In case you weren’t aware the Bible wasn’t originally written with chapter and verse breaks. Instead, these markers were added years later to make it easier to reference specific passages of Scripture. While the placement of most of the chapters and verses make sense, the transition from John 7 to 8 is a bit wonky and should be read as a continuous thought.
Following the events that occurred on the Temple Mount durning the “final day” of the Feast of Tabernacles, John writes in chapter 7 verse 53 that “everyone went to his own house.” Then chapter 8 opens John 8:1, “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.”
Though the religious leaders and the pilgrims who’d traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast began the journey home that evening, not so with Jesus. Instead of making His way back to the Galilee, John (who’s an eyewitness) tells us Jesus “went to the Mount of Olives.”
As far as the geography is concerned, Jesus would have left the Temple (Mount Moriah) heading east, gone down and across the Kidron Valley, before beginning His ascent up the Mount of Olives. Note: This trek would have taken Him through a garden known as Gethsemane. Though Jesus often stayed in a little town called Bethany situated on the eastern slope of Olivet, this evening He crashes on the western slope overlooking the city.
John 8:2, “Now early in the morning Jesus came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.”
Before we proceed any further, I want to acknowledge that there is a measure of controversy surrounding this record of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery that centers around the topic of ancient manuscripts and whether or not this story should be in the Bible at all.
Personally, I completely reject the suggest this story should not be included in John’s Gospel or that it never happened. Furthermore, not one scholar I trust on such matters, holds to such a radicle position. Additionally, though you might have a notation in your Bible mentioning this controversy, not one translator has gone so far as to remove the story itself.
Aside from the fact contextually John’s Gospel would make little sense if you skipped these 11 verses between John 8:1 and John 8:12, the Greek construct of this text is more than consistent with John’s writing style (the commentary of verse 6 is a great example).
Pertaining to the ancient documents in question as well as the historical evidence supporting this story being in your Bible, I’ve gone ahead and included at C316.tv audio from a lecture on this very topic given by Pastor Joe Focht. Instead of me stealing his research, you can take a listen and reach your own conclusions. With that said, I’m moving on…
As John recalls the events of this day he remembers it being “early in the morning” when “Jesus came again into the Temple.” Imagine being a bystander that particular Fall morning… With the rising sun cresting over the Mount of Olives to the East, the Temple precincts are slowly filled with rays of sunlight. The scene itself is majestic. Additionally, since it’s mid-October, the warmth of day is a welcomed break from the chill of the night air.
As you make your way into the Temple you can’t help but notice the mood is much different now that the Feast of Tabernacles had officially concluded the day before. Most of the pilgrims have already departed and the festivities have ceased. The celebration has returned to a normalcy with the primary activities of that morning focused on the necessary clean up.
You also notice the crowd that morning in the Temple (especially early in the morning) is much different than it was yesterday. Those present are a combination of locals, priests finishing up their duties, and a few pilgrims who’d come to see the Temple one last time on their way out of town. You are also amazed to see Jesus and His disciples present.
After the uproar He’d caused the day before prompting the religious leaders to make their first attempt to arrest Him, you can’t help by admire Jesus’ fearlessness and tenacity. Not only had He come back to the Temple entering through the East Gate from the Mount of Olives, but He’s returned for the purposes of teaching the people - in public no less!
In contrast to the day before when “Jesus stood up and cried” out to the masses, this occasion is much more formal and normal. Jesus is not standing up to cry out, but is “sitting down” (which was the proper position of Rabbi’s in that day) “teaching” the people.
As I imagine that morning I see Jesus coming into the Temple and taking up a seat on one of the many outer porticos built by King Herod. While initially Jesus begins teaching to a crowd made up of mostly His 12 disciples, as word begins to spread the crowd grows in size.
John says it didn’t take to long before “all the people” who were in the precincts that morning to “come to Jesus.” How large the audience had swelled too we can’t say for sure - other than the fact, a lack of specificity, implies the crowd left a considerable footprint.
As you’re standing there listening intently to what Jesus is teaching, you find yourself growing annoyed by a ruckus taking place somewhere outside the Temple. “Why are people yelling and screaming this early in the morning,” you think to yourself. Though you’re doing your best to remain attentive to the things Jesus is saying, the fact is it’s becoming more and more difficult to focus as this commotion makes its way closer to where you are.
Soon it becomes evident this hubbub is actually making its way to Jesus. The crowd begins parting as an interesting entourage of (John 8:3-5) “the scribes and Pharisees bring to Him a woman caught in adultery.” Initially, you’re struck by this posse of religious men.
You have “the scribes” who were the experts of the Levitical Law (lawyers) joined with the “Pharisees” which were the ruling fundamentalist of the day. The most obvious question that comes to your mind is what were they doing up so early and why had they come to Jesus?
Sadly, your questions are answered when you notice these pious men have brought to Jesus “a woman caught in adultery.” Again, you immediately wonder, “Why are they bringing this woman to Jesus? And aside from this, why are they making this such a public spectacle?”
This Greek word “caught” means “to lay hold of” or “to seize upon.” The description of this woman being “caught in adultery” implies she was arrested in the very act of committing this sexual sin. If that sounds terrible in actuality it’s probably much worse than that…
Quoting David Guzik quoting Morris, “Legally speaking, the standard of evidence was very high for this crime of adultery. There had to be two witnesses and they had to agree perfectly. They had to see the sexual act take place; it wasn’t enough to see the pair leaving the same room together or even lying on the same bed together. The actual physical movements of the couple must have been capable of no other explanation… Conditions for adultery were so stringent they could have been met only on rare occasions.”
Understand one thing about this situation, both this woman’s sin and her shame were completely laid bare and placed on public display. Her sin committed in a most private setting had been drug into the light of day likely kicking and screaming in utter panic.
In the very act of intercourse (which she knew was a grave sin punishable by death) these religious men (who’d been watching this intimate moment specifically to insure a sexual encounter had taken place) burst into the room while she’s still in the act, snatch her from the bed and her partner, only to then drag her through the streets, into the Temple, through a crowd of onlookers, before throwing her before Jesus. Imagine the complete humiliation!
As you stand there processing what’s happening, don’t forget this woman had been totally blindsided by a group of men not interested in demonstrating any type of compassion or decency. I’m sure she was not only petrified, but likely disoriented by the moment itself.
Aside from this, her obvious distress is compounded by the full knowledge she knew what she had done was wrong. This woman knew adultery was a sin before God. She knew the consequence was death. She’d been caught in the act and there was no way out of this.
This woman knew what was likely to happen next. Her thoughts immediately turn to the effects her poor choices were going to have on her family. The unnecessary pain she’d cause her husband. The embarrassment and ridicule her kids would have to endure. Oh, the shame her parents were likely to experience was overwhelming.
As she’s dragged from one street to another grief engulfs her… “What have I done? I knew this wrong. I’ve sacrificed everything I love for one night of pleasure.” This woman had sown to the wind and knew she was about to reap the whirlwind. She knew her life was over.
As these men violently drag her through the streets she has no idea where they were taking her. No question she’s crying out for mercy the entire way. Beyond this, now finding herself being brought into such a public place as the Temple added insult to injury.
She’s thrown to the ground before Jesus fully exposed to a mob of shocked onlookers. As she sits in the dirt she’s struggling to either cover up her nakedness or at a minimum preserve some measure of modesty. As she weaps she makes eye contact with no one.
John 8:3-5, “And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’”
If you were present that morning watching all of this happen, there is no doubt you would have found the entire situation suspect. The first and most obvious inconsistency would be the absence of the participating party in this affair. I mean it takes two to commit adultery.
In presenting her before Jesus these men have clearly stated, “This woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” As you process this knowing the threshold for such a conviction was so incredibly high (as I previously stated), you’re left thinking, “Where was the dude?”
Aside from the fact the man also caught in adultery was nowhere to be found, the other circumstance that would have fostered a clear suspicion as to what had really taken place centered on the obvious ill-intent of her accusers. It’s clear they’ve brought this woman to Jesus not out of a concern for justice, but in order to place Him into an impossible situation.
Though difficult to prove in the moment, right from the start the whole situation stinks. You didn’t have to be Sherlock to surmise a trap had been set for this woman for no other reason than to create an impossible dynamic for Jesus. Writing with the advantage of time John removes all doubt as to their true intentions by adding bit of commentary… John 8:6a, “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.”
Pertaining to the Law of Moses these religious leaders were correct that “this woman should be stoned” to death. In Leviticus 20:10 we’re told, “The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” And then again in Deuteronomy 22:22, “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die - the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.”
The trap these religious leaders were using this situation to catch Jesus in was simple… If He advocated for mercy, Jesus would have been directly contradicting the Law of Moses.
On the flip-side, since the Roman’s had revoked the right of the Jews to enact capitol punishment as they didn’t consider adultery to be a crime worthy of such an action, if Jesus agreed with them that this woman should be stoned and led the charge, they could then build a case He was fostering rebellion against Rome and Julian Law. A catch-22 for sure.
Reasoning the various ways Jesus might try to wiggle His way out of their snare, I’m sure these religious leaders didn’t anticipate what He’d do next… John 8:6b, “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.”
What a moment! This naked woman is thrown down before Jesus with little regard or any semblance of compassion. She’s curled up on the Temple floor exposed, ashamed, and guilty. Beyond that, because the man wasn’t arrested as well, the reality she’d been used hits her hard. She’d been set up by a man she trusted. She’d been intimate with a man who sold her out after getting off. Yes, she’s naked, but more than that she’s broken and alone.
As these religious men continue to demonstrate zero regard for the embarrassment they’re causing this woman, no appropriate sense of justice, and a lack of even basic decorum by spending their time challenging Jesus on an issue of the Mosaic Law verses Roman Law…
John recalls how Jesus not only completely ignores them, but instead “stoops down” next to this woman and begins “writing something on the ground with His finger.” Though you can find all kinds of theories speculating as to what Jesus may have been writing, I believe this is nothing more than stupid conjecture because the Holy Spirit didn’t find it necessary to tell us!
The reason this interesting detail is included is to record what Jesus did and not what He wrote. First, never once does Jesus challenge the assertions of these men. Aside from the fact this woman had been set up, there was no debating her guilt. Jesus knew she had committed adultery and that the perfect Law of God subsequently condemned her to death.
And yet, while she was guilty as charged, the posture of Jesus in the presence of a sinner powerfully contrasted that of the religious leaders! Though they towered over her without any regard, we’re told “Jesus stooped down” and wrote something “for her eyes only.” In doing this Jesus identified with her humiliation. In such a simple act as sitting with her Jesus was letting this convicted woman know she was not alone in her shame.
Well address this a bit more at the end of our study, but it really is a tragedy that when we’re confronted with a person caught in sin we (as Christians) rarely immolate the posture of Jesus. Sadly, we either tower above ready to meet out appropriate justice or we choose to runaway leaving that person to deal with the consequences on their own. Not so with Jesus.
John 8:7-8, “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.”
For how long Jesus remained sitting with this woman while these Scribes and Pharisees continued pressing Him for an answer to their question we have no idea. And yet, at some point Jesus’ has had enough. John tells us “He raised Himself up and said, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Then, most amazingly, Jesus sits back down with the woman as these men mull over their next steps.
Honestly, this statement Jesus makes to these men has been twisted to imply many things it simply does not. Tragically, it’s this very verse that’s so often thrown around by a person caught in sin hoping to dodge any type of accountability or escape the consequences.
First, from a macro-perspective, one point is unescapable… Jesus is not only conceding this woman’s guilt, but He’s affirming the fact adultery was punishable by death. In this sense Jesus is agreeing with Moses and supporting the mandates outlined by God in the Law. Adultery was a justifiable reason to enact the death penalty.
Secondly, and this is in contrast to what many attempt to assert from this passage, Jesus in in no way saying sinful humans are unable to hold others accountable for sinful behaviors. As if the only people who can cast a stone are those who are sinless.
If this is what Jesus was articulating, the ramifications would be far-reaching. (A) The vast majority of the Old Testament Law would be unenforceable. (B) The Church would have no right to enact necessary disciplines to address blatant, unrepentant sin. And ultimately, (C) no one other than Jesus could ever measure out any type of practical punishment.
Obviously, since such a perspective on this proclamation would stand in direct conflict with much of the Bible, we must consider what Jesus is actually articulating. Note: This statement “he who is without sin” is quite unique and only used in this one place in all of the Bible.
In the Greek this phrase is actually one word that doesn’t describe a person who is sinless, but instead a person with no consciousness of sin pertaining to a particular situation. Jesus is not saying “he who has never sinned can cast the first stone,” but instead “he who has a clean conscious pertaining to this woman and how she was caught can cast the first stone.”
To this point David Guzik makes this interesting observation, “In Jewish law, witnesses to the capital crime began the stoning. Jesus really said, ‘We may execute her, but we must do it correctly. One of the witnesses must begin her execution. So who among you is the one who witnessed this crime, and only brought to Me the woman, and not the man? Who designed the humiliation of this poor woman?’ Instead of passing a sentence upon the woman, Jesus passed a sentence upon her accusers. He didn’t say, ‘Don’t execute her.’ He simply demanded that justice be fairly and righteously applied.”
What really makes this approach by Jesus so brilliant is that He agrees with Moses that the woman should be stoned - therefore avoiding that obvious conflict, while at the same time not directly contradicting Roman law by instigating the stoning of the woman.
Aside from this, I love the fact that after Jesus issues this challenge He rejoins the woman. While the religious leaders were focused on punishing sin, Jesus was more interested in ministering to the sinner. Again there is a powerful lesson in this we’ll get to in a moment. I even imagine Jesus remained with her in case someone actually threw a stone.
John 8:9a, “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.”
To combat those who spend to much time speculating as to what Jesus wrote on the ground and thereby overemphasizing this insignificant detail, notice it wasn’t what they read that “convicted their conscience,” but what they “heard” Jesus say. The truth is they were all complicit in this set up. They wanted to trap Jesus and they used this woman to their ends.
It was evident that if they ended up stoning this woman her blood would have been on their hands for they were all culpable. My guess is Jesus’ approach wasn’t what they expected. Never in their wildest imaginations would they have believed Jesus would have told them to stone the woman. He called their bluff and in doing so revealed their own immorality.
John 8:9b-11, “And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”
Once these “accusers” had departed and this woman received a covering from Jesus (pure speculation on my part), John tells us these two share a private moment with one another.
Though Jesus has communicated to her by writing on the ground with His finger, His first verbal word is “woman!” Note: This is the same word Jesus often used for His mother Mary in the Gospel of John. The word oozed both a tenderness and general respect.
What I like most about Jesus’ use of this word is that it rejected the notion her behaviors fundamentally determined her identity. Using such a word, in the context of all that had just happened, tells us how Jesus viewed her all along. Jesus didn’t see a harlot or a whore. He didn’t call her an adulterer or brand her with a scarlet “A”. Instead, Jesus saw a “woman” who, while a creation of God, had tragically fallen prey to the trappings of sin.
After asking this woman “where are those accusers of yours… has no one condemned you” this woman speaks for the first time in our story. In response to Jesus she says something very important, “No one, Lord.” In the Greek this title “Lord” is “kyrios” which is where we get the English word “Christ.” What makes this significant is that in its construct this woman is not only attributing to Jesus the title of Christ, but personalizing it as “my Christ.”
Through this painful experience fostered by her sin - but one in which she ultimately encountered God’s love, this woman made a decision to give her life to Jesus. She decided to enthrone Jesus in her life as Lord. Her life was no longer her own as “kyrios” literally means “he to whom a person belongs.” In response to this question, “Where are your accusers?” this woman responds, “There are none” before declaring, “I am yours!”
While this is in and of itself a profound response, in her answer, this woman is also making an appeal to Jesus as her Lord that will demand a response from Him. Though none of her accusers remained to condemn her, she recognizes, as her Lord, Jesus could. And it’s for this reason He then replies, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Understand, this statement by Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you” (this word “condemn” means to judge worthy of punishment) indicated she had placed her faith in Jesus as her Savior. Honestly, it’s the only way Jesus could make such a judgment. In this moment she was placing her faith in a future work by which her sin of adultery would be paid in full.
Not to beat a dead horse red, but in saying, “Go and sin no more” Jesus is affirming the reality it had been her sin that had led her to this place. And yet, while sin had determined her past, an encounter with Jesus that made Him her “Lord” would change her future. The fact Jesus had forgiven her would be the motivation to no longer live a life of sin.
Before we turn our attention back to two important points foundational to this story, I think it needs to be pointed out… While Jesus forgave this woman caught in adultery and refused to condemn her, the natural consequences of her sin did not magically disappear. The forgiveness and restoration of God did not change the fact her reputation had been tarnished, her marriage likely destroyed, and her kids publicly embarrassed.
In closing, this story should be a challenge for how we handle a person caught in sin. First, and you’d think this would go without saying, but actively looking to catch a person in sin says much more about you than anything else. Like these religious men, it is the person ignorant of their own immorality that is constantly on the prowl to expose someone else's.
Two, I have found that the people who jump at the opportunity to be a stone-thrower are often the least qualified people to actually throw stones. More often than not the compulsion to throw a stone at someone else occurs via the projection of their own guilt.
Here’s the truth I’ve discovered having to navigate such situations… The administration of a punishment concerning another’s sin should only come as a last resort and be so painful for the person tasked with the responsibility they really don’t want to do it.
Three, may we always consider our posture in the presence of a brother or sister caught in sin. Instead of towering over that person with a false sense of moral superiority or running from that person leaving them to deal with the consequences on their own…
May we be willing, like Jesus, to humbly stoop down into their muck, identify with that person, and demonstrate compassion and love by letting them know they aren’t alone.
May we be willing to remind the broken individual that this is not who God created them to be and that their identity doesn’t have to be determined by the mistakes they’ve made.
May we be willing to remind the person filled with shame that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save! May we be willing to practically demonstrate to such a person laid bear that it’s only His grace bestowed we were are absolutely guilty that affords any of us the power to repent and sin no more.
Never forget… While the religious leaders were focused on punishing sin, Jesus was more interested in ministering to the sinner. Jesus cared more about this woman’s future than her past. He cared more about who she’d become if she’d accept Him as her Lord, than who she was in her sin. And as a word of caution… The only way you can take such a posture as Jesus is if you’re first willing to catch a few stones that are likely to get thrown.
Finally, one of the things I really love about this story is how applicational it should be to all of us for the entire story perfectly illustrates the mission of Jesus in our lives! (Note: If you don’t know Jesus this morning, please consider what I’m about to say.) While the law catches each of us in our sin, declares us guilty, condemns us to death, and then drags us to an execution site, it was Jesus who stooped down from heaven and joined our plight.
When we were at our worst and most vulnerable - left naked by our sin and filled with shame, Jesus met us with compassion and love. Though religion was all to willing to beat us down, Jesus had a much better plan. Instead of condemnation, He came to identify with us.
And then when the stones came flying from the enemy who sought our destruction by setting us up to stand accused alone, it was Jesus who stepped in to covered us by taking our judgment upon Himself so that we could rise up with Him and stand tall in victory.
Friend, if you’re a follower of Jesus and are experiencing the onslaught of stones hurled by Satan saying, “You’re not good enough. You’re a failure.” This morning Jesus asks a simple question, “Where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” And like this woman you can respond, “No one, Lord” for His sacrifice on Calvary has satisfied your debt.
This morning Jesus is wanting you to hear His voice again, “Neither do I condemn you.” Not only are you freed from the burden of expectation knowing that “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” but you should glory in the fact that it was the grace of your Savior demonstrated when you were guilty that enables you to “go and sin no more.”