By James R. Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of biblical and religious studies, Samford University
Jesus Gave Me Grace and Forgiveness
As we study this series of powerful encounters with Jesus, may we encounter Him anew.
Today we read of the encounter titled “The Woman Caught in Adultery” in Christian tradition and some Bible headings. The lessons in this encounter apply in any situation where people act unjustly in the name of religious rectitude.
I had broken God’s law and deserved punishment. (2–6a)
Some translations indicate the passage appears in different places or not at all in early copies of John, and that it appears in some copies of Luke. “The temple” could refer to the Court of the Gentiles, the largest area of the temple platform, or the Court of Women, which non-Jews could not enter.
If the woman was caught in the act of adultery, we expect someone to ask, “Why are these men threatening and humiliating only the woman? Where is the man?”
The men’s claim about the law of Moses betrays their distortion of Scripture (7:19).
Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:23 require both the man and the woman to be punished.
Deuteronomy 22:24–27 excuses a woman who cries for help.
There is no provision for punishing a woman alone.
We have no record of this punishment being carried out, probably because Jewish texts laid out such exacting requirements for evidence and witnesses that it was nearly impossible to reach a guilty verdict.
Additionally, Jews had no authority to carry out capital punishment in Jesus’ day.
These men didn’t mean to kill the woman. In their desire to charge Jesus with violating the law of Moses, they were willing to permanently stigmatize her.
Ironically and insidiously, it was they who followed neither Roman law nor Torah and who acted unjustly.
All of us are guilty of sinning against God. (6b–9)
From the beginning, people have wondered what Jesus wrote on the ground.
Some Byzantine copies of John said He was listing the men’s sins. The crowd might have recognized that Jesus was enacting Jeremiah’s condemnation of those who turn away from God (Jer. 17:13).
Note Jesus’ initial silence, which resembled His actions at His own trial (Matt. 26:63, Mark 14:61).
When He stood to answer, His language unmasked their violation of Torah and their abuse of power.
By leaving one by one, they betrayed their true motivations. Sin or no sin, they could have brought the woman’s partner and the witnesses and gone on with their trial. This was never their intention.
Jesus showed me grace and forgave me. (10–11)
Jesus didn’t ask the woman for a confession. What she had done seems beyond dispute. Rather, He absolved her of her offense.
The traditional title, “The Woman Caught in Adultery,” preserves the memory of a sin Jesus pardoned.
I hope that in Jerusalem, people remembered what she did from that moment forward.
Rather than focusing on the woman’s history, John presents an episode in which Jesus acted out the confession of John the Baptist in 1:29.
He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He confronted the men’s sin, forgave the woman’s sin and admonished her against future sin.
Along the way, He warns us against the sins of injustice, impure intentions and rationalizing both through a misuse of Scripture.
Share with others: