Elon, North Carolina
Today, we come to one of the most famous stories in the Gospel of John and perhaps the Bible. Everyone knows this story. This story is dramatic. It is emotional. It is powerful. Unfortunately, some pastors never preach through it. Some who preach through the Gospel of John skip this story, like it is not even in the Bible.
In fact, if you read some Bibles, it is not in there. Some translations go from John 7:52 to John 8:12 and completely skip John 8:1-11, because it is not in some of the oldest Greek manuscripts of John.
This is a huge mistake. No one questions whether this story happened. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the story took place. The majority of Greek manuscripts have the passage in it. The story is historical. This story is inspired. It is practical. It is relevant. It has a powerful message for us today. We will see how this story applies to us today.
A New Perspective
We will also be looking at this story perhaps in a way you have not heard before. Almost all of us have read this story wrong. We have read it as the story of “Jesus and the Adulterous Woman.” That is how the section is titled in most bibles. We focus on the woman.
That is part of the story. It is a story about a sinner, a wicked sinful woman. It is a story about a woman who committed a sexual sin. She committed adultery. There is no question about her guilt. Even Jesus said that she sinned.
The woman was unquestionably guilty. She was not framed for something that she didn’t do. The charges were not based on gossip. They were not based on rumor. This was not hearsay. She was caught in the act. Witnesses were present. The punishment was clear. It was a capital crime in Moses’ day.
The woman is not the only sinner in the story. The story is not only about the sin of the woman but also about the sin of the men who brought the woman to Jesus. The men happened to be religious leaders. Their sin was greater than the sin of the woman. What the accusers did was worse than what the accused did. What was the sin of the men in this story? They commit several sins.
Five Sins of the Judges
1) They try to trap Jesus
They did not come to the Temple to worship Jesus or to learn from Jesus but to trap Him. They wanted to accuse him. They wanted to incriminate him. They brought a guilty woman in, but they really did not want to accuse her.
Their real goal was to accuse Jesus and the plan was to do it with a trick question. They thought they could outsmart Jesus. They came up with a question that was impossible to answer. It was a trick question.
They brought a woman caught in adultery and asked if she should be killed. If Jesus said to kill the woman, He would be breaking Roman law. That would get him in trouble with the Romans, because the Jews did not have the authority to kill anyone. That was something that could only be done by the Romans.
If He said NOT to kill the woman, he would be breaking Jewish Law. That would get him in trouble with some of the Jews. If he was really the Jewish Messiah, he could not tell people to not follow the Law of Moses. He cannot be the Messiah and tell people not to follow the Bible.
It was a no-win situation. The Scribes and Pharisees think that they have got Jesus in the perfect trap. They asked the perfect question for which there can be no answer. Jesus would be in trouble here if He said the woman should be stoned. He would be in trouble if he said that the woman should not be stoned. It looked like He could not win.
2) They use people for their own purposes
Who were these men? They were Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for being religious. The Scribes were the professional scholars of the day. They studied the Bible all of the time but even though these men were religious and studied the Bible, they had no compassion for people. In fact, they used them.
Here a woman is taken from her bed and dragged down the street. She is barely clothed. She was taken in public and forced to stand in front of a crowd at the temple against her will. She is hauled into church right after being caught in adultery.
They brought this woman to Jesus to execute and came with stones in their hands. They wanted to kill her right at church. They wanted to execute her right in the middle of a small group bible study. That is the worst place to die. They were at the Temple. Nothing was sacred to these men.
The woman is shamed. She is humiliated. She is dehumanized. She is upset. She is crying. She is scared and about to die. She thinks her life is over. They do not care anything about the woman. She is disposable to them.
We don’t know much about this woman. We do not know if she was young or old. We do not know if this was her first offense or if she was a serial adulterer. We don’t know if she was a prostitute.
We do not even know her name. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory said that this woman was Mary Magdalene. He identified the woman in John 8 with the woman in Luke 7. For nearly 1300 years, this was taught as Catholic doctrine (until 1969 when Pope Paul VI reversed it).
John does not mention her name. If you were this woman, you would not want your name recorded for all time for everyone to know. You would not want your secret sins broadcast to the whole world.
3) They disrupt Jesus’ teaching
Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. No one ever spoke like Him (John 7:46). Jesus is teaching in the temple. He is teaching a Bible class. Jesus is in the middle of a sermon when a mob brought a half-naked woman to Him.
It is really hard to teach when there are disruptions going on right in front of you. Every teacher in the public school knows what that is like. These religious leaders stop Jesus from doing what He was doing by disrupting Him.
It was intentional. They were really not interested in the law or in justice. It was a kangaroo court. If they were really interested in justice, they would have taken her to the courts. Instead, they just brought her to Jesus while He is teaching.
4) They follow only part of the Bible
The Scribes and Pharisees acted like they were all concerned about the Bible but they only wanted to obey half of the Bible. The Law did command death for adultery but is also commanded death for both parties.
If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—BOTH the adulterer and the adulteress MUST be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NIV)
If this woman was caught in the very act, as they say, they would have caught the man as well. They knew exactly who he was. Why didn’t they bring the man before Jesus and publicly humiliate him as well? The reason is that he was either one of them or was one of their friends.
They had a double standard. The woman was not the only one breaking the law. The religious leaders were breaking the law. They wanted to stone the woman but not the man. Do we obey only parts of the Bible, the parts we like?
5) They focus on the sins of others
These men had their own sins. In fact, their sins were greater than hers, but they focused on her sins, instead of their own. That was much easier to do. Let’s look at how Jesus responded to the sin of the men and how He responded to the sins of the men. He responded very differently.
The Judges are Judged
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. (John 8:6-8 NIV)
How did Jesus respond to these Scribes and Pharisees when they came and disrupted his Bible class? He completely ignored them. He didn’t look at them. He looked down and began writing on the ground. We don’t have to respond to every crazy thing people say. Sometimes, we just need to ignore them and say nothing.
Jesus wrote on the ground. It is the only time in the Bible that we are told that Jesus wrote anything. He is never said to have written a book or a letter. He never wrote His memoirs, but He did write something on the ground.
Why is that important? Some people in the past have said that Jesus was illiterate. He was uneducated. He never went to school. He must have been illiterate, just an uneducated first-century Palestinian peasant. Some still say that.
The problem is that it is completely false. We see here that Jesus could write. He knew how to write. He also knew how to read. He went into the synagogue, opened a scroll of Isaiah written in Hebrew, found the part where Isaiah 61 is located and began reading it.
He quoted Scripture all of the time word for word. Jesus could read. He could write and, in John 8, He writes on the ground twice. The first time He wrote on the ground, nothing happened.
He said something. He said, “He who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, nothing happened. Then, He wrote on the ground a second time and this time the woman heard stones drop, feet shuffle and the men walk away.
What did He write? No one knows but we have two ideas. The men came asking Jesus about the Law and he writes on the ground with his finger. The Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone with the finger of God. Jesus wrote the Seventh Commandment with His own finger in Exodus.
Then Jesus said something that is one of the most misunderstood and misquotes, misapplied verses in the Bible. He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Some think that this means that we can never ever judge anyone for anything. We have to be sinless to ever judge anyone. With this logic, we could never prosecute anyone for any crime. We would just have to forgive all criminals, including rapists and child molesters.
We would have to empty all of the prisons. Some believe that Jesus abolished the death penalty in this passage. If that is true, you cannot put people to death, even if they are mass murderers or serial killers.
This is wrong on so many levels. Jesus gave the Law. He was born under the Law. He said that He did not come to abolish the Law. The OT Law contains capital punishment in it (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 21:12, 14-17, 22-26, 28-29; 22:18-20; Leviticus 24:17, 21; Numbers 35:15-18; Deuteronomy 21:21-22).
Jesus was not requiring judges to be sinless, otherwise there would be no judges. In the OT, you did not have to be sinless to execute anyone. When Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” you have to look at the CONTEXT of the passage. “The reference to “sin” here refers not to any sin but to the sin of adultery. He who was not guilty of that sin could throw stones.”
What did He write the second time? No one knows but, whatever He wrote, must have convicted them of their own sins. Jerome in the fourth century said that he wrote their names down.
In fact, the Armenian manuscripts (5th and 9th century) say, “wrote on the ground the sins of each of them.” Jesus may have written their names and the names of the woman they used to commit this sin.
Apparently, these men were guilty of the same sin that they were accusing the woman of. Those who brought the accusation turned out to be as sinful as she was. In fact, they were MORE sinful. In addition to the five other sins, they were guilty of adultery.
Someone said, “The “vilest sinners are often the greatest accusers.” That is why Paul said, “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” (Romans 2:22 NIV).
They saw what Jesus wrote the second time and heard what He said, felt convicted and left. These men came to judge the woman taken in adultery but in the end, they were the ones who were judged. Jesus did not convict them. Their own consciences convicted them. He helped by writing some things down on the ground.
The Adulterer is Forgiven
8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. (John 8:8-11 ESV)
Now we see how Jesus responds to this woman. He responded very differently to broken sinners than He did to self-righteous hypocrites. He doesn’t ignore the woman. He begins talking to her. She calls Jesus “Lord” (John 8:11). The men just called him “teacher” (John 8:4).
Jesus asks where are the accusers? She says they are gone. The prosecution left. If you appear in court and there are no accusers, the judge dismisses the case. Jesus does not accuser her and tells her to go and sin no more. What does that say to us today?
Practical Applications for Today
1) Do not minimize the reality of sin in your life.
This is where some preachers have gotten it wrong. They say Jesus is the “Friend of Sinners,” so He is completely accepting and tolerant of everything. Jesus called what this woman did “sin.” He said, “Go and SIN no more”
If you notice, Jesus did NOT excuse her sin. He did NOT say that she was not to blame. It was not her fault. He did NOT justify her sin and say that it was not that bad, or everyone does it.
He did NOT deny that she had sinned. He did NOT overlook her sin. He did NOT celebrate her sin, like we do today (Gay Pride). He did NOT try to rename her sin and call it something else. We do that today in modern society.
We call drunkenness substance abuse, not sin. We call pre-marital sex living together, not sexual immorality. We call adultery an affair. It is just a fling. We call homosexuality an alternative lifestyle. We call abortion a choice, not murder. We call profanity just some salty language. Jesus called sin SIN.
2) Don’t lose hope when you do sin
In this passage we see that sin can be forgiven. Sexual sins can be forgiven. Her adultery is forgiven. Little sins can be forgiven. Big sins can be forgiven. Not only can sins be forgiven, crimes can be forgiven. Capital crimes can be forgiven. This was a capital crime in the OT.
Jesus granted the woman a pardon. Did she deserve a pardon? No. She was guilty. Neither do we. This was sheer grace and mercy.
He was the one who had authority on earth to forgive sins and He forgave her. He could have condemned this woman. In fact, Jesus was the only one there who was sinless, and he said, “I do not condemn you”.
The Scribes and Pharisees were quick to condemn. Jesus was quick to forgive. The Jewish leaders were quick to judge. They came with rocks in their hands. Jesus was quick to forgive.
3) Don’t continue to sin
Jesus said, “Go and sin NO MORE.” That is interesting. That is the part we often overlook. Jesus was not soft on sin. Jesus did not forgive the woman and stop there. He told the woman to go and sin no more. After He healed the man born blind, He said the same thing (John 5:14). This is a message that is not always preached in church.
Jesus showed grace and compassion to this woman, but He also gave her a charge. He gave her a personal challenge not to commit this sin again. Apparently, that was possible. Jesus is not telling this woman to do something that was impossible. Sinful activity can be stopped.
Jesus did NOT say, “Stop sinning, and I will forgive you.” He did not say, “I will forgive you IF and only IF you stop sinning.” We do not have to change our life to be accepted by God and earn His favor. We are not saved by works.
He also did not say, “You are forgiven, so it does not matter how you live. You can live any way you want. You are now free. You can keep living in unrepentant sin. It does not matter to Me.” Some teach that today. Jesus said, “Go and sin NO MORE.”
4) Don’t judge people unbiblically.
This chapter is all about judging people unbiblically. That was the sin of the men. It is all about a judgmental spirit. It is all about throwing stones at people.
Are we guilty of throwing stones? We are not guilty of throwing literal stones. We live in a different era. We would not literally stone anyone, but we love to attack people.
Sinners love to throw stones at other sinners. Some churches are full of them. There are some stone throwers in church. They have a pocketful of stones. They throw stones at fellow Christians. Do we have a critical spirit? What are some signs that you might have a judgmental spirit or a critical spirit?
Signs of a Judgmental Spirit
You do not have compassion for people who are hurting.
You are quick to criticize but not help people who need it.
You are very negative and critical about people.
You believe the worst about people, even if it is just based on rumor.
You are quick to point out other people’s faults, even though your faults are greater.
You have a superiority complex and think you are better than other people.
You criticize people for not following rules which are not even in the Bible
 The Harvard educated Muslim scholar Reza Aslan said in his recent book that Jesus was probably illiterate. He writes, “Whatever languages Jesus may have spoken, there is no reason to think that he could read or write in any of them, not even Aramaic” (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, 35).
 Jerome, Against The Pelagians, II.17.