Having heard this story taught several times from the pulpit, the takeaway from the story was always the forgiveness given the woman and how kind and cuddly is our Jesus. This may very well be a part of the story, yet, it is not the completeness of the issue. Let’s dig into scripture.
John 8:1-6a “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him.”
A couple of questions come to my mind here at the half-way point of the story. First how could they be trapping him? What is the ultimate goal of the Pharisees for the woman? And, where is the guy? Wouldn’t he have been there too if she was “caught in the act”?
The “Law of Moses” or the Torah, which literally means instructions, are those directions given by YHVH to teach us how to “love thy neighbor” while simultaneously “not coveting” his wife. This is the issue at hand. Let’s look at what happens when people break these commands.
Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with a married woman—if he commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
This is repeated for us in Deuteronomy 22:22 as the word Deuteronomy in Hebrew means “The retelling of the instructions” – “If a man is discovered having sexual relations with another man’s wife, both the man who had sex with the woman and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
So, one could say that the trap was set to get Jesus to say the woman was to be set free and thus deny the “Law”. Hold on to that thought while we return to the story in John’s gospel.
John 6b-11 “Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
This is where so many preachers will start throwing out conjecture. They will reference the fact that Jesus was writing on the ground. They have said he was writing down the names of the Pharisees with their sins. Possible. That He may have been writing down the names of all the men she had been with and that they were likely in the crowd. Personally I believe Jesus was not concerned with anything the Pharisees were doing and that he was just continuing with his teaching from before he was rudely interrupted.
There is a provision in the “Law of Moses” that is being overlooked by the masses occupying the pulpit. Let’s go to Numbers 5:11-31 – The Jealousy Ritual
“The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: If any man’s wife goes astray, is unfaithful to him, and sleeps with another, but it is concealed from her husband, and she is undetected, even though she has defiled herself, since there is no witness against her, and she wasn’t caught in the act; and if a feeling of jealousy comes over the husband and he becomes jealous because of his wife who has defiled herself—or if a feeling of jealousy comes over him and he becomes jealous of her though she has not defiled herself— then the man is to bring his wife to the priest. He is also to bring an offering for her of two quarts of barley flour. He is not to pour oil over it or put frankincense on it because it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering for remembrance that brings sin to mind.
“The priest is to bring her forward and have her stand before the Lord. Then the priest is to take holy water in a clay bowl, and take some of the dust from the tabernacle floor and put it in the water. After the priest has the woman stand before the Lord, he is to let down her hair and place in her hands the grain offering for remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. The priest is to hold the bitter water that brings a curse. The priest will require the woman to take an oath and will say to her, ‘If no man has slept with you, if you have not gone astray and become defiled while under your husband’s authority, be unaffected by this bitter water that brings a curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has slept with you’— at this point the priest must make the woman take the oath with the sworn curse, and he is to say to her—‘May the Lord make you into an object of your people’s cursing and swearing when He makes your thigh shrivel and your belly swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your stomach, causing your belly to swell and your thigh to shrivel.’ “And the woman must reply, ‘Amen, Amen.’
“Then the priest is to write these curses on a scroll and wash them off into the bitter water. He will require the woman to drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and it will enter her and cause bitter suffering. The priest is to take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, wave the offering before the Lord, and bring it to the altar. The priest is to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar. Then he will require the woman to drink the water.
“When he makes her drink the water, if she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter her and cause bitter suffering; her belly will swell, and her thigh will shrivel. She will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is pure, she will be unaffected and will be able to conceive children.
“This is the law regarding jealousy when a wife goes astray and defiles herself while under her husband’s authority, or when a feeling of jealousy comes over a husband and he becomes jealous of his wife. He is to have the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest will apply this entire ritual to her. The husband will be free of guilt, but that woman will bear the consequences of her guilt.”
Without proper teaching, study or understanding of the Scriptures we easily miss the fact that Jesus was dispensing proper justice. Jesus was adhering to the “Law of Moses” perfectly. Without the capture and the presence of the man that participated in the act and without the husband there to file the jealousy complaint there was no evidence against the woman.
The “trap” the Pharisees set would have included the fact that they had most likely brought an innocent woman before him hoping he would condemn her to death. If, and I would say a very big “if”, she had actually been caught in this act the Pharisees knew they needed the other party. They lacked any evidence at all to pursue punishment of the woman under the “law” and thus the only motivation of the Pharisees was to elevate themselves over that of Jesus.