Exerpted from 300 years of commentary
Last Updated: July 23, 2010
Section 1: - Introduction
Section 2: - Best of the Commentators on Jn 8:1-11
Overview of 8:1-11: - the big picture
Preliminary Verses: - transitional prologue
At Dawn He Came...: - the essential scene
A Trap is Set...: - a goad to cross Moses' Law
Writing in the Earth: - a remarkable occurance
The Pronouncement: - the impossible standard
The Accusers are Vanquished: - shame & retreat
Turning to the Woman: - a rhetorical question?
Judging Sin: - while sparing the sinner
What if you could get the all the best commentators in a room together, and have them discuss John 8:1-11? It would have the potential of being the most brilliant and insightful discussion ever held on this passage.
Although we can't do this physically, we can surely gather together some of the most brilliant insights of all time, and give them to the reader. The result, although not as good as the Second Coming, can surely be a blessing to all who love the Gospel, and in particular this passage.
Blessed are You Poor, for Yours is the Kingdom of God
In some ways, this will be like a "poor man's commentary". And yet, having the best thoughts of some of the greatest minds in Christian interpretation may actually be better than owning every commentary ever written.
You the reader, being the "poor Christian", will be saved the labour and expense of "searching the commentators", and putting up with all their dross and chaff, just to find a small nugget of gold here and there.
Beware the 'Free Lunch'
Yet there will also naturally be a drawback to this approach, and a trap. Having others do the work for you is no substitute for doing it yourself. We warn our dear readers then, to beware two related dangers:
(1) We should not think that this will be a complete work, or the last word on John 8:1-11.
The serious student of Holy Scripture will realise that there is more, there must always be more than meets the eye to any powerful story of Jesus, no matter how simple its appearance. And therefore, a conscientious disciple of Christ will continue searching, and not stop here, imagining that his work of "searching the scriptures daily" is by any means done.
(2) We should not think that this work can be read easily, or lightly without thinking, in any ordinary manner.
Since each gem is an invaluable insight into the meaning of Holy Scripture, it must be read carefully and slowly, with pause for thought. Often the real gem will be hidden below the surface of the bald quotation of the commentator. We will often try to explain the significance of a difficult or deep remark, but in the end you the reader must struggle with the concepts.
There will be Spiritual Meat here, not just milk. Like rich and exotic food, each bite should be savoured and chewed properly to be fully appreciated. We pray that in all things you the reader will focus upon and value the Spiritual lessons, not simply the technical aspects of the commentary.
Yet we can benefit from the warning hidden in the following statement of the pious Quesnel, and and so avoid raising the struggling insights of men above the Holy Scripture itself:
"How widely does Christ differ from men! He writes his Divine thoughts in the dust: they wish to have theirs cut in marble, and engraved on brass."
Format and Explanation
The Main Text (John 7:53-8:11) will be placed in the big white boxes with thick black borders. Quoted commentary will be in a less strongly highlighted box. Our own set up, orientation, and explanations will be in normal text, as usual. Citations will be footnoted for reference.
As per our usual practice, dialogue will be highlighted in BLUE, and the words of Jesus will be in RED.
In other cases, inserted comments of our own will be squarebracketed and highlighted in blue [like this!]. Scripture references will be put in round brackets.
Headings may be added for clarity of topic.
"In this story found in John 8, Jesus confronts a band of cold, self-righteous prigs and a woman who was guilty of open sexual sin, and handles both with such wisdom and grace that the story has become a favorite of many."
- Ray C. Stedman
"The story vividly depicts Jesus’ grace toward the woman taken in adultery. He challenges both the woman and her accusers to lay aside the question of guilt or innocence and to enter into a new life in which one’s regard for self and one’s relationship to others are based on grace and mercy."
- R. Alan Culpepper
"But my experience, ... tells me that the narrative before us carries on its front the impress of Divine origin. I venture to think that it vindicates for itself a high, unearthly meaning. It seems to me that it cannot be the work of a fabricator. The more I study it, the more I am impressed with its Divinity."
- John Burgon
"..it will be evident, we trust, to every spiritual intelligence, that no uninspired pen drew the picture therein described. The internal evidence, then, and the spiritual indications ... are far more weighty than external considerations.
The one who is led and taught by the Spirit of God need not waste valuable time examining ancient manuscripts for the purpose of discovering whether or not this portion of the Bible is really a part of God’s own Word."
- Arthur Pink
This message [of radical forgiveness] is scandalous to some, because they say it will lead to license. This may be why this passage was excised from John by many copyists.
... Many of the early manuscripts and papyri have it, the earliest church fathers quote it as scripture, and it is Johannine in style. Why then was it excised by some copyists? Probably because the early church got away from the radical message of grace very quickly. [Augustine, Ambrose, and Calvin all suggest this.]
For example, the "Shepherd of Hermas," writing in the early 2nd century, held that Christians who committed serious sins could be forgiven once -- after public confession and penance. The amazing thing is that he was roundly criticized by his contemporaries -- for being too lax! [See M. A. Smith, From Christ To Constantine (1971), p. 40.] Tertullian called him "the shepherd of adulterers."
It's easy to see why legalistic people -- especially men -- wouldn't like this passage!
- Gary DeLashmutt
"The interpretive community thus freely acknowledges that embarrassment and anxiety about Jesus' actions in John 7:53-8:11 contributed to silence about and de facto censoring of this text.
Even where there is some skepticism about this embarrassment as the full explanation for the troubled canonizing process of this text, [yet modern] scholars [still] do not acknowledge the embarrassment or its source. There is no acknowledged shame among such interpreters, no sense of scandal about the way the story testifies against a male-dominated status quo.
In fact the narrative evokes men's fear of what Jesus' teaching might suggest to their wives, of what would happen if women's sexuality pass out of men's control.
I submit that even when unacknowledged, these fears are real and have dominated both the canonizing process and the history of intepretation. As a result, this text is kept on the margins of the tradition by the canonizing process and on the margin of theological and ethical reflection by the interpretive community.
Patriarchal prejudices thus contributed to, perhaps caused, the canonical marginality of John 7:53-8:11. Within the story, the scribes and Pharisees attempted to marginalize the woman. The early church and the interpretive community then attempted to marginalize not only the woman but her story as well."
- Gail O'Day
'...And each person went to his own home,
but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.'
Scriptural: See also Luke 19:28, and esp. 21:37, giving concrete meaning to Matthew's more cryptic statement in Matt. 8:20 (see Arthur Pink's comments below).
Lexical: The expression "Mount of Olives" occurs in John only here. This hill, across the ravine to the East of Jerusalem, was a famous landmark, and the site of many biblical episodes. John the Evangelist would plainly have to have known its name and location. His failure to mention it by name elsewhere is not significant, and the lack is accounted for by the economy of John's narrative. He rarely supplies superfluous details and is never 'wordy' without purpose. Having already mentioned the location here in chapter 8, further reference is unnecessary.
Grammatical: The two clauses (7:53 & 8:1) are coordinated by the contrastive 'δε', ("but"), and act as a complimentary pair. The natural paragraph split would be between 8:1 and 8:2.
Form Critical: What has not been previously noticed in the literature, is that this is the central block of a 'chiasm', a set of text-blocks forming nested boxes. See our article, Chiasm in John 8:1-11 for more information.
[previously, in 7:45-52] ...Nicodemus, who had gone to Him by night, and felt the force of the officers’ testimony that “Never man spake like this man,” remonstrated with them, to the effect that it was contrary to their own principles of justice to condemn a man wholesale to whom they had never listened, to know what he had to say for himself.
His feeble defense of the Master in whom he secretly believed, acted like the “apple of discord” in the meeting, and “every man went unto his own house.”
"Afar from man's uncertainty and contempt, the Son of God retired to enjoy the fellowship of the Father. Thence He returns for service.
- William Kelly
Each one had gone to his home, but the Homeless One had repaired to the Mount of Olives.
Now as everyone must see, the former of these two paragraphs is unmistakably not the beginning but the end of a narrative. ... the conclusion of ... what occurred at the close of the debate between certain members of the Sanhedrin, which terminates his history of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
- John Burgon
"The return of the people to the inert quiet and security of their dwellings (John 7:53), at the close of the feast, is designedly contrasted with our Lord's homeless way, so to speak, of spending the short night, who is early in the morning on the scene again.
...it might have been the Lord's ordinary custom from the beginning to leave the brilliant misery of the city every night, that so He might compose His sorrowful and interceding heart, and collect His energies for new labors of love; preferring for His resting-place Bethany, and the Mount of Olives, the scene thus consecrated by many preparatory prayers for His final humiliation and exaltation."
We believe that this contrast conveys a double thought, in harmony with the peculiar character of this fourth Gospel. All through John two things concerning Christ are made prominent: His essential glory and His voluntary humiliation.
Here, the Holy Spirit presents Him to us as the eternal Son of God, but also as the Son come down from heaven, made flesh. Thus we are given to behold, on the one hand, His uniqueness, His peerless excellency; and on the other, the depths of shame into which He descended. Frequently these are placed almost side by side.
... 'Jesus went unto the mount of Olives' ... suggests the elevation of Christ. But no doubt it also tells of the humiliation of the Savior.
'The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay His head' (Matthew 8:20)
- therefore, when every man went unto his own house, Jesus went unto the mount of Olives, for He "owned" no "house" down here. He who was rich for our sakes became poor.
- Arthur Pink
[Jn 8:1]: This should have formed the last verse of the foregoing chapter.
- Robert Jamieson
"The Synoptic Problem becomes significant here:
Did John (or an interpolator) have access to Luke, or did Luke have access to John in writing Luke/Acts?
John appears to take great pains to maintain independance from the Synoptic Gospels, in regard to both style and content. He appears only to make direct reference to Mark, and makes no effort to use or even confirm the 'Q' material from Luke and Matthew.
Yet a handful of peculiar clauses and expressions are shared between John and Luke: Why would John insert these phrases into his own Gospel in such a random manner, with no apparent purpose?
If Luke made Use of John...
But what if Luke was composed after John, and had access to it, or at least to traditions originating in the Johannine community? In fact, a remarkable number of passages in Luke appear to depend upon the Johannine tradition, such as Luke 9:55-56 (cf. Jn 3:16-17), Luke 10:1-24, especially 10:2-3 (cf. Jn 4:35-36), and 10:21-22 (cf. Jn 5:25-27, 8:42-43, 10:27-30 etc.), Luke 11:29-36 (cf. Jn 2:18 etc.), and Luke 12:14 (cf. Jn 8:15-16).
The parallels between Luke 11:20 (cf. Jn 8:6,8!), and especially Luke 21:37-38/Acts 5:21 (cf. Jn 7:53-8:2) become now become more explicable. Luke takes the Johannine traditions and works them into his compilation of previous written and oral tradition, modifying them extensively just as he has done with Mark. Luke openly confesses as much, in the first 4 verses (Luke 1:1-4).
Most importantly, now the amazing parallel in Luke 21:37-38 takes on a new meaning: Besides providing the authoritative background for Luke's following material, Luke carefully preserves together material from both sides of the apparent 'seam' between John 8:1 and 8:2. Could Luke have done this to prevent or combat the physical cutting apart of this seam and removal of John 8:2-11?
If so, Luke would become the earliest known witness to the authenticity of the Pericope de Adultera!
'And at dawn Jesus came again into the temple,
and all the people were coming to Him;
and having sat down, He was teaching them.'
Lexical: The word "Dawn" ('ορθρου' gen.), is an old expression, having stood in the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the O.T.) for between 250-400 years by John's time. Luke uses the expression twice (Luke 24:1, Acts 5:21) but it is not in fact a 'Lukan' word at all:
It is also found at least twice in the popular Greek psalter (Ps 57:8, 108:2 LXX), familiar to Greek speaking Jews for hundreds of years before Christ, and for at least 200 years afterward. Even so, the word appears to be an archaism, and not a normal choice for a Greek writer with the literary skill of Luke, even one as heavily Semitic as John. (cf. Jn 18:28, 20:1, 21:4)
Remarkably however, the phrase appears six times in Jeremiah (Jer 7:25, 25:4, 26:5, 32:33, 35:14, 44:4 LXX), while it remains almost non-existant in most other books. Whether this can be traced to Jeremiah's phraseology rather than the Greek translator is moot, since the Greek Jeremiah was a very popular book. These passages focus particularly upon the warnings to the Jews prior to the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the Exile. Striking, and typical, is Jeremiah 32:33 (LXX).
Six times Jeremiah (LXX) uses 'dawn' (ορθρου) like a gong to announce the woes against Judah and the Temple. These well-worn passages had been pondered and lamented over constantly since the Exile. By the time of Christ, 'dawn' (ορθρου) might simply be a painfully humbling reminder of Jeremiah's prophecies whenever the Greek Psalter (Ps 57:8, 108:2 LXX) was sung.
The strongest and most convincing explanation for the use of 'dawn' (ορθρου) in both John and Luke/Acts is simply to recall the Greek Jeremiah.
'And they were amazed at His teaching, for He taught them with authority, and not as the scribes did.'
- Mark 1:22 (cf. Luke 21:37-38)
'And some of those from Jerusalem said, "Isn't this the One they seek to kill? But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him! Do the rulers know that indeed this is the very Christ?"
- the crowd in the temple, (John 7:25-26)
And the scribes and Pharisees
Bring to Him a woman having been
taken in an adultery;
And having set her in the midst,
They say to Him,
"Teacher! This woman was taken in the very act,
- committing adultery; and in the Law
Moses commanded us that such women
be stoned to death;
You therefore, what do you say?"
And this they said testing Him,
That they might have something to accuse
"the scribes" ('οι γραμματεις'), by the time of Jesus these were a professional class of lawyers, probably priests or Levites, perhaps approved or appointed by temple priests or the Pharisee sect. Their presence may have been required for a serious trial, even if conducted without knowledge or authority from Rome (cf. Jn 18:31b). Although only appearing once here in John, it was a common enough and well-known term.
The special legal situation, and the fact that Jesus wrote on the Temple floor (cf. Num 5:11-31, esp v17, 23) may have made their mention significant here. On the other hand, their supposed 'absence' elsewhere in John is not significant (See A. W. Wilson, below).
"It is conceded that adultery was exceedingly common at this time, so common that they had ceased to put the law in force against it. The Waters of Jealousy (Numbers 5:19-28) were no longer drunk, the culprits or those suspected of this crime, being so very numerous; and the men who were guilty themselves dared not try their suspected wives, as it was believed the waters would have no evil effect upon the wife, if the husband himself had been criminal."
- Adam Clarke
As Jesus continues his teaching in the temple (8,2), it is quite appropriate that now the scribes rather than the chief priests join the Pharisees in trying to trap Jesus, since the Jews had earlier questioned Jesus' knowledge of "scripture" (7:15, γραμματα), and the "scribes" (8:3, γραμματεις) are scriptural experts.
Presenting the adulteress (8,3) and purposefully addressing Jesus as "teacher" (8,4; see 7,184.108.40.206), the scribes and the Pharisees test the teaching of Jesus with explicit reference to the law of Moses... (8,5).
- John Paul Heil
Another Johannine Irony is intended here, for the Pharisees call Jesus "Teacher" (8:3) but not "Lord" (8:11). (cf. John 13:13 - "You [disciples] call Me Teacher and Lord...").
"Teacher" ( = διδασκαλε) is the Greek equivalent of "Rabbi", and may be a lip-service gesture, or even a back-handed insult: They may have engaged Him in Greek because He was from Galilee, where the majority of rural 'Israelites' conversed in Greek. There is some indication that Jesus spoke fluently in Greek (cf. John 7:35, where "Gentiles" is literally "Greeks", or possibly Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora).
In any case there is a formal limit to the amount of respect they pay to Jesus, even when appealing to Him for an opinion or judgement.
The scribes and Pharisees ...interrupt his teaching in the Temple to interject a lesson of their own. They are accustomed to controlling discourse in the Temple.
... As v. 5 makes clear, the woman is not a subject but an object, a point of law. Both Lev 20:10 and Deut. 22:22-24 advocate the death penalty for adultery, although neither specifies stoning. The two texts also prescribe death for both offenders, the man and the woman, even though the woman's accusers here speak as though the death penalty applies only to the woman (note the feminine accusative plural pronouns, τας τοιαυτας [i.e., - "women such as these"] )
Their first concern is with entrapping Jesus, not with the law or justice, or even the woman. She is a useful object to be exploited for their ulterior motives.
- Gail O'Day
In fact, stoning is the traditional method of execution for adultery. O'Day is sloppy here. Deuteronomy 22:24 specifies stoning:
'Then you shall bring them outside the city gate, and stone them with stones until they die.'
Watson notes that the penalty for adultery was only changed to strangulation by the Jewish Rabbis in the early second century, and so the story must be very old! (See DAUBE, "Landmarks", 188; BECKER, Jesus, 166-167.)
"A Lynching ...was the only way in which she could be punished. Because the Sanhedrin was not allowed to hear cases involving the death-penalty, at any rate in Jerusalem itself, the constitutional method of seeking a penalty against her would have been to approach the Roman governor.
The Jewish Law prescribed how and by what means an adulteress should be punished; but its application was hindered so far as regular administration was concerned, and the Romans provided no attractive alternative.
No Roman judge would condemn to death a woman taken in adultery, and that was what the crowd (and the husband) wanted, it would seem, to happen to her. A smaller legal punishment, or even another at the judge's discretion, would by no means satisfy their zeal."
- Duncan M. Derrett
"...the zeal of the crowd was aroused by more than just the woman's violation of the law. Mixed in with their righteous indignation against the woman's sin are at least two kinds of resentment: the first against the constituted colonial authority of the Romans, the imposition of whose relatively lax legal code could be seen as yet another affront to Jewish religious and political sovereignty, and the second against Jesus, taken by the crowd as a self-constituted moral authority, whose self-evident righteousness also arouses resentment.
The woman is largely a pretext for the expression of other resentments, especially those of the scribes and Pharisees for any perceived threat to their civic and political authority.
The mob Jesus confronts in the Pericope de Adultera bears all the hallmarks of what Gans and Girard would identify as a "community in crisis": feeling their religious/legal tradition belittled by the imposition of Roman authority, and riven by competing ideas about how to re-assert the significance of Jewish nationality and identity, the crowd gathers and prepares to immolate a hapless woman in the hope that the execution of an adulteress will re-establish group unity."
- Matthew Schneider
"In the case of adulterers, they (the witnesses) must have seen them in the posture of adulterers [i.e., the actual sexual position]."
- Rabbi Samuel (cf. mSan 5; bSan 30a, G-Daniel: Susanna)
"(It is not just an issue) of their having seen the couple in a `compromising situation,' for example, coming from a room in which they were alone, or even lying together on the same bed. The actual physical movements of the couple must have been capable of no other explanation, and the witnesses must have seen exactly the same acts at exactly the same time, in the presence of each other, so that their depositions would be identical in every respect."
- Duncan Derrett
The accusers committed a colossal tactical blunder. Their charge itself contained information sufficient to expose their hypocrisy. The scribes and Pharisees emphatically declared that the poor woman had been caught “in the very act.” That is significant.
I am reminded of the circumstance where two men were in a fight and one bit off a portion of the other’s ear. When the case came to trial, the attorney for the accused asked a witness: “Did you see Mr. Jones bite off Mr. Smith’s ear?” “No,” the witness responded.
The lawyer might well have stopped at that point with: “No further questions.” - but he just had to ask one question more: “How, then, do you know that Jones bit off Smith’s ear?”
The witness responded : “I saw him spit it out!”
When the Jewish leaders decided to be so specific, “in the very act,” they acknowledged an important point: They knew the identity of the male participant..."
- Wayne Jackson
Striking at the Heart of the Question
John in the narrative, says 'taken in an adultery':
(Greek: - εν μοιχεια κατειλημμενην )
But the Pharisees say, "committing adultery"(!):
(Greek: - επ' αυτοφωρω μοιχονενην )
Both agree that an adultery has taken place; but John, guided by the Holy Spirit, condemns no one. (Matt 7:1)
The Pharisees, on the other hand, accuse the woman. (Acts 10:28)
What a contrast between John's humble yet powerful understatement, and the Pharisees' rude and arrogant interruption (1st Cor 13:1).
Only the use of the 'active-voice verb participle' by the Pharisee spokesman implies action and participation in the crime, and hence guilt: they say literally, "caught adulterizing".
John's statement in the narrative is entirely different: it speaks of the crime in the abstract, "adultery", and only relates the bare facts, namely that the woman was 'captured' during a criminal activity. Her guilt is not even discussed.
Instead John's testimony concentrates on the known facts, her presence at the scene of a crime. Even the word 'captured' implies no guilt or innocence. 'Capturing' (literally kidnapping) is an activity that can be engaged in by police or criminals, and of course false arrests are entirely possible. That's what trials are for.
The disturbingly divergent expressions so closely juxtaposed beg for special notice: Its the motherload of Johannine Irony for this passage. A critically important question is left hanging in the air:
What if the woman was innocent?
Historical Assumption of Guilt by Commentators
"The conventional distorted 'reading' [interpretation] places a primary focus on the woman and her sin and relativizes the role of the third party of the triangle, the scribes and the Pharisees.
Interpreters have the propensity to operate out of the scribes' and Pharisees' valuation of the woman's sin rather than Jesus'.
When the text speaks in its own voice, it is regarded as too dangerous for the interests of the interpreters, and so has been misread against the woman.
...The larger social questions of Jesus' relationship to the religious establishment and the challenge he presented to the status quo are lost to the woman's sin."
- Gail O'Day
The Rape Law (Deut. 22:26,27)
In point of fact, the Pharisees had it wrong. Catching a woman in the act is not enough to put a woman to death: its only enough to put the man to death.
Even under O.T. Law (Torah), the establishment of the woman's guilt must take into account the possibility of rape:
"But you shall do nothing to the young woman;..."
the benefit of the doubt is given to her,
"that there is in her no sin worthy of death,..."
and it is taken for granted that,
"the betrothed young woman screamed,
and there was no one to save her."
Jesus had every right to demand a lot more than just their word that they 'caught her in the act'. What was needed under the Law was clear evidence of her willing compliance in the act of fornication.
The so-called 'Rape-Law' is worded in such a way as to make this plain. The concern of the Law is the woman's willing complicity, and if there is no eye-witnesses or convincing circumstances that prove she willingly conspired with the man, she must be released, even though the man is put to death in any case.
The "country/city" clause in the Law has the obvious purpose of establishing common-sense conditions that protect a woman from both rape and the double-jeopardy of false accusations after the fact:
"If the young virgin was betrothed,
and a man...lays with her in the city,
...you shall stone them both to death...
but if in the countryside the man forces her,
then the man only shall die...
for she [obviously] cried out,
and there was no one to save her."
Even though 'technically' they might claim this woman was "in the city", such a literal interpretation of the Law would be a monstrous breach of its intent. Obviously it could not apply fairly to a mute woman or someone who was gagged, threatened with a knife, or even blackmailed, to name just a few examples.
The blind letter of the law can obviously kill. Above all, God always insists that judges exercise righteous judgement, and uphold the intent of the law, not look for loopholes.
Even putting all questions of compassion, mercy, and grace through repentance aside, Jesus would certainly demand that they "Judge not by mere appearance, but judge righteous (true) judgment." (Jn 7:24).
Plainly, the woman could not be put to death without a thorough inquiry. There could be no 'off the cuff' ruling possible in these circumstances, in spite of the claims or wishes of the Pharisees and scribes. And without further evidence, the Law required the woman's release, guilty or not.
Unfortunately, the Law did require a thorough inquiry.
Due process is required, of which it can be assumed the scribes and Pharisees were perfectly aware. This was of course maintained by practice and tradition.
Lynching of any kind is expressly forbidden (Exod. 23:1,2). The Pharisees had protected themselves from this charge by publicly acknowledging Jesus as a Teacher of the Law, calling him 'Didaskaleh' (Rabbi) (Isa 29:13), and appealing for a Special Judgement under Deuteronomy 17:8-13.
This meant that they had to abide by Jesus' decision under penalty of death: and this was also in itself an admission that they lacked the necessary witnesses for a straightforward trial: For otherwise they could not stray to the right or left of the Law (Num. 20:17, 22:26, Deut.2:27, 5:32, 17:11-20, 28:14).
This brought everyone present under Deuteronomy 19:18-19, which commanded Jesus as Judge to make a full inquiry and punish false witnesses with the sentence intended for their victim, in this case the death penalty.
Jesus certainly had the sympathy and control of a large part of the crowd, and the situation was not without danger for the scribes and Pharisees also.
"I believe it would be generally accepted that the episode has never been adequately explained.
Why was the woman brought by the Pharisees and scribes to Jesus? We are told that it was "to try him" or "to tempt him". What can this mean?
What Was the Real Trap?
The usual explanation is that this is connected with the Sanhedrin’s loss of power to inflict the death penalty. I am not convinced that the Romans had taken from the Sanhedrin the power to impose the penalty of death, but let us take the worst case scenario for me and assume they had.
The argument is, I suppose, that if Jesus said the woman should be stoned, then he would offend the Romans, and be in danger.
This approach to the issue I find unconvincing. Why on earth would the Romans be angered if Jesus, a private individual, claimed that an adulteress should be stoned? He would not even be insisting that a verdict of the Sanhedrin should be enforced. There had been none.
Even more to the point, on this approach the Pharisees are putting themselves, not Jesus, at risk with the Romans. It is they who claim that the law of Moses that they follow imposes the penalty of death by stoning. They even said "Moses commanded us (ημιν) to stone such women". The supposed scenario and its explanation are entirely implausible."
- Alan Watson
The Other Adulterer: Where is He?
Another important question is often raised by commentators, namely, Where is the man? It obviously takes two to commit adultery (or at least fornication: see Matt. 5:27-28!).
The question is good, but how it is handled usually isn't: It is used as 'evidence' that the scribes and Pharisees are either guilty of hypocrisy or some more heineous crime, like entrapment or that they are guilty of adultery themselves.
To make such an accusation on such flimsy evidence however, is exactly what we are NOT supposed to do, according to the Lord (John 7:24 for instance!), nor would it be admissable in a courtroom.
Nor should the absence of the man be grounds for doubt regarding the historical accuracy of the passage. There can be many good explanations for his absence. Derrett has made an elaborate case supporting the idea that the trial was already finished, and the Pharisees were on their way from there to the stoning.
Other possibilities should be considered. They may have already stoned the man or killed him in the process of 'arrest' (...especially if the husband had caught them, this would be a common enough circumstance!). His guilt was certain if caught in the act. Only the woman need be brought before Jesus for an opinion.
This Bird has Flown...
The most obvious possibility of all, is that the man fled, escaping his discoverer. He need not be stronger, only faster, and it is far easier for a suspect to flee a scene than for an opponent to secure him. The adulterer would have the advantage and be on the lookout for discovery. An unsuspecting husband would have no such warning. The woman, with fewer options and resources, would be far easier to catch.
Again, if they had taken the case to the Romans, they may have taken the prisoner themselves for whipping or prison, but declined to process the woman, turning her back to them for punishment.
The Romans had no death penalty for adultery, and might have simply commanded that she be flogged by the Jews. Once free of the watchful Roman eye, they would proceed their own way.
In the end, the absence of the man is a significant fact that would require an explanation, and also further inquiry before sentencing the girl. But its not one that necessarily incriminates the Pharisees and scribes. Commentators frequently push this too far.
Adultery by Divorce!
"I would put the episode in a specific historical context:
Jesus had declared that a woman whose husband had divorced her and who remarried committed adultery (Matt 5,31-32; 19,3-9; Mark 10,2-9.)
The woman brought to Jesus was, I suggest, a remarried divorcée. By Jesus’ own claim she was thus an adulteress, but not for the Pharisees. Moses allowed divorce, Jesus forbade it (cf. Mark 10:11-12).
The trap of the Pharisees for Jesus was this: the law of Moses demanded death by stoning for an adulteress; Jesus claimed remarried divorcées were adulteresses though Moses did not, and neither did the Pharisees.
Would Jesus follow his argument to its logical conclusion and impose death on a remarried divorcée? The scribes and Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus very precisely to test him.
No Crime, No Trial
We can see now why there was no trial before the Sanhedrin. For the Pharisees there had been no crime.
The problem of evidence of adultery and of the difficulties of proof disappears. For Jesus, the remarriage of the divorcée was itself adultery.
Besides, we are no longer concerned with a trial and its practical problems. We are confronted rather with a theoretical issue: namely, would Jesus make a divorcée who remarried be liable to suffer the Mosaic penalty for adultery?
... John 8,6, indeed, is very specific. The scribes and Pharisees were "tempting" Jesus so "that they may have [reason] to accuse him". What was to be the ground of this intended accusation?
It cannot have been, I have already claimed, an accusation to the Romans that he was seeking to have the Sanhedrin put the woman to death, a power that the Romans had supposedly taken from the Jews.
Rather, the accusation would be before the Jews themselves, that Jesus was seeking to alter the law of Moses. Such an accusation could be seen as plausible.
Indeed, one part of the double-headed charge against Stephen — and which led to his lynching after an abortive trial before the Sanhedrin — was precisely that Jesus was speaking "blasphemous words" against Moses (Acts 7,11) and the law (Acts 7,13), and changing the customs which Moses delivered to the Jews (Acts 7,14).
The innocent-seeming question, but meant as a trap, to Jesus about the adulteress was full of danger to him.
"Where is the (man) adulterer?"
I have left aside to this point the answer to the basic question, "Where is the adulterer?" My reason is that his absence from the scene is the strongest evidence that the pericope as it stands is unrealistic. If she were caught in the act then so would he have been, and the penalty for both was the same. He, too, should have been brought before Jesus. His absence must be explained.
My answer is that for the Pharisees there was no adultery, no catching in the act, and no adulterer. Their only interest was to test Jesus: would he say the woman was an adulteress to be stoned? Of course, no doubt, they could also have claimed the new husband was an adulterer. But why should they? There was no need for that for the purposes of the test.
- Alan Watson
Not So Elementary, My Dear Watson
Watson's hypothesis is striking, but not compelling. In its favour is its apparent foundation upon Jesus' public teaching on marriage and adultery, and His apparent sharp disagreement with the Pharisees on this vital community issue.
But Watson admits his reconstruction also contains some severe conflicts with the incident itself, and so ironically, he must ultimately dismiss key elements of the story as 'unhistorical'.
Watson speaks as though the only obstacle to his thesis is the 'argument from silence', that is, the issue of divorce and Jesus' teaching on it are not explicitly mentioned at all. This presentation is inadequate and misleading for several glaring reasons. The problems Watson's thesis faces are these:
(1) The Pharisees and scribes have actually arrested a prisoner, and clearly intend to stone her, or push Jesus into it. This goes strongly against the idea that the Pharisees hold her innocent. Watson can't explain why they would go to such lengths, undermining their own position just to 'tempt' Jesus.
(2) They claim to have actually caught her "in the very act, committing adultery". This implies an entirely different scenario than a supposedly legal marriage, disapproved of by Jesus. Can we imagine them arresting a woman whom they would have married in the first place?
(3) The Pharisees and scribes insist "Moses commanded us such be stoned". They demand justice on this basis, and again, this implies a plain case of adultery is before us, not a dispute about what constitutes a legal marriage, where the Pharisees take the opposing view, that it is legal.
(4) Jesus would surely publicly uphold His own teaching regarding marriage. Even when defeating his enemies with a dilemma, He would surely have followed up with a parable or explanation underlining His position. Where's the teaching?
(5) Jesus would surely have exposed their murderous frame-up and hypocrisy here, if Watson were right. Yet Jesus handles the case in terms of Matt. 5:28 (their own sexual sins), not in terms of Matt. 19:3-9 (divorce), or even more appropriate, Matt. 23:2-4, 14 (mishandling of Torah).
(6) Watson's version also paints the Pharisees and scribes as far more hideous and cruel monsters than even Jesus' accusations make out. Watson would have them framing an innocent party by their own interpretation, simply to embarrass or humiliate Jesus. Yet Jesus' own testimony was that they wanted to murder Him, and their behaviour later shows no conscious malice directed at others. (cf. John 18:8...)
These are overwhelming difficulties that can only be overcome by Watson's rejection of the story as it is given to us. He must actually rewrite it drastically, and delete its very heart and soul. The version of the story Watson ends up with is unrecognizable, and more fatal to his thesis, is historically unknown.
But Jesus bent down, and with His finger,
he wrote on the ground. ...
Lexical/Idiomatic: "wrote on the ground" - or "in the earth" ( = 'εις την γην' ) See Genesis, and especially Jeremiah 17:13 ( 'αφεστηκοτες επι της γης γραφητωσαν' = "apostates - let them be written upon the earth!" )
"The important point is not what Jesus wrote on the ground, but why Jesus was writing in the first place.
Jesus was writing on the ground in the very presence of men who - so we are specifically told - made their living by writing. Scribes copied out the words of the Law of God, as well as teaching it to the people. Furthermore, we know that these Jewish scribes had great reverence for the Word of God and that they maintained extremely high standards in the copying department.
Yet these scribes were standing accusing a woman of sin, despite the fact that they should have been convicted – from God’s laws that they copied out every day – of many sins of which they were themselves guilty.
Christ’s reply, ‘he who is without sin - or, the one who has never made a mistake - let him cast the first stone’, only resulted in wholesale conviction of sin because of the cumulative effect of three factors: (a) Christ’s calligraphy providing graphic illustration of what these men did every day and the standards they themselves set, (b) God’s laws that they continually copied out, and (c) Christ’s famous words accusing them of hypocrisy.
Therefore, the mention of scribes as the prime movers in condemning the woman seems a rather important detail in the piece. The argument that there are plenty of other occasions that John could have mentioned the occupation ‘scribes ’ is vacuous."
- A. W. Wilson
'wrote on the ground' (κατεγραφεν εις την γην). Imperfect active of καταγραπω, old compound, here only in N.T., to draw, to delineate, to write down, apparently inchoative, began to write on the sand as every one has done sometimes.
The only mention of writing by Jesus and the use of καταγραπω leaves it uncertain whether he was writing words or drawing pictures or making signs. If we only knew what he wrote! Certainly Jesus knew how to write. And yet more books have been written about this One who wrote nothing that is preserved than any other person or subject in human history.
- A. T. Robertson
"How widely does Christ differ from men! He writes his Divine thoughts in the dust: they wish to have theirs cut in marble, and engraved on brass."
" Whatever He wrote, the scribes and Pharisees apparently misunderstood Him: They thought He was stalling for time, and they kept pressing Him, asking Him again and again to answer them and tell them what He would do."
- Ray C. Stedman
"Those who think Christ was primarily there to defend and uphold the Law need to stop and look closely here: It is the scribes and Pharisees who are trying to uphold/enforce the Law here (rightly or wrongly), and it is Jesus who appears reluctant to even begin. It seems only at their insistence that Jesus finally consents and rises to address the question."
"Num 5,11-31 prescribed that the priest make a mixture of water and dust from the floor of the tabernacle, and have the woman drink it and swear an oath, and if she were unfaithful she would suffer a gruesome fate. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that only if the husband were guiltless would she suffer the fate from the curse.
Since Johanan ben Zaccai did away with the institution and this must have been before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (or Johanan’s action would have been pointless), then the rabbinic debate and interpretation must have been earlier still.
This modification of the import of the curse will have been present to the minds of the onlookers who put Jesus to the test. The woman was to suffer only if the husband was guiltless.
Jesus’ reply was thus very much directed towards the sinfulness (in his view) of the husband who divorced. Jesus could only confute the Pharisees and scribes by the use of Scripture and its interpretation.
He relied on the new rabbinic interpretation of Num 5,30-31: 'And if the man is clear of sin, then the woman shall bear her sin'. On this view, if the man was not clear of sin, the woman would not bear her sin."
- Alan Watson
'And when they continued pressing Him,
having bent back, He said to them,
"The innocent one among you -
Let him first cast a stone upon her!"
Lexical: "innocent one", or "sinless person" ( = ο αναμαρτητος, literally "the sinless one" ) Although posing a challenge for commentators, there is no uncertainty as to the basic meaning of the word.
...They thought he was stalling for time, and they kept pressing him, asking him again and again to answer them and tell them what he would do.
So, standing up, Jesus looked them right in the eye and uttered these famous words, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Actually the word he uses is "sinless," "let him who is sinless..." This is the only time Jesus ever employed this word in the New Testament: "Let him who is sinless cast the first stone."
The result is almost humorous. They are stunned. Speechless! He has taken the wind right out of their sails.
- Ray C. Stedman
At this point the story of Jesus and the adulteress takes its place within the narrative flow as the hearing before the law requested by Nicodemus, which serves to vindicate Jesus as a prophetic teacher. ...
Jesus overcomes the test with a powerful prophetic teaching: "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (8,7). After the Jewish leaders have departed (8,9) and Jesus has dismissed the adulteress with a command to sin no longer (8,10-11), the reader realizes that the crowd was correct (7,40) and the Pharisees wrong (7,52) about Jesus being a prophetic teacher in relation to Mosaic law.
- John Paul Heil
" To this recurrence of an archetypal human event -- a lynching -- Jesus brings an originary intuition of the shared roots of significance and violence that enables him to short-circuit the sacrifice of the woman taken in adultery.
What is the Real Key?
...The part of the sentence to which we should look for the saying's ethical importance is not the ambiguous expression "without sin," but the phrase "the first to throw a stone at her", especially the adjectival phrase "the first".
"to throw a stone" is, of course, an unambiguous action, the motivation and consequences of which are obvious in this context. One cocks an arm, takes aim, and lets the stone fly, hoping it will strike the presumably restrained sinner squarely in the head.
Jesus seeks unmistakably to bring to mind for each member of the crowd a clear picture of what is about to happen, and thus forgoes euphemism or any other type of figurative language. "First" is similarly unambiguous, and lies even closer to the revelatory kernel of the entire scene, for it brings to light the secret, fatal vulnerability that lurks at the heart of every lynch mob:
... the "sin" of the lynch-mob's victim, as my analysis has already suggested, is something of a pretext, since at least part of the real purpose of the punishment is to ward off a threat of group disunity.
Establishing and securing the unanimity of the group of sacrificers is, as it were, the real purpose of the lynching; and anything that conduces to single out any member of the group thus threatens the entire enterprise.
The precise means that this group has chosen to exact punishment on the woman caught in adultery is, of course, particularly well suited to this end, since in the aftermath of a hail of stones, who can say which was first and which was last? (Or, for that matter, which merely injured the victim, and which delivered the fatal blow?)
The unanimity of the group's action ultimately confers anonymity on each individual, who, after all the stones have been thrown, enlists his own uncertainty concerning the precise order of events in order to still any pangs of conscience that might be stirred by having participated in what could, under other circumstances, be construed as a murder.
Jesus' use of the word "first" is intended precisely to destroy the comforts of anonymous unanimity. And this is precisely what it does, for after another short pause, the story relates how the mob, originally an undifferentiated mass headed by "scribes and Pharisees," degenerates into a collocation of individuals, who depart from the scene "one by one."
- Matthew Schneider
"Jesus’ "The one among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her" (v. 7) is typical of him. Jesus is on the attack against the Pharisees.
"The one without sin" is ironic. The Greek (ο αναμαρτητος) is singular. This does not mean "anyone". He is singling out an individual.
The person he means is the ex-husband: for the Pharisees the husband had not sinned in divorcing his wife, for Jesus he had. For the Pharisaic position we have Mishnah Gittin 9.10:
a. The House of Shammai say, "A man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity, b. "since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything (Dt. 24:1)".
c. And the House of Hillel say, "Even if she spoiled his dish, d. "since it is said, Because he found in her indecency in anything".
e. R. Aqiba says, "Even if he found someone else prettier than she, f. "since it is said, And it shall be if she find not favor in his eyes (Dt. 24:1)".
Thus, at least for the supporters of the school of Hillel (of around 70 BC to AD 10) and Rabbi Akiba (of around 45-135), the divorcing husband needed no excuse for his act, hence was without sin. It would be unreasonable to suppose that their position was not also held even earlier. Much early evidence is lost.
Jesus’ attitude is different, expressed most notably at Matt 5,31-32:
"It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’.
But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, [except on the ground of unchastity], causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery".
(Matt. 5:31-32, cf. Mark 10:11-12)
A husband who divorces his wife, except for unchastity, causes her in the eyes of Jesus to commit adultery, i.e. when she remarries.
We can go further. We know from Matt 19,3-9. that this was an issue of contention between Pharisees and Jesus: The Pharisees put the question of the lawfulness of divorce in the context of testing Jesus.
In fact, the Greek (πειραζοντες), is the same in Matt 19,3, Mark 10,2, and John 8,6, 'testing (him)' . Also, in all three passages the issue is framed in terms of a supposed disagreement between the law of Moses and the stance of Jesus. This is precisely a tricky issue to bring to Jesus. Indeed, it is the issue on adultery for the Pharisees to bring before Jesus.
... If this view ...is plausible, as it is to me, it would even be strengthened if in the pericope the one without sin who had to cast the first stone was the divorcing husband. In Jesus’ eyes, it was he who caused his ex-wife to commit adultery.
Not only that, but if Jesus’ challenge to cast the first stone was not to the crowd in general but to the ex-husband we can understand why there was no response but the crowd melted away. Moreover, for the husband too, his ex-wife would not have committed adultery: he could not cast the first stone [He had divorced her in the first place]."
- Alan Watson
'And again having leaned down,
He was writing in the earth:
and they, having understood,
being convicted by conscience,
went forth one by one,
beginning from the elders, even to the last.'
"Whatever Christ wrote made a powerful impact upon his critics.
Silently they slipped away into the shadows, progressing from the older to the younger. This effect usually is interpreted as an indication that the Lord’s written message impacted the more mature first, and then the younger. It is hard to focus upon another’s sin when your own is exposed.
At any rate, Jesus’ response – whatever it was – was devastating. The Pharisees’ inconsistency had been laid bare. The accusers abandoned their prey.
They were no match for the Son of God."
- Wayne Jackson
"...Christ's declaration, 'I am the light of the world,'(v.12) seems clearly to have its occasion in the conviction wrought in the hearts of the Pharisees, as recorded in verse 9; as, also, it explains the peculiar virulence of the Pharisee's words (in v. 8:41)."
"Jesus is [still] grace and mercy in this text, but his mercy is not exclusively visible in contrast to the woman's sin. To summarize the story as sin (woman) and grace (Jesus) is to objectify and dehumanize the woman the same way the scribes and Pharisees do in v. 4.
...Acquittal is also expressed in the movement and freedom of movement of the characters. When those in the crowd hear the words of Jesus, one by one they go away. Those who would condemn the woman disperse. The elders, those who lived under the old ways the longest and thus had the most from which to walk away, leave first.
They walked away from judgement and condemnation to the possibilities offered by acquittal and life."
- Gail O'Day
"Again those who think Christ was primarily there to defend and uphold the Law must think again! Consider a parallel hypothetical case:
Pharisees: "There's been a murder! We have one of the conspirators right here!"
Jesus: "Sorry, I'm not punishing people for murder at the moment, so I'm going to make it impossible for you to do that."
Pharisees: "Oh. Okay, we'll just leave one of the murderers here. Come to think of it, we don't feel like testifying right now anyway. We're just going to wander off now to ponder our own involvement in various murders. Is that okay with you?"
Jesus: "Oh sure, leave him here. That won't pose a problem. Off you go. I won't need your eyewitness testimony in any ongoing legal inquiry. The victim is obviously dead. Inquiry closed."
We are so used to thinking in terms of Jesus automatically upholding and fulfilling the Law that the obvious sometimes just slides right past us! If Jesus were here really acting as judge, He might be the most derelict judge ever to sit on the bench:
If a judicial trial or inquiry were to continue, the witnesses had no right to wander off, and the judge had no real business letting them go before properly interrogating them. This dismissal of all witnesses nonetheless signals the formal end of the legal proceedings, except rendering a verdict...
Once again Johannine Irony strikes deep! It seems Jesus is helpless to stop her accusers from simply walking away, free of culpability and responsibility for their sins.
In reality, Jesus as driven them off, utterly destroying their plans. They obey as though hypnotized by the Master Magician. Its the same Jesus we see at work in John 18:8."
"Jesus’ response discomfited the scribes and Pharisees:
'They, having heard, and convicted by conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the older to the very last'
Jesus, as elsewhere when faced with a legal issue, sidesteps the question. In this instance his adversaries are defeated because Jesus, not responding directly to the question or giving a legal opinion, transfers the possible crime of the adulteress to the sin (in Jesus’ view) of her sinless husband who divorced her. It should be remembered that in Jewish law divorce proceeds from the husband.
- Alan Watson
'And Jesus was left alone,
and the woman standing in the midst of the crowd.
And Jesus, having raised Himself,
and regarding no one but the woman, said to her,
Woman, where are those - your accusers?
Did no one condemn you [to death]?"
And she said,
"No one, Lord."
Doctrinal: ( cf.Matt 26:13 )
Textual: No significant variation for "condemn" (κατακρινεν ). See note on 8:11b.
Lexical: Here "Lord" is κυριε, vocative address of κυριος, popular among disciples, and not the ordinary "master" ( =επιστατα), found often as a sign of respectful address to a stranger (See for example Luke 5:5 επιστατα, and Simon's usage before and after 'conversion' or discipleship.).
"Would the story of any sinful person do? The woman plays a minor role, speaking only two words, 'No one Lord' (ουδεις κυριε).
The story is obviously a testing conflict story between Jesus and the Jewish authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) such as is common in Mark (12:13-17 concerning paying tribute to Caesar)."
- John Painter
...Evidently, Jesus saw in her an attitude of faith in Him ("Lord" in verse 8:7 ? ).
- Gary DeLashmutt
"With one word, the woman may have revealed more about herself than a paragraph could have: "Lord".
Had she simply been a Jew, there would be no precedent. Jews normally reserved this Greek word at least, for Jehovah. Another address, "master" ( =επιστατα, cf. Luke 5:5) might have been expected for strangers. Had she been referring to Jesus' professional status, "master" ( = δεσποτης, cf. Luke 2:29) might also have been applied.
Some critics have latched onto this as evidence of an anachronism, a later date of composition, and therefore evidence that 7:53-8:11 is an 'insertion'.
The Significance of "Lord"
Yet a simpler explanation is under our noses. If the woman was a disciple of Jesus, she would have normally used this term as a sign of loyalty and commitment (cf. Mark 9:24, Matt. 8:8, and especially John 13:13 "You [disciples] call Me Teacher and Lord...").
Yet if she was an 'insider', then once in this horrific and shameful situation she might have grave difficulty appealing to her 'loyalty' as a disciple! Jesus could not be expected to have a double-standard (cf. Luke 6:46).
Instead her speech is probably the simple and desperate plea for mercy of a hapless sinner.
Compare the use of "Lord" in Mark 7:28 by the Syrophenician woman. (Most people misunderstand this incident: it is not because of a pithy 'saying' that Jesus grants her request. The 'saying' Jesus refers to in verse 7:28 is her confession, or rather, her daring commitment to Him as "Lord" although she is foreigner. cf. Luke 7:1-10, esp. v 10:9b) For similarly desperate appeals by strangers using titles, see for instance, Mark 10:47-48 ("Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!")
The shocking brevity of the woman's response shows she can bearly even make her desperate appeal. The crowd of disciples and hearers still surrounds her. Only the scribes and Pharisees have left. Her situation may even appear worse to her, depending upon who she is.
Her words are not any kind of celebratory remark, or 'smirk', nor is Jesus' question a rhetorical gloat: Jesus has demanded a response in a life-and-death situation, and she is almost out of options.
Just about the only thing she could grasp onto would be Jesus' public teaching and the preaching of His disciples:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has annointed Me to
preach the Gospel to the poor:
to announce release to captives, and
...to send the oppressed into freedom:
To announce the Year of Acceptance of the Lord."
"And it shall come to pass, that whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
( Acts 2:21, - Peter, interpreting Joel).
What gave her any hope at all? Perhaps incredulously watching the Pharisees depart one by one turned darkness into light before her very eyes.
And Jesus said to her,
"Neither do I judge you:
Go, and sin no more."
Lexical/Textual: "pass sentence upon", or "judge", (κρινω without the prefix:κατα-). Here following the μ 5 Text Group (von Soden), the strongest candidate for original text (See Reconstructing the Text): The minority reading, "condemn" is a probable local harmonization to verse 8:10b, failing to notice the more plausible intent of the original author to connect with 8:15 etc. and the dominant theme of judgement througout this section of John.
"The Lord was informing the woman that she was not judicially sentenced. As Bloomfield observed, Jesus was simply making 'a declaration that, since his kingdom was not of this world, so he would not assume the office of a temporal magistracy' (II, p. 376).
He was not sanctioning adultery, nor minimizing the lady’s wickedness – quite the contrary. Christ was commenting upon the legal aspect of the situation. With the accusers gone, there was no case left! The witnesses were required to throw the first stones (Dt. 17:7); without them the matter could proceed no further."
- Wayne Jackson
"Even today if you are arrested for a crime, and nobody appears in court to accuse you, the judge will dismiss the case. So Jesus dismissed these men.
But then come these amazing words: "Neither do I condemn you." He alone had the right to condemn this woman. He was the Sinless One, the only One who fulfilled the qualifications to stone. But he did not do so. When you ask why, it is clear that it was because he forgave her sin.
Without forgiveness, justice must be satisfied. God never waves his hand and dismisses sin as though it is of no account. His own truth, his law, his holy character, demand that any deviation from righteousness be punished. Justice must be satisfied -- unless sin is forgiven. So it is clear that the basis on which our Lord said these words is that he had found a way to forgive this woman her sin.
But What about Repentance?
A legalist may protest at this point, "How could he do this? There was no basis for it. In fact, she doesn't even confess her sin, or repent of it, or even say she's sorry. Didn't Jesus himself go about preaching, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'? What do you say to that?
The answer has to be, "Yes, there must be repentance." God is not a loving, grandfatherly type who says, "That's all right. Forget it. I won't hold it against you." You never find that anywhere in Scripture. That idea of God is a figment of someone's imagination which has been imposed upon a God of truth and justice. It is totally out of character. No, God never does that.
What he requires, of course, is an acknowledgment of evil. There must be repentance. Even God cannot forgive sin which is not acknowledged. When you say, "Yes, I did it. It's wrong. I agree with you," that is repentance. Then forgiveness can come.
"But where does this woman do that?" someone says. The answer, of course, is, "Within her heart!" Remember we are dealing with One who knows the hearts of men. He knows what is going on in the inner life, the inner thoughts. He knew her heart. Somewhere in the course of this incident she had repented.
I do not know if we can accurately picture what was going on when she was brought before Jesus. I can see her being dragged in, red faced, her hair in disarray. She is angry, upset, rebellious, and bitter, perhaps striking out against her accusers.
But when she sees how Jesus handles this crowd of hypocritical judges, and feels that his sympathies are with her, somewhere the mercy and love that was in his face and voice began to touch her. She realized how wrong she was, that she had sinned, and she repented. When she did, Jesus forgave her, obviously anticipating his death upon the cross for her.
The cross is always an eternal event in the mind of God. The sins of the people who lived in Old Testament days were also forgiven on the basis of the death of Jesus on the cross. There is no other way that God can forgive sin. In anticipation of that cross, Jesus forgave her sin. The proof of it is in the words he next said, "Go, and do not sin again."
That is the word I would like to leave ringing in our ears this morning."
- Ray C. Stedman
"...the manner and content of Jesus' final saying should not be ignored. While Jesus cleverly repulses those who sought to entrap him, He did so without compromising his own revolutionary teaching.
'Neither do I condemn you.' This is Radical Forgiveness. Of course, as I remember, he also adds 'Go and do not sin again'.
This form of conflict story (pronouncement story) draws our attention to the importance of the pronouncement at the end. The story provides evidence of conflict but exists to convey the significant pronouncement of Jesus.
In this, radical forgiveness is combined with a call to turn away from sin. But the pronouncement of forgiveness is stated first and is not made conditional on the turn from sin. Rather, the turning from sin seems to flow from the experience of forgiveness."
- John Painter
"The woman, who was physically hemmed in by those who would condemn and kill her, is now free to go and begin her new life. She too is invited into new patterns made possible by Jesus' transformation of condemnation into acquital.
- Gail O'Day
"Verse 11b is a very important statement. In fact, it is a distillation of the distinctive message of the New Testament. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rest of the New Testament is an elaboration of this statement.
It speaks to two of the most important issues in our dealings with God:
The Basis of Our Forgiveness
...Jesus does not say "Sin no more, and then I won't condemn you." This is the way LAW/RELIGION answers the question (EXAMPLES). By the way, Old Testament LAW doesn't accept this formula; it says "Don't sin at all, and then I won't condemn you." According to God's LAW, the first time we break it we become deserving of God's condemnation (Jas. 2:10).
Instead, Jesus/GRACE says "I do not condemn you--now go and sin no more." He isn't saying merely that he won't prosecute her (he can't). Neither is he saying that she isn't responsible for her actions ("go and sin no more"). Neither is he saying that he accepts her apology to him (she didn't apologize or do anything to him). He is forgiving what she did to others, and to God. In other words, he is issuing a declaration of divine forgiveness (as in Mk. 2), even though she is guilty!!
How can he do this without making a complete mockery of God's justice? He can do this for two reasons:
(a) Because he is willing to pay the penalty for her sins himself (read 1 Jn. 2:1,2). This is why it is "fair"--because the penalty will be paid (Rom. 3:26).
(b) ...God the Father has given him the authority to forgive all those who believe in him (read Jn. 5:22-24). Evidently, Jesus saw an attitude of faith in him ("Lord" in vs 7?).
The Motivation for a Changed Life
Note the last phrase: " . . . go and sin no more." God does want us to become free from sin; he does want us to "leave our life of sin." Can you imagine Jesus saying "Go and sin some more" or "Go and sin whenever you want?"
But notice the order: "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." First God assures us of his forgiveness; then he calls on us to cooperate with him as he liberates us from a life of sin. Why is this order so important? Because of the way God motivates us to live for him.
RELIGION SAYS: "Change, or I will condemn you." The fear and threat of God's condemnation is always potentially hanging over our heads in order to "keep us in line." This does not promote deep and lasting change. People who live under this tend to have a superficial and self-righteous kind of holiness.
GRACE SAYS: "I have forgiven and accepted you. Now respond to my love by allowing me to change your life." Loving gratitude is the most powerful motivator in the universe. We don't change in order to be accepted, but because we have been accepted. Real righteousness is practicing love toward God and others. Nothing motivates this kind of lifestyle like forgiveness received. This is why grace, properly understood and appropriated, produces a superior righteousness in the lifestyle of its recipient.
This is why, while we teach emphasize biblical ethics without compromise, we emphasize the grace God. We believe Paul when he says that a focus on the law will only increase our sin problems (Rom. 5:20; 7:8; 1 Cor. 15:56), but that a mind set on God's love and acceptance will motivate us to follow him and unleash the Holy Spirit to gradually transform our lives (Rom. 8:4ff.).
- Gary DeLashmutt
"Man is born unto sin," the Scriptures say (Job 5:7). We all are born to share that fallen nature. Unless that power of sin is broken within us, unless God does something to free us and give us the possibility of a new life he never will say to us, "Go, and sin no more."
But when Jesus says these words to this woman it is clear that she has the possibility of fulfilling it. He never tells anyone to do something that he does not enable him or her to do. Thus, he does not forgive us in order that we might go back and continue in our sins.
The Apostle Paul wrote these wonderful words to his son in the faith, Titus,
'He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds'
(Titus 2:14 RSV)
This beautiful story brings us to that place. We understand that when our sins are forgiven it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle; never to go back to the things that we have left behind.
Sometimes we may. Sometimes we are weak, and need again the forgiving grace of God. But forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given. When our Lord forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she ever was before."
- Ray C. Stedman
And He said to her, "Go."
Grace is best not confused with honour. We are not told what original foolishness had resulted in the madman being possessed by demons and left living in a graveyard. (The sin of pride, like that of King Nebuchadnezzar may be hinted at here (cf. Dan. 4:28-37).
Although cured and clothed by Jesus and His disciples, he was not allowed to join their band:
"...and he pleaded to go with Jesus, but He did not allow him, and said to him,
"Go to your house, to your friends, and tell them the great things the Lord has done for you, and that He had mercy upon you."
Similarly, the Samaritan woman, who was also apparently an adulteress (John 4:18), was not invited to accompany Jesus, but sent to witness to her own people (John 4:4-28).
Grace is best received with humility and a willingness to serve, inspired by gratitude.
Grace takes the Form of Time Granted...
Notice that Jesus in His infinite wisdom does not grant immediate forgiveness, nor request a publicly humiliating repentance: He knows the anguish in her heart at the injustice of the Pharisees, first abusing her, betraying her, attempting to destroy her, and finally abandoning her to a mob.
Instead, acting as Judge, and in view of the circumstances, Jesus grants an indefinite postponement of the entire trial, releasing the woman on her honour. For if the woman did not first understand who Jesus was, what meaning would His forgiveness hold for her? Later, we can assume that the time Jesus grants the woman is just right:
'And she stood at His feet weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and she kissed His feet, and washed them with perfume,...
And Jesus said,
" Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."
And He said to her, "Your sins are indeed forgiven."
(Luke 7:36-50 )
(This incident should not be confused with another one having a few surface similarities, found in Matt.26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, & John 12:1-8. )
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