The Jewish law given through Moses was unmistakably clear: If you sleep with someone who is not your spouse, otherwise known as adultery, both the man and woman must be put to death (see Leviticus 20:10). 

So, when the teachers of the law brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus (see John 8:1-11), they expected Him to do one of two things: Have the woman stoned or set her free. 

The former would’ve shown them that Jesus was a liar, since He’d preached about mercy and forgiveness. The latter would’ve proven that Jesus was a law-breaker. 

Either way, they had Him.

So, Jesus did the logical thing. 

He squatted down and wrote in the dirt. 

“Go Now”

What Jesus wrote, no one knows. But when He stood up, Jesus challenged all the woman’s accusers, saying, in effect, “OK. Stone this lady, if you must keep the letter of the law. The sinless man among you can pick up the initial rock. Who wants to go first?” 

That shut them up and emptied the place out. After Jesus finished His succinct sermon, He bent down to write in the dirt again. One by one, starting with the oldest (and wisest, perhaps), the men walked away. 

When Jesus looked up, only the woman remained. And He—the sinless Son of God and the only one legally qualified to throw stones—said to her, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). 

Not-So-Great Expectations

I love how Jesus turns people’s expectations inside out.

To the lawyers who thought Jesus would fall for their trick question, He shocked them when He uncovered their hypocrisy. 

To the woman standing before Him in shame and fear, expecting a sure death sentence, Jesus showed kindness. He even allowed the woman a bit of dignity. 

After Jesus briefly looked up to confront her accusers, He stared at the ground again until all the men left. In the worst moment of this bad girl’s life, Jesus showed what kind of Man—and God—He was. Wise. Full of love. Merciful. 

What About Us?

To all of us who know we’ve sinned, the Bible says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17 New American Standard Bible). No one will ever love you the way Jesus loves you. By surprising you with His forgiveness and by offering you the opportunity to live a new life. 

Because God’s forgiveness is not a licence for a sinful future. It’s a release from our sinful past.

Before making Jesus the Lord of our lives, we’ve all been bad girls or bad boys. His words to this woman—“Go now and leave your life of sin”—still speak today. They give us hope. We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, leave our sin behind and lead successful, productive lives that honour God. No wonder this is my favourite Bible story. 

All About the Adulterous Woman

Read John 8:1-11

• Who: A nameless Jew

• When: Between 30-31 AD

• Where: In the temple at Jerusalem

Illustration: The Doré Bible Illustrations (New York: Dover Publications, 1974).

Leave a Comment