Misapplied Texts: John 8:1-11

The record of the woman caught in adultery is often quoted to show that Christ forgave criminals, and so that is what we should do in our society. However, there is reason to doubt that the woman was really deserving of death. It is easy to prove that the religious leaders who brought her to Jesus were not interested in justice. In the first place, Jesus was not a judge in that society, especially not of capital cases. That was left to the Sanhedrin, the ruling counsel of the Jews. Therefore Jesus had no authority to render judgment on the case. Secondly, the religious leaders were themselves breaking the Mosaic Law by bringing the woman without the man with whom she committed adultery. Moses clearly said that both the man and the woman were to be executed (Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:22). For those reasons, Jesus knew that this was a trap, a setup, and not “justice” in any sense of the word, and Scripture clearly declares this (v. 6). The Jews had indeed formed a clever trap. The Romans had forbidden them to execute people (John 18:31), so if Jesus said to stone the woman, the Jews would have had Jesus arrested for breaking Roman law. However, if Jesus said not to stone her because the Romans forbade it, then the Jews would have persecuted him for elevating Roman law over Mosaic Law. Jesus got out of the trap by convicting the people’s consciences, which in this case was made easier by the fact that the people knew in their hearts that they were willing to take this woman’s life just to trap Jesus. One by one the crowd left until there were no accusers left. According to Mosaic Law, there had to be eyewitnesses if someone were to be executed. In fact, the witnesses have to cast the first stone (Deut. 17:6,7). Christ finished with the woman by saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Since Jesus was not a witness, he, by law, could not condemn the woman. Yet he knew she was in trouble because of her wayward lifestyle, and so he warned her to leave her sinful life. A careful reading of this record with a knowledge of the Mosaic Law and the Roman law in force at the time clearly reveals that this record has no bearing on whether or not there should be a death penalty today. The Romans executed many criminals during the life of Jesus, and there is no record of him ever trying to intervene in the criminal justice system in any way.

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