Caught In The Act Of Adultery
Lent 5 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 8: 1 — 11
By the time the early Church (Around C.E. 382) proclaimed the Canon of the N.T, this story had become associated with St John’s Gospel.
Scholars consider it undeniably the work of another writer — similar in style to St Luke but most likely recorded in the 3rd century as part of another work, probably in Syria.
That appears consistent with the great emphasis which is displayed in the writings from the amazingly active Church in Syria and Persia.
Every scholar offering a formal commentary on this Gospel explains his/her position as to the origin and authenticity of the insert. Theories abound. We offer a note from Dr George Reich (C.E. 1889).
“The generally received opinion about this passage may be
summed up in a sentence: That it is an authentic incident from
the Lord, but that it does not belong to the Gospel of John. It was
not received as part of the book till at least the fourth century;
and all the oldest manuscripts, with one exception, are without it.
Further, the style and language are evidently different from of
the Gospel into which it has found its way. But the representation
made in it of Jesus, when placed by His enemies in the
embarrassing situation, is such as could hardly have been
imagined, and yet is in true consistency with the Gospel record.
Thankfully all Christians seem agreed that tradition has accepted the account as authentic and inspired Scripture. We know of no exceptions to this.
Reflections On Our Text
The authorities had been arguing in council about how best to get rid of Jesus. Having sent their own police to arrest him they had to face why the officers came back empty-handed: The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.” ( John 7: 46 — N.A.B.).
while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 1
“They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives”. Unlike the others, our Lord does not go home but rather to one of His favourite places to be quiet, generally alone, and able to pray without distraction.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all
the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.
Early in the morning He went to the Temple where a large crowd had expected to find Him. He sat down, in formal teaching tradition, and began to impart His instruction to those who gathered around to listen.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who
had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
Having no respect for this young rabbi, nor for His attentive listeners, a small number of scribes and Pharisees interrupted him and brought in a woman caught in adultery. We must be fair to the Pharisees, many of whom were great examples of Biblical teaching in ethics and compassion: the Greek text refers only to some and not all of those in authority. (Incidentally, St John, writer of the fourth Gospel, never speaks of scribes — the teachers of the Law. This is one of the signs of an insertion — by no means the first: probably the third or fourth, so far.)
The group of scribes make the woman stand in the middle of our Lord’s gathering so that she becomes the centre of attention. They could have dealt with the case elsewhere. The signal is clear to Jesus: this is a put-up job!
Verses 4 and 5
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the
very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such
women. 2 So what do you say?”
The spokesman affords Jesus the correct respect and addresses Him, “Teacher”, which in this context is the equivalent of Rabbi. He then states the offence: “This woman was caught in the act of adultery”. It is perfectly clear that this is factual and no one wastes time disputing it. What follows is the typical, selective quoting of Sacred Scripture by those who want to use the weight of its authority to manipulate others and puff themselves up as paragons of virtue, being seen to perform what it commands.
“In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?” Notice, the woman was caught “in the act” of adultery. This is a technical, legal term, indicating at least two witnesses being present. The evidence is irrefutable and Jesus cannot evade the situation by saying that the matter is unproven.
Those making the charge are quoting Leviticus 20: 10 and Deuteronomy 22: 22. If absolute compliance to the letter of the Law is so important, where is the man also “caught in the act”?
They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge
to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the
ground with his finger. 3
Our Lord is shrewd enough to hold back His reply and even to give no reaction whatsoever. He knows that their intention is to trap Him in public.
Our Lord’s detractors think they have Him cornered. If He pardons the woman, He would break the Divine Law. If He declares she should be stoned, it would contravene the over-riding Roman Law which removes this right from Jews. Even worse, if He agrees with the woman’s captors, He would undo everything He has taught about the lovingkindness and mercy of God.
All eyes are on Jesus. To their surprise He does not reply. Instead He bends over and writes in the dust on the floor with his finger. He appears to “decline jurisdiction” — i.e. to refuse to judge the case, or give any comment.
But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said
to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to
throw a stone at her.”
His detractors see this as lack of confidence and decisiveness, which they cannot resist. They hound Him with questions thinking victory is near.
When Jesus is ready and not before, He stops writing in the dust and sits up. They demand an answer, and so He gives it to them — rather more than they bargained for.
“If any one of you is without (the) sin, let him be the first
to throw a stone at her.”
The way He responded to the Elders reflected something like the following:
Yes , the woman has committed adultery!
That cannot be refuted!
Yes she has been correctly found guilty!
No one disputes the facts!
Yes, as the Torah (Law) teaches, she must be executed!
We have no right whatsoever to tamper with Scripture
and alter God’s own Law in this matter.
She must be crushed by rocks until she dies.
You have come armed with plenty of these to ensure you
carry out scrupulously what the Law commands.
So, let’s get on with it!
Let’s begin stoning her without further delay — and
who better to start than (as the Law actually requires),
one who has never sinned against purity in sexual matters!
With calm and quiet dignity, Jesus correctly invoked the Law also, as in Deuteronomy 13: 9; 17: 7 (see Leviticus 24: 14). The witnesses of the crime must be the first to throw the stones, and they must not have been participants in that category of crime.
By way of comment, we draw on Ryle’s analysis of the situation.
“This solemn and weighty sentence is a striking example of our
Lord’s perfect wisdom. He referred His questioners to Scripture.
Deuteronomy17: 7, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first
upon him to put him to death.” — It sent their minds home to
their own private lives. “Whatever the woman may deserve,
are you the people to find fault with her?” — It neither condemned
nor justified the adulteress, and yet showed our Lord’s reverence
for the law of Moses. “I decline to pronounce sentence on this
woman, because I am not the judge. You know yourselves what
the Law is in such cases as well as I do.”
“You have no right to assume that I do not reverence the Law as
much as yourselves. But since you profess to honour the Law of
Moses so much, I remind you that this same Law requires
the witnesses to be the executioners. Now are you the
persons who ought to punish this woman, however guilty she may
be? Do you yourselves come before Me with clear consciences about
the seventh commandment?” #
# Seventh Commandment — In the King James Version and
associated translations the 7th Commandment
is, “You shall not commit adultery.”
“Many think that when our Lord said, “He that is without sin,”
He meant the expression to be taken in a general sense. I cannot
hold this view. It would involve the awkward conclusion that
no one could be a judge at all or punish a criminal, because no one
is altogether and absolutely “without sin.” I am decidedly of opinion
that our Lord referred to sin against the seventh commandment.”
It should also be noted that, as we are reminded above, that strictly the Law required the eyewitnesses to be the first to cast stones at the offender. Our Lord in His famous reply, makes His point all the stronger: “Let any (one) of you who has never offended chastity have the privilege of commencing the execution”. No wonder there is stunned silence!
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
With absolute dignity, calmness and self-confidence, having said all He needed to, our Lord bends over again and carries on writing in the dust on the floor. This action adds greatly to the weighty solemnity of the sentence, which He has just declared. It is as much as to say “I have given you my opinion; now what are you going to do? I await your reply”.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Immediately the woman’s accusers begin to disappear, one at a time, the older ones first. Eventually there were no accusers left — only the woman still standing there, and Jesus still writing on the floor. There may have been onlookers nearby, but we are given the impression that all is now very still and quiet.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
Again, when He is ready, Jesus sits up straight, and says: “Well dear woman, where are they now? Hasn’t anyone condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do
I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”
“No one is condemning me, Sir,” she replies. “Then nor will I,” adds Jesus. There is nothing to stop you also leaving now; but leave your life of sin here, behind you.”
We note that even when Jesus deals out mercy there is no conflict with the Holy Law as recorded in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Very clearly, the witnesses have quickly slid out of sight, and therefore, legally, Jesus is in no position to pass judgement.
George Reith (C.E. 1899) sums up for us.
“Was the Lord too lenient? A woman of ordinary feeling in such
a position would hardly be in need of much rebuke.
Jesus could safely leave that to her own conscience. If the
recollection of His gracious way with her did not avail to keep
her in the path of virtue thenceforth, nothing in this world
would. And the fact that she remained standing in His
presence, when all her accusers were gone, and nothing
hindered her also from stealing away to hide her shame,
seems to prove that her conscience was at work, and
repentance truly began. We cannot doubt it resulted in faith
There are religious people who continually emphasise the hypocrisy of the Pharisees but who seem blind to the fact that often they themselves far surpass them. Religious arrogance, misuse of Scripture, and selective ethics are alive and well among some who call themselves Christians. However, on this occasion, these forms of corruption are not the main focus of the incident in our reading.
Let us recall that in this deeply moving account, Jesus does not:
— pronounce the sentence since the witnesses had left hurriedly;
— acquit the woman of guilt;
— speak a word of pardon;
Instead, by His words and actions He:
— warned her firmly and solemnly;
— gave her time to turn her life around;
— encouraged her to persevere.
Thus Jesus yet again demonstrated the mercy and lovingkindness of God. Everyone knew He was a compassionate person; that is why the Scribes tried to set Him up. Jesus created an opportunity for her to reflect, come to repentance, and seek forgiveness.
That is what mercy is all about.
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Caught in the Act of Adultery
Lent 5 Year C John 8: 1 — 11
John 8: 1 — 11
Lent 5 Year C
NEW AMERICAN BIBLE
1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 1
2 But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who
4 They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the
5 Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. 2
6 They said this to test him, so that they could have some
7 4 But when they continued asking him, he straightened up
8 Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
9 And in response, they went away one by one, beginning
10 Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where
11 She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I
1  Mount of Olives: not mentioned elsewhere in the gospel tradition outside of passion week.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition (c) 2010,