Far too often, those who proclaim the law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this culture of death encounter attempts to silence their voices. One of the single most prominent versions of what amounts to this kind of public shaming relies on the pericope of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery for its backing.
“Jesus did not condemn. He did not throw stones. Are you perfect? Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ didn’t He?” they tell us.
Let us examine whether followers of Jesus are indeed sinning and violating the example of Jesus as we live in such a way as to provoke repentance in our culture.
First, let all of this be tempered with the understanding that John 7:53-8:11 is a textual variant of questionable authenticity. It is far from certain that this was part of the original text that the apostle John wrote when he first sat down to write his Gospel. Given that, let us remember that it is best to base doctrines and rebukes on a sure and certain foundation.
Having said all that, John 8:1-11 –
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
Every human being is to desire to follow and imitate Jesus in all things (1 Cor 11:1, Eph 5:1). Notice first of all the final sentence Jesus says – go, and sin no more. The woman was caught in adultery! She violated God’s Law. She was guilty. Jesus told her that she had sinned, and told her to stop sinning.
That is one of the main things Christians ought to be doing in this culture, as we ask ourselves “What does Christianity look like in a culture that practices child sacrifice?” – while we obey Jesus’ command to be salt and light, we are calling people to stop disobeying Jesus, start obeying Jesus, and thus stop sinning by the power of the Holy Spirit who gives people grace to obey when they repent and place their trust in Jesus. We are speaking authoritative words, whose authority is straight from God the Creator, as in 2 Tim 2:19 – “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.'”
What does it look like to follow Jesus? According to this story where Jesus says “let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” it looks like calling sin sin, speaking with love but also with honesty and plainness.
But that’s not all. You see, those who brought the woman to Jesus were doing so on the basis of Old Testament law.
Leviticus 20:10 – If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Deuteronomy 22:22 – If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
What is missing from John 8? We have the woman, the adulteress, and we have the accusers… but the man is not present! Notice that the Law says that both partners committing adultery shall die, both shall be put to death.
Jesus also said things like this:
Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
Luke 16:17 – “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.”
So, hear the rebukes of Jesus, for there are two that are relevant to our discussion here.
1) When Jesus said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” He was very probably alluding to the fact that the men who had brought the woman before Him for no other purpose than to test and catch Him in a trap were engaging in hypocrisy. They claimed to follow the Law but had not brought the adulterer, the man, with them.
There is also no mention of a second or third witness to the crime, which is also a requirement in the Law. Jesus subtly points out that they themselves are guilty of twisting the Law to suit their own agendas. He came not to abolish but to fulfill.
2) In the mere act of stating “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus is charging these men with sin. Yet those who challenge the follower of Jesus today with this passage do so because they want to do away with all talk of sin and accusation on the basis of holy law. They want to silence the voice of holiness and conviction over sin. Yet Jesus charges both the men who brought the woman and also the woman with sin, not neither. Thus Jesus’ rebuke is for the one who refuses to countenance the obvious fact that Jesus talked about sin very frequently.
Why did Jesus talk about sin frequently?
Romans 3:19-26 – Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If He didn’t talk about sin much, nobody would know they need a cure for sin! And as the Redeemer of sinful souls, He wouldn’t have anyone to redeem if everyone remained ignorant of their sin. He loves too much not to talk about sin when sin exists. But the person who says “don’t throw stones” doesn’t want to repent of their sin. They want anything else besides repentance, even if it means self-destruction, serving the devil their whole lives, and Hell in the afterlife. It’s what they desire, since they don’t desire God.
And we see the will of God, that none of His sheep perish (John 10:3-4, 27; 2 Peter 3:8-9) but that all come to repentance, accomplished in the life of this woman. You see, she lived in a culture where rampant and open sin was not gloried in and celebrated as it is in our modern society. Commit adultery in modern America, and a lot of the time you’ll get a pat on the back and reassurance. Portray an adulterous affair on TV or in a movie and you can probably increase your ratings, especially if you show a lot of skin. It’s just taken for granted anymore. Not so in 1st-century Israel. It was very risky behavior to commit adultery back in that day. It could get you stoned to death, and indeed this woman was right there, on the precipice of death.
Yet this woman escapes not only physical death but spiritual death. She goes, in a very short span of time, from directly defying the Law of God (“thou shalt not commit adultery”) to near-death, to repentance and an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice it:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
It’s one thing to acknowledge Jesus as your Savior. The majority of Americans do that! And anyone can see from the decay around us, by the blood of 58 million dead children flowing through the streets of our cities, that the faith of most of those professors is a false, dead faith. To them, Jesus is merely Savior and not Lord. Yet this woman, fresh off being caught in the act of an adulterous affair (which probably means she was incautious, which may indicate her pre-existing lack of shame, due to a seared conscience), calls Jesus Lord. Jesus has just saved her life, so directly before her eyes was a clear illustration of His status as Savior. Now she confesses He is Lord. Her sins are forgiven. She is now a daughter of the kingdom. Jesus commands her: Go and sin no more. Live in obedience, be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, take up your cross and follow Me. Her salvation story is startling, in its brevity and simplicity as well as in its abruptness.
Let’s refocus on the objection here – if I call you to repent of your sin and you reply with “Jesus said ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone,'” you have in fact acted hypocritically. I attempted to identify something you have done or are doing wrong (and I want to help you by showing you the way to have forgiveness of that and all your sin). You then did the exact same thing, but simultaneously chided me for doing what you then did to me. You said I was wrong for saying you were wrong. That is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is sin.
Further, it entirely ignores the surrounding context of Jesus’ statement. The stones in the hands of those men were real stones. Why were they holding stones? Because they were going to throw them at the adulteress to kill her! The stones were instruments of execution, no less than a gallows or a firearm or a lethal injection.
Why is it, then, that we hear “don’t throw stones” when we level a criticism that is composed of words expressing thoughts? Words do not kill, not directly. A thrown stone can kill directly. Words are not stones. Don’t act like they are. If you are accused of sin, obey the Word of God. Examine yourself, your heart, your motivations; check for a speck in your eye. Don’t do as the hypocrites do, criticising someone who criticises because they criticised. If you have sinned, repent of it and claim your forgiveness from the hand of Jesus Christ. If you have not sinned, try to persuade your brother. If your brother has something in his eye, remove the log from your own eye and then help your brother remove the speck from his (rather than leaving him with a speck in his eye. Specks hurt).
Let all be done with love and to the glory of God. Amen.
[Contributed by Alan Maricle]
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