Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 6 November 19:
John 8:10, 11 — “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The account of the woman caught in adultery is wonderful and well-known story of mercy and grace, but it is often misapplied and misappropriated. I have often heard people living in unrepentant sin reference this story to justify their sin and to counter anyone who might challenge them — “Let him who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone,” implying that, because we are all sinners, God accepts our sin, and if anyone speaks out against sin, they are just being judgmental. However, they never seem to remember Jesus’ final words to the woman — “from now on sin no more.” Jesus was not making light of sin, nor was He invalidating personal responsibility, mutual accountability, or civil systems of accountability. He was, however, rejecting those who judge right from wrong with a judgmental (self-righteous, condemning, malicious) heart, and He was promoting repentance and reconciliation. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)
The woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus while He was teaching a crowd at the Temple. In an uncommon and unholy alliance, both the scribes and the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus, “to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.” (John 8:6) So what was the test which could result in a chargeable offense?
Some have suggested the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to place Jesus in a dilemma between justice and mercy – if He forgave her, they could accuse Him of being unjust, but if He condemned her, they could accuse Him of being unmerciful. Those who subscribe to this interpretation believe Jesus chose mercy and grace over justice and silenced His would-be accusers by convicting them of their need for mercy and grace from God too, perhaps writing their sins in the sand (speculation). However, if this were the case, Jesus would have been nullifying the entire church and judicial system for accountability and discipline. If only the sinless could hold the guilty accountable, there would be no accountability, a world with no justice. Jesus wasn’t invalidating the social and legal/judicial processes that maintained civil order.
- 1 Timothy 5:20 — As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
- 2 Timothy 4:2 — Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
- Titus 1:9 — He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
- Titus 1:13 — This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith….
- Titus 2:15 — Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
- 1 Corinthians 5:1, 2 — It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
So then, what was the test? More likely, the scribes and Pharisees were hoping Jesus would feel obligated before the Jewish crowd to uphold the Law of Moses – “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The dilemma here is whether Jesus would obey the Law of Moses or the Roman law, which only allowed execution through the Roman judicial system (The Jews would later appeal to Rome for Jesus’ execution). Had Jesus approved of the woman’s execution, the scribes and the Pharisees would have had the chargeable offense for which they were hoping. Had Jesus deferred to Rome, He would have been accused of fearing Rome rather than God. However, Jesus used the Law to hold the scribes and Pharisees accountable to justice, to expose their wickedness, and to offer mercy and grace to the accused woman.
Jesus shut down His accusers, the scribes and Pharisees, by holding them accountable to the standards of the Law, which required the death of anyone who wrongly condemned another to death. This was a kangaroo court. Where were the witnesses? Where was the adulterous man? When Jesus challenged the innocent to throw the first stone, he was referring back to Deuteronomy 17:6, 7 — “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” Also, Leviticus 20:10 is very clear — “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, BOTH the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” The accusers were not following due process and were standing on deadly ground: “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 19:15-19) I would submit that the accusers departed because they recognized their own guilt of false accusation, not because Jesus had invalidated the law or a civil justice system administered by imperfect people.
Jesus did not do is excuse the woman’s sin, though, in accordance with the Law, He did not condemn her for it either. Jesus never excuses sin but rather commands, ““Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). Also, the Bible is clear that salvation doesn’t free us from our obligation to civil authority. For example, a convicted murderer can be saved by grace through faith in Christ and still remain obligated to face the penalties subjected by civil authority – see Romans 13. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) God justly forgives us of our sins, not by eliminating the wages of sin but rather by paying the penalty of sin through the blood of Jesus. We may be forgiven by God but still owe earthly debts – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
Jesus did, however, condemn those who use the Law to condemn others hypocritically and with malicious intent as well as those who presume to declare God’s judgment upon them. The scribes and Pharisees were not seeking justice for sake of social order; they were using and humiliating the accused woman for their own evil schemes. As Christians, we must hold others accountable from a position of love and a hope for reconciliation, never vindictively, maliciously, or self-righteously.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 6 November 20: Pray God will give you greater wisdom in upholding justice with a genuine heart of love, mercy and grace and humility.