The Gospel of John
The Woman Taken in Adultery

J. Deering,

The Gospel of John
John 8:1-11

The Woman Taken in Adultery


John Chapter 7:53-8:11 is not included in the earliest and best manuscripts and versions. One group of manuscripts places it after Luke 31:38 as it more closely resembles the style and content found there. The text does not appear anywhere until after the writings of Jerome and Augustine in the fifth century.


To say that the passage is not an integral part of John (or Luke) does not dismiss it, however. Even those who exclude it from the body of John admit that its tenor is wholly in keeping with the character and ministry of Jesus, and that it doubtless constitutes a genuine account of an episode of His career, thought it may be misplaced. So we are including it here as part of this study and we’ll speak of it as if John is the writer.



[Translation based on Greek Interlinear]


Setting the scene…

John Chapter 7:53 And each man went to his own home.


Jesus spends the night on the Mount of Olives - 8:1

8:1 Yet Jesus was gone to the Mount of Olives.


Q: How does John use the word “Yet”


John uses the word “Yet” to contrast that everyone else went to their HOME, while Jesus, with no home, went to a quiet secluded spot to pray and sleep.


Luke 9:58

English Standard Version

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus and the Woman taken in adultery, 8:2-:11


8:2 And then early [the next morning] He [beside-became] came into the temple [holy place], and all the people came toward Him and sitting down He taught them.


Q: Comment on John’s choice of “beside-became” in Jesus’ relationship to the temple.


The very first words of our text reveal a very subtle relationship between Jesus and the temple [“the holy place”]. When Jesus comes there it is described by John as He became beside the Holy place. He didn’t just say that Jesus went into the Holy place, instead he describes Jesus’ relationship to the Holy place rather than His position in it. He and His Father’s house are “beside” each other when He is there.


Q: Comment on John’s story telling “All the people came toward Him.”


John, our story teller, tells us that upon entering the temple “All the people came toward Him.” Those who were there the preceding day are expecting more drama as they come from all directions to sit at this teacher’s feet. As they come – He sits down to teach.


Q: What can you discern from Jesus sitting down to teach?


John again uses intimate terms to describe Jesus' actions. It was the norm for rabbis to enter into the temple grounds and teach or lecture. Small crowds of men would gather and listen to what they had to say. It was a place where the rabbis could express their viewpoints. Sitting down together implies a more intimate relationship between Jesus and those He was teaching.



8:3 Then the scribes [Gk grammateis – writers] and the Pharisees brought toward Him a woman apprehended [Gk kateilemmenen - having been overtaken] in adultery and stood her in the midst (between them and Jesus). 8:4 They are saying to Him, “Teacher, this woman was apprehended while adultering.”


Q: Describe this scene – in detail by understanding the words John used


John tells us that both parties of the Sanhedrin are bringing this woman before Jesus. There were the "scribes": the greek word for them was used to designate "experts in the law, and  scholars versed in the law. They and the officers of the High Priest would make up half of the Sanhedrin with the other half being made up of Pharisees. This makes the event much more official and dangerous as they confront Jesus with their question. The previous day the deputies of the priests tries to “throw their hands upon Jesus” in order to capture Him – “that they might kill Him.” They had no success – as Jesus’ “time had not come.”


Jesus is seated (possibly reclining) with those He's teaching when these scribes and Pharisees barge into the group with a woman in tow. John describes her as a woman apprehended in the act of adultery. Again John uses the action of things happening TOWARD Jesus, as he pulls us into the story. The officious scribes and Pharisees are rudely bringing forward a woman who had been caught IN the act of adultery. We should probably picture a woman still in her bed clothes, disheveled and frightened. The dialogue of this story bears every indication that this is a plot to trap Jesus. To be caught in adultery would have required some preparation on behalf of those who caught her. And where is the man? Why hasn't he been dragged along with the woman? We could conjecture that the man was part of the plot--wooing a woman into his bed so that "she" could be caught for this plan against Jesus. “These opponents have a commendable zeal for righteousness, but theirs is a shallow righteousness that shows no concern for the soul of this woman.”[1]


The come boldly now forcing their way between Jesus and the crowd in order to take center stage. John places us “in the midst” of the setting.



8:5 “Yet in the Law Moses directs us that such be stone-cast [stoned]: What then are You saying?”


One of them speaks and asks the question that has been designed to catch Jesus by His answer. They intend to show that His teaching on God's merciful love contradicts the Law, which punished the sin of adultery with stoning; "If He absolves the woman caught in flagrant adultery, it will be said that He has transgressed the precepts of Moses; If He condemns her, it will be said that He is inconsistent with His message of mercy towards sinners."[2]

It also is true that during all the years of the rule under Mosaic law there are very few recordings of stoning for adultery. The death penalty was as unpopular then as it is today.


Leviticus 20:10

10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death


Deuteronomy 22:22

22 “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.



8:6 By this they were trying Him, that they might accuse Him. Yet Jesus bending down wrote [perhaps drew] with His finger into the earth as if not being aware [of their presence or question].


Q: Who was on trial here?


Notice that “they” were trying “Him.” They weren’t trying her. Many miss this important fact!


The scribes and Pharisees thought they had devised a very clever trap. However Jesus is not to be trapped, for He, in His deity knows the Law better than any man for it is by His Spirit that it was written.


Q: Why would Jesus ignore these leaders?


Jesus makes the questioners and the accusers very uncomfortable by ignoring their question and writing, or drawing, in the sand by His feet. What did He write or draw? – it’s not recorded. What was He doing? The text says that it was “as if not being aware” they had asked the question.



Q: Why would Jesus ignore these leaders?


What would they do if Jesus stayed mute and did not answer their question? 



8:7 As they persisted asking Him, He straightened up [Gk anakupsas - up bending], He said to them, “The one of you who is sinless be casting the first stone upon her.”


While He is ignoring them, they keep asking for His answer – should she be stoned or not? After some time passes, “He straightened up” and said His now famous statement, “Which every one of you is SINLESS, you be casting the first stone upon her.”


8:8 Again, bending down, He wrote into the earth.


Jesus bends down again a second time and resumes writing [drawing] in the dirt. He doesn’t make a statement concerning the Law. He's silent a long time. The time is used by all present to search their minds and hearts. If they stone her they themselves would be guilty of judging while being unclean sinners themselves. Would anyone there wish to be stoned for their own sins? James tells us, "Judge not, lest you be judged. [James 5:9]"



8:9 Now the ones hearing this, and by their conscience begin exposed (to the Word of God), came out one by one beginning with the eldest, till the last ones, and only Jesus and the woman was left standing there.


Each and every person, with the exception of the woman and Jesus, understood Jesus' meaning. No one wants to live in a world without grace and love. If I am a sinner and I execute you for being a sinner then I am in jeopardy of being executed for being a sinner too. It's also interesting that John tells us that they all left--starting with the eldest and working down to the youngest. Age brings wisdom while youth is often impetuous and takes more time to figure out the issues involved.



8:10 Bending up and seeing no one except the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those who accused you? Has no one condemned you?” 8:11 Then she said, “Not even one, Master.” And Jesus said to her, “Nor am I condemning you, go and stop sinning.”


Jesus always mediates the forgiveness of God. Where the scribes and Pharisees sought punishment by stoning unto death, Jesus seeks the soul of the sinner. At the time of the story the sin of each and every human will be dealt with at the Cross of Christ – just days away. From the very beginning God has offered forgiveness based upon belief through faith. This story, even if wrongly placed, teaches the very essence of God’s great gift of forgiveness and deserves its place in the Holy Scriptures.


[1] IVP New Testament Commentary, InterVarsityPress, Bible 20171106


[2] John Paul II, Homily of John Paul II, Sunday, 1 April 2001, Pastoral visit to the Roman parish of Our Lady of Suffrage and St. Augustine of Canterbury, referenced November 11, 2017