© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw (3 September 2018)
After 40 years of ministry in various churches, I have often heard people say that Jesus changed the law regarding the penalty for adultery. Here is the passage:
3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11 ESV)
The passage is not in the earliest manuscripts. There are over 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, though most of them are short and do not include the whole New Testament, and 900 of those manuscripts include these verses.
If the woman was caught in the act, so was the man. How could the woman be judged and not the man? Of course, that did not mean the woman was innocent. We hear constantly on the news that Hazel Woman or Jack Man was caught doing something but only one was charged. The conclusion often is that if both are not changed then both go free. But that is illogical to the core. If three men murder someone, but only two have sufficient evidence to be charged, does that mean the two should go free also? Should we let the two go free because we cannot find enough evidence to convict the third one? If we cannot convict all, does that mean we must not convict any? That is ridiculous on the face of it.
Others say that Jesus relaxed His Old Testament law. The Old Testament required execution for adultery in some cases: “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10 NKJ).
Moreover, the Old Testament law is a revelation of the character of God and cannot change: “You shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16; NKJ). It is clear, therefore, that if God is unchangeable, and the law is a revelation of His holy character, then His law cannot change. But that did not mean that every case of sex outside marriage required the death penalty (see Deut. 22:13-30).
Notice that Jesus did not challenge Moses’ law, its holiness, or the penalty for adultery; rather, He supported it. He instituted formal proceedings against her when He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Here is one passage He probably had in mind: “The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deut. 17:7 NKJ; see also Lev. 24:24; Deut. 19:18-19; 22:22). We see that Jesus, in keeping with the law given above, required the witnesses to cast the first stone. This would make them back up their testimonies to death. Being a witness was a very serious matter.
Again, the witnesses were required to be innocent of the sin they were accusing someone else of committing. It was not any sin that someone must be guilty of but the sin in question, in this case, adultery. If being sinful of any sin whatsoever disqualified anyone from being a witness, no one would ever be such, for all humans are sinful.
When Jesus carefully applied the law, He saw that all the accusers had gone. Since there were no witnesses innocent of the same crime, the formal procedure had to stop. Jesus said,
9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:9-11 ESV)
There could be no formal accusation and no conviction if the witnesses were gone! The sin she was not to commit anymore was adultery.
Assuming John 7:53-8:11 is genuine (and I do), we see that Jesus followed the law. He could not compromise His own holy character by saying, in effect, stoning for adultery was too harsh in My law; therefore, I’ll lower the standard. There shall be no more stoning for adultery. He required the witnesses to be innocent of the same crime and to demonstrate their innocence by throwing the first stones. Let us NEVER put a division between the Old Testament and the New Testament as if there were two gods, an Old Testament one who was harsh and a New Testament one who was loving and kind. That would be idolatry. AMEN. Ω