The Adulteress and Jesus

Many have heard the story of Jesus and the adulteress. A woman who was caught committing adultery was about to be stoned to death stoned as the law of Moses says and she was brought before Jesus, so the leaders could hear his opinion on her execution. At the end of the story, Jesus lets her go without being punished. Did he violate the Law which requires that she be punished?

When people commit adultery together they both were to be stoned, both the man and woman, because they are breaking their marriage covenants (Lev 20: 10, Deut 22:22). John 8:1-11 is about a woman that was caught in adultery, when asked what they should do with her, Jesus says “let him without sin cast the first stone”, but no one could do it, so they all left. Afterwards Jesus told the woman that he forgave and “to go and stop sinning”.

The Law of Moses says that both the man AND the woman have to be stoned for adultery (Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22). One question to ask about this situation, is where was that man she committed adultery with? She didn’t commit adultery by herself. This was a setup and a sham trial. It seems this execution was a method of entrapment to get Jesus in trouble with the Romans since they didn’t allow Jews to carry out capital punishment. That is why they had to bring Jesus before Pilate to be crucified because Jews weren’t allowed to execute people under Roman rule (John 18:28-31). If Jesus followed the Torah and said stone her they would rat him out to the Romans, but if he said no don’t stone her then they would accuse him of heresy against the Torah. In addition, they would have been able to call Jesus a hypocrite because earlier he said, he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:18-20).

We know from Jesus’ response to her afterward that she was guilty of sin because he forgave her of her sins and warned her not to continue sinning after it was all over. One possible scenario of how she got arrested is that she could have slept with one man who was a powerful leader or something, who gathered some false witnesses to accuse her and ignore him. It’s also possible that she was prostituting herself and all of the witnesses were her former clients. Whatever the details were, it was a setup using her as a scapegoat to entrap Jesus. Jesus’ response could have been to call them out on the fact that there was no man, but he responded by attacking the root of this setup. It says in Deut 17:7 that “the witnesses to a crime must cast the first stone”. So when Jesus said let the one without sin cast the first stone it was a reference to Deut 17:7. Jesus was calling out the so-called “witnesses” out for being false witnesses, who either refused to accuse the adulterous man she slept with or hid the fact that they were the adulterers themselves who slept with her. Either way, they were improper witnesses and didn’t qualify to accuse her. Jesus knew it was a sham trial, so he showed mercy to everyone so that they all could repent and stop their sinning, including the woman.

Witnesses were ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED for someone to get capital punishment for sins punishable by death in the Torah (Deut 17:6). Otherwise, anyone could just accuse anyone of anything without any proof (like in the Salem Witch Trials). All of the capital punishment laws in the OT required two to three witnesses, so none of them could just be carried out arbitrarily. Although it is possible they were on occasion since throughout their history, the Israelites have failed to keep the law perfectly (they are only human), and even mixed some gentile customs in with their culture. Who knows how many times the leadership and wealthy used false witnesses to get rid of an enemy? We know they were abusing people and ripping off in the Old Testament it is why they got exiled. This is a deep spiritual problem and Jesus had to address it at the root rather than at the surface.

Also, it’s important to remember that he forgave her and then told her to go and sin no more (John 8:11). This means she was guilty of sin. Some people use this story to justify living in sin continually after repentance because they interpret this story as Jesus saying “sin doesn’t exist anymore and we can do whatever we want”, but that is not the situation here. Further evidence of this can be found in the fact Jesus expands on the definition of adultery in Matthew 5:27–28 to an issue of the heart not just physical sex. He never says sexual sin (or any sin for that matter) is okay, but God is faithful and just to forgive those who are truly going to change their minds, rather than taking advantage of God’s mercy and continually sinning (1 John 1:9, Heb 10:26-31, Ex 18:23-32).