Did Jesus change the old law on adultery?

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By BibleAsk Team


The narrative of the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8:1-11, stands as a significant episode in the New Testament where some claim that Jesus demonstrates a shift in approach toward the punishment of adultery compared to the Old Testament. To comprehend His action, it is essential to delve into the cultural, legal, and theological contexts of this narrative. This essay will explore the reasons behind His action drawing from relevant Bible references and historical insights.

Old Testament Perspective on Adultery

  1. The Mosaic Law

In the Old Testament, adultery was considered a serious offense under the Mosaic Law, punishable by death.

Leviticus 20:10 (NKJV): “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.”

The severity of the punishment reflected the importance of marital fidelity and the sanctity of the marriage covenant within ancient Israelite society.

  1. Cultural and Legal Context

In ancient Israel, the social and legal structures were deeply intertwined with religious beliefs and practices. Adultery was not only viewed as a breach of marital trust but also as a violation of divine commandments.

Deuteronomy 22:22 (NKJV): “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.”

Adultery was seen as a threat to the stability of the family unit and the moral fabric of society, warranting strict punishment as a deterrent.

New Testament Perspective: The Woman Caught in Adultery

In John 8:1-11, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, testing Him to see if He would uphold the Mosaic Law’s punishment of stoning. Jesus responds by challenging the accusers and ultimately extending forgiveness and mercy to the woman.

John 8:7 (NKJV): “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.'”

This episode reveals a shift in emphasis from strict legalism to principles of grace, compassion, and forgiveness in the New Testament.

Reasons for the Claimed “Shift in Treatment”

Some teach that since Jesus refused the stoning of the woman caught in adultery, this means that He changed the laws of the Old Testament. But He refused to stone the woman caught in adultery because of two reasons: First, the demands of the Mosaic law for stoning that woman were not satisfied. In order for that to be done, the man caught in adultery with the woman had to be stoned, as well among other things (Leviticus 20:10).

The consequences of sin have not changed in the New Testament. For Paul states, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV). Any sin that is not repented off will lead people to eternal death. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NKJV). It has been always the will of God to live a pure and Holy life.

Jesus did not abolish the law of the Old Testament. For He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one [a]jot or one [b]tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17,18, NKJV).

The Savior did not lower the bar of morality in the New Testament but raised the bar higher. He taught that lust is adultery (Matthew 5:28). Both the Old and New Testaments reveal the same holy, merciful, and righteous God who must condemn sin but who desires to bring to Himself sinners through Christ’s atoning death.

Second, in the Old Testament, God administered His judgement for both sin and breaking the civil laws through the law of Moses. But in the New Testament, the children of Israel and Judah because of their sin were overcome by other nations. And as a result they had to obey the laws of those kingdoms and were no longer subject to the Mosaic civil laws. As in the case of Jesus’ condemnation to death, the religious leaders of Israel had to ask the Roman authorities to execute the death penalty.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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