The incident of the woman caught in the act of adultery, found in our Bibles at the beginning of John 8, has been questioned by Bible scholars as to whether this was originally part of John’s gospel. It is not the scope of this article to evaluate the arguments for and against, but this writer does believe that this is a real incident in the life of Jesus.
“Early in the morning he came to the temple courts again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?’ (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.)” (John 8:2-6 NET)
From the outset of this incident, it seems obvious that this was a set-up. Although the Jewish leaders were correct in stating that adultery was a capital crime under the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 20:10) you quickly realise that someone is missing. They have a woman with them, but where was the man? After all it takes two to commit adultery!
The Jewish leaders were trying to trap Jesus by presenting a situation where no matter what answer he gave he would be in trouble. If Jesus said, “Yes, stone her!” then charges could be brought against him that he was advocating usurping Roman law (the Romans no longer allowed the Jews to carry out capital punishment). If Jesus said, “No, don’t stone her” then they could charge Jesus with going against the Law of Moses. They undoubtedly thought they had the perfect scenario with which to trap Jesus. Notice how Jesus answered.
“Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, ‘Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground” (John 8:6-8).
We don’t know what Jesus wrote and there has been much speculation as to what it was. Whatever it was he wrote, combined with the statement he made, seems to have caused these men to begin to think.
“Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9).
When there was no one left to accuse the woman, Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” The woman replied that no one was left. Jesus replied, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:10-11).
Notice that there was no doubt about the woman’s guilt: she had been caught in the very act of adultery. But Jesus offered her forgiveness. Although pardon is offered she still needed to change: she must no longer be involved in this sin.
What would Jesus say to people involved in sin today, whether sexual sin or any other type of sin? Without a doubt he would say the same thing: “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Jesus came to forgive, not to condemn. As Jesus’ followers we need to be proclaiming this same message of forgiveness and changed lives.
Readings for next week:
24 October – John 8:31-59
25 October – John 9
26 October – John 10
27 October – John 11:1-29
28 October – John 11:30-57