By Mike Willis
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 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. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 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. 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. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 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. 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? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more (Jn. 8:1-11).
This incident from the life of Jesus graphically portrays many of his divine attributes: his omniscience, ability to convict sinners of their sin, compassion, forgiveness, demand for righteous living, etc. We will do well to study what this text reveals to us about our Lord.
The Sin of the Woman
The woman was guilty of adultery. Adultery is one of the sins condemned in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:14); it was punishable by death (Lev. 18:20). A promiscuous society may wink its eye at this sin, but not God. Adultery still is a sin, a work of the flesh punishable by eternal damnation (Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 13:4). Whatever interpretation one puts on the series of events recorded in John’s gospel cannot conflict with these truths.
The woman was caught red-handed, “in the very act of adultery.” What an embarrassing situation she was in! In addition to being caught in the act of adultery, she also was dragged into the Temple and publicly exposed. She is not the only one who has been caught in adultery. Many unmarried fornicators are caught red-handed in their sin by an illegitimate pregnancy; many adulterers are exposed by a suspicious mate, This passage reminds us of the truth: “be sure your sins will find you out” (Num. 32:23).
Adultery is a sin with serious consequences. Under the law of Moses, an adulterer was to be put to death. Hence, this woman had committed a sin which could cost her life. Nevertheless, the lust of the flesh was so strong that she committed the sin, no doubt thinking that she would escape sin’s consequences. The same sin can destroy a marriage, alienate a person from his children, parents, brothers and sisters, bring public humiliation before the whole community, and scar children for life. Unrepented of, the sin also leads to eternal damnation. The lure of sensual lust is so strong that even Christians throw reason to the wind to fulfill the desires of inflamed lust.
Indeed, the adulterous woman was guilty of a terrible sin, a sin prominent in our own society.
The Sin of the Woman’s Accusers
In studying the woman taken in adultery, there is a possibility that we might not see the others who were caught redhanded in their sin, namely her accusers. The men who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus were hypocrites. This is seen from several evidences: (a) They did not bring the man with whom the woman was committing adultery; (b) Had their only interest been the enforcement of the Law of Moses, they would have carried out the judicial proceedings to execute both the man and the woman without bringing her to Jesus in the Temple; (c) The Scriptures plainly state that the accusers used the occasion to tempt Jesus (8:6).
Their main purpose was to find an occasion which would justify them in putting Jesus to death (cf. 7:1,19-20; 8:59). They had no interest in the soul of the woman guilty of adultery; they made no effort to bring her to repentance. Instead, they were interested in “using” the woman to accomplish their purpose of entrapping Jesus. When they were finished using her, they would discard her without concern for her soul.
These Jews were plotting the death of Jesus. While they manifested a sanctimonious righteousness at having found this woman guilty of adultery – caught in the very act, they were guilty of premeditating murder and were “caught in the very act” before the omniscient eye of Jesus. God is equally opposed to murder as to adultery.
Their plot was complex. When they asked Jesus whether or not the woman should be put to death, they intended to place him in a position in which they entrapped him regardless of which answer he gave. If he said the woman should not be put to death, he was in opposition to the Law of Moses. If he said the woman should be put to death in agreement with the Law of Moses, he could be accused before the Roman authorities which did not make adultery a crime punishable by death. Furthermore, Jesus would be usurping the role of a civil judge, either of the Jews or the Romans, in passing judgment; he steadfastly had refused the role of civil judge even as he refused the rule of an earthly king (cf. Lk. 12:13-14).
Jesus’ Answer to the Accusers
In giving answer to the accusers, Jesus faced several problems: (a) How can he join mercy and Law? He did not want to minimize the sin committed by the woman or approve her conduct. Nevertheless, he was interested in saving her soul. (b) How can he expose the sinfulness of the woman’s accusers, to bring them to a conviction of their own sins? (c) How can he save the woman’s accusers? Jesus’ answer manifests remarkable compassion and mercy in his effort to redeem the woman and her accusers. Jesus always worked toward man’s redemption, not his destruction.
In giving answer to the woman’s accusers, Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (8:7). This answer might he misinterpreted. If one understands Jesus to say that judicial punishment cannot be administered except by sinless men, he has misunderstood Jesus. Such as interpretation undermines the entire judicial system of every country and at every level. Such an interpretation would put Jesus in conflict with the Law of Moses which mandated that eyewitnesses be the first to inflict punishment inasmuch as their testimony is what convicted the guilty (Deut. 17:6-7). Jesus was not acting as a legal judge at all. He was working to redeem the woman’s sinful accusers. The accusers needed to be brought to repentance just as certainly as did the woman.
Jesus’ answer to the accusers called on them to focus their attention on their own sins, not on the sins of the adulterous woman. Jesus called on the accusers to judge themselves instead of the woman. By Jesus’ reply, the accusers were forced to admit that they too were guilty of sin (cf. Rom. 3:23). To the credit of the accusers, each one silently dropped the case and walked away, Jesus’ words apparently having pricked his conscience.
The accusers left because their purpose was thwarted. When they saw that they were unable to use the woman to gain their advantage over Jesus, they walked away with no concern for the woman’s soul and her salvation.
Jesus’ Answer to the Adulterous Woman
After the woman’s accusers had gone away, Jesus turned to the woman. He asked, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”
“Neither do I condemn thee” is not to be understood to mean that Jesus did not hold her responsible for her sin or that he approved her conduct. What the statement emphasizes is that Jesus did not come to the world to condemn the world, but to save it (cf. 3:17). “Neither do I condemn thee” are the words of grace – words extended to every sinner. The gospel’s message is that the Lord’s redeeming grace is offered to every sinner. Paul preached the gospel of grace saying, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). Because of God’s marvelous grace, we sinners can be forgiven, provided an opportunity to begin anew. What Jesus offered this adulterous woman, he offers to all of us. Redemption and forgiveness are the good news of the gospel.
“Go and sin no more” commands the woman to repent of her sins. The command to “sin no more” would demand strong resolution in view of the circumstances which faced the adulterous woman. She possibly faced a divorce. She faced her own feelings of bitterness brought on by the double standard in how she was treated in contrast to how the man was treated. She faced the temptation to bitterness brought on by the public exposure of her sins. Jesus’ demand, “Go and sin no more” was no “cheap grace.”
We wish we knew what became of the woman, but the Scriptures are silent as to whether or not she became a Christian and lived in obedience to the Lord’s word. From the record of John, we learn many valuable lessons regarding the Lord’s mercy, grace, love, and kindness. We also learn that we who confront sinners with their sins must avoid the sin of the woman’s accusers who showed no concern for the sinner’s soul. Like the Lord, let us work toward the salvation of sinners and not destroy those who have fallen into Satan’s snares.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 16, pp. 482, 501-502
August 16, 1990