The Adulterous Woman: The Gospel Accounts: A Chronological Harmony

The Adulterous Woman

End of the Feast of Booths (John 7:53-8:1)

            After the feast, everyone left for their own homes. The dispute regarding Jesus was left unresolved.

            Jesus did not returned to Galilee, but remained in the area, going out to the Mount of Olives and returning to the temple the next day. Bethany is on the other side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem and some wonder if Jesus might have spend the night at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The text, of course, does not say.

The Adulterous Woman (John 8:2-11)

            Early in the morning, on the day following the Feast of Booths, Jesus went to the temple and a large crowd gathered around him. He sat down and began teaching the people.

            Scribes and Pharisees took the opportunity to test Jesus. They brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery to him into the midst of the crowd. Pointing out that the Law required death by stoning for adultery, they asked Jesus what he thought they should do.

            What might seem straight forward on the surface is filled with hidden snares. When the Roman government took control of Palestine, they issued an edict that no death penalties could be issued without their permission (John 18:31). If Jesus said she should be put to death, then the Pharisees would complain to the Roman authorities that he was violating their laws. If Jesus allowed the woman to go, then they would claim that Jesus wasn’t upholding the law of Moses.

            But Jesus did not do as they expected. He ignored them and began writing on the temple floor with is finger. People have long wondered what Jesus wrote, but there is just no way for us to know. However, by focusing on his writing instead of the accusers, he caused the Pharisees and Scribes to get angry with him for being ignored. They continued to ask him, insisting that he answer.

            By delaying, Jesus shows that his answer is only at their insistence. He did not volunteer the information he was about to give. The Law required judges to make decisions in legal matters and Jesus was technically not a judge (Deuteronomy 16:18; Luke 12:14). Jesus’ delay shows he was being forced into declaring a judgment and not that he was forcing himself to be accepted as a judge.

            His pronouncement? “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And then he went back to ignoring them.

            By this, Jesus is not declaring that only sinless men could uphold the law. Otherwise no punishment could ever have been carried out as all men sin (Romans 3:23). Rather, the law required that the witnesses in a crime deserving death are required to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). Jesus is saying, if these men who brought the woman and made the charge against her are guiltless, then they should carry out Moses’ Law. Of course, this puts the decision regarding whether to follow Moses’ Law or Roman law back on the shoulders of the Pharisees and Scribes.

            But there is more here than you might notice at first. The men bringing the charge of adultery stated quite clearly that they caught the woman in the very act of adultery. That should lead to an obvious question: where was the man? After all, the law required that both the man and the woman were to be stoned (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). The fact that they brought only the woman and not the man demonstrates that they were not guiltless in this particular matter – and they knew it. Beginning with the oldest and wisest, they left one by one. They knew they had no case because of their own duplicity. What Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-5 is beautifully illustrated in this event.

            After a while, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. All the accusers had left. It is an important point because the Law required that at least two or three witnesses be present for the death penalty to be carried out (Deuteronomy 17:6). Jesus knew that she had committed adultery, but he asked her where were her accusers. She acknowledged there were none there to accuser her. Jesus then said that he would not accuser either. She was free to go, but she must stop her sinful ways.

            This passage is often misapplied by those who desire to sin and remain in their sins. Accuse someone of sin and you may get the response “He who is without sin ...” or “You shouldn’t cast stones.” By these phrases, people are saying that others cannot bring charges of sin, but Jesus wasn’t talking about the charge of sin, he was referring to the carrying out of a death penalty. The application of Jesus’ words is being abused by those wanting to remain in their sins. But Jesus did say that the woman had sin. He did the very thing people are trying to deny can be done – he accused the woman of sinning and told her to stop.

Questions for this Lesson