And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 7: 53 - 8: 11).
The account of the adulterous woman is found only in the Gospel of John (7: 53 – 8: 11). Known in theological circles as the “the pericope de adultera”, this peculiar narrative has been excluded from some new translations of the Bible. Others relegate it to the footnotes. Modernistic scholars are of the view that the story has no place in the Bible. One reason is because of the Lord’s gracious dealings with the adulteress. By showing compassion, it appears that Jesus was condoning the woman’s sin, and making light of the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20: 14).
As we continue our study of this unique narrative, let us consider the above arguments and weigh the issue in the light of God’s Word.
John the evangelist records an early morning scandal that interrupted the Lord’s teaching ministry in the temple. The scribes and Pharisees, cast before Him, a woman “taken in adultery, in the very act” (v 4). Quoting the Mosaic Law – “such should be stoned” – they demanded Jesus’ verdict on the woman: “but what sayest thou?” (v 5).
John tells us the evil motive of Jesus’ enemies – to discredit him before the watching crowd: “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him” (v 6a).
o The omniscience and wisdom of Christ (vv 6b-9)
Jesus knew the wicked intent of His enemies. They had set up the whole incident for the purpose of putting Him in a dilemma. If He agreed to their demand to stone her according to Mosaic Law, He would be in trouble with the Roman authorities, for only the Roman Governor could mete out the death penalty. On the other hand, if he refused to condemn the woman, he would lose His credibility as a teacher of the Law.
Knowing the malicious designs of His questioners, Jesus refused to set Himself up as a Judge or Lawgiver. We are told that Jesus did not answer them: “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (v 6b). When they “continued asking him”, He silenced them with a soul-searching reply: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (v 7).
The Law of Moses demanded that witnesses cast the first stone: “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people” (Deut. 17: 7). Upholding the Law, Jesus imposed a condition that they had overlooked. The one who executed the sentence must be “without sin” – meaning his conscience did not accuse him or he was free from the same offence – lest by stoning the woman, he condemn himself.
Note that the Lord did not excuse the woman’s sin nor downplay it. Neither did He dismiss the Mosaic Law. Instead, He indirectly asked her accusers to examine their own lives – whether they themselves were guilty of such a grievous sin. Could they then justly cast the first stone at her? Would their conscience allow them to do so? John records their response in verse 9: “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” Realising that they were equally sinful, the woman’s accusers quietly left the scene.
“He did not say, ‘Let her be stoned;’ this had been against the course of his mercy: he doth not say, ‘Let her not be stoned;’ this had been against the law of Moses; but he so answers, that both his justice and his mercy are entire; she dismissed, and they ashamed. It is a false zeal that is eagle-eyed abroad, and blind at home. Such as are most wicked themselves, are oft-times most ready and skillful to spy out the faults and failings of others: we stand too near ourselves to discern our own miscarriages. The eye that sees everything, sees not itself” (William Burkitt’s Expository Notes). (… to be concluded)