Week 7 – John 8:1-11
Many of your Bibles will put a heading over this passage saying something like “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” At first glance this may seem concerning, either for you or for folks in your group. You’ll see my thoughts about the textual concerns for this passage below the discussion questions.
At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus has made several trips to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays (John 5:1, 7:2,10, 10:22). On each of these trips he would make regular appearances in the Temple to teach, and on one of these occasions the Pharisees decided to publicly spring a trap on him. They threw down a woman caught in adultery in front of him and said something like, “Moses said we should stone this woman. What do you say?”Now, the law clearly called for this woman’s death. Lev. 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Suspiciously, no man is present alongside this woman. The Pharisees weren’t asking Jesus what should be done; they knew. As the text says, they were testing Jesus to see if he would obey the Law or say something contrary to it, in hopes that they could then bring a charge against him in the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) and have him silenced.
With an insistent crowd and likely a sobbing woman in front of him, Jesus does a delightfully weird thing: he stoops down and doodles in the dirt. The text doesn’t comment on what he actually wrote, and speculation doesn’t really benefit our study here. But in a high stress moment, Jesus diverted everyone’s attention; doubtless people were whispering to one another, “What’s he doing?” In staying silent and continuing to write he appears to be preoccupied, but more likely he was de-escalating the situation and preparing the crowd to let it fizzle. And fizzle it did, once Jesus gave his amazingly insightful response, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He put his finger on the heart of everyone in the room, convicting them of their hypocrisy. They were concerned with the woman’s disobedience, while ignoring their own. They showed no compassion towards the woman, when they themselves were in need of compassion. In their only moment of solid leadership, the older men drop their stones and walk away first, being the quickest to admit their own sin.
And then we see a moment of real tenderness between Jesus and the woman. Note that Jesus, a champion for women in so many ways, is the only person in this story who actually talks to the woman. He asked her to realize the wonder of her situation, that her accusers were gone, and then gave her an even greater gift than a cleared sentence: forgiveness. Jesus spoke as the only one who could forgive sins on earth (Luke 5:24) and said the same thing he said to the man at Bethesda (5:1-17): sin no more. Having had compassion on the woman, he then called her to obedience, much as believers who have received mercy are called into deeper obedience to the giver of mercy.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read John 8:1-11 for us?
• What stood out to you from this passage?
• How do we see obedience and compassion play out in this story?
• Why do you think Jesus answered with, “Let him who is without sin … be the first to throw a stone?”
• How can this passage help us reflect on our own lives?
• Why do you think Jesus’ forgiveness came with the command to “sin no more”?
• How does Jesus’ compassion towards you call you into greater obedience to him?