Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 6, 1967
NUMBER 34, PAGE 12b-13

"Neither Do I Condemn Thee"

Don Bassett

I am not in a position to judge the validity of arguments made against the genuineness of John 7:538:11. This problem must be dealt with by those who are equipped to work as competent textual critics. The passage is in my Bible and I am compelled to come to terms with it. This piece is presented in the hope that those who may have had occasional difficulty with suspicions that Jesus compromised with sin in the case of the woman taken in adultery will be able to lay them aside for good. In other words, I shall seek to determine what Jesus meant when he spoke the pivotal words in this passage, "Neither do I condemn thee..."

The Situation

The first few verses of John 8 tell us that certain scribes and Pharisees brought a woman whom they claimed was taken in the very act of adultery, set her in the midst of Jesus and His hearers, and asked Jesus' opinion as to what should be done with her. They asserted two things: 1) That she was guilty of adultery, and 2) that she should be stoned according to Moses' law. This they did "that they might have to accuse him."

Let it be noted that their assertions were correct. Jesus indicated that she had sinned in verse 11 when He said, "Go and sin no more." We can rely on His testimony if not theirs. And she was guilty of a capital violation of the Law. Lev. 20:10. Deut. 22:22-24. Their case was clear-cut and conclusive, notwithstanding the vileness of their motives, the questionableness of their means of finding the woman, their failure to bring the guilty man, and their failure to take the woman to the proper court instead of Jesus.

Jesus' Answer

Jesus began a chain reaction of introspection among the accusers which soon sent them all looking for a dark place in which to feel little. He told them that the first stone should be cast by the one among them who was sinless. They left, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest, "being convicted by their own conscience." This He did after He had stooped to write on the ground and stood again. No one knows what He wrote, Speculations are valueless here. But the time this took must have given the scribes and Pharisees an opportunity to begin to feel the weight of their own viciousness and the fear known only to bullies who have accidentally picked a fight with one more than their match.

It is interesting to see how closely Jesus followed the Law in this matter. He did not become involved in the matter at hand. He simply told them what the Law, which they claimed to believe so strongly, taught. If a man was to be punished by death, "The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death..." Deut. 17:6-7. Apparently Jesus was saying that anyone of these men who felt that he qualified as a blameless witness in this matter was free to execute the letter of the Law.

But none volunteered and when they were gone Jesus asked the woman, "Where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?" It is important to see here that Jesus was not talking about moral condemnation but legal condemnation. The scribes and Pharisees had already indicated their moral contempt for the woman but did not have the stomach to finish what they had started and hence left the case bereft of the legal requirements necessary to stone the woman. At least two witnesses ready to begin the stoning was necessary to legally condemn the woman. "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established." Deut. 19:15.

This is why Jesus said to the woman, "Neither do I condemn thee..." He was talking about legal condemnation. He was in no position to serve as a witness and had He been He still could not have condemned her for He was but one and the others were gone. He was telling the woman that He was certainly not `going to try to stone her, for the legal requirements just were not there. What might have happened if two or more of the accusers had remained to begin the stoning is impossible to say. I suppose that Jesus would have told them to go to a court where they should have gone in the first place. But who can say what the greatest of minds might have brought forth?

Jesus' Teaching

Jesus was not condoning or soft-peddling adultery here. He was presented with a legal problem and handled it with complete legality and ego-crushing ease in the face of hostile inquisition. But here is the beauty of the passage. The matter was not closed when the legal problem had been handled. There was a moral problem remaining.

One can only imagine what it must have been like to have been taken in shameful immorality and brought before a curious mob only to be left, at length, in the presence of the Perfect One. What must it have been like to be carefully scrutinized by the pure and godly One who "needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man"? Jn. 2:25.What agonizing terror must have stricken the heart of this hapless woman as the steady confident eyes of Jesus searched her very heart. And then, what unbelievable relief! What unheard of mercy! What unexpected kindness! To be allowed to flee this horrible dreadful embarrassment and shame with only a "Go, and sin no more."

What scribe or Pharisee would have been content to let it go at that? What a chance to flay someone alive in the presence of the multitude! What glorious fun to be so completely right and have at ore's mercy someone so completely wrong! But none of this from Jesus. One of His most impressive characteristics was His ability and willingness to lay on the lash when it was needed (cf. Mt. 23:13-33) and on the other hand to deal mercifully with a broken spirit. He did not condone in this case, and this is our point. He actually rebuked the woman. But in so doing He was not vicious. 'Rather reminds me of the now trite but touching story of the man who left one meeting because the sneering preacher told him he was going to Hell and was shortly thereafter baptized in another meeting by a weeping preacher who told him the same thing.

Jesus did not brook sin. He condemned it. But He showed us that there are some situations in which kindness, sensitivity to the feelings of others, and gentle firmness are not to be mistaken for softness or complicity in sin.