In this second reflection on the radical way that Jesus related to women I want to explore the encounte r between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. In this passage the teachers of the law and the Pharisees wanted to set a trap for Jesus, so they bring before him a woman caught in adultery. The teachers of the law allege, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” (v5) They then ask Jesus what he says they should do to the woman. If Jesus refuses to say that the woman should be stoned then this would support the Pharisees’ and teachers of the law’s suspicions that Jesus was a heretic and that he rejected God’s laws. However, if Jesus agrees that the woman should be stoned then this would have damaged his reputation in the eyes of the ordinary people for being compassionate towards those on the margins of society. This is certainly a clever trap that they have set for Jesus. How will he respond?
Before we look at Jesus’ response, let’s first consider what this incident reveals about the attitude of the Pharisees and teachers of the law towards the woman caught in adultery. The statement made by the teachers of the law’s that the woman should be stoned is probably an interpretation of the law given in Deuteronomy 22:22
“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
Whilst Deuteronomy does not prescribe how the person must be put to death, the law is clear that adultery is seen as a capital offence. One glaring inconsistency though between this law in Deuteronomy and the scene that Jesus is presented with is the lack of punishment for the man involved in the incident. If the woman was caught in the act of adultery, then where was the man with whom she was caught? The law clearly states that both the man and the woman deserve death, not just the woman. Whilst the teachers of the law and Pharisees are primarily focused on using this woman to trap Jesus, this incident certainly reveals a lot about their view of women. By only bringing the woman, they reveal their male chauvinism. They blame her alone for the sin of adultery rather than seeing her as one of two people guilty of the sin. In Jewish culture, because sexual purity was highly regarded, women were kept away from the public view of men so that the men would be protected from lust and a woman’s sexual purity would therefore be guarded. This led to the view that men could not be held responsible for their behaviour, but that it was the woman’s fault for causing them to lust. A woman is therefore seen more as an object for the purposes of sex and being a wife and mother rather than as a person made in God’s image. As they bring this woman to see Jesus there is no concern for her as a person. They humiliate her by standing her in front of the crowd and talking about her to Jesus, almost as if she were not there.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and teachers of the law and then to the woman herself shows a striking difference in attitude towards women. Jesus’ response to the trap that he had been set shows incredible wisdom. The law about stoning the person caught in adultery required the witnesses of the sin to initiate the stoning. Such a witness must have “neither connived in any way in the sin, nor been backward in trying to prevent it” (Milne 1998:125). Since this was a trap, it was likely that the witnesses were involved in framing the woman. By saying “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” (v7) Jesus both shows that God’s law is to be upheld and that it must be done in a
consistent way. By only condemning the woman the accusers were certainly not doing that. One by one the accusers then slipped away until only Jesus and the woman were left.
Jesus now turns and addresses the woman directly, which in itself would have been radical. He asks her “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”(v10) and when she replies that no one has condemned her Jesus responds amazingly with the words “Then neither do I condemn you” (v11). The only person truly able to condemn her because he himself was without sin chooses not to condemn her. In this very short dialogue between Jesus and this woman we see such a contrasting view of women to that of her accusers. By addressing her directly Jesus gives the woman worth as a human being. He sees her as a person in her own right not just an object. He shows her compassion and mercy in a situation where she rightfully deserved God’s judgment. Notice however, that although Jesus doesn’t condemn the woman for her sin, neither does he condone her sin. Having declared that he does not condemn her, he tells her to go on her way and to leave her life of sin. This reveals yet another radical way in which Jesus treated women. He treated women as responsible people. Women, like men, are all responsible for their own sin and need their sins forgiving. Jesus called women as well as men to come to him for the forgiveness of their sins.
So, what does this mean for us? As you reflect on this passage perhaps you could think about the following questions:
- How might you relate to the woman in the passage?
- What does Jesus want to say to you through this passage today?
- How might we use this passage to help other women understand how Jesus views them?