The Woman Caught in Adultery

"And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?' This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.' And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, 'Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more'" (John 7:53-8:11).

After ridiculing Nicodemus and his appeal to treat Jesus justly, the assembly of religious leaders broke up and each one went home. They were irritated at their failure thus far and needed some time to plot their next move against Jesus. The Lord went to the Mount of Olives, which is approximately one mile east of Jerusalem. It is unknown whether Jesus went there to spend the night or if He went through there on the way to Bethany, perhaps to stay with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, whom He often visited.

In either case, Jesus was in the temple again early in the morning. He was probably in the court of the Gentiles which was a large area that would hold hundreds of people. As the people observed Him, they gathered around Him. Even at this early hour it is not surprising that many people would assemble to hear Jesus. He was an exciting character and had stirred up a lot of attention in the prior week. Jesus then sat down, which was the typical teaching mode for Jewish rabbis (cf. Matt. 5:1), and began teaching.

Sometime during the course of Jesus' teaching, there was a rude interruption. Some scribes and Pharisees came working their way through the crowd, bringing a woman with them. One can imagine the commotion this must have generated. Jesus stopped teaching and allowed the religious leaders to speak.

"Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act" - It will become important later to refer to the exact wording of their statement; this woman was caught in the very act of having illicit sex with a man who wasn't her husband. Since the word "adultery" is used, then it must be the case that at least one of them was married.

Tragically, there are some today within the church who are attempting to redefine the meaning of the word "adultery." Their claim is that the word simply means "covenant breaking," whether or not sexual transgressions are involved. This passage disproves that position for this woman was certainly caught "in the very act" of sexual intercourse (cf. Heb. 13:4)! She wasn't verbally ending (or "breaking") a covenant with her husband (assuming she was married), but she was definitely being unfaithful to it.

"Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" - What was their purpose in asking this question to Jesus? Were they interested in the law? Were they concerned about upholding divine justice? The answer to these questions is "No," as the next verse reveals.

Their purpose is clearly exposed in John 8:6. They were there to test Him "that they might have something of which to accuse Him." This was a trap set to catch Jesus by involving Him in (1) Political difficulty or (2) Difficulty with the people. They believe they have put Jesus into a dilemma, and either way He answers their question they think they will get the better of Him. If Jesus says: "Yes, this woman should be stoned," then He'd be in big trouble with the Roman authorities. This is the case because when the Romans subjugated the Jews in A.D. 6, they took away their right of administering capital punishment. That is why the Sanhedrin had to take Jesus to the Romans (i.e., Pilate, specifically) to get permission to put Him to death (cf. John 18:31). So, if Jesus said "stone her," then they could report him to the Roman authorities and be through with Him right then. But, if Jesus says: "No, don't stone her," then the religious leaders would have stepped forward and said: "You're not willing to implement the law or pass judgment. You'd don't have any respect for the law!" This would have gotten Jesus in trouble with the people and He would have lost His following (which is something the Jewish leaders wanted to happen because of their jealousy).

So, the trap has been set. Surely they were anxious to see what Jesus would do. But Jesus, very wisely, doesn't say anything at first. "Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger." What did Jesus write on the ground? No one knows and it is useless to speculate (cf. Deut. 29:29). This is the only place in the entire New Testament that indicates Jesus could write.

No one today knows what the Lord wrote, but whatever it was, the religious leaders weren't satisfied with it as a response (if it was even intended to be that), and they continued to press Him for some kind of verbal answer. It very well may be that Jesus was just letting the tension build, and letting them assume that He couldn't handle the problem presented to Him.

Jesus finally declared - "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (cf. Deut. 17:7). Under the Old Testament, if a person's testimony would lead to an execution, they had to be absolutely certain that their testimony was accurate since they would be required to throw the first stone! One who testified against another would have to act, at least in part, as executioner! Jesus' response is not a "Yes" or "No" answer, but instead it rightly turns the matter back upon them. If anyone is to take action in this matter it must be the witnesses, not Him, but Jesus exhorts them to first make sure that they are without sin in this matter. Jesus is certainly not saying that only an absolutely sinless person could stone this woman, for if so then He would have essentially negated all of the Old Testament Scriptures that commanded capital punishment for various sins (e.g., Exod. 22:18-20; etc.). Thus, His statement must be understood in this limited way.

Jesus then again stooped down and wrote in the dust. We don't know anything more about what He wrote this time than the first time.

"Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one" (John 8:9). Have they been convicted in general by their consciences as sinners? Do they feel unqualified to stone this woman because they know they have committed sins in the past? Perhaps, but it seems much more likely that they are convicted by their consciences specifically regarding this matter. Remember their claim of John 8:4 - This woman was caught "in the very act" of adultery! Now, since that is the case, the identity of the man involved must also have been known. But, where is the adulterer at this time? Why hasn't he been brought with the woman to face execution for his sin (cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24)? Some have suggested that this entire situation was staged, including the hiring of the man. This is very possible, for if the chief priests and elders were willing to make an agreement with Judas to betray Him (cf. Mark 14:10,11), then certainly they were not above bribing an immoral man to commit adultery so they could try to ensnare Jesus. But, even if they didn't actively set up this scenario, the very fact that they only brought the woman exposes their hypocrisy. These men knew the law, but they weren't interested in following it. Had they been concerned about true justice, they would not have brought this woman to Jesus but to the Sanhedrin council. Additionally, they would have had both the adulterer and the adulteress facing execution. These men are desperately trying to bring Jesus down and they are willing to break the law and commit sin themselves in the process. They have stooped so low that they are willing to use the sin of another person to try to accomplish their wicked goals. Their very claim had incriminated themselves as hypocrites and their reflection upon this is probably what caused them to be convicted by their consciences.

One by one, they began to slip away, beginning with the oldest first. The scribes and Pharisees decided that it was the better part of wisdom for them to get out of there. They all bore some guilt in this matter and certainly couldn't justifiably cast any stones at this woman or continue their dialogue with Jesus. So, all of the accusers leave and only the Lord and the woman remain in the midst of the crowd of listeners.

Jesus finally asked - "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" The Greek word Jesus used for "condemned" is a very strong one and it refers to rendering a judicial sentence. Essentially, Jesus is asking: "Has no one cast the first stone to sentence you to death?"

She responds in the negative and Jesus then says: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." Many misuse this verse by stating that since Jesus didn't condemn adultery here then no one has the right to condemn it today. This is simply not the case for the following reasons: (1) Although Jesus said that He didn't condemn her, the meaning is that He too would not sentence her to death judicially. It wasn't His purpose (at that time) to be a judge but to seek and save the lost (cf. Luke 12:13,14; 19:10), (2) Jesus could not condemn her judicially via stoning without violating the law Himself since He hadn't been a witness to the act (cf. Deut. 17:6,7), and (3) Although Jesus didn't condemn her to death, He did condemn her actions as sinful by commanding her to "Go and sin no more."

The statement, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone," cannot be taken from its specific context and applied as a general defense today by or for the impenitent. Jesus directed that statement to a group of hypocrites. It is not wrong for one to lovingly and compassionately point out sin when he sees it in the lives of others. Consider the following facts: Paul taught that no one is righteous (cf. Rom. 3:10), and that included himself (cf. Rom. 7:15). He had to fight to keep himself under the Lord's control (cf. I Cor. 9:26,27). He knew that as long as he remained in the flesh he would never achieve sinless perfection (cf. Phil. 3:12). However, in spite of these facts, Paul didn't hesitate to "judge" a brother who was living in open, impenitent sin, and he rebuked those who tolerated such (cf. I Cor. 5). Paul understood that although we are not to judge according to appearances, we are to "judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Thus, Paul withdrew his fellowship from blasphemers like Hymanaeus and Alexander (cf. I Tim. 1:19,20), and also he exposed Hymanaeus and Philetus when they taught that the resurrection had occurred already (cf. II Tim. 2:17,18). Nor did Paul hesitate to openly mention that Demas had fallen in love with the world and forsaken him (cf. II Tim. 4:10). It is obvious, therefore, that one does not have to be "without sin" in an absolute sense before he can call attention to the grievous error that wicked men practice on a sustained basis. The misuse of this passage, as a covering for unrestrained sin, is a terrible evil in and of itself.

It should also be pointed out that this entire passage (i.e., John 7:53-8:11) is omitted in many manuscripts and is found in different locations in several others (i.e., after Luke 21 or after John 21). There is a very simple explanation as to how this may have happened: One or more copyists, at an early date, misunderstood the teaching of the passage and omitted it, believing it to be uninspired. As we have already concluded, Jesus' statement, "Neither do I condemn you," doesn't mean that Jesus did not condemn the sin of adultery. It simply means that Jesus would not condemn her to death. Later copyists, seeing that one or more of the manuscripts did not have this passage, likely became troubled over it and omitted it, or put it doubtfully at the end of the book.

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.