Excursus: The Woman Taken in Adultery (7:53-8:11)
8:1 The Mount of Olives is one of Jesus’ favorite places. Besides this verse, it is not mentioned in this Gospel though it is in all other three.
8:2 “Came” and “taught” are in continuous tense meaning people kept coming to Jesus.
8:3 “Scribes and Pharisees” is a term found often in the Synoptic Gospels but never elsewhere in John. Scribes (teachers of the Law) could also be Pharisees. It was the scribes who worked out all the rules and regulations and it was the Pharisees who devoted their lives to the keeping of them.
The adulterous man was not present. Apparently, the accusers had some special vindictiveness toward her alone.
8:4 The woman’s guilt is certain.
8:5 The Law of Moses specifically provides for the death penalty in such cases (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22). However, the accusers bent the law by pointing to “such women” but the law says that both the man and the woman are to be put to death. The law does not specify the manner of execution but stoning is prescribed for the guilty pair when the woman is “a virgin pledged to be married.”
The questions was: the law is plain; now what do you say? (“you” is emphatic)
Jesus faced a charge under either Roman law or the law of Moses. If He said “Stone her,” then He would lay Himself open to the chrage of counselling action contrary to Roman law which did not provide for a death penalty with such cases. If He said “Do not stone her,” he could be charged with offending against the law of Moses.
Another explanation is that a verdict for stoning would have set those who favoured leniency against Him, while one against stoning would leave Him out of favour with the legalists.
8:6 They were not really seeking guidance but were testing Him. Jesus simply stooped and made marks in the dust. The verb used can mean “to draw” but more naturally mean “to write”. It is possible that He wrote the words He later spoke. In other words, He wrote His sentence as well as pronounced it. In Roman law, the judge first wrote down the sentence and then read it aloud from the written record. Some commentators believe that He wrote some words from the law (thus showing on what He would rely on for His decision) or maybe something like Ex 23:1: “Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.”
8:7 The crowd pressed the question. Jesus then stood up and invited any one among them who was sinless (meaning general sinfulness) to throw the first stone (normally the witnesses were to initiate a stoning, Dt 17:7). Jesus insisted upon the innocency and therefore the competence of whoever stood forth against her as accuser and witness. For anyone to take part in a stoning on the basis of such evidence would be to incur the guilt of “joining with the wicked.” If they stoned the woman, they must be very sure of the witnesses.
8:9 The verb “left” is in continuous tense indicating something like a procession. The exodus began with the elders. If the witness was false, or not legally valid, and the woman was killed, the oldest men present would have a major share of the responsibility.
8:11 The command implies a ceasing to continue an action already started: “Stop your sinful habit.” “No more” points to the thought of no return. Jesus showed mercy and called the woman to righteousness.