Scholars both conservative and liberal conclude that John 7:53-8:11 was not part of the Beloved Disciple’s original manuscript. It is not found in the earliest translations available, or it is placed at other points within the narrative (or in other Gospel accounts altogether). However, it is also believed that the story of the woman caught in adultery is an authentic episode from the life of Christ, cherished by the earliest believers for its profound revelation of the limitless mercy of God.
I have so many questions.
At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NKJV)
How did the religious leaders find this nameless woman? Did they hunt through houses? Was she notorious?
Their treatment of the woman is callous and demeaning. If she had committed adultery the previous evening (which is perhaps more likely than around dawn, v. 2), then we can assume these opponents had been holding her during the night and waiting for Jesus to show up in order to use her to test Him. Her fear would have been great. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
Did they rip her, naked and scared nearly to death, from the bed of her lover? Did they give her anything at all to cover her shivering body with? Did they take perverse pleasure in leering at her?
I think of what Jesus endured during His time in prison. Did she bear the marks of punches, scratches, beatings?
Putting her in the midst of the crowd would have added public humiliation. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
She must have known who Jesus was. His fame had spread far and wide. What did she expect Him to do?
How many people were in the crowd that day, their bloodlust rising at the thought of killing this woman?
Who was she? Married? A young girl? A prostitute? Who lured whom into that bed of shame?
A certain attitude of male-chauvinism comes across in their statement that the law of Moses commands the stoning of such women (v. 5). More precisely the law speaks of the death of both the man and the woman involved (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24). (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
Where was the man? Why wasn’t he publicly exposed?
Indeed, the law makes it clear that stoning could only take place after a careful trial, which included the chance for the condemned to confess his or her wrong (m. Sanhedrin 6:1-4). The hypocrisy of the opponents is evident. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
Never before have I seen the hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus so clearly. They were ready to kill this woman in an illegal proceeding just to trap Him.
The judgment that they suggest Jesus execute on this adulterous woman is in fact the judgment that He visits upon them for their rejection of Him—the One who has offered them God’s living water (7:38-39). In rejecting Jesus, they are forsaking God, and thereby committing a most shameful act. Adultery is shameful, certainly, but they themselves are acting in a shameful way worthy of death. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
Kill her to make a point. Kill her to trap Jesus. Nevermind the implications.
When Jesus calls for the one without sin to cast the first stone He accomplishes several things: it relieves Him from the charge of having instigated a stoning; it ensures there will not be a stoning, since none of the accusers will want to take responsibility for it; and it causes them to reflect on their own sinfulness before God. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
They’ve been tossing the stones. Slap. Slap. Rock against palm. Silence falls.
There is One left who could still execute the judgment—the only One present who was without sin and thus could throw the first stone. Is she hopeful at this point or still quite frightened?
Bewildered? Confused? Grateful?
Jesus grants pardon, not acquittal, since the call to leave off sinning shows He knew she was indeed guilty of the adultery. His noncondemnation is quite different from theirs. They wanted to condemn but lacked the opportunity; He could have done so, but He did not. Here is mercy and righteousness. He condemned the sin and not the sinner (Augustine In John 33.6). But more than that, He called her to a new life. The gospel is not only the forgiveness of sins, but a new quality of life that overcomes the power of sin (cf. 8:32-36; 1 Jn 3:4-6). (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)
Did she become one of the women who refused to leave Jesus’ side? Did she become one who took care of His needs?
So many questions.
Secrets are best kept in the dark. The risk of bringing them into the light just doesn’t seem worth it, no matter how great the pain. To bring forth the struggle is to surely invite condemnation. I wonder what Jesus thinks of our wagging fingers and our flapping tongues? All in the name of “correction.”
This woman would live with the consequences of her actions – she didn’t need anyone to throw a stone at her. Especially not in such a loathsomely self-righteous way. She needed to be called out of the darkness, yes – but with cords of gentleness. God woos.
Why don’t we?
I think about this today as my own sins and sufferings lay in the shimmer of God’s hands. He says that I – she who so often chooses doubt and despair, who gave away her body in an effort to grasp the love that only He can give, who nurtures bitterness, who loves judgment, who fears the responsibility of healing – is forgiven. Washed clean. Totally new. He doesn’t even remember all the things that I have repented of, the things that haunt me. He sees me through the body of Christ.
But there is a missing layer.
James 5:16 tells us to “confess (our) sins to (each other).” To share our stories and battles. This confession doesn’t become the avenue of forgiveness; only confession and repentance before God does that. However, this honesty before others provides freedom. Accountability. A moment of “Jesus with skin on” as brothers and sisters embrace and lift you up. I fear this step. God already knows my story. I can’t hide anything from Him. But what if I share with others, share deeply, and find nothing but hostile exposure in return?
I wonder what position our hands are in today. What position mine are in. Open to lift up the woman caught in adultery – or closed around a rock, ready to pound her into the dust?
How thankful I am that the nail-scarred hands reach down to lift me up!
For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.