Jerry C. Brewer
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:3-7).
When one condemns sin in the life of another, the retort is usually hurled that, “We’re all sinners. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” That smug reply assumes that Jesus does not condemn sin in men’s lives because all have sinned and, therefore, no one else can condemn sin either. This passage does not so teach.
Verse 6 gives the reason for their question to Jesus: “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.” Their intent was not to mete out justice and follow the Law of Moses, but to discredit Jesus. They thought they had Him in a dilemma. C.E.W. Doris wrote,
The dilemma they wished to get him in was somewhat like that of the tribute money. To affirm the binding validity and force of the law of Moses would be to advise a course of action contrary to the Roman law. On the other hand, if he set aside this law it would make him liable to the charge of breaking this law which would be an aid in killing his influence with the Jews. In one case they would accuse him to the Romans and place him under civil authority; in the other they could denounce him as setting aside the law of Moses (David Lipscomb, A Commentary on The Gospel by John, Edited With Additional Notes by C.E.W. Doris, 1964, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, pp. 121, 122).
Adultery was punishable by death under the Law of Moses. “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10). “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel” (Deut. 22:22). Punishment was to be inflicted on both parties to adultery—not just the woman. The validity of the charge had to be established by at least two witnesses, and the law required the witnesses to cast the first stone (Deut. 17:7).
Jesus neither set aside the Law of Moses, nor condoned the woman’s sin. The scribes and Pharisees failed to bring the man, who was also guilty of adultery, to Jesus. If she was caught, “in the very act” of adultery, as they charged, then they should have brought the man also. When Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” He invoked the Law of Moses’ requirement that the “hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death.” “He that is without sin among you” did not mean the first stone could not be cast if any of them had sinned in any fashion, but referred to those who had witnessed the adultery and were not parties to it. In this instance, those witnesses were “without sin.” When they tried to entrap Him, Jesus presented them a dilemma. They claimed the woman committed adultery. They said she was caught in the act which they, obviously, had to observe. Therefore, Jesus merely followed Moses’ law, saying that the witnesses must cast the first stone at her.
The latter part of this incident is generally used to imply that Jesus condoned the woman’s sin.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 8:10-11).
Jesus was meticulous in His observance of the Law of Moses. His reply that, “Neither do I condemn thee” was a legal response consistent with the Law. He had not witnessed her adultery and, therefore, could not condemn her to death under it. Had He done so, He would have violated the Law Himself. Neither did He condone her sin. He told her to, “go and sin no more,” indicating that she had, indeed, committed sin.
The scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman to Jesus slunk away when He refused to fall into their trap. They knew they had no case under the Law of Moses without the man who was as guilty as the woman, and the witnesses refused to execute her in violation of Roman law. That is prima facie evidence of their intent to discredit Jesus—not to respect God’s law—and they were entrapped in their own dilemma.
John 8:3-11 does not mean that since, “We’re all sinners” we cannot condemn sin in the lives of others. It teaches just the opposite. Sin can—and must—be condemned in the lives of all, as Jesus condemned it in the scribes, the Pharisees and the woman taken in adultery.