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The woman caught in adultery

John 8: 3 - 11: 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.

The woman caught in adultery was not presented to Jesus for the purpose of justice but for the purpose of trying to trap Jesus.

If the woman was caught in the very act of adultery according to verse four, then why did not the scribes and Pharisees also bring the man whom the woman had committed adultery with? If the scribes and Pharisees wanted to see “justice” done then they would have needed to bring the man also, for the Old Testament law required that the man and the woman be stoned (Deuteronomy 22: 22: If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.).

The scribes and Pharisees’ design was to trap Jesus in what verdict He gave concerning the woman; if Jesus did not approve the stoning of the woman, then He would be breaking Jewish law, but if He did approve it, then He would be breaking Roman law which prohibited the Jews from administering capital punishment.

What Jesus wrote on the ground is something of a mystery, but perhaps He did this to make the men step closer to see what He was writing, thus drawing their eyes off the woman who may have been less than fully clothed since she had been caught “in the very act”.

When Jesus raised Himself up, He told the assembled men that whoever among them had no sin should be the first to stone the woman; the eldest men left the scene first because they had accumulated more sins over their longer lives.

Jesus did not chastise the woman for her sin because she had perhaps just experienced the most scary and shameful moment of her life; she was caught “in the very act” and dragged away by a band of men who wanted to kill her. She knew her sin and she knew of Jesus’ authority over her.

If the woman had thought nothing of her sin or of Jesus, then she would have left the moment her last accuser had left. Instead she remained “standing” (John 8: 9) and called Jesus “Lord” (John 8: 11).

Throughout His ministry, Jesus chastised the Jews and others who thought they were not sinful, but He showed mercy to those who admitted their sin and sought forgiveness. Jesus however did address the woman’s sin for He told her to go and sin no more.


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