John 8:1-11 “A Woman Taken in Adultery”

Introduction:  There has been much debate concerning the authenticity of this story.  There are many manuscripts which do not contain verse 53 through verse 11 however the text from which the King James translation comes does.  The story is harmonious in nature with the rest of the acts of Jesus and fits well with other schemes which the Jewish leaders used in an attempt to trap Jesus.  All things considered it would not be advisable to hang any serious doctrine solely upon this text because of the shades of doubt which over hang it.  The lessons taught here are clearly taught other places in scripture as well.  Let us therefore proceed with all acceptation of this wonderful story.


(John 8:1)  Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

            Others had gone to their own homes but Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.  It is the same place where He will sweat as it were great drops of blood and will pray “not my will but thine be done.”  It was a quite place about two miles east of the temple.  I believe that Jesus had spent the feast of Tabernacles with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. 

(John 8:2)  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.

            Jesus does a most surprising thing, He goes back to the Temple!  Back to the place were they have repeatedly tried to arrest Him.  It would seem that now that the Feast was over that Jesus would flee back to the relative safety of Galilee.  I suppose that the crowds were not as large on this day due to the fact that many would have to return to their distant homes from which that had been gone for a considerable time.  Those who remained were pleasantly surprised to see Jesus and eagerly gathered around Him to hear a man speak of whom even His detractors had said “no man ever spake like this man.”  Jesus begins again to teach the people.  He is not here to heal the sick but to teach.  He teaches them plainly the scriptures.  He shows them the meaning and all marvel at His knowledge.  Those who would have taken Jesus have failed and been forced to fall back and regroup.  Surely there would be some way to trap Jesus in His words in such a way as to either discredit Him in the minds of the people or get Him in trouble with the Roman Authorities whose value system was in every way at odds with the Law of Moses.


(John 8:3)  And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

            The scribes and Pharisees come up with a plan.  They had no trouble at all coming up with a list of things the Law of Moses demanded which could not be done because of the Roman authority.  The Romans would not allow the Jews to put anyone to death.  The death penalty was only pronounced and executed by the Roman government.  The Law of Moses required the death penalty in certain cases and the Jews could not keep that portion of the Law due to submission to Roman rule.  They will thus take this problem to Jesus to see what He will say.


(John 8:4)  They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

            Have, firmly placed in your mind, the fact that Jesus knows everything.  Jesus knew that these men would come and would bring this woman to Him.  He knew what they would ask.  He also knew what they needed to hear.  First they call Jesus “Master.”  This term is one used of a respected teacher.  One would only have this title if He had gained the respect of noted scholars of that day.  They did not call Him Rabbi.  Nicodemus had used this word and also called Jesus master.  These men did not recognize Jesus as a Rabbi for He had not attended any Rabbinical schools.  Nicodemus realized that Jesus was greater than any Rabbi which currently or ever had lived. 

            The woman, who was taken in adultery in the very act, was probably not hard to find.  Since the prohibition on the death penalty people did not fear breaking the Law of God.  Adultery was a sin worthy of death.  It was a sin which had for years been tolerated in Israel.  Solomon’s wisdom was tested by two women who were harlots.  These women committed the act of adultery almost daily.  Yet when they stood before Solomon they were not in the least rebuked for their sin.  If the Law of Moses had been enforced in every case there would be few if any men left alive under its rules.

            Jesus being as most supposed a man from God and righteous would be easily put on the spot with such a situation.  These men have placed a guilty party in front of Him and will demand of Him an answer.  The fact that they have been so bold to bring her indicates that there were ample witnesses to her sin.  There is no denying that she is guilty.  Let me interject here a question.  Where was the man?  If she was caught in the very act why had they not arrested the man?  These men are not interested in Justice they have a whole different agenda here.


(John 8:5)  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

            If these men knew what the Law of Moses demanded in such cases why have they come to Jesus for His opinion?  If such cases demand stoning then why had they not gone to the quarry outside of town where in just a few years they will stone Stephen to death and stone this woman?  Do they honestly believe that Jesus would tell them something different from what the Law of Moses taught?


(John 8:6)  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].

            The reason for their question is given to us by John.  They are trying to trap Jesus in His words.  What man of God would ever teach contrary to the Law of God?  The very definition of a man of God requires that He speaks the things of God.  If He teaches contrary to the Law He is not of God.  If Jesus tells them to let the woman go then they will have proof in the eyes of the people that He is not from God but a deceiver.  If Jesus tells them to execute the woman then they will report Him to the Roman authorities after the execution as one who is guilty of sedition.  This would require them to execute the woman for without the execution there would be no violation of the Law of Rome.

            Jesus at first ignores their question.  He is not obligated to answer them at all.  Isaiah described Jesus as being like as a sheep before her shearer is dumb so He openeth not His mouth.  Jesus gave these men and the crowd time to think about what they had asked and how far they were willing to go.  What He wrote on the ground is of no importance else the Holy Spirit of God would have inspired John to record it.  Suffice it to say that Jesus was ignoring these men for the time being.

            This space of time could have been used for them to reconsider.  I use to play Chess with a fellow classmate in high school.  He was very much better than me at the game and I never beat him.  I would often make a move and he would respond “are you sure you want to do that?”  He would give me time to reconsider and every time I returned the piece to its original position on the board and opted for another move to which he would respond “that’s better.”  These men need to reconsider what they were asking.  Their conscience is about to undergo severe conviction.  They are about to be humiliated and embarrassed by this move.  Jesus gives them time to change their minds for they know not what they ask.


(John 8:7)  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.

            These men did not take the opportunity to retreat which was offered them but instead stood with stiff necks their ground and continued to ask Him the same question “What sayest thou?” 

            Jesus gives them His answer.  The Law requires that she be stoned.  Those who break the Law deserve to be executed according to its dictates.  Jesus thus invites them to stone her with one added provision.  The one who is without sin among them is to cast the first stone.  The one who has never broken the Law of Moses, the one who has never needed mercy, never needed forgiveness, never needed pardoning, never needed grace is to cast the first stone at her!  Did not the Lord say in (Hosea 6:6) “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”?

            Jesus is the only one who, according to this provision, would be qualified to cast the first stone.  Jesus told Nicodemus that He did not come to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.  The disciples of Jesus wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a city of the Samaritans and Jesus told them that He did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.  This fact will be of great importance to the woman taken in adultery for Jesus will not cast the first stone though He would have every right to do so.


(John 8:9)  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.

            The actions of the body reflect the condition of the heart.  The conscience of these men was convicted by the words of Jesus.  They felt the guilt of their sin.  The eldest of these men were the first to admit that they were not without sin.  By leaving they were announcing to Jesus and the crowd that they were guilty of sin.  Public admission of ones sins is good and admission before God is even better.  The younger men began to follow the example of their elders.  They too had to leave in shame.  Their plot to trap Jesus has failed.     

            Jesus has answered the question correctly.  It is required by the law to execute offenders but God is a merciful God and a forgiving God.  They did not stone David for committing Adultery.  God forgave David and did not require him to die for that sin.  God is a God of mercy and the Law was strict so as to cause men to throw themselves on the mercy of God. 

            Had you been in that crowd would you have cast the first stone?  Have you never sinned?  What would you have done?  Would you admit to the crowd of people your sinfulness by walking away?  Would you have begun to cast stones because you think you are without sin?  Would you have begun to cast stones to save face?  What would you have done?  If you are honest and truthful with yourself you would have done exactly what these men did.  You would have walked away knowing that God has been merciful to you way above what you deserve and because of this you would extend mercy to others.


(John 8:10)  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.

            The woman was asked by Jesus “Where are your accusers, has no one condemned you?”  She replies “No man, Lord.”  No man was left to accuse or condemn her.  There is one person left before she can go free.  Jesus is the one who is without sin and could condemn her but He does not.  He does however tell her to go and sin no more.

            Do not misunderstand nor misapply this story.  Jesus does not condone adultery nor does He condone any sin.  He does however, out of love for you, offer mercy and pardon for sin.  God wants us to confess our sins and seek His forgiveness.  In return for our repentance He extends to us His mercy. 


            W. Elmo Mercer wrote a song, the words of which tell this story well.


By the crowd of worshipers, Sorry for their sins;

Was a poor wanderer, rudely brought in

Scribes came and Pharisees, Anxious to see

What the meek Nazarene’s verdict would be.


They told of her wanderings, marking each flaw.

Spoke of her punishment, quoting the Law.

Writing upon the ground sadly and slow,

this did He unheedingly, head bending low.


Still cried the Pharisees, pray master pray,

What shall we do with her, what doth thou say.

Then said He rebukingly, let the first stone,

Come from the sinless hands, hence and alone.


Cheeks flushing with the shame, turning about

And from His presence, walking slowly out,

Then saw we standing there, head bending low,

He who the world despised, bade her sin no more.


Spoke He most tenderly, pray woman pray,

Hast thou no accusers, nay master nay.

Neither do I condemn thee, soul sick and sore.

Go forth, I pardon thee, go and sin no more.


Neither do I condemn thee, precious words divine,

From the lips of mercy, like the sweetest chimes.

Wonderful words of Jesus, sing them ore and ore.

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



Sermon preached at Walnut St. Baptist Church by Paul Clark October 24, 2004