Jesus’ encounters with women

The woman accused of adultery (John 8:1-11)

Jesus was teaching in the temple courts. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman accused of adultery. They said to Jesus, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” The question was a trap. Jesus said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” They began to go away, one at a time. Jesus told the woman he did not condemn her but added “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Wood engraving of Jesus and the adulteress, 1888

Background

  • Adultery - “Do not commit adultery” is one of the Ten Commandments. Adultery is when a married person has sexual intercourse with someone other than their partner. In ancient Israel, the official punishment for this offence was death by stoning.
  • The death penalty – According to Old Testament law, the death penalty could be given for crimes such as blasphemy or murder. However, in Jesus’ day Palestine was under Roman occupation and only the Romans were allowed to execute criminals. The Jewish leaders could declare a person guilty, but only the Romans could carry out the death penalty.

Understanding the text

The Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a threat and were resentful of his popularity. They were looking for an excuse to arrest him, so they tried to trap him with a question – what should be done with the woman who had been caught in adultery? If Jesus said the woman ought to be killed, he could be in trouble with the Roman authorities. On the other hand, he would be criticised by the Jewish leaders if he said the Old Testament law was to be ignored. Jesus did not reply immediately, but wrote in the dust with his finger - a technique often used by Rabbis to explain something to a pupil. John does not record the words.

When Jesus answered the Jewish leaders, he made the following points:

  • God’s Laws should be kept and sin should be punished.
  • However, everyone is a sinner – even the Pharisees who thought they were less sinful than anyone else. Everyone deserves punishment.

Jesus’ answer had the effect he wanted. The Jewish leaders could not answer back and slowly everyone went away.

Jesus then spoke to the woman and made these points:

  • He did not condemn her, but forgave her. This is how God treats a person who sins and knows they need forgiveness.
  • Jesus warned the woman not to sin again. God’s forgiveness is freely given, even if it is not deserved, but a person has to be genuine about repenting