Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 23, 1964

Bible Answers

Gene Frost, 1900 Jenny Lind, Fort Smith, Arkansas

QUESTION: Was the woman in John 8:1-11 taken in adultery or did the scribes and Pharisees tell a lie? As Jesus kept the law, had the woman been guilty would He not have said, "stone her"?

ANSWER: In the account given by John we have more than the charge by the scribes and Pharisees, "Teacher, this woman hath been taken in adultery, in the very act." John himself states that the scribes and Pharisees brought "a woman taken in adultery," and set her before Jesus and then stated the charge. This was not a woman reportedly guilty, nor one deceitfully portraying the role of one guilty — she was "taken in adultery" (verse 3).

The reason that they brought her before Jesus was not a sincere desire to enforce the law — He was not a civil officer (Deut. 17:12, Mal. 2:7) to authorize execution. They came to elicit an answer from Jesus by which they might discredit Him: "what then sayest thou of her?" They thought that any way in which Jesus answered He would take a position which they could use against Him to discredit Him before the people. If He said, "stone her," then He would act in defiance of Roman authority; if He said, "free her," then He would contradict the law of Moses. They believed Jesus to be in a dilemma.

At this time Roman authority ruled Palestine, and though the Jews were allowed certain freedom of self-government under Roman inspection, capital punishment could be imposed only in a Roman court. (This is why Jesus was carried to Pontius Pilate, in order that a sentence of death might be obtained.) But adultery was not considered a capital offense by the Romans, and so the Mosaic law on this matter came into disuse. Therefore if Jesus advised capital punishment in the case, they could accuse Him before the Roman authorities. If, on the other hand, He did not advise the enforcement of the law, they could accuse Him of breaking the law of Moses. Either way, He would be discredited as one disrespectful of the Mosiac law or as a defier of civil authority!

The response of Jesus demonstrates the wisdom that attended Him throughout His ministry as He was often tempted, as men tried to ensnare Him in His words. After allowing them to completely commit themselves, as He wrote on the ground (we know not what), He answered, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." His answer turned the decision upon them, and caused them to look into their own hearts. The law of Moses required the witnesses to initiate the execution: "The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people." (Deut. 17:7) The decision was theirs. He respected the law and threw the responsibility of executing the law upon them. Again Jesus wrote on the ground, allowing them opportunity to act without the censure of His observation. One by one they went away.

With none to accuse her or to execute the law, Jesus showed mercy. He charged her to sin no more. She had committed a grievous sin, but as she received mercy she should repent and live righteously. God does not condone sin, but is merciful and willing to forgive our sins in through His Son we will repent and seek forgiveness. Heb. 5:8-9, Acts 2:36-38, Mark 16:15-16) .