Lou: Graham, you referred to this beautiful scene in the New Testament where a woman taken in adultery is brought to Jesus and He says, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:3-11). But when you go back to the Old Testament, God is ordering the destruction and death of Achan and his family (Joshua 7). Why would there be that apparent discrepancy?
Graham: If Jesus had agreed that the woman taken in adultery should be stoned, He would probably have had a large following. They would have approved of this. One explanation of the Achan story is that Achan did not repent, and so he had to be stoned. The woman taken in adultery did repent, which raises the interesting question: Had she not repented, would Jesus have joined in stoning her? I don’t think so!
I’d rather look at the Achan story in its total setting. In the case of Achan, there was irreverence, there was lack of trust. They were about to go into Canaan. God needed to make an important point in that context, whether or not there was repentance on Achan’s part. With the woman taken in adultery the situation was different. It called for Him to say something else. His gracious treatment of this woman who had been taken advantage of, and His incredibly gracious treatment of those pretentiously pious accusers, is what needed to be said at that time. Everything God does in Scripture is designed to say something that needs to be said at that time, and when you take the Bible as a whole, you see a consistency in it.
Lou: Jesus is so gentle with them in John 8. And that’s what His ministry was like for three and a half years. But then in the early church you have the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), something similar to the Achan story.
Graham: And the third angel’s message is fire and brimstone (Rev 14:10-11).
Lou: So why couldn’t God act throughout the whole biblical period the way He acted during those three and a half years?
Graham: As I understand it, those three and a half years were a demonstration of God’s ideal way of doing things. This is the way He would like to do it all the time. It wasn’t well received by many. Some despised Him for being so gentle. He was gentle with everybody. He was gentle with Judas, gentle with the men who nailed Him to the cross. This is the way God wishes to act for all eternity. He was demonstrating that you can only govern that way when the people you are governing are impressed favorably with that, when they respect you and do not misunderstand this gentleness as weakness. But where there is rebellion and disrespect, God has had to act differently.
Lou: This ties in with what you have talked about before. When God doesn’t act with that kind of gentleness, we’re in emergency situations where the uniqueness of the situation calls for an action appropriate to that situation, even though that action is still based upon love.
Graham: That’s right. I love going through the sixty-six books of the Bible to see the consistency there. God all the way through is trying to say and demonstrate what needs to be said—under varying circumstances with the whole universe looking on.
Lou: But when God comes in the person of Jesus Christ and acts with gracious acceptance, we take Him out and crucify Him!
Graham: Yes, they didn’t respect Him for this. They would have respected Him more if He had said, “Let’s stone that woman, and I’ll throw the first stone.”
Lou: They really didn’t want the kind of God that Jesus talked about.
Graham: That’s right. They even said He was possessed of a devil to describe God in that way (John 8:48). Yet He wept even as He denounced them for doing this.