Summary: The story of the woman caught in adultery and the Gospel of Grace
The woman taken in adultery
Scholars from both the evangelical and the liberal camps seem to be agreed that the story of the woman caught in adultery is more than likely not original to the Gospel of John.
As the NIV tells us “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11”
But that does not mean that it isn’t an authentic story about Jesus?
Interestingly the same story turns up in some early manuscripts in the Gospel of St. Luke after Chapter 21 verse 38.
I personally believe it is authentic because
1. The question has a close similarity to the loaded question that Jesus was asked in Lk 22:20-26 - the question of whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar.
2. Jesus’ answer is so Christlike
3. The answer sums up the Gospel in a nutshell
Let’s look at these points in a little more detail.
Firstly, the loaded question
What was the dilemma?
The woman had been caught committing adultery – at least that is what the Scribes and Pharisees claimed. And the question posed was: Should she be stoned or not?
If on the one hand, Jesus refused to allow the woman to be stoned, this would go against the “Law of Moses” which prescribed stoning for both parties caught in adultery – as you can read in Dt 22:22 which says:
“ If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel”.
From the Pharisees viewpoint - by refusing to stone the woman Jesus could simply be written off as a heretic – and thereby his standing among the common people would be eroded.
And, incidentally, you see the cynicism of the Pharisees – they only bring the woman for stoning and not the man.
If on the other hand, Jesus said: “Stone the woman”, the Pharisees would have been able to deliver him to the Romans because the Romans jealously guarded their sole right to execute.
That is the reason why the Jews had to persuade Pilate, the Roman governor, to pass the ultimate sentence on Jesus – the cruel death sentence of Crucifixion.
2. The second reason that I believe the story is authentic is that the answer Jesus gave was so Christlike
Again if we look to similarities with the question of paying taxes to Caesar, the answer is masterful as Jesus avoids the Catch 22 position.
Jesus stoops to the ground and starts writing in the
sand – and incidentally this is the only time that we
have a record of Jesus writing.
As he appears to ignore them, the scribes and Pharisees ask the question again. Jesus then stands up and says
“ Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”
And with that goes back to writing in the sand.
I wonder what he wrote.
I personally believe that he started revealing the sort of sins that the Scribes and Pharisees themselves committed.
Did he write adultery? Did he write hatred, backbiter, lover of money, thief, perjurer,?
Whatever he wrote it had an immediate effect on everyone because by the end, there was no one left to cast the first stone.
3. My third reason for believing this to be an authentic story about Jesus is that it sums up the Gospel
Jesus does not condemn her.
“Woman where are those accusers of yours” he says “ Has no one condemned you”.
To which she replies “No one, Lord”
To which Jesus replies: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”
We all know that Jesus did not condemn her but we so often overlook the final five words: “Go and sin no more” Jesus’ forgiveness is conditional – she is called to sin no more.
I would lie to suggest to you that even under the New Covenant, the Covenant that Jesus brought - God still hates sin passionately
And the penalty of sin is still the same as it was in OT times – death.
The only difference with the OT and NT is that someone else has taken the penalty of our sins. Jesus, on the Cross took our place. It is what Anselm postulated as the “Penal Substitutionary theory”
In other words – Jesus took the penalty of our sins in our place.
He died for us – as, of course, remember on Good Friday.
The Gospel is just this: That Jesus came into the world - not to condemn it – but to give the world a way to come back into the presence of the Holy God.
It is our sinfulness and the gift of forgiveness that we commemorate:
Story: Ash Wednesday, originally called dies cinerum (day of ashes) is mentioned in the earliest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary, and probably dates from at least the 8th Century.