Over the years I have struggled with the account of the adulterous woman, I focused so much on the woman and the crowd, I didn’t read it in context of what was happening right before the account, so I didn’t see the full picture of it until I took the time to really study it. I think we can do this with a lot of the accounts of the Bible. That is why it is so important for us to study the Bible for ourselves so that we can fully understand what God has for us in His Word.
We will be looking at John 8:1-11, the story of the adulterous woman. There are a few details and context I would like to bring up before we jump into the story. Jesus and the disciples had just celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles.
This feast began on 15th Tishri (September/October) and lasted seven days. It celebrated the first gathering of the fruit and grain harvests and also God’s provision for his people during their wilderness journey from Egypt to the promised land. It was a time for the people of God to be joyful!
While others in his group went home, Jesus went to Mount of Olives, which is located near Jerusalem and was thought to have been Jesus’ primary residence. Let’s look at the first few verses.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
“They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst…“
Let’s take a moment to look at what is happening in these first few verses. Jesus is now back at the temple and is surrounded by people who he is teaching when “scribes and Pharisees” bring a woman who had been caught in adultery before all of them.
Scribes were part of the Pharisees, but they were not equals. They held the roles of lawyer, ethicist, theologian, and jurist. In this situation, their presence allows the decisions of what happens to the woman to be a legal proceeding outside of the courtroom. Although it might seem the woman is on trial, it is truly Jesus who they are judging. They are not going to judge his words, but his very actions in this trail. Let’s keep reading.
4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
In the Jewish law, this accusation would require an eyewitness, which we know by the words used, “in the act” that there were indeed eyewitnesses. It is also interesting to note that the scribes and Pharisees call Jesus as “teacher” which mostly only the disciples have used leading up to now. They are trying to trap Jesus in responding outside of their own “teachings.” Let’s read on.
5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”
The scribes and Pharisees have part of the law correct, but the law in its entirety says both the man and woman should be put to death, and stoning is only mentioned in the law if the woman is a virgin pledged to be married. So, not only are they confusing all the people in the crowd, but they are trying to trick Jesus into taking action that could cause the end of his ministry in the temple and go against the actual law.
6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
The writer makes it obvious at this point that Jesus is the one on trial, that they are simply using this woman for the greater end game of having legitimate accusations against Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He calmly bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
There are so many people who focus on what Jesus could have been writing on the ground, guessing it could be the sins of the people in the crowd, or the law of Moses, and so on… but the key to this passage, this observation, was not what was written by Jesus but that he used his finger, just as God used His finger to write the 10 commandments in Deuteronomy 9:10:
10 And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.
The scribes and Pharisees didn’t realize that they were questioning the author and creator of the law, the one whose finger wrote on the tablet, the one who knew their hearts. The finger writing in the ground that day was none other than the finger of God.
7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
I think the scribes and Pharisees knew at this point they could not use his response against anyone but themselves. They had been outwitted, overthrown, and convicted to the core. They each left the presence of Jesus until it was only he and the woman. It says that the older ones left first. The wise of the group, the ones who knew the Lord longest and felt the conviction heavy. They led by example for those in the crowd who thought they might just be sinless enough to throw a stone. Eventually, they all walked away.
9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
I really believe this is a beautiful picture of God’s grace! I once read a book (I wish I could remember which one it was) but the author said (in my own paraphrase), “Isn’t it amazing how we can judge people on a daily basis, yet God gives us a lifetime before he judges us.” I think of that when I read this story. Did the woman deserve punishment? Yes, she sinned according to the law, but Jesus knew her life was not over yet, she had time to change, to make right what was wrong. He gave her hope, he became her light, her savior.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.“
Although Jesus showed her grace in this sinful situation, he followed up by a command to sin no more. God is full of grace and mercy, but he is also just. We must not forget that. We will reap what we sow. We don’t know what happened to the woman, she may have sinned again in the same ways, or she may have changed completely. That is for God to judge, for God to know, and for her to live with for eternity.
Here are some things to think about:
- Have I wasted the gracious moments Jesus has given me by sinning again?
- Do I judge others daily? How does it change my thinking to know that God ultimately judges us after we have lived out our lives?
- How long would it have taken me to leave the crowd and walk away that day?
- Have I ever acted like the scribes and Pharisees and tried to trick someone into saying or doing the wrong things?
- Imagine being the woman in the story, then go back and imagine being a scribe or Pharisee, then go back and read again and imagine to be a person in the crowd, then finally go back and imagine you are Jesus. What stands out the most to you when you take the time to see the story in each light?
The people of God had gone through over 400 years of silence from God before Jesus came and put on flesh (between the Old and New Testaments). They had been wondering in the wilderness for many years. God sent Jesus just when the harvest was ripe and when hearts were ready for the taking. I do not think it is by accident that the Feast of the Tabernacle was mentioned right before this story. God shows up. When the world thinks he’s not going to, he shows up. He is not like us, and his ways are not our ways. We see this in the story. We know from our own lives and our own stories that God is not like us. He is wonderful, awesome, creative, unexpected, loving, and we can cherish the times our lives have been blessed by Him! He comes when the harvest is ripe for the picking! He comes to give hope, to be a light to the world, a world full of darkness, sadness, sin, depression, anxiety… He comes to give hope! That hope gives us JOY!
Jesus was this woman’s hope- but not just hers…. He is the hope for all of us, the lost, the found, the hurting, the suffering, the joyful, the sick. Let him be your hope today, let him fill you with the JOY that can only come from above… the JOY that will get you through the hard times, the JOY that will bring you closer to understanding His purpose for your life!