The writing God


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Jesus writes on the ground with his finger according to John 8:1–11.

Jesus did not write any books, or commentaries on the Bible. He is not known for His literary flair in either poetry or prose. He is not known for even one single stroke of a pen—yet His words are read throughout the world and have been for the last 2000 years. His sermons and teachings were faithfully recorded and passed down the generations by the Gospel writers. They have been read by countless millions, many of whom have encountered the transformative power of the living Christ through the Gospel writings.

However, the only time that Jesus is recorded as having written something, we have no record of the actual words. However, there are enough clues in the gospels, and Old Testament prophecies to show at least why He wrote. These writing connections go right back to Genesis and the historical foundations of the Bible. This article will look at these connections and ask, why did Jesus write?1

Jesus wrote on the ground

Olivier Lévy/WikimediaA gold menorah on display in Jerusalem.
A gold menorah on display in Jerusalem.

John 8:1–11 tells of the woman caught in adultery. Certain scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus, tempting Him, in order to accuse Him.2 During His challenge for the sinless to cast the first stone, Jesus twice wrote on the ground (Greek: ghay ‘earth, ground’) with His finger (Greek: daktulos).3 The Greek word used in v. 6 for ‘write’ is γράφω (grapho) which specifically refers to the writing of words (also used in 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Galatians 6:11). This does not mean, (as some commentators have insinuated) that Jesus, through embarrassment, merely doodled in the earth, while He thought of something to say—no, He deliberately wrote words. Scripture doesn’t tell us what Christ wrote, but His accompanying verbal challenge caused the woman’s accusers to skulk away in shame, leaving Him free to proclaim forgiveness of sins.

John 7:37a gives the background to this incident, which happened just after the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). During this time, water was poured ceremonially onto the altar and a huge menorah (lamp-stand) was lit, sending light into all Jerusalem. During the feast, Christ proclaimed Himself the spiritual source of living water (John 7:38) and the light of the world (John 8:12). Such titles could only be claimed by Israel’s Messiah, who was the Creator become Saviour (John 1:1–19).

When God writes

It is instructive to compare scripture with scripture, to look at other biblical passages describing God writing—specifically, why, when, and what. This should further illumine our understanding of why Christ wrote.

The first occurrence is Exodus 31:17–18. Here, writing with His finger on tablets of stone, God set out the ten commandments, the fourth referring to His work of creation over six days, before resting on the seventh (cf. Exodus 20:8–12; 24:12; 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:10). The seventh day is the reason for the Sabbath covenant. God creating all things in six days (not millions of years) reveals the supreme power and perfection of the Creator with whom Israel was in covenant, and who they worshipped on the Sabbath.

Next is Exodus 32:32–33. After Israel’s fall into grave sin at the golden calf incident, Moses interceded for the people, and asked to be blotted out of a book written by God, if He would not forgive the people. God replies to Moses: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” The identity of this book is not specified, and many biblical commentators have offered opinions.4 However it may refer to the Lamb’s Book of Life (see below), or the Covenant. Not to be ‘written into’ that Covenant/Book would mean to be cut off from Israel and eternal life. Whatever the identity of the book, or the meaning of being ‘blotted out’, it surely indicates God’s righteous judgment on sin.

Guido Reni, public domainMoses with the Tables of the Law (painted ca. 1624).
Moses with the Tables of the Law (painted ca. 1624).

Babylon falls

Daniel 5:5–31 (vss. 5, 25) records another manifestation of God’s writing. Here, at Belshazzar’s idolatrous feast, the Jewish Temple implements used in sacred worship and service of God were profaned. As a result, fingers of a man’s hand mysteriously appeared, writing words on the plaster wall. Daniel interpreted the words as coming from God’s hand (vs. 23–24). Belshazzar’s blasphemous actions meant his kingdom was numbered, weighed in the balance, and found wanting. God’s words were fulfilled when Darius the Mede slew Belshazzar and took the kingdom (vs. 31).5

Jesus fulfilled prophecy

Jeremiah 17:13 is a very significant passage:

“O lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the lord, the fountain of living water.”

Many commentators agree that Christ fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy.6 Firstly, we notice that the Lord (Yahweh) is titled “the hope of Israel.” In the New Testament, Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, declaring Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). It was this truth that prompted the Apostle Paul to proclaim Him the “hope of Israel” for whom he was willing to suffer chains and imprisonment (Acts 28:20, cf. 23:6; 24:15; 26:6–7). Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah 17:13 (cf. 14:8) by professing himself the fountainhead of living water (John 7:38, cf. 4:10–11), another potent symbol of life highlighted during Sukkot.

We can now appreciate the actions of Jesus in fulfilment of this OT passage. It was the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who forsook Him (John 1:10–11). They rejected His life, grace, and forgiveness, which instead was gratefully received by the adulteress. It was likely due to the hardness of their hearts that He wrote his words into the earth, in accordance with Jeremiah 17:13. In rejecting Jesus, the Jewish leaders rejected the life He offered (John 14:6), thus consigning themselves back to the earth—at death.

Adam—back to the earth at death

Jesus’ writing in the earth reminds us of the penalty of rebellion and sin. Genesis 3:19 teaches the results of the Curse—ultimately death—using the metaphor of earth/dust: “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.” In Genesis 3, we learn that our forefather Adam rejected the perfect will and life of God in favour of his own selfish will. The penalty was death, meaning he eventually returned to the ground from which he was created (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew for ‘Adam’ and ‘ground’ are very similar (‘adam’, ‘adamah’), indicating Adam’s name was emblematically written back into the earth at his death—as recorded at Genesis 5:5. We, as Adam’s offspring, also return to the earth at death (1 Corinthians 15:22). But the good news is that Jesus Christ, the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) paid the penalty for the first Adam’s sin and of his fallen race through His crucifixion and resurrection—good news for all who will repent of their sin and believe upon Jesus the Messiah. Only our Creator could become our Saviour, rescue us from the Curse of death, and give us eternal life. This is the hope of the Gospel, founded on the historic reality of Genesis.

It is written: Creation and Flood

Jesus’ authority came from the written words of God in Scripture. He said “it is written” some 46 times in the gospels. He also asked “have you not read?” eleven times,7 typically referring to Moses’ writings. A famous example is Matthew 19:4–5 where Jesus’ discourse with the Pharisees over divorce drew from Him a sharp rebuke. He pointedly asked them if they had read the Creation account of human beings (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; cf. Psalm 8:3–9). His argument had weight with the Pharisees because they recognized Moses’ written account was authoritative—the words written were from the Creator. (As an aside, Jesus quoting from both passages in Genesis refutes the idea of two ‘contradictory’ accounts of creation, proposed by modernists who doubt God’s Word.)

Jesus also referred to Noah and the Flood (Matthew 24:37–39) as historical realities, whereby God universally (not locally) judged sin. Because of the reality of Noah’s Flood, Jesus’ warning of the second judgment to come, at the “coming of the Son of Man”, is equally authoritative—and universal. Jesus began that particular discourse by stating: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Jesus was claiming equality between both God’s written Word and His own spoken words!

John 5:46–47 provides a striking example of Jesus claiming equal authority with God’s revealed Word:

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Jesus’ words are also a challenge to Christians today who doubt the historical reality and divine revelation of the Genesis account—of Creation, Adam, Eve, Noah, and the global Flood. If Christians can’t believe Moses’ words, Jesus is in effect saying to them, ‘Don’t you claim to believe My Words either?’ Both are based on historic truth and are equally divinely inspired.

Jesus—Word made flesh

Jesus taught that His and His Father’s words were equally authoritative. John chapter 1 clearly states that Jesus Christ, the Word, became flesh:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…” (John 1:1, 14).

Such claims derive from who Jesus Christ is—none other than the Creator of all things.

Written in the Book of Life

In conclusion, the Jewish leaders attempted to use the occasion of the adulterous woman (John 8) to bring Jesus into judgment, thereby rejecting Jesus’ testimony of who He was. However, it was Jesus who judged them, consigning them to the earth in which He wrote. Jesus brought forgiveness to the adulteress, and revealed Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12)—light which Israel celebrated during the Feast, but whose true source was unrecognized by them (John 1:4–5).

Why CMI writes

Like the woman caught in adultery, when we who likewise are sinners believe God’s Word, we are assured that our names are written—not in the earth—but in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). We look forward to a new heavens and earth, where sin, death, and suffering are no more (Revelation 21:4). To deny such reality is to deny the words of Jesus, which is precisely what the Jewish leaders did. Because God is the writing God, CMI’s mission is to continue to write edifying, challenging, and God-honoring words, calling Christians back to the authority of God’s Word. With your prayers and support, CMI can continue this most vital of missions.

Published: 27 December 2022

References and notes 

  1. This modified article first appeared in Update, CMI-UK/Europe, May 2022. It was in part based on a staff devotion given by David Shepherd, a now retired member of staff. Return to text.
  2. Possibly they intended to bring Him into collision with the Law, the Sanhedrin, or the Roman Government, who alone sanctioned capital punishment at this time. Return to text.
  3. This practice may also reflect a Rabbinic custom of the time. Return to text.
  4. See biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/32-32.htm. Return to text.
  5. Archaeology has vindicated the Bible’s claims about this king: Halley, K., Belshazzar: the second most powerful man in Babylon, Creation 37(3):12–15, Jul 2015; creation.com/archaeology-belshazzar. Return to text.
  6. See biblehub.com/commentaries/jeremiah/17-13.htm. Return to text.
  7. Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31; Mark 2:25; 12:10, 26; Luke 6:3. Return to text.

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