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Ministry of Jesus

The Woman Caught in Adultery

Scripture

John 8:1-11

Controversy on this passage

There is some question as to whether this story belongs in the Bible or if it was added in at a later date.  Many Bibles include a note that this passage does not appear in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.

As there is no new theological issue taught only in this passage, whether it was written by John or added in at some later date isn't a big issue.  Teaching from it or ignoring it will not change one's theology.

Commentary

As occurs often in the gospels, the Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus.  This time they try to catch him on an issue of the law of Moses.  A person caught in the act of adultery was to be stoned.  Jesus never refutes this fact.  At issue is a matter of law verses mercy. 

Jesus does not advocate doing away with the law of Moses.  Instead what we see here is an issue of justice.  The woman was not acting alone in her adultery but only she was brought before Jesus.  According to the law, both parties were to be stoned as both were guilty of the same sin.  Jesus will not condemn the woman while letting the man off the hook.  This would not be justice.

We don't know what Jesus writes in the sand but numerous theologians have speculated that Jesus began to write the sins of men accusing the adulteress.  This makes sense considering their reaction in leaving and Jesus' statement, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." We cannot know for certain however, only that whatever Jesus wrote caused the men to leave.

Jesus does not excuse the woman's sin.  He only points out that all have sinned.  The woman that they wanted to stone sinned in a way that was to have a greater punishment than others but it was still just sin.  Jesus instructs the woman to leave her life of sin however.  Forgiveness is not an excuse to continue sinning.  Rather it is motivation to stop sinning.

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