The Trap: Condemn or Condone?

John 7:53-8:11 is an interesting portion of scripture because in some early manuscripts it is not included and in others, it is placed in different parts of the Gospels.

While it is debated whether or not these verses were included in John’s original gospel, many agree that it is historically accurate. So it becomes more of a matter of where it belongs and not if it belongs.

In this section, Jesus was back at the temple teaching early in the morning the day after the Feast of Booths had concluded, and there would have been great crowds of people leaving the city to return home. Jesus took advantage of this opportunity to continue to teach his people before they left. 

The Trap

Then, the Scribes and Pharisees caused a scene, hoping to trap Jesus. They brought forth a woman who had been caught in adultery. First of all, the last time I checked it takes two to tango, but they only brought the woman and not the man. Secondly, this poor woman was collateral damage in the Jews’ conspiracy to trap Jesus. According to Jewish law, it wasn’t enough to suspect someone of adultery or see them leaving the rendezvous. The act of adultery had to be seen by two or more witnesses and their stories had to match. That was hard to do since people hooking up did so in private. 

So the Jews set up this trap with spies in order to catch an adulterous woman they could bring before Jesus. That’s crazy, and it makes me wonder if the man involved had been genuinely interested in the woman or if he had seduced her solely for the purposes of this trap. If so, that would make this story and the Jews even more slimy.

The Jewish scribes and Pharisees had this woman and they brought her to Jesus as he’s teaching at the temple. They asked him what they should do with the adulteress since the law of Moses said the punishment for her sin was death. If Jesus told them to adhere to the law and kill her then he would seem harsh and he would be breaking Roman law since they had taken the right of official execution away from the Jews. On the contrary, if Jesus told them to leave the woman alone then he would be breaking the law of Moses and would appear to approve of sin.

The answer

Unbeknownst to the Jews, there was a third option. Jesus told them that whoever was without since could throw the first stone and they left one by one starting with the oldest. Notice Jesus did not condemn the woman nor condone her sin. 

“In this Jesus exposed a common sin: a desire to punish the sins of others, while ignoring our own sin…There is still a place for exposing and rebuking and directly dealing with the sins of others in God’s family, but it must always be done with a heart that recognizes itself as a forgiven sinner. When done right, confronting sin is done more often with tears and a broken heart than with anger and condemnation.” (David Guzik)

Whether you relate more to the Scribes and Pharisees or the woman caught in adultery, remember that we are all sinners. God does not approve of our sin, but he will not use it as a tool to humiliate us or an excuse to abandon us. None of us are blameless. Yet, Christ died so that we all might be made clean and have eternal life in him.

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