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).
This unique narrative – found only in John’s Gospel – is called “the periscope de adultera”. It relates the story of an adulterous woman – “taken in adultery, in the very act” (v 4). Her accusers, the scribes and Pharisees, had brought her to Jesus for judgment. Quoting Moses’ Law, their evil motive was to trap the Lord: “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” (vv 5-6a).
Knowing their wicked intent, Jesus refused to set Himself up as a Judge or Lawgiver. He “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (v 6b). When “they continued asking him”, He stood up and gave them a soul-searching reply: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (v 7).
“Jesus therefore put them to the test. Without pronouncing on her case, he directed them, if any of them were innocent, to perform the office of executioner. This was said, evidently, well knowing their guilt, and well knowing that no one would dare to do it” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
The Lord’s answer proved His wisdom and omniscience. In His reply, He did not dismiss the Mosaic Law nor did He excuse the woman’s sin. Instead, He directed her accusers to check their own lives before casting a stone at her. “Convicted by their own conscience” – for they were equally sinful – the woman’s accusers quietly left the scene (v 9).
o The grace and compassion of Christ
After her accusers had left, the Lord dismissed the woman with these gracious words, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (vv 10b, 11c). Though our Saviour abhorred the adulteress’ sin, he did not condemn her nor downplay her offence. His parting words to her – “go, and sin no more” – were gracious but they contained an admonition to break away from her sin.
“Christ here, neither by his words nor actions, contradicts and sets aside any such laws of God or man; … his office was not that of a civil magistrate, but of a Saviour and Redeemer; and suitably to that he acted in this case; he did not connive at the sin, he reproved for it; nor did he deny that she ought to suffer according to the law of Moses, but rather suggests she ought; but as this was not his province, he did not take upon him to pronounce any sentence of condemnation on her; but called her to repentance, and, as the merciful and compassionate Saviour, gave her reason to hope, pardon and eternal life” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).
What was the woman’s response to our Lord’s gracious dealings with her? We note that she addressed Him reverently as “Lord” (v 11a) because she saw in Him an inimitable tenderness and compassion. Conscious of her own guilt before her kind Deliverer, she was receptive to His call to forsake her sin and to begin a new life.
We thank God for this precious account which He has preserved for our instruction and encouragement. Though critics may dispute its authenticity, we believe that “the pericope de adultera” is a fully inspired portion of Holy Scripture.
Nothing in the narrative is inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He showed compassion to the adulteress, Jesus did not make light of the sin of adultery. In His teachings, Jesus spoke strongly against breaching the seventh commandment: “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5: 28), and upheld the sanctity of marriage: “And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19: 5-6 cf. Mk. 10: 7-9).
In His dealings with the adulterous woman, the Lord tempered justice with mercy. This reminds us of God’s grace in our salvation. As sinners, we justly deserve His eternal damnation in Hell’s fire, but God, in His mercy, gave His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “to be the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 4: 10): “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6: 23 cf. Rom. 3: 25). As unworthy sinners, let us respond to God’s saving grace with a thankful heart and a consecrated life. Like our Lord, let us learn to be kind and gracious as we relate with our fellowmen.