A Woman Accused of Adultery

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John 8:1-11

John 8:1
…but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

As he did so often, the Lord Jesus retired to the Mount of Olives a short distance outside Jerusalem. There, in the quietness and solitude of this place, the Lord could commune undisturbed with his Father in heaven. Everyone else had gone to their own homes (John 7:53). Jesus, however, needed to spend much time away from the place in which he was staying to be alone with his Father. On this occasion, we are not told how long the Lord spent on the Mount of Olives. However, on other occasions, we know that Jesus sometimes spent all night in prayer to his heavenly Father. (Luke 21:37)

John 8:2
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

Here, we are told that the Lord Jesus was again to be found back at the temple courts. Since he had arrived at the temple by dawn, Jesus must have left the Mount of Olives—or wherever he was staying (possibly Bethany)—even earlier in order to walk to Jerusalem. This meant that he must have left while it was still dark. We should note, too, that when the Lord Jesus arrived at the temple, the people were already there waiting to hear him.

When he arrived, all the people gathered around the Lord Jesus to hear what he had to say. As was customary among Jewish teachers or rabbis, Jesus sat down before beginning to teach the people. (Luke 4:20)

John 8:3
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst

Soon, word reached the Pharisees that Jesus was again teaching in the temple courts. Together with those scribes who were teachers of the law, the Pharisees plotted to entrap and incriminate Jesus. They brought to him a woman whom they had caught in the very act of adultery. Then, they made her stand in the midst of the group.

Clearly, these men were intent not only in securing a conviction against this woman, but also in disgracing and humiliating her in public. Instead of examining her case in the relative privacy of a religious or civil hearing, they paraded her before crowds of gaping onlookers and accused her openly of her sin. This action constituted a gross and wilful contempt of the law, and of the principles of justice. Although this woman may have been caught in the act of adultery, she had not yet been tried and convicted formally of that offence. Therefore, the religious authorities had no right to disgrace her, or to expose her to public scorn and contempt ahead of the judicial process.

These religious authorities had been quick to apprehend and accuse the woman. However, they had failed utterly to apprehend and accuse the man who must have been equally blameworthy. From this, we learn that it is wholly unjust to lay all the blame on one person when we know that other people must equally be to blame.

John 8:4
they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

As the woman stood trembling in the midst, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees continued to vilify and accuse her before the people. Addressing Jesus, they declared:

(4)…“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.” (ESV)

‘This woman was caught red-handed, involved in gross immorality and unfaithfulness. She was found committing an immoral act and of abusing and misusing God’s gift of natural sexual relations. She committed this act while she was married to another man; therefore, she is guilty of adultery and unfaithfulness. She has been unfaithful to God, for she has broken the solemn marriage covenant that she made in his holy presence. She has been unfaithful to her lawful husband, for she has violated the solemn and sacred promise that she made to him.’

John 8:5
Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

The religious leaders inferred; ‘You profess to be from God. If so, you will accept the teaching of God as given through Moses.‘

(5) “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (ESV)

‘Are you prepared to uphold God’s holy law?’ (Cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:20-24)

In verse 6, John gives us the reason for the Pharisees’ captious question:

John 8:6
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

The Pharisees, of course, intended to ensnare the Lord Jesus. If Jesus upheld the Mosaic Law—as the Jews believed he must do—he would be considered guilty of speaking against the Roman government.

(Under the terms of the Roman occupation, Jewish courts were not permitted to exercise the death penalty—either by stoning or by any other method. Prisoners accused of capital offences had to be handed over to the Roman authorities for trial. If they were found guilty, they would be executed according to Roman law; i.e., by crucifixion.)

Again, if Jesus had told the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to hand the woman over to the Romans, he would have incurred the wrath of the people. The people saw the Romans as unwelcome oppressors, and they despised being ruled by a foreign government. Although they conceded that the woman was guilty, they considered it a gross injustice to place her in the hands of the oppressive Roman authorities.

Yet again, if the Lord failed to condemn the woman without just cause, he would have been guilty of condoning her sin and approving of immoral practices. Therefore, the religious leaders were convinced that they had successfully led Jesus into a trap. No matter which of the three answers the Lord gave them, he would ensnare and incriminate himself. Then the Jews would have grounds for arresting him; or, at least, for utterly discrediting his teaching and work.

Unconcerned with his seeming predicament, however, Jesus simply bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

John 8:7
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The scribes (or teachers of the law) and the Pharisees pressed Jesus for an answer. They had plotted to lead Jesus into a trap, and now they had become convinced of their imminent success. No matter how Jesus replied he would incriminate himself and allow the Jews to prosecute him with apparently good cause. They only needed an answer to their question concerning the woman. Then, they would get the better of Jesus.

Jesus, however, steadfastly refused to give them any answer.

After the lawyers and Pharisees had persisted for some time with their questions, the Lord stopped writing on the ground.

‘You have brought this woman to me for judgment—although I have not come into the world for that purpose. You have brought her to a public place, and accused her of her sin and guilt before all the people. If, then, she is guilty as charged, it is for you to execute punishment—in accordance with the law. Go ahead and carry out the law’s demands.’

(7b)…“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (ESV)

‘If any of you, scribes and Pharisees, has never been guilty of sin–in thought, word or deed–then let that person cast the first stone.’

John 8:8-9
(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.

Thoroughly convicted by the words of the Lord Jesus, the loudly-accusing Jews fell completely silent. No longer did their vehement accusations reach the ears of the Lord Jesus, or those of the onlookers in the crowd. No longer could they press Jesus for an answer. They had received their answer; and, by it, they stood condemned. These ‘upright’ and most respected of religious leaders had every reason to hang their heads in shame. In their hearts, they knew that they were guilty of sin—perhaps even the same sin of which they had accused this woman. (Matt. 23:25; Heb. 4:12-13)

From this, we see the extent of man’s hypocrisy. Those who accuse and condemn others, all too often conceal within their hearts a kindred sin. And, by that sin, they stand condemned. (Rom. 2:1)

Convicted, therefore, by the words of the Lord Jesus, the religious leaders began to slink away from his presence—beginning with the eldest. Soon, only Jesus remained, with the woman still standing before him.

John 8:10
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

At this point, the Lord Jesus straightened himself up and addressed the woman: (10b)…“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (ESV)

‘Where are these, your accusers? What has become of those who—only a few moments ago—were accusing you and vilifying your name? Where are these ‘righteous’ people who desired to uphold the strictest of moral standards by putting to death one who was guilty of breaking those standards? Has not their own hearts condemned them for their hypocrisy?’

From this we see that—although a person may indeed be guilty of sin—yet we must not presume to condemn. It is for the law to condemn, through the judicial system—not for us as private individuals. Those who hypocritically condemn others for their sins, automatically condemn themselves. God, and God alone, is fit to judge the hearts of men and women. The courts—church or civil—are the only places where public charges ought to be brought.

Therefore, Jesus asks the woman, (10b) “…where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

John 8:11
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The woman replies, “No one, Lord…” ‘No-one remains to condemn me. They have all gone.’

The Lord did not approve of or condone what this woman had done—but neither did he condemn her. Indeed, he was much more fully aware of the woman’s sin and guilt than were the scribes and the Pharisees. The Lord knew that this was not the first occasion on which she had been guilty of adultery and immorality. Rather, he knew that she had been guilty of this sin for some time before she was actually caught in the act. Jesus was fully aware of these facts. Nevertheless, although he knew the full extent of the woman’s sin and guilt, he did not condemn her.

‘Utterly forsake what you have been doing. You have experienced the mercy and compassion of the Lord. You have been granted forgiveness and cleansing from your former way of life.’

(11b)…“ Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (ESV)

From this, we learn that those who have experienced mercy and forgiveness from God cannot continue to practise a sinful lifestyle. To do so, would be to deny the reality of their forgiveness and conversion. Leaving a life of sin implies living a life of righteousness and holiness.


[Excerpt from Expository Notes: Gospel of John (chapter 8 verses 1-11). To read or download the full version of these Notes, click on the NT Commentaries menu tab above.]


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