps she didn't. But stating emphatically that Elder Oaks "added to the scriptures" is a total misinterpretation.
I hear what you are saying, Dave, but I tend to disagree.
And you seem to feel the same way, too, though somewhat tangentially.
Indeed, if Elder Oaks says he did not “at that time” condemn her, it does mean, as you say, that he did not condemn her “at that moment.”
Which, as you suggest, opens the field wide for other times and other avenues for Jesus to have condemned her–all of which would also be extra-scriptural additions to the story.
Or it opens wide the field for other extra-scriptural additions to the story regarding the woman’s repentance process–i.e., for her to confess and forsake.
The point is that, in order to justify Elder Oaks’ addition of three words to the story, it seems necessary to add not just three more words, but entire additional scenes and tableaus that are similarly not recorded.
It reminds me of what Joseph Smith said–“If you start right, it is an easy matter to stay right. But if you start wrong, it is a hard matter to get right again.”
There were a few points during his talk where the thought that came to me was “This just isn’t the church I was taught it was in primary and seminary.” Mostly referencing the addition of those words, and the implications they can have on forgiveness/repentance, and his words making people with differing views out to be adversaries, and morally weaker than the faithful.
Also, you probably shouldn’t criticize Elder Oaks, even if you are right… 😉
You are so funny, Dusty!
Just between you and me, the thought came to me of Elder Oaks actually being in the crowd ready to throw stones at the woman, but being upbraided by Jesus who tells them, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
What would Elder Oaks do in response?
Of course, while winding up, he would tell Jesus, “It’s not appropriate to criticize Church leaders–even if the criticism is true.”
Not hard to picture that during that talk, honestly. I wish we really could go to him and ask him (or any of them) “What would you really do?” about many things, but as you’ve pointed out many times the church leadership is so far removed and inaccessible. At the very least this leads to the perception (if not reality) that they are disconnected.
Also, if there is anybody that can help me understand where the whole idea or need for church discipline even comes from, I would be grateful. I honestly don’t understand it, and I don’t understand when our young childhood teachings go from such simple things as “forgive and forget and be nice to people, and also ask to be forgiven and try not to do that bad thing anymore” to “In order to be forgiven you have to talk to this person about everything, be shamed publicly and not take the sacrament for awhile, then possibly get back in good graces if you are deemed sincere.” And the most interesting point I think you bring up is whom has the ultimate authority in the repentance process? God? Jesus? The Church? Local Bishops? It seems like a mess in recent times.
I just hope Elder Oaks doesn’t have any more rocks in his pockets to wind up and toss at our gay or female “adversaries” next conference like the last few.
I am far more concerned about what the Apostles of The Lord didn’t say. As you say… “The world is on fire.”
We could face a hidden epidemic coming out out of South America. Dubbed by the press as “The Mystery Disease” it is all but hidden from our society. Yet, it is crippling children.
Ebola is on our shores. Every week a new or newly suspected case. Still the planes are coming in. Ironic that.
Our economy is still in the toilet and quality of life and medical care is in decline.
Isis says they will target military families in our country and kill them. Terrorists are abroad and on our streets. In any country they seek to commit the vilest of acts against Christians.
What do the Lord’s apostles choose to talk about in a worldwide Conference? Obedience, staying in the boat. Etc. Amped up a few notches.
The boat’s name is Titanic and it’s going down.
But, stay in the damn boat! Get your testimony right! “Strive” for that testimony! Be obedient! Do not encourage those gay people!
Oh course the naysayers here will exclaim the Apostles aren’t saying anything, because there is nothing to fear: Or they’d tell us!!
Good robots all.
This is why words (even 3. Matter.)
We wait for them. Do we not? They are published, are they not? Assigned as church talks to be talked about AGAIN. Are they not?
Of course every word matters.
Once you give the title “Apostle of Jesus Christ” to an orator, every word hangs in a balance. And THEY know it.
I like your comments, Mermaidmood!
And there was a little irony in the fact that two talks featured boat analogies.
President Monson talked about how everybody thought the Bismarck was unsinkable until it got the torpedo stuck in its rudder which made it vulnerable to attack.
Meanwhile another GA talked about how vital it is to “stay in the boat.”
What if the boat you are supposed to stay in is the Bismarck?
Staying in the Bismarck after the torpedo got stuck in the rudder might not be too advisable . . .
But as I stated before, the issue isn’t whether the story every happened.
The issue is whether Elder Oaks thinks it happened and views it as authoritative.
Elder Oaks does use the story as authoritative, as evidenced by the fact he uses it in his General Conference talk to establish a proposition.
But Elder Oaks also has to add three words to the story in order to make sure the story which he believes is authoritative does not conflict with current LDS Church disciplinary procedures.
It’s not that difficult, really.
Granted that the idea of a judgment day appears in many scriptures, the question becomes this–
At the judgment day, when the woman taken in adultery stands in front of Jesus, will Jesus at that time condemn her for the adulterous act for which Jesus in mortality told her he would not condemn her?
That, to my mind, is the crux of the question, and has been all along.
If everything was paid for and square at the time Jesus uttered the words recorded in John that he did not condemn her, is there any point thereafter where the issue regarding that one act could be raised again and any type of condemnation follow?
My position is that there could not.
Elder Oaks’ position indicates there could be.
What is your position?
An early post on this thread led me to read Elder Oaks’s essay entitled “Judge Not’ and Judging.” I think that essay clearly answers the question you originally raised: why the three words, “at that time.” Elder Oaks puzzled out, as many of us do, the paradoxical meaning of the commandment that we judge not. He determined that to get along in life we must all make judgments about people. He concluded that “Judge not” means not to condemn people to hell; it is a prohibition against making final judgments about people. He argues that “intermediate judgment” is necessary and says that even Christ made intermediate judgments. I conclude that Elder Oaks was saying that Christ refused to make an intermediate judgment of the woman taken in adultery but reserved the right to make final judgment against her. So his words are not introducing new doctrine, just an allusion to a previous attempt to explain the paradox about judging. Still, I don’t find his analysis persuasive. The scriptures in John make clear that Christ refused repeatedly to judge or condemn anybody, declaring that he came not to condemn but to save. He makes clear to my mind that the word he spoke makes us our own judges, that by the books of life (3 Nephi 27) we will judge ourselves at the last day. Although some scriptures say Jesus will sit in judgment, I believe he will simply stand in all his glory before us at the last day and then we will see our whole life revealed in contrast to his perfect embodiment of all he taught, of all truth. Then the contrast with our own miserable lives will be excruciating and the self-condemnation exquisite as we see the harm that we have caused to go out in ever-widening echos, one harsh word causing anger in another that expressed itself in harsher terms that eventually came out as violence, a chain of causation only broken by the grace of Christ.
You are right, Bryce. As Nun referenced above, this idea was addressed previously by Elder Oaks in a talk where he fleshed out the idea a little.
Below is the pertinent quote, which even uses the same phrase, “at that time.”
Even the Savior, during His mortal ministry, refrained from making final judgments. We see this in the account of the woman taken in adultery. After the crowd who intended to stone her had departed, Jesus asked her about her accusers. “Hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). When she answered no, Jesus declared, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). In this context the word condemn apparently refers to the final judgment (see John 3:17).
The Lord obviously did not justify the woman’s sin. He simply told her that He did not condemn her—that is, He would not pass final judgment on her at that time. This interpretation is confirmed by what He then said to the Pharisees: “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man” (John 8:15). The woman taken in adultery was granted time to repent, time that would have been denied by those who wanted to stone her.
First, I disagree with Elder Oaks that the present tense declaration of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn thee,” can be successfully interpreted as meaning a future condemnation, as Elder Oaks proposes–“In this context the word condemn apparently refers to the final judgment.”
Actually, in this context, Jesus’s words cannot refer to the final judgment, because Jesus is using the present tense–“Neither do I condemn thee.”
I also find problematic Elder Oaks’ assertion that Jesus’s refusing to condemn the woman at that time allowed her time to repent of her sin–“The woman taken in adultery was granted time to repent, time that would have been denied by those who wanted to stone her.”
Again, Elder Oaks seeks to take away with his left hand the forgiveness Jesus offered with his right.
Jesus forgave the woman in the present sense–at that time–immediately.
There is nothing in the story to indicate that the woman had to merit the forgiveness of Jesus by doing something more later–by whatever is encompassed in Elder Oaks’ phrase, “time to repent.”
What is clear is that, once again, Elder Oaks makes it clear that he is not comfortable with the idea of Jesus simply forgiving the woman taken in adultery, and refusing to condemn her–something else simply MUST be required of her in order to obtain forgiveness–and that something is “time to repent.”
From Elder Oaks’ perspective, “time to repent” is necessary for the woman to be truly forgiven–Jesus’s grace and mercy is not enough.
The question is why does Elder Oaks feel compelled to add so many extra-scriptural caveats to the scriptures.
The answer seems obvious–because forgiveness mediated through Jesus alone undermines the requirement of the modern LDS Church that forgiveness can be obtained only by going through a priesthood-mediated Church disciplinary process.
How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?
How many angels can figure out what Elder Oaks meant by adding those three words to the Bible?
Yes, that was my comment. For some reason, it’s been almost completely ignored. Here are the relevant links:
Thanks for finding that!
Which reminds me of an old riddle.
What Bible character had no parents?
Joshua, the son of Nun.
Christ has atoned for all of our sins. Every person ever. It is the most precious and wonderful gift ever given. But we have to choose to accept that gift and access it. This is done through the repentance process. Sometimes it is hard sometimes it is easier. In the Book of Mormon in 3rd Nephi it talks about the Sacrament. Jesus tells the leaders that the sacrament should only be taken if the person is worthy to do so. Which I think implies that Jesus is saying there is some kind of process involved in repentance. What we go through with our personal repentance process is no where near as painful as what Jesus suffered for us in the garden.
Also I always thought the woman wasn’t forgiven then because she doesn’t ask to be forgiven. That’s what repentance is. There are many other stories in the bible where Jesus does forgive people on the spot and he says outright that he forgives them but that phrase is missing from this story. Those people in the other stories were seeking Jesus out to be forgiven. But the woman was forced to go to him.
Again if he did forgive her then she would still need to accept that forgiveness. I don’t know if through a formal process or what her situation was. I just know she would have to accept the forgiveness and Atonement to keep her from condemnation in the judgement. A fundamental belief is that we are not just saved by grace but also need to choose to accept the Atonement and gospel. And live righteous worthy lives. That’s why we need the Atonement because we’re human.
I’m starting to feel like Moroni where my writing is weak so I hope you understand the spirit of my message.
A friend referred me to this site. I’ve been disappointed in the nature of the comments sections of multiple articles. So much strife and contention.
As for this article, I wish it wasn’t so reactionary. Elder Oaks spoke on Saturday, and this article posted on a Monday. It’s no wonder why the tone is so emotional. No wonder why the comments are so rapid and passionate.
I read another article written by this author, Corbin Volluz, in BYU Studies, about the term “elder brother”. That article was really decent. It reflected the effort of research and writing and editing. I doubt that article took two days to pen.
I would that more peace and civility existed among writers and readers on this site.
I hear what you are saying, Andrew, and thank you for your comments.
I tried to be somewhat balanced (even in just two days!), allowing for the possibility that Elder Oaks may have meant absolutely nothing of what I intuited.
I also tried to frame my conclusions with tentative language to make it clear I wasn’t claiming to know for sure.
I am also glad you read the BYU-Studies article, and you are right that took much longer than two-days.
It actually took three-years just from the time it was submitted to BYU-Studies until they published it. I think that had something to do with the perceived controversial nature of the subject by some of the board members.
I think these are two very different mediums, though. Here on a blog the timeliness is often everything. Nobody is going to care about this subject very far down the line. It will be “yesterday’s news,” so to speak.
Sometimes that means things will be written more quickly than otherwise. And sometimes more emotion will come through, both in the writing as well as in the comments.
Emotion is not always a bad thing.
Sometimes nothing is more likely to put one to sleep than a sonorous, highly footnoted, scholarly worded article.
I like to hear people’s reactions, whether pro or con.
There is an immediacy to this media that is quite different from scholarly venues.
I have heard reasonable arguments from people arguing this multiple ways. Some say it is a clear case that Jesus is forgiving this woman. Others say that Jesus did not forgive her because he did not definitively say, “thy sins are forgiven,” as he is quoted as saying elsewhere, such as in chapters 5 and 7 of Luke. Instead, he says that he refrains from condemning her, which leaves the door open a crack to alternative interpretations.
Without question, it is completely within Jesus’ authority/power to forgive this woman outright. For me, I tend to think that He did forgive in this instance and I attribute the difference between this and other similar examples (e.g. Luke 5 & 7) to differences in authorship and/or incomplete account of the event (if it is authentic to begin with given its sketchy provenance). Nonetheless, I am prepared to accept either explanation explanation given the lack of clarity.
As such, I have no problem with Elder Oak’s treatment of this issue, which I deem to be more complete and consistent with the message taught by the whole of the scriptures, ancient and modern.
That said, I do have a problem with people that pull this passage out of the NT as evidence that Jesus is is permissive about serious sexual transgression or that it is easy to obtain forgiveness for such sins, so we can be cavalier and casual in our sexual behavior. This is a false belief that runs counter to that which is taught throughout the OT, the rest of the NT, and in modern scripture.
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Bill.
I don’t think anybody was trying to use this story as an example of a permissive Jesus who allows all manner of serious transgression to occur with no consequences.
I do think this story is meant to be strikingly radical so as to frame the grace Jesus freely gives as something that cannot be said to be deserved by good works . . . or works of repentance.
It is the three words added by Elder Oaks that I think try to correlate this story into something more congruent with current LDS practice.
Even if we assume that the John 8 account is an act of forgiveness, I see no conflict or contradiction (a word you used earlier) between it and modern church practices. The church process certainly takes longer, but that constitutes a difference, not a conflict. The NT is replete with examples of the Christ performing miracles with instantaneous results that his apostles were unable to replicate. People touched Jesus’ hem and were healed. This did not occur with the apostles who agonized to get the same results by the laying on of hands or other methods. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they failed. Little was instantaneous.
The bishop’s council process is likewise designed to help people obtain forgiveness from serious transgressions. I have served in a couple callings that has had me sit in on more of these meetings than I can now recall over the last fifteen years. The process is slow and deliberative, but I have seen the heavy burden of serious sin lifted off the shoulders of people who have committed serious sins. It is freeing and they are able to move forward with clear consciences. It works. This process is not in any way in conflict or contradiction with John 8.
If the LDS Church is, as it claims, a restoration of New Testament Christianity, why is the process today so different from the process then?
Elder Oaks addition reminds me of Spencer W. Kimball’s concept of repentance from these miracle of forgiveness. Kimball suggested that if one completes the repentance process and then repeats the sin that the repentance is retroactively canceled. From this perspective, Jesus could consider her repentant at that moment but condemn her for the act at the final judgement if she committed another serious sexual sin and failed to repent of the first sin again.
Although the MoF seems to have fallen out of favor recently, viewing repentance as a process for wedding out those people who are undeserving of forgiveness is still strong in the church.
Nobody deserves forgiveness, Andy.
That is the key distinction, I think.
And the key to understanding the story of the woman taken in adultery.
The LDS Church acts as if forgiveness must be earned.
Jesus acted as if forgiveness is a free gift of God’s grace.
But I do think you put your finger on something important.
Elder Oaks’ addition of those three words is an attempt to fit the New Testament paradigm of grace into the LDS paradigm of works.
Square peg, meet round hole.
Elder Oaks was just trying to round off the square peg a bit, I think.
Seriously, this is about as misleading as it gets…. “At that time” refers to just that “at that time”. He was making a reference to imply that future conversations could have been had but “at that time” for that misdemeanour He fully forgave and instructed to “Sin no more”. This was of course predicated on her circumstance and her repented state.
To refer that Elder Oaks is referring to anything else is purely speculating, insinuating and downright disrespecting the message.
On both your points regarding the woman in adultery and the prodigal son, you have overlooked the principle of repentance in the forgiveness process.
Yes the Saviour forgave and the father forgave them and welcomed them in open arms, but they were not given a free pass. The woman was told, “Sin no more” referring that she would have to end her adulterous relationship or if the case her current profession.
The son was thrown a party but no more inheritance. His price for what he did was he would have to work and receive nothing his father for free.
My experience (yes, my family have been excommunicated) so I have had personal experience on both sides of disciplinary action. Excommunication has only come through non-committal to changing behaviour. Ordain woman were not excommunicated for their beliefs, but refusal to coordinate propaganda and campaign against Church policy. The excommunication came not from questioning the policy but the refusal to stop campaign. Ordain Women was excommunicated for disobedience and nothing more.
Many people I have known have been excommunicated because they refuse the final action of repentance to “Sin no more” meaning stop their actions and rebellion against directive to change behaviour. The Saviour was obedient in action against the sinful Roman empire and yet still yielded.
Submission to God’s laws and the directives of His called servants require perfect obedience. If the woman had said to the Saviour “No I wont stop” or the son said to his father “Give me half or I will disown you” their would not have been the forgiveness as they were not truly repentant and sorry for their actions.
i understood it to mean at that immediate time, as in, he chose to deal with the pharisees first. at a very near later time (after they had dispersed) he dealt with her ‘discipline’, ie telling her to go and sin no more. he DID forgive her on the spot, but not without including a command to cease from sinning.
does that command count as ‘condemnation’? probably not, i think he should have used the word discipline instead, or something like it. but i found the addition fairly innocuous, and with no other allusions to church discipline i think your reading is interesting, but not persuasive.
The LDS definition of repentance is very warped, as is the possible insinuation behind the three words Oaks added to the scripture. I myself believe that turning to Christ = repentance.
I think the LDS Bible Dictionary gives a very clear, and true definition of what repentance really is.
“The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.”