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John 7:53–8:11

“Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (8:11).

Our study of the face-to-face encounters between Jesus and individuals brings us today to the well-known account in John 7:53–8:11 of the woman caught in adultery. In this encounter, as we will see, Jesus showed mercy to a woman who was treated unjustly while refusing to approve of her sin.

To understand this record, we need to consider the historical background for the encounter. First-century Jews lived under the reign of the Roman Empire, which controlled the Mediterranean world during the first century. Although the Romans allowed the Jews a great deal of self-determination in religious matters and even permitted them to live according to the tenets of their laws and tradition, the empire did not grant the right of capital punishment to the Jews. Only the Roman government could execute a death sentence. Additionally, the Mosaic law prescribed the maximum punishment of death for those who were guilty of adultery (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). The Jews under Roman rule, of course, could not unilaterally impose this penalty, but every Jew knew that God’s law allowed for Jewish judges to put those guilty of adultery to death under the right circumstances.

In light of this, the Jewish authorities were clearly attempting to trap Jesus when they brought an adulterous woman before Him and asked whether they should stone her (7:53–8:6). Were He to call for her execution, the authorities could bring Him up on charges before the Romans for advocating a punishment that the Jews were not allowed to enforce under Roman occupation. On the other hand, if Jesus were to oppose stoning her, they could charge Him as a lawbreaker in the eyes of the Jewish people.

Jesus did not allow Himself to be trapped by their question, for the authorities were carrying all this out in an unjust manner. The leaders had no true concern for justice in the situation, since they brought forward only the woman even though the Mosaic law required both the man and the woman in an adulterous relationship to be executed. Since they were not conducting the legal proceedings justly, they had no right to call for the woman’s death. Jesus turned the tables by calling the sinless among them to be the first to throw a stone (vv. 7–8). These men were perverting justice, but at least they were honest enough to know that they were sinners, for they walked away without throwing a stone. Jesus forgave the woman, calling her to sin no more (vv. 9–11).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

As the sinless Son of God, Jesus would have been well within His rights to condemn the adulterous woman. Yet He extended mercy to her, leaving an example for His people to follow. Let us likewise be quick to show mercy to the repentant.

for further study
  • 2 Samuel 24:14
  • Jonah 3
  • Matthew 5:7
  • Jude 22–23
the bible in a year
  • Ecclesiastes 7–9
  • 2 Corinthians 11:1–15

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From the September 2023 Issue
Sep 2023 Issue