Neither Do I Condemn You
Here is one of the most beloved accounts in all of Scripture. It preaches Christ as we understand him in the gospels, offering both mercy and exhortation to righteous living. It shows Christ in all of his divine wit foiling his adversaries. Finally, it openly manifests the truth of the gospel against all hypocrisy and pretense. It is worthy of the Gospel of John.
The charade is plain enough. These pathetic men who obviously need hobbies set this poor woman up. She undoubtedly was of questionable character given that she did not deny the charge, nor did Jesus dispute it. Of course, the question is, that if there is an adulteress, then where is the adulterer? Well, he somehow got away, which only adds to the flagrant hypocrisy. The law called for the stoning of both the man and the woman if she were the wife of another man or a virgin betrothed to another man (Deuteronomy 22:22-29). Presumably, there would be no stoning if she were neither.
But the truth of the matter is that what we have here is nothing other than a lynching. And what’s worse is that this woman doesn’t even matter; she is merely a pawn in a dangerous game of “gotcha.” If Jesus agrees to stone her, then he is passing judgment that only the Romans can render; if he decides against stoning her, he is going against the Mosaic law, their pretense, notwithstanding. Or, depending on his decision, he would offend either those who stood for leniency in such situations or those who demanded prosecution. Either way, Jesus knows that it’s a lose/lose no matter which way he goes. And, by the way, at this time in Jewish history, such behavior was rarely if ever condemned by stoning, only adding to the travesty.
Jesus bends down to write in the sand. Some have tried to guess what he was writing, which I think is entirely futile. The best explanation I have heard is that Jesus did this to avert attention away from their poor victim. She was doubtless drug to the scene and probably had no time to properly adjust her clothing. He averts their attention long enough so that she can pull herself together to regain what was left of the dignity these barbarians had stolen from her. When Jesus finally rises, at their persistent nagging, he speaks those immortal words, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (KJV). At these words, the pretense of these righteous imposters is destroyed in but a moment, such that even they cannot respond. So, one by one, they drop their stones, and, we hope, become decent men.
Jesus is left alone with the woman: “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The ESV’s translation is closer to the Greek with the, “from now on,” part. It speaks to the continuous need to keep from sin, beginning now and into the future. Jesus is telling her to amend her life; in short, repent. After all, Jesus just saved her life from a mob; she owes it to him to leave sin behind, from now on.
And so do we. We walk in holiness because our Lord is worth it. We repent of sin because our Lord has given his blood for our salvation. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19). No doubt, this woman was set up, she was unjustly humiliated and publicly shamed, but that does not excuse her sin – and she did sin – and so do we. So let us hear those same words and respond with gratitude, and from now on, sin no more.
Some of your study Bibles probably note that this account is not in the earliest manuscripts. Even evangelical scholars admit this, and there is no shame in doing so. Also, if you skip from 7:52 to 8:12, it appears that the passage runs seamlessly. None of this means that the event did not happen. It, no doubt, circulated on its own, and then was assigned by early copyists to this place in John’s gospel.
This raises questions about how this could happen. Understand that when our Lord commissioned his disciples before his ascension, he did not tell them to sit down and write books; he told them to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The gospels were written when it became obvious that a record would be needed for the Church when the apostles were gone. So before such writing occurred (Mark in the 60s, the other three a few years later), all that Jesus said and did was passed along orally. It was this apostolic “oral tradition” that was later written down, which the Church then received as the word of God based upon its apostolicity, authenticity, and integrity (that is, this is what they had heard all along that had happened). Many books, the Church did not receive because they did not meet the criteria. At any rate, this is how this account of “The Adulteress” is explained. It circulated on its own and was apostolically received. However, John did not include it in his gospel, for reasons we don’t know. But early in the Church’s history, it was added, no doubt because of its own authenticity, and the wonderful truth it proclaims. This is not what we would do in this situation; but it is exactly what Jesus would do – and we instantly know it!