LIBERTY UNIVERSITY LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY AN EXEGETICAL LOOK AT JOHN 7:53-8:11

A RESEARCH PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. J. DAVID STARK IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COURSE NBST 652

BY DEBORAH BASKIN

VIDALIA, GA SUNDAY, AUGUST 12, 2012

TABLE OF CONTENTS

THESIS AND OUTLINE ............................................................................................................... 1 THESIS ........................................................................................................................................... 1 INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................... 3 CONTEXT ...................................................................................................................................... 4 SCRIPTURAL CONTEXT CONTROVERSY .......................................................................... 4 SCRIPTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT………………………………………...……5 ANALYZING JOHN 7:53-8:11…………………………………………………………………..7 SETTING OF NARRATIVE (JOHN 7:53-8:2)…………………………………………..……7 THE TRAP (JOHN 8:3-6a)……………………………………………….……………………9 THE DEFENSE (JOHN 8:6b-8)…………………………………………………...………….11 THE RETREAT (JOHN 8:9-10)……………………………………………………….……..12 THE RESPONSE OF THE WOMAN AND OF JESUS (JOHN 8:11)…………………….....13 CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................................. 13 APPLICATION ............................................................................................................................ 14 BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................................... 16

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THESIS AND OUTLINE

THESIS Jesus is teaching the people when the chief priests and the Pharisees become jealous and decide to trap Christ with a question regarding the Law of Moses concerning the stoning of a woman caught in adultery. Jesus seemed to ignore their questioning but finally replied to them with another question. Realizing that they had been outmaneuvered, the accusers left one at a time starting with the oldest. This results in Jesus being left alone with the accused woman. He responds that he does not condemn her but charges her to abandon her life of sin. OUTLINE
A. Setting of the Narrative (John 7:53-8:2) 1. The chief priests and the Pharisees go home. (v. 53) 2. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. (v. 1) 3. Jesus goes to the temple and sits down to teach the people who are gathered around him. (v. 2) B. The Trap (John 8:3-6a) 1. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. (v. 3-4) 2. The Law of Moses commanded stoning. (v. 5) 3. What do you say? (v. 6a) C. The Defense (John 8:6b-8) 1. Jesus stoops and writes with his finger on the ground. (v. 6b) 2. The accusers persist in seeking a response. (v. 7a) 3. Jesus responded that the one without sin could cast the first stone. (v. 7b)

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4. Jesus stoops and writes again on the ground. (v. 8)

D. The Retreat (John 8:9-10) 1. The accusers leave starting with the oldest until none were left. (v. 9) 2. Jesus straightens up and asked the woman if anyone has condemned her. (v. 10) E. The Response of the Woman and of Jesus (John 8:11) 1. The woman tells Jesus that no one has condemned her. (v. 11a) 2. Jesus tells her that He does not condemn her either. (v. 11b) 3. Jesus instructs her to leave her life of sin. (v. 11c)

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INTRODUCTION Entrapment was the strategy that the chief priests and the Pharisees had in mind the day they encountered Jesus teaching in the temple courts. These Jewish leaders did not recognize Christ as the Messiah. To them, he was an imposter and an interloper on their way of life. Consequently, they devised what they assumed to be a perfect plan to discredit Jesus as a teacher and as the Messiah. The meeting was not accidental but carefully crafted by these men. Their cast of characters included themselves as the wise and humble scribes and priests, the condemned woman, and Jesus as the incompetent rabbi (and in this situation, judge). The setting was the temple court where Jesus was sitting and teaching. Lastly, the anticipated audience was the silent, watching crowd to whom Jesus was teaching before the interruption of the pious ones. However, in this poignant pericope these men quickly discover that Jesus could not be tricked or intimidated by their evil scheme. Instead of forcing Christ to abrogate from the Mosaic Law, His acts and words strictly adhered to both the letter and the spirit of the law.1 What these men did not comprehend was that since Christ composed the law, He could not break the law. Unfortunately, for the chief priests and the Pharisees, instead of proving to the bystanders that Christ was an imposter, the opposite was emphasized. All of their plotting and scheming proved ineffective. With few words and fewer actions, Jesus clearly demonstrated that He not only could masterfully interpret and apply the law; He could also interpret the motivation of their malicious hearts. The tables were turned. No longer could the Pharisees and chief priests continue in their portrayal as the wise and humble servants of God. Instead their actions were revealed and they

Stephen A. James, “The Adulteress and the Death Penalty,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22, no. 1 (March, 1979): 47.

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slithered away one by one.2 Left alone on center stage were the adulterous woman and Jesus. Finally, Christ spoke to her and His words showed both compassion and knowledge in His application of the law. He obeyed the Law by not condemning the woman and He charged her to sin no more. CONTEXT SCRIPTURAL CONTEXT CONTROVERSY Though rich in meaning and spiritual significance, John 7:58-8:11 is one of the most disputed passages in John‟s Gospel.3 Borchert held to the belief that this passage appears to be more in line with Luke‟s gospel since he focused on the poor, homeless, and powerless in society.4 Additionally, Borchert expounded that the term used for scribes (grammateis), the place of designation (Mount of Olives), and identification of Jesus as teacher (didaskale), is not used anywhere else in the book of John.5 This text is omitted from most of the ancient authorities or it is placed in Luke.6 Despite these issues, this narrative contains the compassion and character of Christ indicating that this story is a factual account of Christ. Further, the evidence of omitting this text from John‟s Gospel is not conclusive. A case can be made that the early Greek fathers of the church had the story removed because of its controversial nature (i.e., the story portrayed Christ

G. L. Borchert, The New American Commentary, vol. 25A. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), under “John 1-11.”
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Allison A. Trites, “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” Bibliotheca Sacra 131, no. 522 (April 1, 1974): 137.
4 5 6

Borchert. Ibid. Trites, 137.

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as being too easy on adultery).7 This paper will not determine whether this narrative is true or properly positioned in John, but will continue with the assumption that the John placement is correct. SCRIPTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT The narrative should be classified among the synoptic conflict stories because “Jesus is asked to make a judgment while not repudiating the law.”8 Allison Trites presented an argument as to how this narrative “fits into the controversy-pattern of John chapters 1 to 12.”9 John‟s Gospel spends a great deal of effort in substantiating that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God through testimony. The following are some of the ways John demonstrated this: the witness of John the Baptist in John 1:6-8, 15, 19-34, and the witness of the first disciples in 1:35-51.10 Chapter two contains the testimony of the first sign and the testimony of the resurrection that came about after Christ cleansed the temple.11 Chapter three documented Christ‟s testimony before Nicodemus, and the one with John the Baptist, and ended with John‟s corroborative testimony.12 In chapter four there was the testimony of the Samaritans and of the second sign.13 These first four chapters launched the controversy over the claims of Jesus.14 John 7:1 stated,

Zane C. Hodges, “Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 9: The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:38-8:11): Exposition,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137, no. 545 (January, 1980): 41. Gary M. Burge, “A Specific Problem in the New Testament Text and Canon: The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 2 (June 1, 1984): 145,http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000945944 &site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed July 9, 2012).
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Trites, 138. Ibid., 139. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

10 11 12 13 14

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“After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.”15 The disagreement over Christ‟s claims increased in chapters five through twelve, which caused the opposition to increase. The controversy over his miracles occurred in chapters 5, 9, and 11. Chapter six dealt with the faith crisis in Galilee and “serves as an introduction to the „Great Controversy‟ of chapters 7-12... A great controversy is underway between God and the world.”16 This “Great Controversy” was divided into two elements: 1) chapters 7-10 showed the stages of it, and 2) chapters 11-12 dealt with the decisive judgment. Here one sees the events and discourses connected between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication.17 The stage for some of the players in this narrative is set in chapter seven with the three groups of people: the Jews (7:14-15), some Jerusalem inhabitants (7:25-31), and the chief priests and the Pharisees (7:45-52).18 This hostility that the Jewish leaders had toward Christ was growing and they began looking for ways to trap him. In John 7:14-24, the Jews debated with Him over His not following the Laws of Moses because Christ healed a crippled man on the Sabbath. In response to this, “Jesus accused the Jews of judging not with righteous judgment but according to appearance, and that they, not He, opposed the writings of Moses.”19 In John 7:40b41, the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet. Others said, „He is the Christ.‟” These statements served to advance the anger of the Jews. In verse 51, Nicodemus tried to calm the
15 16 17 18

Unless otherwise stated, all scripture will be from the NIV translation. Ibid. Ibid., 140. Ibid.

C. Baylis, “The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 582 (April 1, 1989): 175, http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000815031 &site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed July 9, 2012).

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Pharisees, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” However, the resentment of the Jewish leaders had reached an apex and they sought more fervently to find a way to discredit Him among the people. Christ had presented Himself as the Prophet by supplying living bread and walking on the water.20 He had shown mercy by healing a cripple on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees felt was in opposition to Law of Moses. On this point Christ confronted them by telling them that they were not of Moses since Moses spoke of him.21 This continued on through the concluding verses in John 7, thus eventuating into the Pericope Adulterae. In this situation, the Pharisees were determined to show their superiority in their knowledge of Moses and their place as the true leaders by testing Christ using the standards set forth in Deuteronomy. ANALYZING JOHN 7:53-8:11 SETTING OF THE NARRATIVE (JOHN 7:53-8:2) John 7:53-8:11 is not a section of scripture where it is difficult to determine meaning (in a literary sense) because it is a straightforward narrative. John does not make use of simile or allegory in this passage. Therefore, the language does not hold hidden meaning. The difficulty is in determining the motives of the players. There are a few topics where the scripture gives little enumeration. These include: 1) Why did Christ go to the Mount of Olives instead of a home? 2) Why was the woman bought to the court alone? 3) Where was the man? 4) What did Jesus write? 5) Why did the woman stay after her accusers had left? 6) What did the crowd think about the situation with the Pharisees and scribes leaving, and what did they think of the verdict of Christ

20

Ibid. Ibid.

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in this case? One has to reason or research these topics to gain insight. However, the general message of this narrative should be taken at face value. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles “everyone went to his home” (v. 53). Such was the custom of the people since on the preceding days they had slept in their booths. Now was the time that each man could return to the comfort of his own bed. However, Christ did not go to a comfortable bed. Instead he spent his night at the Mount of Olives. One might speculate as to His choice of a place of respite. Jamieson et al. suggested, “It might have been the Lord‟s ordinary custom from the beginning to leave the brilliant misery of the city every night, that so that He might compose His sorrowful and interceding heart, and collect his energies for new labors of love.”22 This portrayal of Christ‟s actions is in harmony with other such times in His ministry. The humanity of Christ required renewal to face the coming day of ministering to the people and to battle His opponents. Christ began his day at dawn (ὄρθρος) teaching to the gathering crowd while the Pharisees and chief priests slept in comfort.23 Already, one can see displayed a sharp distinction in Christ‟s love and commitment for His people when juxtaposed to that of the Jewish leaders. Because of His great compassion, despite His probable fatigue, Jesus comprehended the people‟s need to hear the Words of God and the promise of salvation. Therefore, after spending a night with the ground for His bed, Christ arrived at dawn at the temple court to teach to the gathering crowd of the early morning worshippers. Christ sat down when He taught. Sitting represented a position of authority in this

Robert Jamieson et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), under “Jn 7:53-8:10.”
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Hodges, 43.

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culture.24 Society recognized the miracles that Christ had performed and they hungered for His teaching of the scripture. Thus, they knew He had the right to sit and to teach. Throughout His ministry, Christ was also portrayed as one who was approachable. He did not allow the disciples to keep the people at a distance. This position of sitting in this instance represented one of teacher or rabbi. Yet, in other situations (i.e., Matthew 9:11) one sees Christ eating with the tax collectors, which angered the Pharisees. God, in the form of Christ, is unquestionably positioned higher than the Pharisees in both knowledge of the Law and concern over His people. While Jesus sat to teach, he also positioned himself in the midst of those He would teach. He did not elevate Himself. The scribes and Pharisees fought for the best seats where they could boast of their authority because of their prideful nature. Christ simply lived out His Father‟s will, which resulted in His receiving of honor. THE TRAP (JOHN 8:3-6a) What story would be worth reading if conflict in the form of an antagonist did not make its appearance? Herein enters the scribes and Pharisees dragging before the Rabbi a solitary woman caught in the act of adultery. Suddenly, the plot thickens. This is not going to be an ordinary church service (or temple teaching). As previously stated, the scene had been set. Christ was in the courts teaching the people when the scribes and Pharisees arrived with a woman caught in the act of adultery. The woman was thrust into the center of the court and she was charged with her crime. Their purpose had little to do with moral outrage. They were determined to entrap and accuse Jesus.25 In reality, it was unlawful for them to bring the woman before Jesus to be judged since this case should have

24 25

Borchert. Hodges, 44.

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been tried in a court.26 They were actually partaking in the very thing that they were trying to tempt Christ to do, which was to disregard or break the Law. They forced the woman to stand before the group so that all could see the sinner. However, here was another of their mistakes. They did not bring the man caught with her in the act. Why was this man not with his fellow adulterer? According to the Torah both the man and the woman were to be put to death by stoning;27 his absence leaves the reader (and the crowd) to speculate. Did this man escape his accusers or was he one of them? The scripture is silent on this matter. This was the occasion that they choose to ask a question to Christ. “Abruptly, the teaching ministry of Jesus was rudely disrupted.”28 They stated the case that the woman was caught in the act of adultery and the specified punishment in the Law of Moses and then asked Jesus to give His verdict. Calling Christ teacher was their way of acknowledging Him as a Teacher of the Law in order to show that He was a false teacher and a false prophet.29 They told Christ that the Law commanded “us” to stone such a woman. By using the word us, they were inferring that they were the eyewitnesses.30 Suggesting that they were the witnesses would pose another problem for them when Jesus responded. Sure of their victory in their tempting of Christ, they continued on and asked Christ what He had to say.

A. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), under “Jn 7:52-8:12.”
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Borchert. Hodges, 44. Baylis, 178. Ibid.

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This was the setup and it was malicious. They were pitting Jesus against Moses. If he did not condemn the woman, he would be proved to be a false prophet. This explains why these men made sure that there were spectators (i.e., Christ‟s disciples and the people) to this trial. However, if Christ did uphold the Mosaic Law, the Roman authorities could become involved and handle this false Messiah with a determined swiftness.31 Either way, these men would be assured of victory and the problem of this Rabbi would be solved. THE DEFENSE (JOHN 8:6b-8) Expectantly the scribes and Pharisees waited for Jesus‟ verdict. However, Christ was silent. He bent down and began to write with his finger on the ground. The men most likely believed they had, in fact, trapped Christ. One can imagine that inwardly they were celebrating their victory by supposing that Christ was simply avoiding their question because He (Jesus) knew He had been trapped. So, these evil men persisted (epimenein)32 and pressed Christ for a response. And much to their chagrin, Christ did reply in John 8:7. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” When he finished speaking, he bent down and began to write with His finger on the ground for a second time. This writing with His finger on the ground presented a vivid image of God writing the Law with His finger on the tablets. One wonders, was Christ remembering when He composed those commandments? Was He remembering the hardness of His people‟s hearts and their betrayal of Him by worshipping a golden calf while He wrote the Law? The text is silent on this act, but a connection can be made with little imagination.

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Hodges, 45. Borchert.

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It is doubtful that these men‟s sins suddenly began to play like a movie in their minds convicting each of his past sins. The sin that they were most likely convicted of was the present situation. Christ acknowledged the Mosaic Law with his response “let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”33 As composer of the Law, Christ knew all of the Law. Subsequently, He called for the witnesses to be without sin. This “identified another Mosaic requirement for the proposed action, namely, that witnesses be nonmalicious.”34 In Deuteronomy a malicious witness is described as a man who accuses someone falsely. This false witness shall incur the same punishment as the one charged. If these men were discovered as false witnesses, they would all have been stoned since they had claimed that they were witnesses to this act. THE RETREAT (JOHN 8:9-10) The entrapment had failed. Instead of ensnaring Jesus, the Law had trapped the Pharisees. The men left beginning with the oldest (the highest position of honor) until all were gone. They did not leave because they were grieved at their sin, which was twofold. First, they used a woman with no regard whether she lived or died and they purposely tried to set-up Christ. “Each Pharisee, in his desire to avoid the very stones he had suggested for another, overcame his pride and walked out of the temple area.”35 All except the woman and Christ vacated the center of the court. The people were still privy to the proceedings. Finally, Jesus spoke to the woman who had remained transfixed to her spot.

33 34 35

Baylis, 180. Ibid., 181. Ibid,. 182.

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THE RESPONSE OF THE WOMAN AND OF JESUS (JOHN 8:11) This act of speaking to her was radical in that society. “No rabbi would have spoken to any woman in public.” 36She had remained silent the entire proceedings. “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With tenderness and grace Christ had dispersed her accusers with few words.37 Instead of fleeing to escape a death sentence, she had stayed. In her wretched state of condemnation, she had seen Jesus‟ compassion, composure, and wisdom. She responded, “No one sir.” Again, she did not leave. The verdict was now given, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Christ, the man without sin, did not condemn her. He showed His mercy. But, He gave her a charge to stop sinning. The crowd was still silent and watching in amazement at the Rabbi‟s knowledge and application of God‟s laws. The woman had been given a second chance. CONCLUSION John shared the wisdom and the grace of Christ with twelve verses of scripture that some texts have sadly omitted. How tragic that this passage was unheard by thousands of Christians. While some may think that Christ was too lenient in dealing with sin, the opposite is true. Christ looked not only at the action but He was able to discern the motive behind it. Christ dealt with the issue of an eternal nature – one‟s character and heart. Zane Hodges identified the scribes and Pharisees‟ actions as “shrinking from the light.”38 This is often the case with those who seek their own position and allow pride to control them. This narrative reminds one that Christ sees into man‟s heart and nothing is hidden from Him. The Pharisees and scribes contrived an evil plan that did not produce the hoped-for results. They
36 37 38

Joe E. Trull, “Jesus and Women: What Did Jesus Do?” Priscilla Papers (Spring, 2000): 12. Jamieson et al. Hodges, 47.

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mistakenly thought that they could trap Jesus and finally be rid of Him. They were motivated by their jealousy and pride. Instead of rejoicing over the lame walking and the other miracles, they were overcome with hatred. It was too much for them when they heard the people calling him both Christ and Prophet. They manufactured a situation that not only would stop Jesus but also could possibly result in the death of another individual. In regard to the woman, Jamieson et al. wrote: Conscious of her own guilt, and till now in the hands of men who had talked of stoning her, wondering at the skill with which her accusers had been dispersed, and the grace of the few words addressed to herself, she would be disposed to listen, with a reverence and teachableness before unknown, to our Lord‟s admonition.39 She was being used as a pawn in the scheme of these men. They cared nothing for her. There was no compassion for her life situation. However, they had protected the man who was involved with her sin. This was a mistake since Christ loved and valued both men and women. William Barclay wrote, “She (woman) was forbidden to learn the law; to instruct a woman in the law was to cast pearls before swine.”40 In fact, a woman‟s testimony was not credible evidence in court.41 This reason might explain why Christ never addressed the woman as to whether or not she was innocent of the accusation. The crowd would not have respected her words. This is not an indication that Christ would not have found her a credible witness, but the culture of the day would have found her testimony invalid. APPLICATION In American society, people are encouraged to be first and strive for a place of importance. Striving for excellence is an admirable quality, but it can lead to pride and a desire

39 40 41

Jamison et at. Trull, 11. Ibid.

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to rule over others. Power often corrupts individuals. Christians should not be complacent in their actions toward sin. However, sin is first conceived in one‟s heart. Therefore, one must constantly look at the motivations of his heart and the thoughts in his mind. One who desires to study and learn the truths of scriptures should never inflict expectations upon others that he does not achieve. The Pharisees and chief priests were accusing Christ of not fully knowing and following the law when they did not do so. A Christian needs to be careful as to how he presents himself to others. The Bible stated in Matthew 7:2, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The Pharisees and chief priests were being harsh with their position on the woman and they were seeking to ensnare Christ. All of this was done because of their pride. They were afraid that Christ might have more knowledge than them. They were afraid that Christ might take away some of their prestige. Christians need to examine the motivations of their hearts. Proverbs 16:18 asserted, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” If pride is getting in one‟s way and preventing one from showing compassion and mercy to others, Christ will use that same measure to judge him. Conversely, the same is true. If one exhibits grace and is teachable to the ways of Christ, he will be judged by those gracious actions. Christ came to seek to save the lost because of His great love. The compassion that Christ had for this woman is evident. Christians should practice that same compassion toward others today.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY Baylis, C. “The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet.” Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 582 (April 1, 1989): 17184. http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh& AN=ATLA0000815031&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed July 9, 2012). Borchert, G. L., The New American Commentary. Vol. 25A (John 1-11). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996. Burge, Gary M. “A Specific Problem in the New Testament Text and Canon: The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11).” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 2 (June 1, 1984): 14148.http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh& AN=ATLA0000945944&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed July 9, 2012). Hodges, Zane C. “Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 9: The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:38-8:11): Exposition.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137, no. 545 (January, 1980): 41-50. James, Stephen A. “The Adulteress and the Death Penalty.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22, no. 1 (March, 1979): 45-53. Jamieson, R., A. R. Fausset, and D. Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Jn 7:53-8:10). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. Robertson, A. Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 7:52-8:12). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Trites, Allison A. “The Woman Taken in Adultery.” Bibliotheca Sacra 131, no. 522 (April 1, 1974): 137-46. Trull, Joe E. “Jesus and Women: What Did Jesus Do?” Priscilla Papers (Spring, 2000): 11-12.

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