Summary: Why would Jesus dismiss the adulteress in John knowing full well of her sin?
Caught in the Act”
1Jesus went across to Mount Olives, 2but He was soon back in the temple again. He sat down and taught them.
Jesus is sitting in the middle of a small crowd, which is gathering at the synagogue one morning. They had come to hear Jesus speak to them concerning the scriptures. According to the common people, Jesus is the foremost authority of God’s law in the locale of Jerusalem, not to mention one of the more popular speakers in the city. In the day’s of Jesus, a teacher stands or sits in the middle of the crowd to deliver his lecture while the crowd sits around him.
Here, in this portion of scripture, we find Jesus teaching the people. The subject of His talk is not recorded and is irrelevant to the story. If I were to venture a guess on the subject, I would suggest his earlier Sermon on the Mount with his explanation of the beatitudes found in Matthew 5.
3The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, 4”Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery.
As Jesus stood in the middle of this crowd who came to hear him teach the scriptures, a very noisy disruptive group of religious leaders entered into the temple court. Only a pompous group of Pharisees would interrupt a teacher in the middle of his lesson in such a rude fashion. They came into the court area with all the religious fanfare accustomed to them. What a rude and crude fraternity of piousity they were. Their group included many religious zealots crying out for the death of this tainted woman.
They roughly drug the woman and flung her down at the feet of Jesus. Those that were listening to Jesus made way for the angry mob in fear of being trampled and receiving this same flaunting themselves. This group disrupted Jesus teaching and crudely stated their charge. “This woman was taken in adultery, and was caught in the very act.”
We know for certain that this woman is guilty of her sin by accusation from the religious leaders and from Jesus himself when he dismissed the woman. The Pharisees would never go out on a limb without knowing the criteria of the law was met and respected. The Pharisees knew their law and would not be involved with a scheme that would hurt their reputations. They were a legalistic, proud lot of starched shirts committed to upholding the Law of Moses (under their interpretation of course).
However, the circumstances and interpretation of the law raise some very difficult questions. Where is the actual proof of the charge of adultery and the events pointing to her involvement in this act of adultery?
A question arises concerning the actual proof of the charge of adultery. In Judaism, during the time of Jesus, adultery meant sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage. A husband was not regarded as committing adultery unless the woman was a married woman. There was more permissiveness for the husband than for a wife in this male-dominated society.
Another question is found with the actual act, which is a hard charge to proof in Jewish law. Throughout the history of mankind, it has always been noted that it actually takes two to commit the offense of adultery. Where is the Man? The very fact they produced no man as proof was evidence they were not looking to enforce the law. Lev. 20:10 says, “and the man the commits adultery with another man’s wife, especially he that commits adultery with his neighbors wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” The requirement of the law is that the two shall be put to death for their sins, not just the one. To fulfill the letter of the law, the man would have to be produced in order for an execution to take place. This group obviously had ulterior motives.
The next question leans on this group to demonstrate the burden of proof. In order to prove adultery there has to be at least two witnesses who observed first-hand the very act. These witnesses would actually need to have caught the accused in a serious compromising position, not just find them together. The witnesses would have to state beyond a shadow of doubt that the movements of the two allow for no other interpretation than their actions would imply. Then, the evidence of the witnesses would have to collaborate with each other leaving absolutely no uncertainty with the leaders.
A final question arises in the awareness, did the guilty parties actually have the knowledge that they were in transgression of known laws. Judaism provided a legal ruling, “no penalty without a warning.” The guilty party must have been expressly given a previous warning that certain actions would provide certain consequences as ascribed by the law. A person was not regarded as in breach of the law if they did not know the legalities of the law and the provisions found within the law. It was presumed that ordinary citizens were for the most part illiterate and did not know the contents of the law. In the case of adultery, the husband needed to have warned the wife, in front of witnesses, her specific duties and her loyalty to her husband.