The Adulterous Woman
“As they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7).
- John 7:53–8:11
Unlike Jairus’ favorable response to Jesus, the religious authorities our Savior meets in today’s passage come to Him with hostile intent. A short examination of the historical situation at the time of the event described in John 7:53–8:11 will reveal the nature of this hostility.
The Roman empire was unique among other ancient powers in that they allowed the peoples whom they conquered to exercise a great deal of legal self-determination. However, only the Roman authorities could execute a capital sentence and then only according to Roman law. When the scribes and the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask Him whether she should be stoned (7:53–8:6a), they were trying to catch Him on the horns of a dilemma. If He were to advocate stoning her, they could bring charges of sedition against Him before the Roman authorities. However, if Christ were to deny the death sentence for her, He would be going against the Mosaic law (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22) and could be punished by the religious authorities. Either way, He loses.
Yet in their “quest” to uphold the Word of God, these scribes and Pharisees also revealed themselves as hypocrites. As the aforementioned passages from Moses teach us, both the man and the woman caught in the act were to be punished, but these leaders only judge the woman. Without any concern for justice or for her rehabilitation, they use her maliciously in their attempt to accuse the Lord.
But Jesus tells them that the one among them without sin should be the one to throw the first stone (8:7). Jesus is in fact siding with Moses, affirming the validity of the Law’s sentence in calling for her to be stoned. Yet He acknowledges the injustice of the proceedings by disqualifying her would-be executioners, telling them that they had failed to follow the lawful procedures involved in capital punishment cases.
Jesus alone could have cast that first stone, but He chose to exercise mercy instead, telling the woman to go and sin no more (vv. 8–11). He has chosen to do the same for those who have faith, and so let us go forth and live holy lives in gratitude for His mercy to us.
Jesus has chosen to love His people when they were yet sinners. In thankfulness to Him, we must likewise imitate this compassion and show grace and mercy to all who express a desire to leave sin behind and follow Christ. There is no sinner whom He cannot save, and thus there is no one too evil to whom we cannot show compassion. If you have been struggling to show love to a heinous sinner, ask Jesus to help you do so today.
Passages for Further Study
- Hos. 11:8–11
- Luke 5:27–32
- James 5:19–20
- Jude 22–23
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