Address 26 Christ and the Adulteress

John 8:1-11

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 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. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 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. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

The last sentence in chapter 7 properly belongs to the first verse in chapter 8. We should recognize at the very beginning that in the minds of many people, many Bible critics, many Christian scholars, this entire passage is considered questionable because in some of the older manuscripts you will not find these eleven verses. On the other hand, it is rather an interesting fact that in a number of very ancient manuscripts, while these verses are omitted, there is a blank space left on the page, showing that evidently the scribe meant to indicate that in some other manuscripts something came in between verse 52 of chapter 7 and verse 12 of chapter 8. In other manuscripts this section is omitted altogether. Others again give us the passage, but do not place it here. They put it at the end of John’s gospel as a kind of postscript. On the other hand, we have very good authority for regarding it as genuine, for it is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and it seems very evident that it is part of this gospel.

The reason that it is omitted in many instances, I take it, is because some of the early Christians apparently felt that a story such as this, which seemed to suggest a lenient attitude toward immoral behavior, might be misunderstood, and particularly by a people just emerging from heathenism, with all its vile and impure practices, which were often connected even with the worship of their gods. It might have looked to some of these as though this passage implies that, after all, the sin spoken of here is nothing very heinous in the sight of God. But one only needs to read the rest of the gospel to see how false such an assumption would be.

As we read on in this chapter we find many definite references to this very incident. There are passages that could not be clearly and properly understood if this story were missing. Personally, I think the translators did exactly right in including it as part of the sacred text without any marks of any kind to differentiate it from the rest of the gospel. In the Revised Version it is set off by parentheses, and many do not consider it genuine. However, anyone who knows the grace of God as revealed in Christ, it seems to me, must recognize it as genuine, for it is so like Jesus to do what He is represented as doing here. And, after all, the sin of this poor woman is no worse than the sins of every one of us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). The first clause there speaks of the sin of the race—the entire human race has gone astray. It has gone away from God. But then the second clause indicates our individual iniquities: “We have turned every one to his own way.”

There are people who have been kept from fleshly indulgences such as this, and yet are guilty in God’s sight of sins of the mind and of the heart that are just as vile, unholy, and unclean in His sight as sins of the flesh. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Pride is that abominable thing that God says He hates—jealousy, covetousness, the love of money, extortion, a wicked tongue that says unkind and untruthful things and spreads scandalous stories. All of these are numbered among the things that are wicked and hateful in His eyes. “We have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Here we contemplate the grace of God to one sinner and that same grace is extended to all sinners who will avail themselves of it. Now notice the passage somewhat carefully.

“Every man went unto his own house, [but—]” (John 7:53). How much we lose without that little word but. The afternoon had passed away. The evening shadows were falling. The company broke up and every man went unto his own house, “but Jesus”—Jesus, the Creator of all things—had no house to which to go. He went out to the mount of Olives. His hearers had their comfortable beds. His hearers could go back to their families and their homes, but Jesus, a stranger in the world His own hands had made, sought repose on the slopes of Mount Olivet. Possibly He went, as He frequently did, to the Garden of Gethsemane. Oh, that blessed holy Stranger, the One who could say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). How close He had come to poor wandering, troubled, distressed men and women. Think of the homeless men and women in this world today. Remember that Jesus was one like them—with no place to lay His head. He went to the mount of Olives, and after spending the night out there on the mountainside beneath the shelter of the olive trees, arising in the morning He returned to the temple. Some of the people came to Him and He sat down and taught them.

I have mentioned before that it was customary for teachers to go to the outer courts of the temple by one of the pillars, and there their disciples gathered about to hear them. So Jesus took His place by one of the pillars of the temple and began to teach the people. He was unfolding the truth concerning the kingdom of God when suddenly there was a disturbance, and the Pharisees came dragging a poor woman into the midst of the assembled group. She is struggling and trying to hide her face. Indifferent to her shame and to the ignominy they are heaping upon her, they are bent upon putting the Lord Jesus Christ into a position where He will have to take His stand against the law of Moses, or else He will have definitely to condemn a poor sinner who needs His help. So they drag this woman before Him—a woman taken in adultery.

Where was the man? Had he, as such paramours generally do, fled away, leaving her to face the shame alone? It happens thousands of times in this world. The double standard that existed then, exists today. They brought her in to hold her up to the scorn of those who had gathered around, but the man, guiltier by far, is not there to face that crowd. He is not there to stand by the victim of his own sensual lust and to say, “It is by my wickedness that she has come to this terrible place.” Poor, foolish women down through the ages have had to know that bitter experience, over and over and over again.

They said, “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?” (John 8:4-5). What did Moses in the law command? Did he command that in the case of two falling into sin like this the woman alone was to be stoned? No, nothing like it. He commanded that both should be stoned. He commanded that the guilty man as well as the woman should be punished.

But they came bringing her, the weaker of the two. Now what will Jesus do? Suppose He turns to them and says, “Why, yes. Moses commanded that such should be stoned, and the law is God’s holy Word. The only thing to do is to take this woman out and stone her. Then, if you can ever find the man, arrest him and stone him, too.” Had He said that, oh, never again would a poor sinner, like the one in the seventh chapter of Luke, come weeping to His feet! She would say, “Oh, no, He would have no mercy on such as I.” Never again would a poor wretch, overpowered by temptation and sorrow, ever dare to go to Him for help. They would say, “No, He only condemns such as I am. He will give me up to judgment.”

But, on the other hand, suppose He says, “Well, Moses said that, and of course it was God’s Word, but I say unto you, let the woman go free. I am releasing you from obedience to the law.” Why, they would have said at once, “He professes to be sent from God, a prophet of Jehovah, and He is teaching things contrary to the law of Moses. Therefore, His teaching cannot be depended upon.” They thought they had trapped Him, but oh, how wonderfully the Lord met them! They said, “Well, here she is. What do You say? There is no question about her guilt. The law says, Stone her. Now what shall we do?” Those self-righteous men! And what does He answer them? We read that Jesus stooped down and wrote upon the ground, as though He heard them not. Why did He do that? These men were familiar with the Scriptures, but it is sadly possible to be familiar with the Scriptures and have a heart as hard as the nether millstone, ever ready to heap condemnation upon other people, forgetting that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Now because they knew their Bibles, they must have known of the passage in the book of Jeremiah, which says, “O LORD, the Hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (17:13). It might be translated, “written on the ground.” See them there gathered about Him, and He stoops down and writes on the ground. They turn one to the other, saying, “What is He doing, writing on the ground? Writing on the ground! Isn’t there something like that in our Bibles?” Yes, there is. They will come down to the dust of death eventually because of their sins.

The Lord was acting out a message from God that should have gone home to every one of their hearts, but instead of that, they continue pressing Him, asking, “W/hat are we going to do with her? No use of your stooping down there writing on the ground. We want to know what we are to do.” So hypocritical are they in their pretense of being so zealous, when, after all, they are only trying to put Him in a place where they can discredit Him!

He lifted up Himself and faced that little group of hypocritical leaders of the people, who had never had to do with God about their sins in all their lives, but were trying to hide their own wickedness by zeal in condemning others. Looking them in the eyes, first one and then another, He said very quietly, but very decisively, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). He did not say, “Do not carry out the law of Moses.” He did not say, “I have come to repeal the law of Moses,” but He put it up to them to carry out that law, if they dared. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” They were utterly discomfited. He turned away, and again He wrote upon the ground. I wonder if that second writing might have suggested to them that verse in Psalm 22, “Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death” (v. 15). In a little while, He was going down to the dust of death, when all the transgressions and iniquity of sinners such as this woman would be charged against Him as He offered Himself a sacrifice for a world’s redemption.

So He stooped down again and wrote on the ground, and while He was writing there was a movement going on among the accusers. They looked one at another, and then at Him and at the sinful woman, and before the oldest man there arose the memory of the sins that he had been trying to forget for years. Finally, he dropped his stone and went out, saying, “I don’t dare cast a stone at her.” And then the next, and the next, and finally the youngest of them all had slunk away. They had all gone; every one alike guilty before God. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). We read, “They…, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last” (John 8:9).

And Jesus was left alone (that is, the throng was still there), but Jesus was left alone in the midst of His disciples and those whom He had been teaching. There was the woman down on her knees, bowed in shame, doubtless her scalding tears falling down to the earth. Jesus turned to her. Oh, I should like to have heard Him speak that day. I am sure there was a tenderness, compassion, and pity such as that poor woman had never heard in the voice of any man with whom she had held conversation. Jesus said, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (v. 10). And she looked up and said, “No man, Lord” (v. 11a). Notice how she addresses Him. She recognized something so superior about Jesus, something so different from any man she, poor, hunted creature, had ever met—Jesus, the Holy One of God. “No man, Lord, has ventured to stone me.” Then Jesus answered and said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (v. lib). This is doubtless why some of the older scribes kept this passage out of the Bible. They said, “What! Jesus, the Holy One! Does He not condemn a sin like that? Does not He anathematize adultery?” Oh, yes, He has spoken out very strongly against adultery. But He knew that poor woman recognized her sinfulness. She realized her uncleanness and pollution. He knew all that was going on in her heart of hearts, and He spoke to her heart and conscience as He said, “Neither do I condemn thee.” And then He added, “Go, and sin no more.”

I do not know the story of that woman’s life afterward. I do not know where she dwelt nor how she behaved after this episode, but I dare to believe she was never again taken in the same form of sin, for she had been brought into the presence of Christ. I feel sure something had taken place within her soul that day. I think He saw her going away from the temple that morning with the light of heaven in her countenance. I can imagine her friends saying to her, “What makes you look so glad today?” and she says, “Oh, I have been to the feet of Jesus and He has said, ‘Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.’“

But how could He say, “Neither do I condemn thee?” Because of the fact that He was on His way to the cross, where in only a little while He was to take her sin upon Himself and to be dealt with as though He were the guilty one, to endure the wrath of God and to suffer, the Pure One for the impure, the Holy One to suffer for the unholy, He, the Righteous One, to suffer for the unrighteous. In view of the cross, He could say to that woman, “Neither do I condemn thee.” He is ready to say that today. He does say it to any poor sinner who comes trusting His grace, who comes repentant and brokenhearted and dares to sue for mercy. In Romans 8:31-34 we read, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God s elect? It is God that justifleth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

How much we would lose if this story were left out of our Bibles. To how many poor sinners, to how many adulterers and adulteresses, has it brought a message of hope and peace and blessing when they came to the feet of Jesus and trusted Him as Savior. And it seems to me it would speak to every sinner, for we are all alike, stained and polluted.

Tell me what to do to be pure
In the sight of all-seeing eyes;
Tell me, is there no thorough cure,
No escape from the sins I despise?
Will my Saviour only pass by,
Only show how faulty I’ve been?
Will He not attend to my cry,
May I not this moment be clean?

Yes, He who cleansed and saved this poor woman of the eighth chapter of John waits to save you if you will come and trust Him. “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”