John 8:1-11

(John 8:1-11     Jesus Forgives an Adulterous Woman)

Scholars agree that the following incident does not belong to the Gospel of John. It is not included in the best and oldest manuscripts, and its literary style is not that of the Gospel. Some surmise that it originally belonged to another Gospel, but was removed because of what was seen by some as the sensitivity of its contents. It would easily fit within the sections of the Synoptic Gospels that cover Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem leading up to his arrest and crucifixion. Whatever its origin, it is still accepted as inspired Scripture.

7:53 Then each of them went home, 
8:1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Nowhere else in this Gospel is reference made to the Mount of Olives (though it was a location known to the other three Gospels).

2 In the morning he came again into the temple.  
All the people came to him.  
He sat down and began teaching them.
3 The scribes and Pharisees brought along a woman
surprised in the act of adultery.  
Making her stand right in the middle ... 

Again, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John makes no reference elsewhere to scribes.

4 … they said to him. “Teacher, this woman has just been surprised
in the very act of committing adultery.
5 In our law, Moses gave instructions that such women be stoned.  
What do you have to say?”

Why were not Both brought before Jesus?

Actually, the Torah focussed firstly on the crime of the male person involved in adultery. He was regarded as violating the rights of the woman’s husband. The woman was implicated secondarily.

If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man,
both of them shall die, 
the man who lay with the woman
as well as the woman [Deuteronomy 22:22].

Before judgment could be made, the Torah required: 

Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained [Deuteronomy 19:15].

The scribes and Pharisees ignored the law’s injunction.

6 They said this in order to catch him out
and so have reason to denounce him.  
Jesus bent down and drew on the ground with his finger. 

Commentators discuss the meaning of the gesture. Probably, it simply indicated Jesus’ disengagement from the process. 

7 They persisted in their questioning.

Hidden Agenda?

The severity of the penalty indicated the fear of the crime in the minds of the community.  Each of the men present knew the power of his sexual desire.  Everyone knew the weakness of every other member of the community.  No one really trusted anyone else, and projected their insecurity onto anyone found guilty of transgression.

The potential violence of the bystanders, and the envy and angers generating it, measured the seriousness of the woman's adultery. Scapegoating her enabled them unconsciously to transfer attention from their insecurity and from their constant need for personal conversion.


 … He straightened himself up, and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to cast a stone at her.”

In the Gospel of John, sin was rarely considered as personalised moral failure. Rather, sin was the failure to recognise or accept Jesus’ identity as Son of God.

8 Then bending down once more,
he continued to draw on the ground. 
9 After they heard him, they began to leave,
one by one, from the oldest to the youngest.

Perhaps, the oldest had had more time to recognise the undoubted reality of moral sin in their lives.

Jesus was left alone,
with the woman standing there out in the middle.
10 Straightening up again, Jesus said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Did no one condemn you?”
11 She answered, “No one, sir.”  
Then Jesus said to her, “Nor do I.  
Go off now, and from here on, sin no more.”

Jesus was judge in the sense that his very person and message put people in the position that they had to choose to align their lives for or against the light (as would soon be evident in the unfolding narrative). He would not condemn: he did not condemn the woman, nor did he condemn the scribes and Pharisees. People would condemn themselves on the basis of their radical life-orientation.

The Incident from a Synoptic Perspective

The incident has similarities with the question put to Jesus by the Pharisees and Herodians in the temple during his final week in Jerusalem, about the payment of taxes to Caesar [Mark 12:13-17; Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26]. In that incident, an affirmative answer from Jesus would have led to his losing face before the oppressed tax-paying peasants thronging around in the temple. A negative response would have given the Pharisees and Herodians the opportunity to accuse him before the Roman governor as a rebel.

In this case, a negative answer would be seen as a direct violation of the instruction given in the Torah. A positive answer, however, would have led him to fall foul of the Roman governor. Capital punishment could not be carried out legally by a lynch mob. Capital punishment was the prerogative of the Roman authority.

Jesus’ refraining from condemning the woman would have echoed, to some extent, Jesus’ pardon of the sinful woman who invaded the meal in the house of Simon the Pharisee and who silently wept at Jesus’ feet (as told in the Gospel of Luke [Luke 7:36-50]). In this case, while not condemning the woman’s past sin, Jesus warned her not to continue sinning in the future.

In the Synoptic Gospels, “sin” was generally considered from the personal moral perspective. As well, Luke’s Gospel had Jesus staying on the “Mount of Olives” during the lead-up to the Passover [21:37].

Next >> John 8:12-30