Straightening up, Jesus said to [the woman accused of adultery], "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either." (John 8:10-11)
Jesus taught us that His mercy nullified the law in His example with the adulterous woman.
The context of these verses provides clarity into what actually happened in this event.
Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem one morning and is having a Bible study with a bunch of people (John 8:2). Some scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery into the middle of this Bible study and ask Jesus to pronounce her guilty or innocent (John 8:3). They aren’t seeking justice. They’re testing Jesus "so that they might have grounds for accusing Him" (John 8:6).
Please note: Jesus was not acting as a duly appointed judge in a courtroom with the appropriate legal procedures taking place. This was a lynch mob!
The Law requires the following for capital crimes like adultery:
- There must be at least two witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 17:6).
- Those witnesses must not be actively involved in open sin (the traditional view of Exodus 23:1).
- Death penalty matters must be review by a court (a panel of judges) rather than a single judge (based upon the traditional understanding of various passages).
None of these were present during Jesus’ Bible study at the Temple.
Jesus calls for those who are without sin to be the first to cast a stone (addressing requirement #2). Since this lynch mob wasn't acting according to the Law, they were actively in sin. The mob began to leave, beginning with the older ones (verse 9) who recognized that what they were doing wasn't right.
After everyone had departed, Jesus noted that there was no one left who was testifying against her and condemning her. Since there were not two witnesses to the matter (requirement #1), He could not condemn her on His own (requirement #3) and set her free.
Rather than disregarding or annulling the Law, Jesus masterfully (and lawfully! 1 Timothy 1:8) uses the Law as a means to disperse the mob, thwart his enemies, and show grace to the accused woman.
That is not the end of the story, however. Jesus' parting words to the woman are "Go. From now on sin no more." Jesus clearly expected her to begin obeying the Law and stop violating it in the future.
If you still have questions, check out our definitions and assumptions page. If you still have questions or concerns after reading that, please contact us. We would love the opportunity to understand and respond to those concerns!