Did Jesus ignore the law to save the adulterous woman?


Jesus, the Law, and the Adulterous Woman

Some believe that Jesus simply ignored the requirements of the Mosaic law in order to save the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) where the Law called for her death (Leviticus 20:10). But, a careful study of the scriptures shows that, in dealing with the adulterous woman, Jesus did not violate the demands of the Law:

  1. The Mosaic Law stated that a person could be executed only if there were two or more witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was not sufficient to invoke the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). The woman was reportedly caught in the “very act” (verse 4), yet there was no reference or mention about the identity of the witness or witnesses.
  2. The Old Testament was clear concerning the fact that both the woman and the man were to be executed (Deuteronomy 22:22). But where was the man? He was not identified to the public. This situation clearly did not fit the Mosaic preconditions for executing capital punishment.
  3. Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (verse 7). The Lord shamed the woman’s accusers by forcing them to realize that “nobody is perfect.”  He knew that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her.

By setting this woman up, these scribes and Pharisees were trying to trap the Lord to appear as though He was disrespecting the Mosaic law and thus cause the people to turn against Him.

“Go and Sin No More”

Jesus did not excuse the woman’s sin because this would contradict many other passages of calling sin by its name (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). He Himself frequently passed judgment on a variety of individuals during His ministry on Earth (Matthew 15:14; 23; John 8:44, 55; 9:41). He never sought to excuse the violation of law or to belittle the binding authority of law on people.

The Law of Moses made it clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). The death penalty could not be adminsitered legally if the eyewitnesses were unavailable.  Christ showed openly that these witnesses were legally disqualified from fulfilling this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. And the very silence of the accusers confirmed His words.

As the accusers were convicted of their sins, they withdrew from the scene.  Then, Christ put forth a legal question saying: “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?”  The reason for Jesus to verify the absence of the accusers who had brought the charges against the woman was that the Law of Moses mandated the presence of eyewitnesses to the crime before guilt could be established and sentence passed.

The woman confirmed, “No man, Lord” (verse 11).  The Lord then affirmed: “Neither do I condemn you….”  The meaning of this pronouncement was that if two or more witnesses to her sin were not able or willing to document the crime, then she could not be held legally liable.

Christ told the woman, “go and sin no more.” He then pointed her to the necessity of forsaking her sins.  Until a person stops to sin and turns from his sins, he/she does not really repent (Psalms 32:1, 6; 1 John 1:7, 9).  Thus, Christ demonstrated a respect for the law—the law that He and His Father had made (Exodus 20:14).

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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