The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet -- By: Charles P. Baylis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 146:582 (Apr 1989)
Article: The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet
Author: Charles P. Baylis

The Woman Caught in Adultery:
A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet

Charles P. Baylis

Lake Ridge Bible Church, Mesquite, Texas


The story of the woman caught in adultery, recorded in John 7:53–8:11, and especially Jesus’ words, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7), have been used in various ways: to justify lenience in criminal cases, to oppose capital punishment, to argue against church discipline, and to relax moral standards. While all would agree that no story in the Bible can be fully understood apart from its contextual setting, this one is rarely taught with an understanding of the surrounding context. Those who advocate the applications mentioned above seldom attempt to understand the story in the light of its context.

In fact problems with the interpretation of this passage have been present from its beginning. Its omission from early Greek manuscripts may have been based on the impression that Christ was too easy on adultery. Some have thought that some church fathers did not refer to it since they were fearful of encouraging the committing of the crime.1

The Textual Problem

One reason this story is not studied in its context is the question of whether it was part of the original manuscript of the

Gospel of John. This writer believes it is the Word of God, and is an inseparable part of the context of John 7–8. The textual evidence has been treated by many scholars and will not be repeated here.2 However, when a passage fits so well into the surrounding context as does this one, considerable weight must be given to its inclusion in the text.

The Problem of the Message

If Jesus argued that one needed to be perfect to judge anyone guilty of a crime, then He overruled what Moses had said, and He was not the Prophet about whom Moses spoke (Deut 18:15). The purpose of the Pharisees was to show that Jesus would contradict Moses. If Jesus said that one could not enforce Moses’ command concerning adultery, then He did exactly as the Pharisees had expected. Why then did they leave and not protest the contradiction? Moses had never stated that a man needed to be perfect to judge adultery or murder or any other crime. In fact God had commanded that adultery be prosecuted (Deut 22:23–24

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