By Dennis L. Freeman
If you will ask the above question with the same voice inflection that is used by the 82-year-old woman who advertises for Wendy’s all “beef” hamburgers, you may have more fun with it. This question came to my mind while giving consideration to an incident in the life of Jesus related to us in John 8:1-11 concerning the woman caught in adultery.
I have heard some say that Jesus dismissed and “forgave” her, thus showing the Lord’s tendency to “overlook sin” due to His benevolent grace. What such people are implying is that the Lord does not “condemn” anyone today living in an adulterous relationship (a relationship where one or both parties has never been freed from his former mate, yet have remarried-Mt. 5:32; 19:9), He simply “forgives” it on the grounds that they “sin no more” (Jn. 8:11), or in their words, that they have no other such affairs in the future-the one they are living in is perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. That kind of reasoning and teaching puts words in the mouth of the Savior and makes Him say something that He was in no way implying in John 8:11. Let’s look at the account.
And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman; what then do you say?” And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. ” And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she had been, in the midst. And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”
Verse 3 tells us they brought the woman to Him. But I must ask again, “Where’s the man?” These religious leaders (scribes, Pharisees, “hypocrites”) had “caught her in the very act.” It doesn’t take a mental giant to realize that if the woman is caught in the act, then so is the man! But, where’s the man? The discerning Bible student will also see that this woman was “set in the midst,” that is to say, in full view of all. This was a totally unnecessary and deliberately cruel act in their attempt to carry out “justice.” She should have been contained in chambers somewhere to await a fair trial. It was furthermore stated that “the Law of Moses commanded us to stone such a woman.” Actually, the Law of Moses commanded the death penalty for both parties involved (Lev. 20: 10; Deut. 22:22). Still, the man is noticeably absent from the scene. Verse 6 tells it like it is and reveals the true purpose for this charade. The whole situation was engineered to “tempt” or “test” Jesus-to put Him on the spot and discredit Him. But Jesus, undoubtedly aware of this, was probably asking Himself the question, “Where’s the man?” Could it just be that provision was made for his escape in that he was a part of this plot to discredit the Master? Maybe he was one of the very men standing by accusing this woman. Or maybe he was at home waiting to hear the outcome of their terrible scheme. Wherever he was, his absence shows us the true character and purpose of these religious hypocrites-to prove Jesus – wrong and themselves right at any cost.
The “testing” was in the fact that had Jesus said, “stone her,” He would have been acting as judge and jury, usurping authority over both the Jewish law of the right to fair trial (Deut. 19:15-19; Jn. 7:51) and the right of the Roman government to inflict punishment (Luke 23:1, 15; Rom. 13:14). Had He said, “you cannot stone her,” He would have negated the death penalty for this act altogether, thus being open to further attack for ignoring the Old Testament Law. The Lord’s wisdom, however, enabled Him to take care of all parties involved in this odious situation. In verse 7, Jesus gets to the root of the problem. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” But, what is the sin? Some would say that Jesus is teaching that no one has the right to judge another person (especially another’s marriage relationship) because we all have committed sins in a general way. This writer thinks the “sin” in its context here is more narrowly defined than that, having precise application to these “accusers.” Their sin was that of trying to have this woman killed on the spot (a right they did not have) and, more devastatingly, their sin was in trying to discredit the Son of God Himself so as to lead the people away from Him and toward their own perverted way of thinking. What a coldly calculated and hypocritical plan!
One by one, they all withdrew, being convinced that Jesus was aware of their thoughts, their attitude of heart, and their foul plot to hurt Him. “Did no one condemn you?” Jesus then asked the woman. That is to say, “Were all these evil-minded people not willing to commit further sin by stoning you without a trial just to hurt me?” “Neither do I condemn you,” He adds. That is, “I am certainly not going to act in such a manner myself!” And then follows the verse that troubles some today: “Go and sin no more. ” The NASB renders this “From now on sin no more. ” Literally in the Greek it reads “From now (on) no longer sin.” That is, discontinue this life of sin in which you have been engaged. Stop your sinful habit. Make a clean break with your sinful habit. Amend your life from this point on! The simple statement of Jesus is a command to repent and to reform her life. It is a command to change her will and to restore her life to the condition it was
in before she began her adulterous relationships. Jesus says nothing about forgiveness because the divine Text says nothing to imply repentance (or even faith!) on the woman’s part. There is absolutely nothing here to imply Jesus’ overlooking this sin which could lead one to think He would ignore and forgive a sinful “marriage” relationship today that is not repented of and where lives are not restored to that purity that existed before the sinful habit took place. Such thoughts are read into the text and forcibly array this passage against other New Testament principles of repentance (and marriage, divorce and remarriage).
Those who promote the idea that God’s grace overlooks unrepented sins are “mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, nor the power of God.” This is true in many instances for the same reason that it was true concerning the Jews of Jesus’ day they were reading the Bible for confirmation rather than for information! To such watered-down, prejudicial thinking we surely need to ask the profound question: “Where’s the beef?”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 22, pp. 688-689
November 15, 1984