Did Jesus stone or enable stoning?


John 8 seems to have Jesus saving a woman from stoning to death for adultery.  Christians teach that God wrote the Bible by guiding human authors and when you point out the text differences they say that text differences do not effect doctrine. The adulteress text is a text difference.  If this text shows Jesus lapsed in his repeated support for the Jewish Law including its cruelty then it would amount to effecting doctrine and thus invalid.  But the story is really about Jesus using the episode to deal with the hypocrisy of her accusers and is not about saving her life.  Jesus was in the Temple Courts and had to be very careful not to preach against the Jewish Law about stoning.


Let us read the story.
The Jewish leaders brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. Read John 8 - New International Version (NIV)

1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.


3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group


4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.


5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”


 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. [This was doodling BECAUSE he was tempted to have her stoned and luckily didn't act hastily.  Nobody says they read it or that it was meant to be read.  The notion he wrote down the names and partners of these men with whom they committed adultery is speculation.  It does not fit the principle that you must not read miracles into a text that way.  It is like saying the gospel accounts are untrue and it's a miracle if they ring true.  And if you want the story to oppose stoning women, do you want it to say it is only wrong if the accusers are as bad as her?]


7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” [Was he going to walk away only they were persistent?  Here he was assessing, he was saying it was a fact that they were sinners.  Prudent observation is a form of judging.  Condemning as in punishing and giving a penalty is another.  Notice that by calling them all sinners he was saying the same about the woman.]


8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.


10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”




What if Jesus slept with the woman in John 8 or was accused of doing so?  The accusers only said they knew she had done it. 


The man is not mentioned but maybe he was not identified.  There is no need to assume they were choosing to punish her while unjustly letting him go free.  Maybe the man was already stoned.  Feminists must not get carried away with this story. Note - there is no hint of the notion that only women were accused of adultery not men here.  That is irrelevant here.  Jewish law commanded both man and woman must die.  Jesus would simply have said, "Where is the man?" and walked away if that were the problem.


If the woman was Jesus' mother, then this matches Jewish tradition that she was indeed adulterous.  And Jesus addresses the woman as "Woman".  He called his mother woman at the wedding feast of Cana and when he was dying.  The symbolism of John can make a case for this woman being Mary.


Jesus gave a core teaching in the Sermon on the Mount saying let your yes be yes and your no no.  So he was committed to saying what he meant.  He said, "If you want her stoned then fine but be worthy to do so."  The implication is they could find somebody worthy to do so.  That can imply, "She is not tried for a crime and this is a lynch mob but they can get her stoned through the right channels and indeed may do that."   Instead of acting immediately he dragged it out punishing her by making her feel she was about to be killed.  He refused to just walk away for they could not stone her anyway.  They were not authorised. 


The fact that the incident took place in the Temple courts and did involve the scribes and the Pharisees does not prove they were acting within the law.  They were trying to show Jesus up as a rebel against the divine law about stoning.  That was why it was in such a public space.  This was definitely an abuse of the law.  Plus Jesus had repeatedly given out to the scribes and Pharisees for abusing the law anyway.  No stonings took place in the Temple courts anyway.  Jesus knew that so he was definitely NOT saving her life. 


Jesus explicitly said that he would not be ever acting like an official judge in criminal actions. In Luke 12:14 he refutes the notion that he could act like that kind of judge.  The story does nothing to affirm modern trendy notions of capital punishment being wrong or of female equality.


He judged her as an adulteress and in those times that meant lifelong stigma that was a bigger torture than being stoned.  He said nothing about the extreme violence of stoning vulnerable women to death.  He could have said Rome's ban on killing anybody should be respected.  He said absolutely nothing which again left her in fear of being dragged before a mob again.  She simply was not going to be safe after leaving the Temple.  And what about the other women out there?


A story where Jesus is clearly in a trap cannot be used to argue that he respected the lives of women who committed adultery.




Jesus could have taken the woman away. Nobody could force her to stay. He didn’t. We have no idea how degraded this woman felt for Jesus made her feel she was about to be stoned by a gang. It was a public humiliation. She was terrified. Jesus got his revenge on her this way. Do not underestimate how this experience left its mark on her forever. His telling her to sin no more after that was an implied threat. There was no compassion.  Remember also, he refused to tell the truth about her adultery.  It was no sin at all for she like nearly all girls of her time had no say and had to wed very young before they knew what they were doing.  She was married to be a breeder even though her risk of dying in childbirth was huge and her body was too childlike.  Do not underestimate the patriarchal vindictiveness of this man.


In John 8, a woman caught committing adultery is brought to Jesus to see if he will endorse the death penalty laid down by God which is death by stoning.


If the story shows Jesus let her off the hook then that was down to luck not goodness for the same gospel says the same man, in evil Old Testament style, whipped and attacked and verbally abused people in the Temple not long before.  But it is not clear he really intended to let her get away with it.


Jesus supposedly saved her by reminding her accusers that they were no better than her.  The accusers give no hint that they really want to stone the woman and we are told it was a test of Jesus to see what he would say.  Jesus definitely thought they would not do it anyway which is why he had no fear of saying they could go ahead if any righteous one among them cast the first stone inviting the rest to follow suit.  He saved nobody.


Even if Jesus did save her, it would not imply opposition to the death penalty if her accusers were trying to trap him by making out he opposed the law.  If so it failed for Jesus said she should be stoned but only under the right circumstances. 


It is possible that when he said he does not condemn her that he means he was aware that she did not fully consent to the adultery and thus her lack of consent made her ineligible for the death penalty.  But that is refuted by how he is clear that she must be stoned but only by those who are morally good enough to do so.  They have to be worthy as if stoning were a reward.  This fits the Bible God's command that there must be no pity and it's an honour to "purge the evil from your midst."


He would have had a problem with the accusers demanding that she be stoned when God is clear in the Bible that the entire congregation must authorise it - it is not a job for a mob no matter if it is a big one or not which is not clear from the story.  Worse, the temple was not the place for stoning.
He says that the person there who does not deserve what she deserves may lift the first stone.


Jesus supposedly protected her by getting the accusers not to stone her.  Jesus did not protect the woman. The protection just happened. It was pure luck that the men did not lift up stones and say they were not sinners so they were entitled to.


Some say, "He merely makes the accusers realise that they deserve stoning as much as she does so they walk away."  If so then the most natural idea is that the accusers were also guilty of adultery.  If so, then the story is not against stoning a woman to death but against selectively stoning people to death.  The law of Moses recognised that everybody sins.  Those men did not just commit ordinary sins and must have deserved stoning themselves and they had the honesty to walk away.  The sin Jesus refers to is definitely capital sin - sin that asks for and deserves a cruel execution.
He does not tell her he forgave her but that he will not stone her. He could not stone her himself anyway. Nor could he lift the first stone when the others deserved stoning as well for they would be joining in.
He tells her not to sin that way any more.  Jesus did not ask the woman to repent of her sin but to avoid it.  The context shows he meant she was lucky this time and would hopefully be stoned if she committed adultery again.

The story is distorted by many as a protest against the death penalty.
But Jesus made it clear he never disagrees with God and God laid out that penalty in his scripture that he would have went to honour in the synagogue every Saturday.


He told Pilate that God gave him the power to put him to death - John 19. 


He said that it is better to drown somebody than to let them corrupt children (Matthew 18:6).


The criminal with Jesus on the cross agreed with his own death sentence in Luke 23:40-41 and Jesus showed his approval by giving him instant paradise.
Jesus is clear she should be stoned. Even if she was not stoned then, it follows that she could have been stoned later. He does not actually say the penalty is done away.


The Jews would have thought Jesus did not stone the woman for he was a sinner himself.  We can think that too!
Those closest to Jesus agreed with the death penalty such as Paul his prime apostle, Acts 25:11, "If I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of these things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them."


Why were the men so sure Jesus would agree with the stoning?  If he had they could send the Romans authorities to him to incarcerate him and dispatch him for murder.  That was what they wanted.  There were other ways to trap him so it was more than just a trap.  He must have clearly endorsed the laws right to stone and put it into practice.  If it is true that they were vigilantes then they risked their own lives by going to such an extreme to get Jesus to authorise murder without the say of the law.  They were certain that Jesus was pro-death penalty even for vulnerable women like the one stood before him.


To sum up, Jesus did not save her for her sake but for his own - if he saved her.  In fact it was the honesty of the accusers which saved her.  Jesus could not have seen that coming!  He said stoning her was a holy act.  He made it about exposing the hypocrisy of her accusers not saving her.  He never even told her he forgave her.  He made her sweat in fear as he dragged out the episode.

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