“So then it depends not on human will or exertion,
but on God, who has mercy.”
There is a story in John about a woman who was caught in adultery. I think we are all familiar enough with it that I can skip the text. For the record, it is John 7:53-8:11.
I’m going through John with my sister, so you might see some posts as I explain some of what we read. I hope you find it helpful, too. Keep in mind, I’m simply a street fighter regarding the bible. I have no formal training. I simply study what I read and listen to plenty of sermons online. Anyway, here goes.
First, we need to address the fact that this passage IS NOT included in the earliest manuscripts. Furthermore, one manuscript places it in Luke. The thought is that it was oral tradition. However, “they” claim it has all the markings of a historical encounter, so it is included. Many translations make a special note of this fact, as with Mark 16:9-20. So, keep that in mind but don’t be quick to discard it.
The scene opens with Jesus teaching at the temple when suddenly men put a woman right in the middle who they claim was caught in the act of adultery. They demanded a judgement from Jesus to uphold what the law required, i.e. stoning. Jesus then writes on the ground with his finger and instructed that the one without sin cast the first stone. Starting with the oldest, they all dropped their stones and left. Standing alone, Jesus asked her who her accusers were. There were none left. He then told her he doesn’t condemn her either. He then told her to go and sin no more.
I’ve heard all sorts of interpretations on this, including that, in it, Jesus abolished capital punishment. Let’s start with an assumption. Let’s assume that she INDEED was caught in the act of adultery. In that case, the punishment is clear:
Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
Well, those guys had a problem. Yes, the woman faced a punishment, but where was the guilty man? The law was clear; both must be put to death. Why wasn’t the man brought to trial as well? So, the accusers were crooked.
Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
I think that is why Jesus required the one who casts the first stone to be without sin. I really don’t think Jesus is requiring a judge to be sin-free because no human has ever been without sin. Everyone knows that. So, is Jesus therefore creating a new commandment that, in effect, abolishes capital punishment? Or punishment at all, for that matter? I don’t think so. Certainly, God has the privilege to change his own laws and does so, provided they don’t violate his very nature.
For example, Jesus changed the long-standing dietary laws of the Jews.
Mark 7:18-19 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
Acts 10:12-16 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
So, we see that Jesus has that prerogative. But, did Jesus change the whole punishment system in this particular encounter? I don’t think so. Here’s why. We see government punishment endorsed by the Apostles.
1 Peter 2:13-15 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Romans 13:1-4 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
If we hold scripture as the divine word of God, I don’t know how we can argue that Jesus abolished capital punishment through the adulteress.
Why, then, did Jesus not punish her? For that matter, why didn’t he punish both the woman AND the man? Because that’s his prerogative.
2 Samuel 12:13-14 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because of this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”
Matthew 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
Finally, Jesus was compassionate to the woman in his mercy. He didn’t berate her, shame her, or otherwise put her down. He forgave her. In his eyes, she had a clean slate. The matter was done. His last instruction? “…go, and from now on sin no more.” My guess is that she never had a problem like that again. Maybe not, but I hope I will one day see her in heaven. Can you imagine hearing her story from her perspective? Man!
Here’s the thing, if God has mercy on you, what a tremendous gift that is. Is not our salvation far more valuable than this woman’s pardon? She escaped death; we escape the lake of fire. Seems to me we have something to tell the whole world.
Psalm 103:11-14 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Father, thank you for including this passage in our bibles. I think it is worthy of being there. It lines up with the teaching of the rest of scripture. What valuable lessons we have! Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Scott Powers