John 8:1-11-Chapter 7, verse 53 tells us that most people returned to their homes for the night, but Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives. The next morning, He returns to the Temple and again begins to teach the people. It is the last day of the Feast of Booths (7:1). Jesus has already been involved in 2 debates, or discourses (7:14ff; 7:37ff). A 3rd debate begins in 8:1. While He was teaching, a woman caught in “the very act” of adultery (she was actually caught in the act of having sex with the man) was brought before Him by the scribes and Pharisees. They “set her in the midst”…meaning that they made her stand in front of everyone. Pharisees are good at identifying faults and failures…but slow on applying forgiveness. They quote the Law of Moses (which commanded that she be stoned, executed) to Him and ask what He thinks should be done. They were trying to trap Him in a legal error of the Law. How would this have happened? If Jesus had said that she should be stoned, then they might have reported Him to the Roman authorities for having made such a proclamation. Not even the High Priest was granted this right (cf. 18:31)…only the Romans. On the other hand, it is possible that they had observed the compassion and kindness of Jesus, previously. They assumed that His intent would be for the woman to be forgiven of her sin…and proclaim such. However, the Law was clear about what was to happen…she was to be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22ff). If He said that she should not be stoned…they would immediately accuse Him of having acted in a manner that was contrary to the Law. The Pharisees thought they had set a trap that was a lose/lose situation for Jesus. If Jesus said that she must be stoned…then He would have broken the Roman law. However, if He said that she should not be stoned, then He would have broken the Law of Moses. There was no way He could win this debate, or so they thought. It is important to note that the woman had been caught in “the very act” of adultery…and yet, the man is not brought with her. Both passages mentioned here concerning the Law of Moses stipulate that the woman and the man are to be stoned. Jesus knows from the very beginning of this incident that it is a set-up to trap Him (:6). Jesus takes His time. He is deliberately baiting them in, using their own trap, to trap them. They are so anxious to trap Him that they have not given careful thought to the Law…and they persist in their questioning. The same Law to which they were referring had specific qualifications for such action to be taken. First, there had to be two witnesses to the act (Deuteronomy 17:6), and none had been presented. Second, the two witnesses had to be the ones who threw the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). For them to accuse her without witnesses and for them to throw the first stones when they were not the witnesses…would both be an act of sin. So, with this in mind, Jesus told them that the one who had never sinned (was without sin) should be the one to throw the first stone at her to punish her for her sin. Suddenly, it hit them. They couldn’t be the ones to throw the first stone. To do so would require that they give testimony, false testimony, that they had been the witnesses. Third, a Priest had to be present to perform a certain rite:
For information on how adultery was punished see:
Whenever someone was caught in adultery, both the man and the woman would be brought to the Nicanor temple gates and accused. If witnesses could be gathered to confirm that adultery had indeed been committed, then there was a certain ceremony that would be done in order to bring judgment. However, in this instance they only brought the woman. This was a violation of the Oral Law of God. Secondly, the priest was required to then stoop down and write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, in the dust of the floor of the Temple (which Jesus did) [actually, the priest could write the law and the names anywhere, as long as the marks were not permanent – and the dust of the floor of the Temple was the most common place]. By doing this, Jesus showed these accusers that THEY were not keeping the law, but He would anyway. (As an aside-two eyewitnesses must be present, and there is no mention of the witnesses’ presence in this scene. The Scribes and Pharisees just say she was caught in the act. By whom?)
What did Jesus write in the sand? We do not know for sure…but there is much speculation.
This site lists eight common suggestions:
Also check this site for common suggestions:
This site provides an explanation of how this incident coincides with the Feast of Booths:
Could it be that Jesus wrote part of the Law, or at least the reference from the Scripture in which the Law is found, in the sand…bringing to mind the entire passage? He then hesitated just long enough so that they would have time to look over his shoulder and see what He had written…then, to mentally quote it to themselves. When they pressed Him for a decision, the essence of His reply was, “Okay, so you want to keep the Law to its letter. Well, who is going to be the first one to throw a stone and by doing so declare himself to be the witness that the Law requires? Because if you think that you are without sin, now…the moment you do so, you will have sinned by lying. And God, and everyone else here will know so.” Then, He stooped down a second time and wrote in the dirt. They were anticipating that He would write down the woman’s name. But it was not so. This time, when He wrote, He wrote the names of the accusers. They stood there for a moment…looking at what He had written…looking at each other…slowly coming to the realization that indeed, they were the sinners…then, they began to drop their rocks and walk away. The woman was a sinner…but so were they. His point? Are you as quick to judge your own sin as you are to judge hers? Are you as quick to offer forgiveness, as you are to receive it? The Pharisees would fail this time…in their clever attempt to trap Jesus. But they would be back. They were not going to allow people like this woman to escape the punishment for their sins. God is righteous and they needed to protect His reputation…or, so they thought. Eventually, they would have their way. This woman’s sins would be paid for. Indeed, not much later, it is possible that some of these same Pharisees would gather again in another crowd to cry out for the punishment of sin. And there, at that time, they would finally find satisfaction, thinking that justice had been done. They probably didn’t realize it…but the sins of the woman were being punished…and they had been instrumental in achieving it when they cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Jesus then said that He did not condemn (judge) the woman. It is important to understand that Jesus is not dismissing the Law, saying that it is no longer valid. In fact, He believed in, taught, and obeyed a higher standard of the Law than any other person who has ever lived. Jesus was showing them, what He had told Nicodemus…that it was not His role to judge sinners, but to save sinners (cf. 3:17). Indeed, this woman was guilty of breaking the Law and deserving of punishment. The Law identified what sin was and her actions identified that she had sinned. However, if she would repent (sin no more) and seek forgiveness through Jesus…then she would be saved. Jesus was telling those accusing her to extend to her the same privilege of forgiveness that they felt that they had received. She was a candidate for God’s forgiveness just like they were. And indeed, she responds to Him by calling Him, “Lord”. Could it be, that in that word which she spoke…we hear the decision of her heart to believe in Him as her Savior? Jesus certainly seems willing to accept her response. He tells her that He doesn’t condemn her…and that she should go, and no longer sin.
John 8:12-Jesus says that He is the “light of the world” and that those who follow Him will walk in that light. He has just told this woman, “From now on sin no more”. Now, He declares that those who follow Him will “not walk in the darkness”…they will sin no more…but have Him as the light in their life. Light reveals the presence of darkness…and in so doing it dispels the presence of darkness. Even so, Jesus, through His holy, perfect, sinless life reveals sin…and through His sacrificial, atoning death on the cross dispels sin. If you have the light…you no longer live in darkness. And if you have Jesus…you no longer live in sin. The Jews said that He could not bear witness about Himself (the Law prohibited it). Jesus says that He is not alone in His witness, but that the Father also bears witness about Him. The Jews asked Him who His Father was…and He replied that they did not know Him, or His Father…“if you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (:19). The witness of the Father that He is speaking of is that which is written about Him in the Old Testament.
Earlier we found that in the Gospel of John, “water” plays a prominent place in the ministry of Jesus. Another form of imagery that John uses to speak of Jesus is “light”. Notice how many times and what manner John uses light to speak of Jesus…
1:4,5,7,8,9; 3:19,20,21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9,10; 12:35,36,46
Prayer: Lord, don’t ever let me forget the forgiveness You have given to me. And please help me to extend Your forgiveness to others. Please help me to judge others based on forgiveness, and not on condemnation. Help me to judge others not based on what they deserve, but on what You offer. It seemed that You saw this woman in the light of her future (“From now on sin no more”, :11) and not in the darkness of her past. Lord, what wonder and beauty there is in the words…”and He was left alone, and the woman, where she had been, in the midst” (:9). Please Father, all I ask is to be left alone with Jesus…then, as certainly as her accusers walked away, so will mine.