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Now [by] saying this they were testing Him in order that they might have [grounds] to accuse Him. But bending over, Jesus began writing with His finger on the ground.


By saying this they were trying to trick Him so that they could find a reason to accuse Him of something. But bending over from His sitting position, Jesus began to write with His finger on the ground.


Instead of giving them an answer of one kind or another, as they had hoped, Jesus simply bent over from His seated position and started writing something on the ground with His finger.

This should have reminded them of three things from the Old Testament.

God wrote the summary of the Former Covenant with His finger on tablets of stone.

God used the dust of the tabernacle to prove the innocence or guilt of a woman caught in adultery.

Jeremiah wrote something about people being written in the dust. It is found in our Bibles at Jeremiah 17:13 and reads like this: “All who forsake you will be put to shame; those who turn away will be written on the ground.” The passage does not specifically say people’s names will be written in the dust, but names are implied because how else do you write someone in the dust apart from writing their name?

What Jesus wrote in the dust is not really the point. It could have been anything. The simple act of writing something on the ground was fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah and thus a rebuke to those who were trying to trick Jesus. However, the word used in this verse and translated “writing” is specific to writing words in contrast to drawing pictures or doodling. Therefore, because Jesus was writing words, and because the passage in Jeremiah talks about people who will be written in the dust (meaning their names), I think there is a good possibility that He was writing their names.

The symbolism of writing in the dust, rather than on another surface, was also powerful. It meant that they would suffer such complete destruction that there would be nothing left of them except dust. This symbolism was present despite the fact that none of them carried sticky notes or a small notebook in their robes nor a ballpoint pen, a mechanical pencil or a sharpie in their wide belts. The only things the general public had to write with were sticks, shards or pottery and their fingers. The only things they could write upon were shards of pottery, pieces of wood or the ground, but since one’s finger is not a good way to write on pottery or wood, it is logical that Jesus would write in the dust of the ground/floor. Yes, He could have done a miracle and used His finger to burn something into wood, but pieces of flat wood were not randomly lying around the temple courts and Jesus used His miracles with purpose, not just to show off. What I am saying is that the symbolism was still real and powerful even though, if Jesus wanted to write something, He did not have any other good option than to write with His finger in the dust of the ground/floor.

When Jesus bent over from his seated position and started writing something in the dust, I believe the people who had been listening to Him gathered around to see what He was doing. Thus they formed a ring around the religious leaders, who themselves had formed a ring around Jesus and this woman.

But the religious leaders were so intent on catching Jesus in their trap that they missed the meaning of His action. They did not follow their own practices of interpreting things in light of the Old Testament. It is likely that they thought Jesus was trying to avoid answering their question, so they pressed him for an answer, not realizing that Jesus was not making it about the woman, but about them and was actually giving them a strong rebuke by writing things in the dust.