I know that the authority of the story of Jesus and the adulteress is not well established, but I’ve read it is the view of New Testament scholars that the event probably happened. I always have a hard time reading this passage though, because, although Jesus was sent to proclaim grace, didn’t He break the OT law when He failed to stone the woman? Or was the Mosaic already made obsolete by then, so that Jesus could remain sinless while breaking the Mosaic Law?
The passage in view has a few observations that need to be understood within its immediate context and the overall context of the gospel of John.
In view of these observations, Jesus’ reply in verse 7 accomplished several things:
In the context of the gospel of John, we understand that Jesus is the very same YHWH God who gave the Old Testament Law to the people of Israel and that this immortal, eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14). He came to reveal the grace and truth that was present in the Law of Moses in a complete way to man.
The Mosaic Law (in this context, we refer to the 10 commandments) was never and will never be obsolete, as it will always serve to reveal the holiness of God and His unwavering standards. In other words, if there was anyone in this passage who could’ve stoned the woman, it would have been Jesus.
With all this in view, if Jesus had stoned only the woman, He would have been guilty of breaking the Law, because everyone else there was equally culpable in the eyes of God who gave the Law. He would have had to kill everyone there for perfect justice to happen. But we see Jesus who came to fulfil all righteousness so that sinners could be justified before God. Thus, there is no question of Jesus breaking the Law.
There are two questions we can find answers for in the teaching of this passage.
The first is: how could Jesus let go of the woman, the man and every other character in the passage?
He could do so without giving them all a death penalty because, in a few chapters from then, He would give His life as a ransom for many and bear their sins as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world because He fulfilled their righteousness. Jesus being God would not leave sin unaddressed. He condemned sin, but He chose to take the punishment on Himself by dying for us. He took our punishment so that we could receive grace upon grace. Jesus’s demonstration of grace was not at the expense of justice.
The other question is: how do we explain the grace shown to the woman in the story? The woman received forgiveness instead of condemnation. She went on in life, urged by the Lord to repent and run away from her lifestyle of sin and embrace a walk with God. Grace teaches us to renounce all ungodliness and filth and please God.
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