Without a doubt, the story of the woman caught in adultery is one of the most insightful teachings in the ministry of Jesus. There are lessons in this passage for us and even a couple of warnings if we linger over these words long enough.
Here is the story
They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 7:53–8:11 (ESV)
I want to start with a handful of observations about this passage.
It is not in many early manuscripts. That means that the earliest manuscripts of scripture that are available may not contain it. However, it is consistent with all of scripture which makes it a great teaching passage.
Notice the first sentence of the story: they all went home but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. He had no home there so since he had no place to stay that night he stayed outside!
A Rabbinic halakha (law) prohibited any kind of entrapment for death penalty cases except for cases of suspected idolaters. It appears very likely that this was a case of entrapment for the woman and they were using this event as a trap for Jesus!
The law prescribed death for both the man and the woman caught in the act of adultery. In fact, it is biblically impossible for only one person in an illicit relationship to be guilty of adultery. This is a reflection of how poorly women were treated! The man went free, the woman was publicly humiliated and threatened with death. There is also some speculation that the man was part of a conspiracy to entrap the woman!
Jesus deflected the original confrontation. He bent over and wrote on the ground. What did he write on the ground as the crowd looked on? The accusers were desperate to trap Jesus so they did not let up.
Jesus turned the confrontation around with a simple challenge: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
He did not ‘condemn the law’ as his accusers had hoped and he did not condemn the woman as she had feared!
Once again, Jesus leaned over and wrote on the ground. The accusers showed a ‘reasonable’ amount of integrity. None claimed to be without sin and they left, one by one.
Jesus then turned his attention to the woman by asking her where her accusers were. Then with a powerful word he set her free. He extended grace: “neither do I condemn you” and instructed her to repent: “from now on sin no more.”
Lessons and Applications
1. In view of the sinless Judge, we have no right or responsibility to judge others! Even Jesus did not judge in this case. If he is our example, that removes our right to judge.
2. We are to be forgiving — full of grace! We can encourage people to live a righteous life but we must be full of grace.
The main thing!
Throughout scripture the symbolism of adultery is consistently used to illustrate the sin of God’s people. We see this in Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and many others.
We are to be faithful to God at all times. Our unfaithfulness is like adultery — it is the breaking of a sacred and intimate bond between us and God!
As we look at this passage, we must realize where we fit in — we are the woman!
The most common sin of the ancient Israelites was the sin of syncretism — serving many gods alongside the one true God!
Today, not much has changed — we still find this to be the most common sin in the church. What are the things we ‘combine’ with our faith? Here are the common ones:
Consumerism. This is the idea that we get all we can and that we chose whatever we like. When carried to the extreme, which we have done, it means we ‘shop’ for the right church and Churches ‘market’ themselves to find the right or the most ‘customers.’
Materialism — we accumulate all we can — the more we get the happier we will be. We hoard resources and accumulate as much stuff as we can. It means we often become stingy instead of generous (the biblical ideal).
Narcissism — the seeking of pleasure and the absolute elevation of ‘self.’ “I am always right and good and you should pay attention to me.”
Eastern mysticism and religions. We throw around terms that come from all these religions. Karma is a term from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Ching Hai and others! Yin and yang come from Taoism and Confucianism.
Astrology. There are still some who profess Christianity who look to the stars for direction and counsel!
But, even today, Jesus does not stand to condemn us. There will be a time for judgment, just not right now.
He extends grace but you must repent: Leave your life of sin.
Where do you stand? What must you do? Do it now!