The Women Caught in Adultery: Forgiveness and Jesus “I Am”
The following is an email conversation on a message given in July of 2006 and the use of “I Am” in John 8:24 “unless you believe ‘I Am’ you will die in your sins.”
I thought your message last Sunday morning was excellent. It’s not often you hear a message on Deity of Jesus, or Trinitarian theology. And, I appreciated your candid “So what?” question to Jesus’ “I Am” statement. It is the better question. In fact, it was such a good question that I wish you could have spent more time developing it. The answer is the “punch line” to Jesus’ “I Am” claim and the women caught in adultery which I’m still discovering the importance of in the practice of forgiveness.
This is a long email, so I apologize in advance. I wanted a sounding board to your message to help flush out my own thoughts. I hope you’ll find it beneficial and engaging as well. Let me develop this and I’d welcome your comments.
The Problem of John 8:24 and 58
The problem to explore is the historical context in the interpretation of John 8:24 “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” This chapter and verse is commonly quoted to confirm Christ’s claim to deity, but also to support the view that acceptance of the deity of Christ is a necessary component of one’s salvation. It is commonly used by Evangelical Christians to support why one must confess the tightly defined post Nicene view of Christ and the Godhead. And, as a Christian and an education one, I accept these historical traditions of faith as correct and consistent with the proper treatment of the NT. However, we may have picked the wrong verse to focus the substance of man’s salvation on a simple confession. When Jesus spoke these words, he was not speaking to a religious sect or those outside of his faith. He was speaking as a Rabbi, prior to the cross, to other members of the most monotheistic institution in history, Judaism, regarding another issue, the acceptance and forgiveness of sinners and the application of Jewish law. At the time, his audience were the Pharisees who were anything but polytheistic, pantheistic or atheistic. So what was Jesus’ point? What message to his listeners in this historical context?
What strikes me as obvious with the gospel writer, John, is Christ’s “I Am” statement was meant to confront and trump the ruling Jewish establishment (Pharisaic Judaism) and their religious practices which were marginalizing people outside their righteous community. It was his ultimatum to accept his authority to emancipate these communities, forgive their sins, and to embrace the social ethic in His Gospel preaching including active service to the fringe of society (i.e. Samaritans, the sick, etc), militant movements (rebels), and authoritative cultures (the Romans). Christ’s Gospel was a message of acceptance, forgiveness and service to people in and outside the strict Judaist cultural comfort zones (i.e. family, social status, religious practice, and nationality). In his “I Am” statement, Jesus establishes His universal right to define an ethical norm for cultural and economic practices.
In the following pages, I’ll develop and support this perspective from John 8:24. As such, the choice of songs that Sunday morning were a great fit before and after your message – Amazing Grace (recall Newton’s “career” as a slave trader, his acceptance of God’s forgiveness and the role it played in turning a slave trader to an redemptive force for the black slave) and How Great Is Our God (indeed, as Christ has broken the barriers between race, culture, economics, through the gospel – our ability individually, corporately and in our national governance to extend the foundation and practice acceptance, forgiveness, and service). So let me frame the discussion starting with some of the symptoms of our challenge to understand John 8:24.
“I Am” in the Modern World
In our multicultural world, the message of the cross and the deity of Christ is controversial. Among western secularist societies, it’s seen as both narrow and ignorant of other religious cultures. In our increasingly pluralistic world, it is viewed as lacking tolerance for other peoples of race, religion, and culture (i.e. the popular perception of the missionary moment). Christians are viewed as wanting to convert everyone without sensitivity to cultural beliefs. Popular Western culture often rejects Christ and Christianity on these grounds, and adopts a more soften view of our faith, Christ as a moral teacher or prophet, the golden rule, the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, and so on. The implication that one religion could be right and all other religions wrong does not sit well with us.
In contrast to the rise and dominance of our secularist world views over the past 200 plus years, it is ironic that the first war of the 21st century turned out to be a religious war. In the east/west conflict over terrorism, we see the radical hard lines of the Muslim faith and its call to Jihad, the defeat of the great Satan (the US), and a world governed by strict Sharia Law. Such radical views played out on the world stage only affirm that fundamental or hard line religion is something to be avoided, including the radical message of Jesus.
So where does that leave us on the issue of the God/man and John 8:24? There is no question that Jesus claimed He was God. The written accounts of the various writers of the New Testament confirm this so as to leave no doubt. But what purpose did this serve? Unless you believe that Jesus is God, you will die in your sins. Is this the message? Is this the universal principle of salvation for all men, a line that divides Christianity and all other religions? Is the point of our Lord’s statement to be reduced a literal understanding of John 8:24 by itself? Or, is there more to it? Does the historical context tell us anything different? Is our current understanding more of a post Nicene perception rather than a pre Nicene? Or, does the historical context from the writer, John, force us in a different direction? Are we suffering from a moment of historical amnesia that, if allowed to speak, feeds a more specific meaning into this statement?
I suggest there is a broader background asking to be heard and which provides a more satisfying understanding of John 8:24. Jesus spoke his words in a very pluralistic religious situation similar to our own today. In fact, a light reading of the Bible quickly reveals how a monotheistic faith was to behave in a pluralistic world (i.e. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, The Prophetic books, etc.). The linkage between action and accountability for the poor or powerless regardless of culture and the supreme God occupies the dominate message of Bible, especially in the Prophets and Gospels. This contextual framework painted by the New Testament and Old Testament writers should be allowed to speak for John 8:24. What does it mean to be a follower of the monotheistic God in the world? Is it radical fundamentalism or something else?
An illustration may help to make the point why we need to look back in time. The newspaper headline “The Braves Scalped The Indians” can have several meanings. The literal interpretation of these words depends on when you lived in history. During the early 18th century, it would refer to Indian tribes at war. Fast forward several hundred years later to the 21st century and it becomes a baseball headline. Literal translations are impossible without the historical context. This is true for our verse in question.
Connecting “I Am” to Forgiveness and Adultery
Our challenge to paint the right picture has been our inability to connect the literal with the historical in Biblical interpretation. There are many situations where “literalism” without historical context has done much damage to Church’s reputation. History has ample examples of “radical” sects who take verses out of context and used reductionist arguments to justify the most horrific of actions (i.e. from the Crusades to Jim Jones, and so on). But for us in the Protestant and Catholic main stream, the failure to apply this connection is more subtle but significant in its impact. Most notably, it is really a victory for the enemy of man, Satan himself as the embodiment of all that is evil. Anything that dilutes the gospel, especially if it is subtle enough not to be notice, can render Christianity fruitless. It is mission accomplished on the part of evil. This was the challenge of Judaism post 500 BC to the time of Christ. As a Jewish Rabbi, Jesus critique of Judaism of the time was a system and definition of righteousness so well developed that it misunderstood the heart of its own message.
How did this happen, and why is it relevant to Christ’s “I Am” statement? For many training preachers and career messengers of the Cross, creeds and credos, Greek and Hebrew, cultural and political studies are the boring and unpractical sides of their training. These areas are left to the few eccentric students and teachers in general. Rather, most enthusiastic workers want to get to the “meat” of the matter, saving souls as fishers of men. And here is a breakdown in training replicated into the pastoral and lay ministry. The historical and literal context of the Old Testament and New Testament is the foundation point to understand Christian gospel. Without the historical background, the gospel message is neutered, much like the case of “the braves scalped the Indians” above. This is true with John 8:24.
The results has left us outside of the modern debate on multiculturalism and especially economic practices which are surrendered to an “Adam Smith’s Darwinian view” of free markets ethics (i.e. verses “fair markets”). When allowed to speak, the gospel has more to say on multiculturalism and economics than any other world view, and by implication, this verse. Jesus said more about the principles and values of economics (i.e. the “poor” – mentioned one out of every ten verses in the New Testament and one out of every seven versus in Luke’s gospel) than any other topic in the gospels. It’s tragic that modern Christianity boxed itself outside the multicultural debate only because it did not listen to its own history.
The historical context of John 8:24 needs to be stressed as it is the rub of the matter. The connection between history and the gospel can help put the gospel back into a place of social credibility. However, the North American Evangelical movement has not been prolific at communicating the gospel as both a personal and public reform, AND linking the two closely together (i.e. as James, the brother of Jesus does or John Wesley did linking salvation to the boycotting of tea to oppose black slavery). Yes, there have been excellent and extremely valuable movements in this direction (i.e. Martin Luther King, World Vision, Mother Teresa, and many others including the efforts at Liberation Theology), but the gospel today is associated with irrelevance in the Western world and limited to those individuals whose lives are so bankrupt, they require an extraordinary personal experience to reform. What about the rest of us? Can John 8:24 say anything of value?
These are sweeping statements and generalizations. And, they are probably not fair to those who work hard in the public ministry. However, in the business of marketing, there is a saying about “inside the bottle” and “outside the bottle.” Inside the bottle is the corporation. Here, everything is going well. Plans are being executed, costs are being contained and financial goals met. Things are comfortable here. Outside the bottle are the customers. Here, things are not going so well. Products are in short supply, and fail often. Customer support is hard to find and problem resolution rare. Today, successful companies have to take an outside the bottle approach to marketing. All analogies fall short, but I suggest the approach Jesus took embodies the gospel as an “outside the bottle.” In other words, salvation is not so much about “me” or “I” as it is about the other, the “poor,” the “powerless.” This subtle shift towards “I” and “me” is what makes the gospel irrelevant and pushes it to the side of private morality. Oddly enough, one of the greatest critics of Christianity, Frederick Nietzsche understood the social gospel message as core to both Christianity and Judaism, and attacked Christianity on this point, at its heart calling it the “morality of the poor,” (Beyond Good and Evil, On The Genealogy of Morality, etc)
The Woman Caught in Adultery – An Historical Perspective to John 8
The following historical outline for John 8:24 is not new. It follows the text as John presents it. What may be new for some, will be the insight on how the pieces fit together for John 8:24. This fitting, I hope, will give fresh insight. If we correctly understand Christ statement, it may be the right step to continual renewal of the gospel message in a multicultural society and global economy. Unfortunately, not all will accept it. It is, after all, a narrow path, but not an ignorant one. It contributes a viable voice to the discussions of culture and nations.
- The situation of John 8:24 is a debate about Jesus’ authority to forgive the adulterous woman’s sin and set her free from her accusers. The judicial authority of the time, the Pharisees and scribes at the Jewish treasury and court (the temple) question the authority Jesus to act on behalf of the women. It was a trap by the Pharisees against Jesus in the temple knowing that his message of forgiveness for the adulterous women would contradict their established laws. Jesus, the Rabbi (i.e. a modern day trained Harvard or Yale law professor of his time), turns the question back on them. When they can’t answer, he forgives the women. It was immediately after his public act of judicial forgiveness that Jesus claims he is the light of the world and those that follow him (i.e. follow his precedent in such matters) will have the light of life. The Pharisees disagree saying he is a false witness in the matter of forgiveness. What follows is Jesus defense of being the light (i.e. the Father’s witness), and his audacious claim that failure to follow him will leave them dead in their sins (a community condemned by God). Furthermore, his authority to forgive the unforgivable and linkage to his claim as the light of world is grounded in his statement “I Am” (God, who spoke Moses at the burning bush). Not to accept his authority to forgive and its grounding in his divine nature is to die condemned by God.
- In the post amble of John 8:24, the Pharisees continued to debate and confront Jesus as truth, light, witness from the Father, etc., leading to Jesus climatic statement of his claim to be YHWH in John 8:58 so as there is no mistaking the point that he has the authority to forgive. The writer’s treatment of this heated discussion and Jesus assertion to be YHWH was Jesus’ forgiveness of an adulterous woman. The point was NOT that you must confess Jesus to be God to be saved, but rather you must forgive in order to be saved from your own sins. The authority from which Jesus speaks was his claim to be God, YHWH. For the Pharisees, they would neither accept his claim to forgive the adulterous women nor his divine imperative to do so.
- A similar situation was repeated in the healing of the paraplegic at Peter’s house. At Peter’s house, Jesus confronts the Sabbath laws by posing the question, “which is it easier to say, your sins are forgiven or rise up and walk?” The religious leaders understand that the crippled mans state is cause by his sins. Jesus question implies that to forgive, he must be God as only God can forgive sins, a difficult claim at best. To heal the man demonstrates both his power to forgive sin and indirectly his claim as God. Healing the cripple becomes proof positive of his authority to forgive. In the case of the adulterous women, the stage is set not in Peter’s house, but formally in the treasury and temple as a trap for the discussion that follows on what authority does Jesus forgive as a Rabbi rescuing the woman from certain judicial death sentance. Jesus states his purpose and actions are in line with the Fathers. He climaxes his argument around his claim “I Am.” His position as God (ultimate authority – the one who spoke to Moses at the burning bush) gives Him the right to forgive those that have failed and trumps conventional Jewish law that will show no mercy. This is the crux of His argument and one that he clearly understands the implications of.
- The context of John 8:24 is pre Nicene and pre cross, so the PRIMARY meaning must be interpreted in its original context, NOT as post resurrection statement pertaining to atonement as illustrated in the following popular statement: “Jesus is saying that forgiveness of your sins, the very work he did on the cross cannot be applied unless you understand who died for you. So believing Jesus is the savior in a general sense is not enough. Believing Jesus is the Son of God in a general sense without actually understanding it is a claim to deity is not enough.” http://www.letusreason.org/Trin19.htm (No. 1 position in Google search string “unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins”). Simply put, this is poor biblical exegesis (historical, grammatical, and literal interpretation) and reads meaning into the text that is not there. Jesus’ argument was against the Pharisees who challenged his authority to forgive. To the masses, his message of salvation was one of acceptance, forgiveness, and extreme service to all men. Those who practices this, believed in him and his message would bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. For those that confront the power of forgiveness, he confronts them as the judging and living God. It’s a terrifying proposition echoed in the Lord’s Prayer (“Forgive us our debts, as we …”).
- The context following John 8:24 is the continuation of the argument about Jesus authority to forgive the sin of the adulterous women. The presupposition is that only God has the rightful authority to forgive sins, so how can Jesus forgive sins. Jesus continues to make the argument that his works of forgiveness for the “unrighteous” (bridging the gap between race and social status through the example of forgiveness) are the highest works of the Father, and ultimately grounded in His claim to be God.
The Social Gospel as the Forgiveness of Sins
The social Gospel in the New Testament and Old Testament sets the broader stage for understanding the I Am claims. These selected readings illustrate the great themes of forgiveness in bible, both forgiveness bible verses and scriptures consistent with Jesus forgiveness of the adulterous woman.
- Jesus’ own mission statement in Luke 4:18 was not a general declaration about making the world’s wrongs right, but a specific call to the liberation of people wrongful burdened by a social status, stigma, and misguided notions under Judaism of the time (“the acceptable year of the Lord,” better known as Jubilee). It was in part an appeal to a return to the Jewish practice of Jubilee, the return of assets (i.e. land and debt elimination) although Judaism had developed many technical practices to avoid the transfer of wealth (loans, land, and labor). His mission statement in Luke 4:18 also embraced his teaching covering the rich and poor, men and women, finance and economics, law and freedom, war and peace, race and culture, empire and occupation. His magna carta for Jubilee was outline in the Sermon on the Mount, in many illustrations (parables), and summarized by the Lord’s Prayer. The controversies of his teachings were his miracles performed to upset the governing religious, social and political establishment (i.e. the blind beggar at the temple). This “buzz” and debate focused on Jesus’ ability to accept, forgive and service people regardless of their ethnic or social background, health condition, and moral state or religious background. Jesus was breaking new ground in multiculturalism through forgiveness, and was very much a pioneer of his time.
- Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer carries not only the definition of the Kingdom of God (“thy Kingdom come”), but a similar warning to John 8:24 in the terrible partition, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The word sin should be translated as debt, financial debt (Kittle, Theological Dictionary, Vol V, 1977, p.559ff). One cannot miss his ultimatum and its connection to his proclamation of Jubilee. This is first full warning against not exercising forgiveness in perhaps its most difficult form, financial debt. Augustine called it the terrible petition for good reason.
- This motif continues at Peter’s house with Christ’s pertinent question to the Pharisees before he heals of the paraplegic, “which is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise up and walk?’” Here, his question breaks the old paradigm that sickness and entailing social stigma is not the fault and punishment of one’s sins or their parent’s shortcomings. Sin’s can only be forgiven by God, so it impossible for man, especially a Rabbi to make this statement. Equally, to heal the man is to grant that his past has been forgiven. The restoration of health means God’s judgment has been removed. It’s a trick question that dissolves if Jesus does not heal the man. In this case, the healing is a public demonstration that his sins are forgiven and that he is to be resorted to full social status. Here, as in so many of the other miracles, Jesus is bridging one of many oppressive societal gaps. His legal authority as a Jewish Rabbi for his actions is his divine claim to be God. His actions are in line with the works of His Father.
- Jesus practice to forgive the unforgivable is deliberately giving his Jewish counterparts quite a shock, disrupting legal and cultural norms.
- First, by departing from the pure monotheistic principles of Judaism. His controversial forgiveness and acceptance of sinners was linked to His claim to be God. One may wonder this was necessary. Why not just stick to a reform message? But, a reform message is not enough; it had to be grounded in a higher reality and authority for it to have universal application and motivation. To be universally based requires a metaphysical claim that Jesus was God and links the gospel message to man’s value as made in image of God. Unfortunately, the 20th century was one of the bloodiest on record and proof positive that man is worse off without God. In post WWII, the United Nation developed concepts such a “crimes against humanity” to deal with man’s violence against man, but they are universally weak, lacking metaphysical appeal across cultures and can suffer the humanism collapse into nihilism. The compelling reality for all nations is in the One God as sole creator and judge of men. As creator, we are not only in His image, but personably accountable for our behavior to one another. Jesus’ ongoing demonstration of forgiveness as God is a frightful reminder of our social responsibility to really care for those who fall outside the norms of any convention, especially religious.
- Second, Jesus shifts from the letter of the law to the heart of religion. He brings back into Judaism the original teaching of Moses. God, as creator who endows all men with His image, holds men accountable for their actions to one another. This standard is call to righteousness. It is a standard of social acceptance, forgiveness, and service that breaks the destructive social barriers of race, culture, norms, and softens the common standards of justice (i.e. the Sermon on the Mount). It embodies the Jewish “Shalom” or peace as human flourishing and is a distinctive multicultural message. These are standards for Christians to live by that lie behind His claim to be God. One cannot read the gospels and not see the simple logic of his claim. If Jesus as God can forgive the unforgivable (the brutality of the Romans and the ensuing social debt from Roman taxes), accept the unacceptable (the half breed Samaritans and their other temple), and service those of lesser status (the sick and poor perceived to be under a Jewish form of “karma” – the judgment of God), then we are expected to behave in a similar manner. At a very minimum, our heart must be in the right place when I look at my neighbor, my brother, my enemy, or those in need or who owe me money (i.e. divorce situations). Saying that it is “too bad for this person or that person” is not enough. It’s a call to action that Jubilee was. Unfortunately, as Judaism developed after Solomon in 500 BC, in its zeal for the Kingdom of God shifts the teachings of Moses with the primacy of moral law over men and harshly judges those men and women outside of its tightly held standards. Oddly enough, these religious standards were expected to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. And ironically, it’s unfortunate that both the Catholic and Protestant have strayed tragically from these founding principles at some time in their respective histories as well.
- Jubilee – “The acceptable year of our Lord” – This practice in Jesus teaching set the standard for economic and social codes of conduct. What’s noteworthy here is that Jubilee was not a communistic or socialist practice for the distribution of wealth. It was a free and fair market system that prevents the consolidation of wealth (particularly land) over time and gives back to individuals and families the means to care for themselves and not be subject to the exploits of consolidated financial power. The 48th year was like a game of monopoly where the game started over again with minor adjustments happening every seven years. The forgiveness of debt and the restoration of family land was the tipping point in the economic renewal cycle.
- The Exodus – Moses as the writer of the Pentateuch witnesses a genocide of those least able to defend themselves, those Hebrews under two years old by mandate of his Egyptian country, and watches the increasing brutalization of a Hebrew slave people. These acts were justified under the polytheistic religion of Egypt and the Pharaoh’s status as a potential god. It was the impetuous for God to come to Moses and for Moses to write the first five books. Here YHWH or God demonstrates His superiority against empire and the polytheist world that produced the ethics of genocide against a slave nation and their young. These actions by YHWH and the opening chapters of Genesis speak directly for the dignity of all men, regardless of ethnicity or culture. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in the opening narrative of Genesis is one of the most concise questions about the value of all men. Its answer, in the context, is obvious. These values are at the heart of the law, as alluded to by Jesus in such famous illustration about “Who is my neighbor?”
What Does Adultery in the New Testament Teach Us Today?
Simply put, what does John 8:24 mean? Like many Rabbi’s of his time, Jesus in typical rabbinic fashion, makes a logical play on words to drive home a very serious point. As God, YHWH, he has the authority to forgive her sin. And it’s the same authority by which he meets with sinners (i.e. tax collectors), helped a Roman centurion that probably oversaw the execution of his Jewish bothers (rebels), accepted the Samaritans, and associate with the poor, the sick and their needs. These are only a few of his actions. In each case, he looked into their heart and expected them to practice the same level of forgiveness, acceptance, and service as he showed. Believing on Him to be saved meant God’s forgiveness, and the adoption of his social teaching on ethnic acceptance (Samaritans and sinners), the practice of forgiveness (the sick) and extends it to the highest level, serve to our enemies (the Romans). For His Jewish listeners in John 8:24, who could not accept his practice and belief in Him, he condemns them to their own sin that will separate them from God. Jesus is almost being poetic in his judgment. The very thing that separates the Jewish elite from others, sin, is what they will be accused of and separates them from God. If you don’t forgive others for the very things you consider to be righteous for, you will die in your sins – this is the significance of Jesus claim to be God.
To bring this full circle, the passage of John 8 24 is pertinent to both personal forgiveness and multicultural acceptance (i.e. Israel and Palestine or race in America). The adulterous woman who lives outside the bounds of cultural Judaism and under the threat of death is who Jesus, the Rabbi, forgives, accepts and serves. These were his actions as light of the world and as the Prince of Peace to restore peace and human flourishing. To read this verse in support of message that one must believe Jesus to be God to receive the forgiven of sins is a distortion of the text and historical context. Rather, this verse anchors his authority to forgive and his example as the light of the world.
Reclaiming the Historical Authority for Forgiveness
Most people Jesus forgave did not have a clue who he was other than a controversial Rabbi, including the adulterous women. However, to those who challenged his ability to forgive (a peace maker) Jesus confronts them with his claim as God and judge of their sins. The former view sees John 8 through the language of a post Nicene world that starts with the definition of who God is, as tri-unity. In the historical/literal interpretation, where the text can speaks for itself, the writer John focused on forgiveness as the starting point of salvation grounded in Christ authority and example as God to do the same. The consequences of not practicing forgiveness are dire. It tackles the heart of the matter on divisive social issues (the adulterous woman, but also other areas of private morality such as gay marriage, etc) and speaks to his broader practice of cultural acceptance, forgiveness and service. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we endorse cultural practices that are outside the law of love. It does imply we accept people unconditionally and leaves room for cultural diversity which fit under the paradigm and ethics of man made in the image of God. In this way, John 8:24 has little to do with the atonement and justification of the Apostle Paul’s writings, and more to do with James 1:27 (“pure and undefiled religion is to take care of the orphans and widows in their distress…”) and the Lord’s Prayer. It begins to integrate a cultural society of segregation and hate between Jews and their own people and extends to Samaritans, Romans, and in this case, an adulterous woman. The Gospel, as embellished on the Sermon on the Mount was a personal and political manifesto of acceptance, forgiveness, and service to be practiced as community.
The gospel of forgiveness and force of this John 8 24 may suggest that we’ll see Mormons, Muslims, Jews, and peoples of other religious practice in kingdom of heaven. The thief on the cross, the Roman Centurion, the Samaritan all had varying beliefs, from strict monotheism to polytheism. We don’t know if these people “converted” in our modern Protestant or Catholic sense, but we do know that they believed Jesus had authority to forgive as they were eyewitness of His miracles. And, we know they understood what His practice meant for their lives as He invites them into His Kingdom. In practice, the Gospel and its multicultural values, has direct worldwide practical application for the Hindu when the laws of karma reveals her victims (i.e. the Untouchables), for Buddhism when it show’s an indifference for dealing directly with evil in this world, for the Muslims and Jews by calling them to acceptance, forgiveness, and to restoration for one another (land and dignity) and not to retribution based on race and religion.
For western culture, the gospel underpins the dignity of man as more than just a random metric of “crimes against humanity,” or other altruistic sound bites. More importantly, it places a “metaphysical imperative” behind the motivation for the forgiveness of economic debt (private, corporate, international), the shadow lurking near many of our social crimes and issues both locally and internationally. For the Christian believer, it carries the terrible warning that “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” In our personal lives, it speaks to our behavior in family relationships, and to our situations in marriage, especially divorce. It informs our actions to both our neighbors and enemies. Christ’s practice points the way to break down divisive social barriers and heal our communities, locally and internationally. In doing so, he teases out something beyond Judaism’s practice of law to bring about the Kingdom of God. This something was the law of love, a religion of the heart measure by our acceptance, forgiveness and service, and in so much as we practice forgiveness, we bring in the Kingdom of God here and now. This is the importance and warning of John 8:24.