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John 8:1-11

The Woman Caught In Adultery


John 8:1-11 MKJV   But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  (2) And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him. And He sat down and taught them.  (3) And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery. And standing her in the midst,  (4) they said to Him, Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.  (5) Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned. You, then, what do you say?  (6) They said this, tempting Him so that they might have reason to accuse Him. But bending down, Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, not appearing to hear.  (7) But as they continued to ask Him, He lifted Himself up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.  (8) And again bending down, He wrote on the ground.  (9) And hearing, and being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  (10) And bending back up, and seeing no one but the woman, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are the ones who accused you? Did not one give judgment against you?  (11) And she said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.


Today’s verses are absent from some major manuscripts but ancient authors attest to their truthfulness and say that they are to be included. These verses ring with the authenticity of Jesus’ actions and as such have always had a prominent place in Christian teaching.


Jesus does not criticize the Law, which is holy and just and good (Romans 7:12) nor does He justify the woman, in fact Jesus tells her plainly to stop sinning. So these verses do not countenance “antinomianism” – which is the utter disregard and disrespect of law. Rather Jesus reinforces the idea that there are absolute standards and that God’s commandments should always be obeyed.


Christian faith and God’s grace are not licenses to sin. Instead grace is given to help us become holy. Jesus did not approve of her sin but rather gave this woman a chance to get her life together at last.


Chapter seven of John was about the Feast of Tabernacles which was a very festive time, when everyone lived in ‘booths” and in this easy-going holiday atmosphere casual sexual relationships were not unknown. This woman was simply unfortunate enough to be caught in the act.


“Early in the morning” (v. 2) – Jesus was a diligent teacher and was at His post from first light, ready to teach all who might enquire.


“And He sat down and taught them” – Jesus seems always to teach from a seated position, not from a high pulpit. Gill’s commentary on Matthew 5:1 where Jesus sits to deliver the Sermon On The Mount is interesting:


<begin quote>
and when he was set: not for rest, but in order to teach; for sitting was the posture of masters, or teachers, see Matthew 13:2 Luke 4:20. The form in which the master and his disciples sat is thus described by Maimonides (z).


"The master sits at the head, or in the chief place, and the disciples before him in a circuit, like a crown; so that they all see the master, and hear his words; and the master may not sit upon a seat, and the scholars upon the ground; but either all upon the earth, or upon seats: indeed from the beginning, or formerly, "the master used to sit", and the disciples stand; but before the destruction of the second temple, all used to teach their disciples as they were sitting.''


With respect to this latter custom, the Talmudists say (a), that: "from the days of Moses, to Rabban Gamaliel (the master of the Apostle Paul), they did not learn the law, unless standing; after Rabban Gamaliel died, sickness came into the world, and they learnt the law sitting: hence it is a tradition, that after Rabban Gamaliel died, the glory of the law ceased.''  <end quote>


Teaching from a sitting position may just be Jewish culture but it has many advantages - not least of which is that it minimizes “stage theatre”. The emphasis falls on the Word and not on the “actor”.


The accusers swirl around the seated Rabbi (Jesus) and He just ignores them, writing on the ground. (v.6) Jesus knew they were trying to test Him and His legendary compassion. How could Jesus both have compassion and keep the Law? His clever answer “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” stopped them in their tracks and “being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last” - the older Jews being surer of their sinfulness.


The balance between compassion and justice is always being played out in the courts and in hiring and firing decisions. Are we “too soft’ or are we “draconian”? Where should the “line be”? There are innumerable good arguments on both sides. Jesus seems to see great value in giving the woman a chance for repentance. Jesus thinks “long-term” about the great value of a truly penitent soul. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the immediate circumstances and not think of what God can do in and through the person who has sinned.


Jesus never seems to be interested in accusing and condemning people, for He knows that the Devil and all his demons love to do that - along with many people. There is more than enough condemnation in the world, what Jesus wanted to do was bring salvation, to bring sinners to repentance and to seek and to save the lost.


The essence of Christianity is grace not law, and being constructive rather than being destructive. We should be eager to see sinners repent and far less eager to see them executed. A couple of verses from Ezekiel make God’s attitude clear on such things:


Ezekiel 18:23 MKJV   Do I actually delight in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Jehovah. Is it not that he should turn from his ways and live?


Ezekiel 33:11 MKJV   Say to them: As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, I have no delight in the death of the wicked, except in the turning of the wicked from his way, and so to live. Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?


Vengeful, legalistic religion that is quick to judge and slow to forgive is the precise OPPOSITE of the attitude of God and of Jesus!


Matthew 5:7 MKJV   Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy.


“And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  And bending back up, and seeing no one but the woman, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are the ones who accused you? Did not one give judgment against you?  And she said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.”


It took two or three witnesses to give judgment in a death penalty case (Deuteronomy 17:6) and so Jesus was legally correct in letting the adulterous woman go, as all the other witnesses had fled in shame.


On Judgment Day all the accusations that we have flung against others will seem trivial in comparison with our own sin. No one who truly comes face to face with his or her own conscience can accuse anyone else of anything!


Does this mean that sin is not sin? Certainly not! While Jesus does not condemn her sin (Neither do I give judgment), neither does permit it. His last words to the woman were “go and sin no more”. Mercy simply gives us a renewed opportunity to become holy – which we should take very seriously indeed!

Blessings in Jesus,

John Edmiston