The Woman Caught in Adultery
2 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. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 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. 10 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?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” – John 8:2-11
Muhammad was in the Oasis of Khaybar. A Jewess caught in the act of adultery was brought to him for judgment. He ordered her to be stoned. When faced with the same situation Jesus told her to go and stop sinning So demonstrates a major difference between Jesus and the founder of Islam.
Before diving into the text it would be appropriate to look at the setting. The seven day Feast of Tabernacles is over. During this time the Jews were living in booths and tents as a memorial of the time when their forefathers wandered the wilderness with Moses (Lev. 23:42-43). Now it is Monday morning, “ And everyone went to his own house” (John 7:53). “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives: (8:1) because the Creator and Savior did not have a home in which to return. Such was the Incarnations humiliation.
It was “early in the morning” just before sunrise when “He came again into the temple” (8:2). We learn in verse twenty that was the part of the temple where the treasury was locates and was the women’s court. This permitted Jesus to teach a co-ed class. “All the people came to Him” showing his popularity with the people. The Lord used no gimmicks to draw crowds. No need for fish fries or pony rides. As “He sat down and taught them” the scribes and Pharisees showed up to class with a woman in tow.
Rigging the Trap
“The scribes and Pharisees” did not show up to class to learn from Jesus but to catch him teaching something by which they could trap Him. These trappers were having a religious crisis in that the multitudes were turning form them to Jesus. The Pharisees were hostile to Jesus and his teachings except on a rare occasion when someone like Nicodemas came to actually learn from Him.
The bait the trappers used to catch Christ was “a woman caught in adultery.” If they caught her committing the act of adultery they could serve as witnesses against her. They did not care about the woman’s feelings or soul. If they had, they might have brought her to Jesus privately. Instead they came and “set her in the midst” (8:3b). They would have normally taken this case to the local courts of the Jews. However, they saw a chance to use this woman as an opportunity to trap Jesus. After all, if this were such an open and shut case why bother with Jesus.
The Condition of the Bait
The woman’s crime was “adultery”, translated from the Greek moicheuomene meaning sexual infidelity involving married people hence implying she was married. She was obviously very embarrassed to have been caught “in the very act.” The term in the Greek for “act” is a compound, adjective autophoro literally meaning self and theft. As the thief caught in the very act of stealing. Imagine our case being judged in the open crowded Women’s Court of the Temple complex.
Judgment Upon the Bait
Trapping Jesus with His own words was a common ploy of the Pharisees (Matt. 22;15; Mark 12;13; Luke 20:20). The Pharisees appealed this case to Jesus to trap him in the horns of dilemma. They start by pointing out the commandment in the Law of Moses to stone adulterers. They said, “now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” (8:5). However, the Romans were in control and according to their law, adultery was not a capital offense punishable by death and they did not have authority to put anyone to death (John 18:31). So if Jesus agreed with Moses’ Law and condemned her to stoning, He would be rebelling against Roman rule. If He sided with the Romans He would be exposed a man who could not possibly be the Messiah by upholding adultery against Moses’ Law. Jesus did not come as a judge in such matters either for the civil cases in the court of the Jews or the Romans. Jesus was not a judge (Luke 12:13-14) or a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus judges no one (8:15).
Motive of the Trappers
The motive of these trappers is clearly stated in verse six. “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” Their motives were further revealed in the fact that they only brought the woman even though she was caught in the very act. The sin of adultery takes at least two people. This is a common double standard where there is a higher tolerance for men committing adultery than women. The law required that both guilty parties be stoned (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22) and not just the woman.
Reversing the Trap
▸ Ignoring the Trap
It looks like the scribes and Pharisees finally have Jesus trapped in a no-win situation. But, He ignores their trap and sets one of his own. “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear” (8:6b). What did he write? There has been a great deal of speculation as to what Jesus wrote. Some have argued that Jesus wrote down Exodus 23:1: “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” Another verse that has been suggested is “O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. “Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the Lord, The fountain of living waters” (Jer. 17:13). Others have suggested Jesus wrote down the names of other adulterers who were standing there among the group of accusers. Or, He just listed the various sins of the accusers not necessarily adultery. In a translation of the New Testament Armenian Verison it reads: “He Himself, bowing His head, and was writing with His finger on the earth to declare their sins: and they were seeing their several sins on the stones.” Still others want to keep this simple and have Jesus simply drawing the number “seven” in the dirt to represent the seventh commandment in the Ten Commandments: “you shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). A unique speculation is that the writing on the ground simply symbolized the “Finger of God’ (Deut. 9:10 ) showing Jesus’ claim to authorship of the Law as Deity. If I were to guess it would be Jesus wrote the name of the man who committed adultery with the woman. Thus, exposing their motives and showing their failure to keep the Law of Moses. The importance is what He did and what He did not do. Whatever the reason, it was effective. He took their attention off the woman for a moment and had them focus entirely upon Him and what He was writing.
▸ Trappers First Dilemma
Although they kept asking Him for His judgment, he turns the tables on them “He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you” (8:7b). First, please note that Jesus’ argument was not that they had to be perfect or completely sinless in order to legitimately condemn adultery. Such an interpretation would undermine all civil law and Moses’ judicial system. Although, it is true that no one is perfect and we all sin, it is also true that sinners must be brought to repentance. This is not a proof text to condemn Christians from judging adulterers. Jesus was not making sinless perfection a requirement. Accusers must engage in self-examination. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1).
▸ Trappers Second Dilemma
The second dilemma Jesus placed before the trappers was the demand of the Law of Moses. Jesus said, “let him throw a stone at her first.” The witnesses to the capital offense were to be the first to throw stones at the guilty person. Concerning the adulterer Moses said, “you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people” (Deut. 13:9). “You shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deut 17:5-7). If they cast a stone at her they will uphold the Law but be they would be hypocrites and rebels against Rome. If they do not cast a stone they uphold sin and reject the Law.
▸ Pushing the Trappers into the Trap
Jesus pushes them to focus on their hopeless situation as now they find themselves in the very trap set from Him. “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground” (8:8). The term wrote is very specific in the Greek translated from katagrapho which literally means “to write against”. He could do this since he knew what was in the hearts of men “Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:24-25).
▸ Trappers Realize They are Trapped
“Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience…” (8:9a). They recognized they have been snared by the very trap set for Jesus. These witnesses and accusers have ended up having to pass judgment upon their own selves due to their guilty conscience. The Judge passed judgment on the judges! As Christians we need to make sure we examine ourselves and correct our lives before correcting the sins of others (Matt. 7:1-5)
▸ Trappers Running Away from the Trap
How did the Trappers respond to being trapped. They “went out one by one beginning with the oldest even to the last” (8:9b) Instead of repenting of their own sins and then correcting the adulteress, they chose to run away and do neither. John notes that the oldest were the first to leave. Perhaps their greater familiarity with the Scriptures made them realize more quickly their disqualification under the law. The younger men followed their lead.
Releasing the Trapped
The Trapped Not Released to Sin
If the Law of Moses demanded stoning, how is Jesus going to uphold the law and bring salvation to the sinner. This is the dilemma of salvation. How can the desire for mercy be shown to the guilty in light of the demands for justice? First, Jesus was not implementing “situation ethics.” Although the New Testament does not deal with the civil consequences of adultery, it does condemn it as a sin, a work of the flesh punishable by eternal damnation (Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 13:4). Furthermore, Jesus, like God the Father, has the right to forgive sin (Matt. 9:1-9). Yet forgiveness is not license to continue in sin. Note Jesus commands the woman to repent of her former life of sin. He commanded her, “go and sin no more” (8:11b). Although Jesus could not condemn (punish) the sinner under the Law, He clearly condemns the sin.
The Trapped Not Released from Judgment
Today, one of the most often quoted statement of Jesus is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” However, Jesus in this context is condemning hypocritical judgment while commanding just judgement. “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). The story of the woman caught in adultery is in perfect harmony with this teaching. Jesus does judge her actions as sinful.
As Christians, we too must judge our fellow brethren when they are caught in sin. Paul wrote, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
The Trapped Released From Legal Condemnation
Was Jesus guilty of setting aside the legal requirements of stoning in order to show mercy and grace? He was God so He could forgive sin. But notice what he asked the woman after the men all left her alone with Jesus. “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (8:10b). The Law of Moses states that there had to be two or three of these witnesses. “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was insufficient to invoke the death penalty. “Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6). No witnesses meant Jesus legally could not condemn her to death according to the Law of Moses. This is why He said to her “Neither do I condemn you…” (8:11a).
The Trapped Released from Spiritual Condemnation
The woman had broken the Law of Moses. She had debased herself and failed her husband by forsaking her marriage vows. Do not forget her sin involved another man and trashed marriage as instituted by God. She still faced the possibility of divorce. Adultery is a serious sin. Serious enough that it is the only reason Jesus allows for one to divorce their spouse. On the Sermon of the Mount Jesus noted, “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32). Later when the Pharisees asked Him whether a man could divorce his wife for just any reason, He only gave this one exception: adultery. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).
Although she may have escaped the legal consequences of her crime, she still faces the more serious eternal consequences of the fires of Hell. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Jesus did not come to act as a judge for the Law of Moses, but to seek and save the lost. To be a friend to sinners. Here Jesus used this opportunity to convict the conscience of the scribes and Pharisees (not an easy task); condemn adultery, uphold the Law of Moses, and show mercy, grace, forgiveness and Divine unconditional love.
In the end, Jesus would be the one who paid the penalty for the adultery of this woman when He died on the cross for the sins of all men. Grace and forgiveness of sins is not cheap.
– Daniel R. Vess