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John 7:53-8:11 – Jesus and the woman caught in adultery


The famous story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery appears in John 7:53--8:11. In the surrounding context in the gospel, the Jewish leaders have been disturbed by the way Jesus taught and acted in ways that seemed contrary to their understanding of the law.


So in 7:58--8:11 Jesus is confronted with a situation in which the verdict would seem to be self-evident. The woman was caught in the act of committing adultery, and the law clearly says that the punishment for adultery is death (Leviticus 20:10). So the Jewish leaders want to see whether Jesus will uphold the law in this case.

Yet the literary context also warns that people are not to judge by appearances (John 7:24), and in this episode there is more going on than what initially meets the eye. The evidence actually works against the woman's accusers. Note that the woman was caught in the act, which means that the man also must have been present, and the law is quite clear that in a case of adultery both people are to be put to death--the man as well as the woman (Leviticus 20:10). The accusers are guilty of ignoring the clear statutes in the law. When Jesus asks the person who is without sin to cast the first stone, no one responds. The accusers are guilty of a travesty of justice. They have violated the law by condemning the woman's sin while letting the other guilty party go free.

This story does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John's gospel. Footnotes in many modern translations note that the story is missing from many manuscripts, while others insert it after John 7:36 or after 21:25 or even after Luke 21:38. The story seems to have circulated for some time before it was included in the written gospels. Nevertheless, it is possible that the story preserves an early tradition about Jesus, which circulated in oral form.

John 7:53-8:11

53Then each of them went home, 81while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.* 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’]]*

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

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