To Condemn or Not to Condemn: the Unfair Trial that Led to a Shocking Conclusion

“And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ASV) The woman caught in adultery is one of the more dramatic scenes in the Bible, and has a number of interesting elements to it.

First of all, there’s a note in most Bibles that says 7:53-8:11 were not included in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Scholars feel that it was probably inserted after the original version was written, because Jesus was not at the meeting of the Pharisees, and the transition “Then each man went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” seems a little abrupt. They also place it logically after Luke 21:37-8, which states that Jesus stayed on the Mount of Olives and came early each day to teach in the temple. In any case, the story was included because it was undoubtedly true to circumstances and to Jesus’ teaching and character.

The Pharisees were trying to place Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma, asking him to render judgment that would be wrong no matter what he chose. In the first place, it wasn’t a fair trial, and it didn’t follow the law. Deuteronomy 22:22 said, “If a man is caught sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” The Pharisees didn’t bring the man involved, only the woman. If Jesus permitted them to stone the woman, he would have broken the law. He would also have offended the Romans because under Roman law the Jews did not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

It’s interesting to note that in verse 6 Jesus “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” I have heard entire sermons speculating about what he might have written there. Maybe he wrote several of the commandments, and perhaps they were pointedly the ones broken most often by the men carrying the stones. Perhaps he wrote the Shema, Israel’s foundational verse to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. He could have simply written a list of sins that related personally to each of the would-be judges, which they would recognize as their own…

Some speculate that perhaps he wrote the names of some of the men themselves, surprising them and convicting them as they looked on, wondering how Jesus knew so much. Whatever he wrote there in the dust, it must have provided dramatic counterpoint to the motives and intents of the self-righteous hypocrites. The accusers stood there, stones in hand, ready to execute judgment and condemnation. Somehow, with a few words written in the dust, Jesus stopped them in their tracks. We don’t know exactly what he wrote, but it was effective.

This story provides another instance of Jesus declining the chance to condemn, although the language is interesting, because he asks, “Did no man condemn you?” And she answers, “No man, Lord.” The subtlety of his inference is both loving and direct, because he does not exclude the real possibility that God would not approve of her activity…and his actions challenged her to reconsider everything she thought about God, accountability and judgment.

He encouraged the woman to change her ways and leave her life of sin, but he did not exercise judgment. Christians (followers of Jesus), take note! Imitate. I have always wondered what became of this woman, and how she lived from then on. The power and magnitude of Grace calls us to leave our sinful lives and remember what Jesus did. He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. He doesn’t lower the bar, or make excuses, or spin that it’s ok to sin. He gently but powerfully reminds us that we are called, not to make anyone ELSE holy, but to BE holy. Probably such a full time job that we’ve very little time left over to accuse anyone else.

The woman on the street was cast in shame
Because a man had tried to own her.
No one even asked her name,
But they were all prepared to stone her,
Till someone knelt beside her in the dust
And let her know that she was not alone.
He said, “Go ahead and judge her if you must,
But let the perfect man among you cast the stone.”
One by one, the accusers walked away,
But Jesus looked at her; He didn’t budge.
The woman thought she knew what he would say:
Instead, he asked her, “Where are those who judge?”
She looked around and saw no hateful men,
Still trembling from their angry cries of “Whore!”
But he said, “Woman, neither do I condemn,
So you are free to go and sin no more…”

 

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