Wounded Daughters of Jesus
THE WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
Intro: Is this passage authentic Scripture? This question is important for several reasons, but for our purposes today how it fits into the larger context of John 7-8 is paramount. Every piece of this story about the woman caught in adultery rings true about what we know of Jesus. It is consistent with the character and ministry of the Son of God. Also, while this text does not show up in the earliest manuscript copies, it does appear in over 900 of them. Why would a story like this be missing from some of the more significant manuscript evidence? One popular answer is that it simply is not original to John’s Gospel. While that is possible, I lean more towards a different explanation. Middle eastern culture carries an honor-shame worldview. For many centuries their understanding of a family’s honor has been attached to the sexual behavior of its women. In the strictest villages, women who violate the sexual code are sometimes put to death by their families for bringing shame on the whole group (not defending the practice, only observing it). Another relevant question is, “How were copies of specific portions of Scripture made available?” Those were the days of hand-copied manuscripts. Whoever wanted to obtain a copy of anything had to hire the services of a copyist. This was a private business arrangement. Before there were printing presses, in the early centuries of the Christian church, a head of household could easily instruct a professional copyist to include/exclude certain passages to suit their own motives. “I want a copy of John’s gospel. Please leave out the story of the adulterous woman. I don’t want my daughters committing adultery and telling me, ‘Jesus forgave this woman, and therefore you must forgive me!’” Naturally, the copyist would oblige his customer. Other Christians were scrupulous enough to preserve the story even though it violated many deep-seated cultural attitudes toward women.
This narrative properly begins back in 7:37-38 and the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ startling statement there.
John 7:37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
John 7:38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
As the Feast of Tabernacles was ending, after all the water rituals had been performed in the temple, Jesus declared to everyone that He Himself was the water of life. Those ceremonies were pointing to Him!
John records two instantaneous reactions to Jesus’ announcement. The crowd was stirred but also divided.
John 7:40 Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.”
John 7:41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee?
John 7:42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”
John 7:43 So there was a division among the people because of Him.
The chief priests and the Pharisees were so angered by Jesus’ declaration that they ordered His arrest.
John 7:44 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
John 7:45 Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?”
Jesus was too popular for anyone to seize Him. He was insulated by the favor of the multitudes.
John 7:46 The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!
Since the religious leaders did not have a legitimate reason to take action against Jesus, they resorted to insulting anyone who disagreed with them.
John 7:47 Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived?
John 7:48 Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?”
The first insult is hurled at the temple police. They must be caught up in Jesus’ apparent scam. The next insult goes to the masses.
John 7:49 “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
File away the charge of someone(s) not knowing the law. The religious leaders say they are cursed for ignorance. After a little more debate, everyone left the temple (v.53). Round One was over.
Round Two was planned and hatched overnight. Jesus was claiming authority that was appropriate only to the Messiah, and He was doing it on “their turf!”
If they could trap Jesus with a public question about the Law of Moses that He could not sufficiently answer, then surely His popularity would fade quickly. (Problem solved, right?)
Presumably overnight they arrested a woman who was committing adultery, and they held her in custody for the showdown with Jesus at their next encounter with Him. They would not have to wait long.
John 8:2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.
Our Lord could have avoided the temple. He had made a very controversial statement the day before. He was aware of the confusion among His hearers.
Also, the next morning the temple police might have changed their opinion. What if they were waiting at the gates of the temple to apprehend Him before a crowd could gather?
It was with remarkable courage, steadfast resolve, and faithful love that He returned to the temple the next day.
John 8:3a Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery.
How do religious professionals catch a woman in the act of adultery? (Setup? Secret police? Voyeurs?)
What exactly had Moses commanded in the law about adultery cases?
Lev 20:10 The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.
If she were truly caught in the act her partner was seen and thereby identified. Where was he? If they were truly zealous to follow the law, why did they not arrest both offenders?
Just the day before, these same religious leaders had declared a curse on the crowds for not knowing the law. Now they were violating the law in the name of enforcing it! What was the real agenda?
The fact that they brought the woman but not her male partner clearly indicates two things: (a) their concern was not preserving the law of Moses (b) their concern was to humiliate Jesus. (The woman was simply a “prop” in their drama)
It was especially difficult to prove adultery. Jewish law carefully stipulated what evidence needed to be in hand. No execution was possible without a solid case.
That’s why the Sanhedrin records still in existence indicate that the judges would ask questions like, “What color were the sheets?” and “Did you see anything more than kissing and touching?”
Knowing this, we can understand how adultery charges were rare in Israel. Naturally, these naughty couples would take precautionary measures to make sure they did not get caught.
With this background in mind, let’s expand our view of the drama…
There was a walkway connecting the temple complex (35 acres) to a Roman military fort. Roman soldiers would patrol along that walkway and through the crowds in the temple courts, keeping a sharp eye out for any kind of disturbance or unrest.
The entire scene unfolding around Jesus was under Roman observation, and everyone was aware of this armed military presence.
John 8:3b And when they had set her in the midst,
John 8:4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.
John 8:5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”
This scene could hardly be more dramatic.
They quoted Moses and then challenged Jesus, directly and in public, to agree or disagree with the great OT lawgiver. A hush must have fallen over the crowd. And we can easily imagine the Roman soldiers looking on with deadpan curiosity.
The scribes and Pharisees assumed Jesus had two options:
(a) He could reply, “Yes, let’s stone her.”
Such a ruling would have caused an outcry among the gathered crowd. It would have triggered enough commotion that Jesus would have been arrested even if no violence against the woman had begun.
John records that the Romans had denied the Jews the authority to execute people.
John 18:31 Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death”
(b) He could otherwise reply, “Gentlemen, we know what Moses requires, but we live in a new political reality that Moses could not have foreseen. Just look around you. Even though we long to be liberated from Rome so that one day we can strictly obey the law of Moses, that is not possible right now. Sometimes we must compromise for the common good. This is one of those times. We have more pressing issues than a single indiscretion like this one.”
If He had given a speech like that, His religious opponents would have accused Him of cowardice and unfaithfulness to God.
Was He against the law of Moses? Or was He simply unwilling to pay a price to pursue Israel’s cause against Rome?
In short, if He decides to carry out the stoning, He will be arrested. If He opts to set it aside, He will be discredited.
What’s it going to be: Moses or Rome? Either way He loses, and His enemies win.
How will Christ respond?
John 8:6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
He bends down, averts His eyes from both the woman and His opponents, and begins to write in the dirt.
By doing so, He makes it clear to His accusers that He was familiar with both the written law and the various popular interpretations on the minutest details.
According to Jewish law the day after any major feast (8th day) must be observed as a sabbath. No work was allowed.
The rabbis defined “writing” as work. Then they further clarified that “writing” was making some kind of permanent mark like ink on paper. Writing with your finger in the dust was permissible because it was not permanent – the wind could blow it away.
Jeremiah 17:13 “Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.”
Here, “written in the earth” means the opposite of being written in the book of life. Recall that Christ instructed His disciples to rejoice because their names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Those who have turned away are consigned to death because they have rejected the One who is the source of the water of life.
Christ has decided on a judgment and announces the method of execution and the executioner.
John 8:7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Mobs will do anything. Whether it’s in the aftermath of war, or when civil authority breaks down, or when a crowd overwhelms the police force – mobs will loot, mobs will destroy, mobs will burn anything, mobs will even kill.
With so many people involved, there is no single individual to hold accountable. Who should be arrested? Who should get a pass?
If therefore, everyone in the crowd stones the woman, no one person will bear responsibility for her death.
But when Jesus says the executioner shall be “he who is without sin among you,” He puts a name and a face on everyone in the crowd. He mandates that everyone acknowledge personal responsibility for participating in her stoning.
In other words, Jesus was saying, “Who is prepared to come forward as a witness against this woman, when he has the witness of God against himself?”
When the Roman soldiers arrive to break up the crowd, their first question will be, “Who started this?” Their second question will be, “Who ordered it?”
With this challenge Jesus says to His opponents, “Gentlemen, you clearly want me to be arrested for observing the Law of Moses. I am good with that. I am willing. I have ordered that she be stoned for her adultery. But I want to know which of you is as committed to the law as you say you are. Who is willing to join me in a prison cell?
John 8:8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
Christ bends down to write on the ground again. He chooses not to watch the public humiliation of His adversaries. He does not “twist the knife.” This is His consistent, loving inclination. He takes no pleasure in their defeat – He simply wants to save the woman.
Suddenly the entire scene has changed. Jesus’ enemies now have all the pressure on them! Each one must make a decision.
John 8:9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
From the oldest to the youngest, His opponents withdraw, humiliated. The stage empties.
The Pharisees planned to humiliate Jesus but were themselves put to shame before a crowd.
John 8:10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
John 8:11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
In His final words to the woman Jesus neither condemns her nor overlooks her self-destructive lifestyle.
He walks a razor’s edge between the two by saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
No doubt she was guilty. But her life of sin had to end with this experience of grace and forgiveness. The Gospel is not only the forgiveness of sins. It is also a new quality of life that overcomes the power of sin.
John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ two final comments to the woman represent not only His character, but also two different kinds of churches that become unbalanced in their Christlikeness.
(1) Jesus is full of grace – “neither do I condemn you”
Churches that focus mainly on grace produce worldly believers characterized by licentiousness.
(2) Jesus is full of truth – “go and sin no more”
Churches that focus mainly on truth produce legalistic believers characterized by judgmentalism.