Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY”

John 8.1-11 

My text is John 8.1-11: 

1  Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2  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.

3  And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4  They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6  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.

7  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.

8  And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9  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.

10 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?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. 

Methinks this passage records an event that took place the day following our Lord Jesus Christ’s momentous appearance at the Feast of Tabernacles, concerning which the apostle records the words of our Lord to the multiplied thousands who had gathered in the Temple courtyard, in John 7.37-38: 

37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 

We are concerned with events that occurred the following day. There are accounts in the Gospels of four significant dealings the Lord Jesus Christ had with socially outcast women that seem prominent in my thinking; the woman at the well in John chapter four, the Syrophoenician woman in Mark chapter seven, the daughter of Abraham with issue of blood in Luke chapter eight, and the woman taken in the act of adultery, here in John chapter eight, occurring approximately six months before His crucifixion.

The woman at the well, John 4, was a social outcast for two reasons: First, she was a Samaritan. Second, she was living with a man she was not married to. The Syrophoenician woman in Mark chapter seven was a social outcast because she was a Syrophoenician woman. The daughter of Abraham with the issue of blood in Luke chapter eight was a social outcast because her physical condition made her ceremonially unclean. The woman our text for today deals with was a social outcast for the obvious reason of being caught in the very act of adultery.

Let me suggest a somewhat different approach than is usual this morning, dividing the account under consideration into four parts, and focusing in each part on the events described from the perspective of the Savior, then from the perspective of the men involved, and then from the perspective of the adulterous woman: 

First, THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT IN VERSE 2 

“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.” 

First, the Lord Jesus Christ’s perspective. John’s Gospel does not directly mention something which is logically inferred from the end of the previous chapter. The Feast of Tabernacles ended the night before. Every man returned to his own house, John 7.53. However, the Savior did not return to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany, but spent the night nearby on the Mount of Olives, John 8.1. That enabled Him to conveniently arrive at the Temple early in the morning, being approximately 100 yards away. What we are told in John 8.2 is that the Savior came early to the Temple, meaning the Temple courtyard. There He sat down and taught those who gathered and sat around Him. With the Feast of Tabernacles now over and many still in Jerusalem after the feast now preparing to return to their home countries, this would be their final opportunity to receive instruction from the One whose importance and stature seemed to have grown each time they visited Jerusalem, especially considering what He had cried out the day before.

Next, the scribes and Pharisees’ perspective. It seems too convenient to Christ’s enemies for this opportunity to simply present itself, so I am inclined in the absence of Scriptural evidence to imagine that our text shows to us the hatching of a well-planned scheme. The Lord Jesus Christ likely had a pattern of teaching in the Temple courtyard when He was in Jerusalem, and the scribes and Pharisees likely had conspired to create a dilemma for Him by either setting up a woman to commit adultery or to surprise a woman they already knew to be committing adultery. Thus, the woman was a pawn in their wicked plot. Therefore, while the Master was walking from the Mount of Olives to the Temple mount, the conspirators were moving to the place where they knew the woman and her lover had rendezvoused, quite confident they could catch her in the act of adultery. For it to be adultery, of course, she had to be either already married or betrothed to a man.

Third, the adulterous woman’s perspective. Still speculating in the absence of statements from the Bible, it is unlikely the woman is a prostitute since a prostitute would not likely be betrothed or married. The charge against a prostitute would be fornication and not adultery. Additionally, since it is the morning after the Feast of Tabernacles when the population would have commemorated Israel’s wilderness wanderings by sleeping in tents rather than homes, there had to have been a significant movement of people the night before. Perhaps this created an opportunity for the woman and her lover to spend the night together when such opportunities did not so easily present themselves on most other nights. The alternative, of course, is that her husband has left for work already and this unmentioned man came into her home, where she then betrayed her husband. However, this is not likely, as I will point out shortly. Whatever led up to her adultery, it seems probable the scribes and Pharisees suddenly entered her room, catching the two of them together in a state of undress, and seized her while her lover either got away or was allowed to leave. It would have been violent. She would have struggled with all her strength to resist. Their hands would have gripped her wrists like vices, as they dragged her out of the house and through the stone streets. She would have shrieked, thrashed, and been confused about what was happening, and thoroughly overcome with shame as bystanders scowled at her, hurled insults her way, and taunted her as she was dragged by the cruel men. Of course, they would accuse her, castigate her, and snarl at her. But where were they taking her? Her feet bloodied as they dragged her and dragged her still, her eyes blurred by tears, she was ferociously resisting until they arrived at the steps leading up to the Temple. I imagine her thinking, and perhaps even screaming, “No, not here!” After pausing to talk to an older man who had been waiting for them, the men dragged her up the stairs after the older man as onlookers on the steps turned to observe. Now she was no longer overcome by defiance and determination to escape but by terror. They were taking her to the Temple, where thousands of men would see her shame. 

Next, THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT IN VERSES 3-5 

3  And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4  They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 

First, the Lord Jesus Christ’s perspective. Imagine the scene as the scribes and Pharisees dragged the woman up the stairs and across the courtyard to where He sat. Now being worn out by her struggle and stared at by multitudes of men whose conversations were interrupted to turn toward her as her captors continued to hurl insults at her, the Lord Jesus Christ likely stopped teaching and looked in her direction. His back to a supporting column, the Lord said and did nothing as they moved toward Him. Those seated before Him turned at the sound behind them and followed the direction of His eyes, the disheveled and shamed woman doing all she could to keep what little she was wearing properly covering her body, was stationed to the Master’s side and in clear view of His audience. There she stood, the object of shame and ridicule.

Next, the scribes and Pharisees’ perspective. Unlike our legal system, the Law of Moses is quite explicit in its demand that two witnesses are required to level an accusation of serious wrongdoing against anyone. The scribes were meticulous in their study of the Law. The Pharisees were equally precise in implementing their understanding of the Law. Verse 4: 

“They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.” 

They do address the Savior with the respectful term, Master. However, they are not there to show respect, but to culminate in a conspiracy to ruin Him. That the accusation is adultery means, as before mentioned, that the woman is either married or is betrothed to marry since a single and unbetrothed woman could not commit the sin of adultery. Verse 5: 

“Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” 

The scribes and Pharisees of that day interpreted the Law to demand death by stoning for adultery committed by a betrothed woman, and death by strangulation for adultery committed by a married woman. Therefore, it is likely this woman is young, is engaged to a man but not the man she was with, and likely was still living in her family home.

Third, the adulterous woman’s perspective. We now know enough to suggest that she is a young woman, yet unmarried but engaged to be married, and likely living at home. She would not in that culture have been betrothed to marry a man against her will, so we can safely surmise that her father has arranged for her marriage, has already paid dowry money to her betrothed, and that she has both approved of her betrothed and consented to the upcoming marriage. However, despite all these things, she has become involved with another man, perhaps a more handsome and exciting man than the one she had planned to marry. Do you think she has been struggling with guilt, asking herself why she has been so stupid? Probably, but guilt diminishes as the conscience becomes more seared and the heart grows colder and harder. What do you think she is dealing with as her captors accuse her, to this Man, in front of His disciples, with all those onlookers nearby? There had been confusion when they first came through her door. Then there was absolute fright when she realized they were dragging her up the Temple steps. Now she is bowled over by shame and utter humiliation. Does she yet have any idea who the Man is who is seated in front of her? 

Third, THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT IN VERSES 6-9 

6  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.

7  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.

8  And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9  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. 

First, the Lord Jesus Christ’s perspective. Verse six begins, 

“This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.” 

Of course, this was no surprise to the Savior. They had always and ever looked for and then manufactured opportunities whereby they might accuse Him. Such was never clearer than on this occasion when they knew of a young woman committing adultery, but rather than stop her from sinning again decided to use her as a pawn in their efforts to compromise the Savior. Verse 6 ends, 

“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.” 

He is neither surprised nor in any way ruffled by what they are doing. But for the fact that He is leaning to write on the ground, one might conclude that He is indifferent to them. Perhaps the correct word to describe Him is unaffected. Of course, they continued to speak in the absence of His immediate response to their question, so 

“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.” 

What was the Lord Jesus Christ doing as He leaned forward to write on the ground, spoke to those men, and then leaned forward again to write once more on the ground? Some have suggested that He wrote the sins of the woman’s accusers on the ground, plainly so they could see what He wrote. However, there is no evidence to substantiate that. Still others suggest that the first time He leaned forward was like the first tables of the Law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai (which he subsequently broke),[1] and the second time He leaned forward to write was like the second set of tablets of the Law, that were eventually placed under the Mercy Seat in the Ark of the Covenant.[2] J. Vernon McGee writes, 

“Turning back to the prophets, we pick up something quite interesting: ‘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” (Jer. 17:13).[3] 

I would suggest that what we have here is an encounter of the type the Gospel writer wrote about in John 1.17: 

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” 

I find no corroboration in Scripture of precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ was doing at this point, the only time in the Biblical record that He is shown writing something. However, He provided no cooperation to the woman’s accusers that would suggest they were in any way leading or influencing Him.

Next, the scribes and Pharisees’ perspective. These were men who were used to being heard and had grown accustomed to ordinary people reacting to their pronouncements and rulings. However, it is quite clear from verse seven that their question to Him was not immediately addressed, so “they continued asking him.” Asking Him what? Verse 5: 

“Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” 

We have no idea how many times they repeated their question before the Savior responded. He is unhurried. However, when He finally did speak to them, He said, 

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” 

The Law of Moses required the accusing witnesses of a capital offense to be the first ones to cast stones, so the Lord was insisting that the scribes and Pharisees who had laid in wait for the woman to commit adultery to do their duty and strike the first blows. As hard, cold, and vicious as those men were, they likely had not thought this scenario entirely through. They were doubtless planning on embarrassing Jesus of Nazareth in front of His disciples, yet He has once again with just a few words turned the tables on them. The ball is now in their court. What should they do? 

“And they which heard it” (and while He once again wrote on the ground), “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.” 

Third, the adulterous woman’s perspective. Imagine what it must have been like for her during that morality drama. There is no denying in this most public of forums that she is guilty of adultery. They have caught her in the act and ensured her public shame and humiliation. Life as she had known it would now be over even if she did survive. Where were her thoughts? Was she heartbroken for the betrayal of her father’s trust? This is not how a father wants his little girl to turn out. Did she weep for her mother’s grief? Oh, the heartache over this young woman her mom had carried, had nursed and had then cared for. How about the innocent betrothed man she had betrayed and who would be shamed because of her in front of his family and friends? Did such thoughts run through her mind? She became aware that the Man to whom she had been brought, who was seated just a few feet away, was unlike any man she had ever encountered before. He was not agitated, as were her accusers. He was unafraid, unlike every ordinary man she had ever known would have been when so confronted by religious leaders. He was not displaying any shock or disgust toward her, as could be seen on His and everyone else’s face. He was serene, entirely at peace, and spoke, unlike any man she had ever before heard. He wrote on the ground, then said, 

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” 

and then He wrote on the ground once more. How strange. Then, as He looked at her accusers, they turned and silently left her there. The oldest of them first, then the next, and the next, until the youngest of them, left, as well. But for the thousands in the Temple courtyard, and those who had gathered to listen to the Master before she was brought to Him, she found herself alone in front of Him. Still guilty. And still filled with shame, she was now also puzzled. What will happen next? 

Finally, THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT IN VERSES 10-11 

10 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?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. 

First, the Lord Jesus Christ’s perspective. He now speaks to the woman for the first time. From the moment the men came bursting into her room and laid hands on her, dragging her outside and through the streets, she had been overwhelmed by their brutality, the shock of it all, the shouts and revilings, the angry faces and scowls, the pain as they clenched her wrists, jerked her hair, as her feet were shredded on rough stones, and as her shins and knees were banged against the ascending stairway leading to the Temple. Then they addressed the seated Man, again and again demanding an answer from Him. When He finally spoke to them, He spoke calmly, rather quietly and without urgency, but with gravity, certainty, and authority. And then He was quiet for a while, writing on the ground once more. He took His time to look at her and spoke: 

“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” 

The Law of Moses required at least two eyewitnesses, but her accusers had left her there. She was certainly not innocent, by any means. However, the Law without witnesses called for nothing at this point. When she answered, “No man, Lord,” He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Notice the Lord Jesus Christ’s three assertions to this woman caught in the act of adultery: First, He asserted that He did not condemn her. Second, He directed her to go from the place of shame and accusation. Third, He directed her to sin no more. Does the evangelist’s record suggest anger in the Savior’s tone as He spoke to the woman? Is there any indication of indignation or condemnation? Does our Lord speak to her disrespectfully or condescendingly? No, no, and no.

Next, the scribes and Pharisees’ perspective. They have departed, but not without their shame and humiliation. They had come as accusers and as men attempting to arrange the condemnation and execution of a young woman. Being Pharisees, it is almost certain they were married and were fathers themselves. Interesting. Where did they go when they turned their back on the scene they had created and skulked away from? To their homes? To their wives? To their children? To their colleagues and coconspirators? We do not know. We do know they left unfulfilled men, frustrated men, men who were guilty in their rights, convicted by their consciences of a very dirty business.

Finally, the adulterous woman’s perspective. Through it all, she has said nothing. Now, in response to the Man’s questions, she responds to His inquiry with three words, spoken barely above a whisper I suspect: “No man, Lord.” She provides no defense for herself, for there is no defense for what she has done. Neither does she protest her innocence, because everyone surrounding her knows as well as she does that she is not innocent. Following her response, she hears the Man say to her three things she will never forget, three things that alter her eternal destiny: 

“Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” 

First, He asserted that He did not condemn her: “Neither do I condemn thee.” 

Second, He directed her to go from the place of shame and accusation: “Go.” 

Third, He directed her to sin no more: “And sin no more.” 

What an incredible encounter. However, everyone involved in this encounter behaved just as you would expect them to behave, except for the Lord Jesus Christ. No one else would have behaved that way. There was nothing unusual about the conduct of the woman caught in the act of adultery. People are involved in adultery. Neither was there anything unusual about the woman’s accusers. Cruel, but not unusual. Sadly, hypocrisy is a very common human ailment.

Be careful, should you be so kind to yourself as to imagine that your reaction would be like the Savior’s, for the reactions of those who refuse to accuse someone of wrongdoing are nothing like the Savior’s response. You see, the live-and-let-live types, who are ever reluctant to accuse anyone of wrongdoing because they flatter themselves for not being judgmental, are nothing of the kind.

It is just that they see themselves in their mind’s eye as the accused and would just as soon no one is ever accused of wrongdoing so that they are never accused of wrongdoing. So, you see, it is not virtue that restrains such as them, but vice.

Again, the account we have just examined was unique only because the Savior is unique. He presided in that scene over the coming together of the Law of Moses and the grace and truth of God. The Law was capable only of condemning, and then only with two witnesses. What the Law could not do was in any way help the adulterous young woman, but only condemn her.

What she needed, and what the scribes and Pharisees, who accused her and who were themselves condemned by their beloved Law, needed, was grace. However, grace is not dispensed from what is written on two tablets of stone. Grace is ministered to someone by someone.

This woman was a very sinful girl. She had betrayed everything she had been raised to value, had betrayed her parents, the man she was engaged to and had even betrayed herself. What havoc she had wreaked in her own life by the foolish choices she had made.

That morning after the Feast of Tabernacles her life already lay in ruins. All the scribes and Pharisees added to her experience was violence, shame, and humiliation, since she was already guilty. As well, the violence, shame, and humiliation were sure to come when her father and her betrothed discovered her sin, so the scribes and Pharisees influenced only the timing and not the certainty of the outcome.

What the Savior provided to her already hopeless situation was grace in the form of forgiveness, life, and holiness. When He told her that He did not condemn her, He was providing forgiveness. When He told her to go, He was giving her life. And when He told her to sin no more, He was giving her holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

There is one more thing to take note of from this encounter wherein catastrophe is transformed to salvation by grace, which is best appreciated by taking a step back and considering the entire episode. Take note that at no time did the Savior display anger toward the adulterous woman. That she was adulterous is not questioned. That He was not angry toward her is quite evident, but surprising to many.

What a Savior is this Lord Jesus Christ. After a fashion, do you not stand before the Savior much as she did, accused of wrongdoing, dressed in shabby robes of self-righteousness that barely conceal your shame and guilt? Are you not accused of wrongdoing, and the reality is that you are guilty and without any defense?

You, too, need forgiveness and cleansing, exactly as that young woman did. I urge you to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. You do need Him, after all, and He will receive you if you come to Him. Come to Him now.

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[1] Exodus 32.19; Deuteronomy 9.17

[2] Exodus 34.4; Deuteronomy 10.1-5

[3] J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible With J. Vernon McGee: Volume IV, (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio, 1983), page 415.

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