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Women of the Bible

Taken In Adultery

John 8:1-11

Lesson audio

In times past – and rather recently – it was clearly understood that this woman had committed a most serious sin. Indeed, the death penalty in the Jewish Law was imposed only for murder, adultery and idolatry. Things have changed a great deal since then.

Our World’s View

If we had to sum up our world’s view of adultery, it would be this: it’s no big deal.

  • We call it “an affair” – like a party. In this we see how Satan twists words so that sin is seen as a lovely thing.
  • We accord ourselves (and others) permission for adultery if there is any sign of trouble in the marriage. Even when there was no trouble, it’s viewed as the inevitable outcome of “falling in love.” Passion alone justifies four bare legs in a bed.
  • If it does cause trouble in a marriage, our attitude is, “You can always get a divorce.”
The Liberated View

Much of our modern attitude comes from our acceptance of the feminist world view. There are three points of this which I would bring to your attention:

  • First, the attitude that “marriage is slavery.” This has been sold to three generations of women now, which ought to have exterminated church weddings in general. It seems that this is the excuse after the fact.
  • Next, the best way to deal with the double standard (in adultery, at least) is the attitude, “I can do it too.” You are to empower yourself to destroy your marriage (which, being slavery, is now good.)
  • “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I, woman, am strong (and arrogant). The problem here is that her kids need a father desperately.
Marriage is…

Whatever I say it is. We want the respectability of marriage without the obligations and work. So if I say marriage is between a man and his dog, that’s just a change of definition – and thus that relationship carries the respectability of marriage with it. (Satan at work on our words again.)

At the same time, our society holds marriage to be “old fashioned.” This is particularly true of sex; liberated women have sex with a different man each night until Prince Charming shows up. They move in together and, if everything works out, get married a few years later. (Telling the prince from the toad is still a problem, however.)

Why this? Because marriage is viewed by those shacked up together as an expression of love – he wants to make it permanent. Even in these times marriage is somehow to be seen as permanent. Even though we treat it as temporary.

Christian view

Just so there is no mistake, the Christian view hasn’t changed:

  • Marriage is designed to be life long. (One reason for a senior partner).
  • The wife is to be in submission to the husband (who holds his authority from Christ, and therefore is obligated to follow Christ’s way.)
  • Sex outside of marriage is wrong. Sinful. Yes, you read that right.

Interestingly, the woman taken in adultery would agree. She knows she’s a sinner – and like the rest of us, she sins anyway.

The Judgment Scene

Joh 8:1-11 NASB But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. (2) Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. (3) The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, (4) they *said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. (5) "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" (6) They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. (7) But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (8) Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. (9) When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. (10) Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" (11) She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."]


For those who would imitate their Lord, please note the preparation that Jesus has made before this event:

  • He has probably spent a goodly part of the night praying, as He was accustomed to do on the Mount of Olives.
  • He arrives at dawn – on time. Good work habits still count.
  • He sits down to teach – he does not stand up and rattle the crowd.
The trap

It is not immediately obvious what kind of trap this is. Most of us would see it as two options:

  1. Refuse to condemn her, and thus ruin his reputation for righteousness.
  2. Condemn her, and risk is reputation for mercy and love.

It is, in fact, the exact dilemma that God must deal with in all sinners. Is God righteous? Then He must condemn. Is He merciful? Then He must forgive. But God must do both – which He did at the Cross.

There is a third option – a subtle one. Christ could also take advantage of the fact that the Romans forbade the Jews capital punishment. He could then uphold the Law and bemoan the Romans, blaming the occupation on Israel’s sins. He then becomes just another smart rabbi.

But Jesus chooses none of these three.

Written with his finger

To understand what Jesus did, you must remember His mission: to seek and save the lost. That includes those lost in hypocrisy as well as adultery. It’s just that the former take a little more persuading.

The woman, you see, knows that she has sinned. The Pharisees don’t. That’s why most interpreters think that Jesus was writing the sins of the others on the ground.

But there is another possibility. This is one of two instances in the Bible in which God is portrayed as writing with His finger. Do you remember what the other one was?[1] Perhaps He was writing again the Ten Commandments – lest they forget that they are sinners too.


That Jesus refuses to condemn her can be misinterpreted. The earliest copies of the New Testament do not include this section, but it is included in the Vulgate (Latin) version. One reason for this was to prevent others from concluding that Christianity permitted adultery. Jerome explains that this is a valid section of Scripture (some doubt as to whether or not it belongs precisely here).

Outside the church

May I make the obvious point? We are not given the task of judging those outside the church, but those inside.[2] So how, then, do we justify the frequent condemnation of abortion and homosexuality coming from the church?

  • Please note I said “abortion” and “homosexuality” not “abortionists and women” or “homosexuals.” It is often not recognized by the outside world but we are still to “hate the sin and love the sinner.” (I have a lot of practice at this; the sinner in question being me.)
  • Note, too, that we are experiencing some difficulty in this. The church, per the Scripture, should have a similar attitude towards divorce and adultery. Have you heard that from the pulpit lately? Perhaps the church does not come to that discussion with clean hands?
Inside the church

Are we to judge those inside the church? Yes indeed – but very carefully:

  • In all things, we are to remember that a servant of God stands or falls before his Lord – and that Christ can make him stand.[3]
  • In church discipline we are to restore the sinners. But the warning is there too: we are to watch out, lest we fall into the same sin. You don’t send an alcoholic to rescue a drunkard. You send a recovering alcoholic, upheld by prayer and accountable to the church.
  • In any form of church discipline, you are to examine yourself first. There is a reason we are told to do this at communion.
“Love is the radical condemnation of sin” (Bonhoeffer)

It is a sticky remark. I looked up the entire phrase on Google, and found only our class website with it. But I think it expresses the truth. Consider:

  • Love rejects the sinful way of condemning sin. Love does not attempt the second wrong to produce what’s right.
  • Love restores the sinner gently (“go and sin no more.”) It is not love to ignore the sin; it is not love to condemn the sinner.
  • Most of all, love lives a life of purity – a light for the world.

[1] Exodus 31:18

[2] 1st Corinthians 5:9-13)

[3] Romans 14:4

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