Sermons Updates

The Sinner Before Christ (John 7:53-8:11) – Mark Ottaway


Living for Eternity

The Sinner Before Christ  

John 7:53-8:11


Turn to John 8. Our passage is of the most unusual variety this morning. Some of your Bibles may indicate this for you. But let’s read it first, and then we will discuss why it is so unusual.

53 [Everyone went to his home.

1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,

4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”

6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have evidence to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.

7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.

10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go, and from now on sin no more.”]

John 7:53-8:11 (LSB)


So why is this story so unusual? We might say that we do not see any certain repentance from this woman. Or that there is no teaching from Jesus of who He is, to this woman. And what is Jesus teaching here and offering this woman, earthly, temporal forgiveness; or eternal forgiveness? Well, those are all good thoughts and questions about this passage. But what is the most unique about this story is its inclusion in the text. When Bibles were being translated and printed in the 1500s, they were translated from manuscripts that were dated around 500 AD. This means that the oldest copies they had of manuscripts of the NT were about 1,000 years old, and this is prior to the time of the King James Version, which was translated in 1611. Also understand that prior to the printing press in 1516, all manuscripts were handed down by people (scribes) writing in hand-written form. So, we know that we do have any of Paul’s copies or in this John’s original copy.


However, since that time many more ancient manuscripts have been discovered. and we now have manuscripts that were written in the 2nd C. This is truly amazing, for these are copies of the New Testament written within 100 years of the original works by John and Luke and Paul and Peter. Now what is also truly amazing about the Bible is that when those who study ancient manuscripts, they may be dealing with 2 copies, 10 copies, or 20 copies of works that may have been written around the NT times, yet the copies they have were written around 1,000 AD. But we have over 5,000 copies of parts of the New Testament. And, as we said, some of them date back to within 100 years of the New Testament. This is incredible!


Well, in these earlier manuscripts, this story is not included in the Book of John. In fact, in one manuscript it was included in the Book of Luke. The other revealing thing about the story is that the style of writing of this account is unlike the style of the rest of the Gospel of John. And in commentaries of the early church fathers, they do not include thoughts on this story, and go from John 7:52, directly to John 8:12. Why? Well, the consensus is that it simply was not there. Therefore, in most of the newer translations that have the advantage of the earlier discovered manuscripts, still include the story here in John, yet will place it in square brackets, which means that it may not have been part of the original writing of John. The story does show up in some older manuscripts, but not in common locations. So, the consensus is that it was part of the known writing of the early church fathers, but with some uncertainty about its official inclusion of the inspired Scriptures.


Now I say all this, not to place doubt in your minds about the Bible, but to make you more knowledgeable and confident in the Bible. For the number of manuscripts that have been discovered over time has confirmed over and over again the purity of Scripture. No other ancient manuscripts come anywhere near the exactness of the Bible in relation to having so many manuscripts that agree. This section in John and a section in Mark 16, are the only places where there is some doubt, and then there are at times when single words or phrases have been questioned, one we mentioned a few weeks ago. But because this story is in some older manuscripts, the uncertainty may just be of exactly where it belongs. And it does give the indication that it was a true story in the life of Jesus.


So, what am I going to do with it? I did think long and hard about not preaching on it. In fact, until last Friday that is what I had decided. But then I decided to go ahead. As I believe we can do justice to such a text if we do not try to teach a unique truth from it. But we would be safe if we only applied truths from other parts of the Bible to this passage. So, let’s pray. Father, guide our hearts this morning. Might we again learn from Your Word, as we see from this story Your character and compassion. And we ask this in the name of Christ, amen.


We see here early in this passage that many were still listening to Jesus, (vs 2) all the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and began to teach.

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,

4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”

John 8:3-5 (LSB)


Now to help clarify the words scribes and Pharisees, and by the way, I read that this is the only time that John uses the term scribes, whereas it is used a number of times in the other three gospels. Another reason, many do not think this story is part of John. But scribes were those who meticulously recorded Scripture, whereas the Pharisees were the ones who would most often teach and apply those Scriptures. It is not known how these men would have been aware of the adultery. In Jewish law, this would have been an issue of course, with both the man and woman. Some have suggested that a trap was set for this woman, as they did not really care about justice or condemning the man. But the whole thing was to try to trap or test Jesus. This was so common in the gospels. So, we see in these men from the get-go:


  1. The Cruelty of These Men (vs 3-5)


In other words, if you had done something wrong, these are not the guys you would want to have to deal with it. Here was their basis for bringing the woman to Jesus:

“If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.”

Deut 22:22 (LSB)


So, according to the Law, they were right. Though there is no mention of the man, as there is no such thing as adultery with only one guilty person. It possibly could be that by this time in Jewish culture, the man would be given more grace than the woman, uncertain. And I do find it interesting that these men say they caught her in the very act. So, the man must have been right there. Well, I want to address these men again in a moment, but I also want to focus on the woman as we notice:


  1. The Plight of This Woman (vs 3)


This woman was obviously being used to bring a public test before Jesus, and she finds herself in this horrible situation. For this is not discretely asking Jesus what should be done in a certain situation. They are not looking for help or guidance to make sure they proceed with this difficult situation well or rightly. And here she is thrown in front of Jesus before all these people. This is a far cry from what Jesus taught as discipline. That a person would first be confronted by the one who is aware of the sin. And if the person did not repent, it would then be brought before the elders. And again, if there was no repentance, it would then be brought before the church. And this would all be done in an effort to restore the sinner, yet restoration seems to be far from the minds of these cruel men. Now, after saying this we can, in the way, be made to feel sorry for this woman. And I believe by the way it is written, we should. But we also need to be aware that she committed a great sin. For if we lower the sin, we dishonor the great forgiveness of Christ. The Bible does not teach: don’t worry about your sin; no, the Bible teaches that our sin is great, but God offers forgiveness. So, let’s consider:


  1. The Sin of This Woman (vs 4)


If this story is located in the Gospel of John at this time, there is a festival going from John 7. We have festivals and holidays today. We enjoy times such as Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. There are other holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and July 1st. Holidays are great and we often enjoy them with friends and family. But for many, holidays also can mean for many, unrestricted behaviour, what the Bible might refer to as riotous living. Paul wrote to the Galatians:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Gal 5:19-21 (LSB)


We might see that on TV or in videos. It might be portrayed in parades and even at sporting events. Many of these things mentioned here by Paul, may happen in our society on holidays or weekends, where people may let loose and do things they would normally not do. And their actions are justified because they are only done at certain times or on certain holidays. Where sometimes our behaviour can be placed in certain boxes. People may think that it is okay to get drunk as long as you don’t get behind a wheel. In other words, you can live this part of your life recklessly, as long as you don’t drive recklessly. I remember as a young guy camping with a group of families from our church on Labour Day weekend, a holiday, at Turkey Point. And across from our section was a group of young people camping as well, who were, unfortunately, drinking for most of the night. I remember in the morning there was a young girl with this group, around 17 or 18, sitting on a picnic table alone, and she was sobbing. And a few of the folks from our church went to talk with her. And the gist was that she had been with some boy during the night and did some things she would not normally do.


I know most of us have likely worked with many, that would view weekends as a cause for people to do acts of shame and sin. And I am sure that some of you teens know of students in your schools, who might talk or brag about the time they had on the weekend. Drinking binges at universities, even when reported on the news, are really smiled about and laughed upon, unless someone has died in a car accident or something. No one really wants to suggest (as with many other sins) that this kind of action is so wrong and so unwise. Sometimes you might get invited to some party where you are told this will not be so bad, and after getting there, you realize this was not so good. And much of what people get involved with, at the time, seems like a blast. I did this or that, I was with this girl or that guy. And the worse it was, the more reason to brag about it. But in reality, these actions bring only regret and sadness after the fact. And this may have been part of the plight of this woman celebrating during this Jewish holiday. So, may we never downplay the sin of this woman. For then we downplay God’s Law and downplay the mercy shown to her by Christ.


And we can never get our direction from the world or the culture. For our human tendency is to dismiss the things we want or justify something we have done. Because if we go out and do something that is sinful and wrong, any of us can soon justify it by comparing ourselves with others, or find someone who believes that what we did was okay. But none of that matters because we have sinned. I dare say that most who have wondered away in sin, eventually justified their actions all the way along. The sin of this woman.


  1. The Hypocrisy of These Men (vs 3-6)


Verse 4, “they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.’” It is hard to miss the hypocrisy of these men, as they come before Jesus with such a condemning attitude. Alistair Begg said that this is what religion can look like without mercy. He said, “What a tragic thing to be so religious. and yet have not love and mercy.” These men come to Christ with an attitude of condemnation, not wanting to be faithful to the command of God, but to play out the hatred that was in their own hearts. Jesus said in Matt 5:28:

“[B]ut I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matt 5:28 (LSB)


John MacArthur says here that if these men really believed and understood the spirit of God’s Law, they would have started to execute each other, for the lust that was part of their own lives. Well, next we see:


  1. The Discernment of Christ (vs 6-8)


In front of the crowds they ask Jesus the question, “What would You do?” How would Jesus respond? For how does God respond to sin? Isaiah 43:25 says:

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

Isa 43:25 (LSB)


This is because God is kind and loving and merciful and forgiving. Of course, this is what God does, for this is the character of God. Then God says to Israel in Amos 3:2:

“Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

Amos 2:3b (LSB)


This is because God is just and right and He is the Judge of all the earth. So, what is it? How does Jesus respond? MacArthur says that these men had Jesus in an all-time dilemma. So how would Jesus harmonize the justice of God with the mercy of God? For if God is a God of judgment and justice, this woman must die. Yet if He is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, this woman must live. So, how can you ever harmonize these two things? There is some suspense in this story, isn’t there? For Jesus stoops down and writes something on the ground. Then says to them, that whoever is without sin to cast the first stone. And then writes on the ground again. The Pharisees said, “What then do You say Jesus?” (kneel and write) Not a lot said. Jesus must have known that not a lot needed to be said. Not sure what Jesus wrote, if anything. Just created a lot of suspense. Not sure I would have wanted to be the woman at the beginning of the story. Not sure I would have wanted to be these guys at the end of the story.


  1. The Hardness of These Men (vs 9)


In His discernment, Christ sees the heart of these men, as His response rebukes them for their hardness. We do need to ask the question here because it sort of comes up in the story. Is it required that someone would be sinless to be able to judge sin? Or to even punish someone? For Jesus had said that only the one who was without sin could cast the first stone. I mean, could not our kids say this to us? I don’t know if you spank your children. But if your kids had done something wrong could they not say to you, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first smack on the rear end.” I think we would say that this passage cannot be teaching that sinlessness is required to be able to ever rebuke or punish another. For what Jesus seems to sense here is a hardness of heart, not a true desire in love to rebuke someone of sin. John Calvin wrote this:

“No man, therefore, shall be prevented by his own sins, from correcting the sins of others, and even from punishing them when it may be found necessary, provided that both in himself and in others, he hate what ought to be condemned. And in addition to all this, every man ought to begin by interrogating his own conscience and by acting both as witness and judge against himself before he comes to others. In this manner shall we without hating men make war with sin.”

John Calvin


The teaching of the Bible is that a person must always be careful that his conscience is clean before God. That he has allowed the truth of God’s Word to dig deep into his own heart first, in order that he might have the proper heart to discern the sins of others. But also notice verse 9:

“When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.”

John 8:9 (LSB)


What is this response by the men? Some have speculated that the older men left first because they had sinned more, or that they had a little more sense to realize that they were not winning this argument with Christ. Admittedly, it is hard to know. It would seem to me that these men leave angrier and more bitter than convicted, as there is no care extended to the woman, as they seem okay to leave this woman without helping her. For it is often the times when we might be confronted with something, a time when we have been rebuked that tends to show our true colours. I am sure that some of these religious leaders had heard Jesus say on occasion, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” But there is no humble coming for these guys. We can read this story and give credit for these guys leaving, that what they did was honourable. But it would seem to me to be more of a revelation of a hard heart. What is your reaction to a rebuke from the Bible, or from someone? Is it anger, bitterness; or is it a humble spirit? Finally:


  1. The Mercy of the Saviour (vs 10-11)


We do not know the rest of the story, whether this is an eternal condition for this woman, that she came to know and trust in Christ for forgiveness. Or was Jesus not condemning her sin of adultery, as He asked the Lord to forgive those who crucified Him. Many of which would have never received eternal forgiveness, as they never became followers and disciples of Christ. But this story does not need to teach us everything, for there is much teaching in the Bible about receiving Christ as Saviour and Lord and to be forgiven eternally by God. So, what can we learn about the mercy shown here by Christ toward this woman? The story does not tell us the response of the crowd towards the end of this event. Sure, the religious leaders who had brought up this accusation had left, but were there still a crowd of people around? We are not sure.

“When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.

John 8:9 (LSB)


It would almost appear that it is just Jesus and this woman alone at the centre of the court at the temple, and here she stands by herself and awaits a response from God. Where would you want to be after committing a great sin? Alone, in front of Jesus? In front of the Judge of all the earth? Let’s pray. Lord, we learn from this story that our destiny is in Your hands. You are the One who will decide. That someday each of us will stand before Christ. So, may we live understanding this. Amen.


When I get to heaven, I will want to ask John, “Was the story of the adulterous woman, was that yours?” We had asked this question earlier: so how can you ever harmonize these two things? For if God is a God of judgment and justice, she must die. Yet if He is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, she must live. So, here we have a sinner standing before Christ. She has been greatly judged by these religious leaders who are sinful themselves. And now she must be judged by the One who is perfect. There must have been some great anxiety within her to see how Jesus would respond. Would the fact that Jesus was sinless, give Him every right to cast the first stone? It would seem so from the story. We cannot create a lot of theology from this story. For it cannot teach us everything about God, nor can it disagree with the rest of the Scriptures.


So, I want to look at the story simply and consider the response that Jesus gives. I believe we likely picture this woman on the ground, or at the least standing with her head bowed before Christ. Interesting that this woman in these twelve verses says only three words. Verse 10, after Jesus says, “Did no one condemn you?” She says, “No one, Lord.” She gives no defense for her actions. There is not even any blame placed on these religious leaders. No complaint, what about the man? As we picture her, with her head bowed before Christ. This is what we see in much of the Bible. That yes, God will judge, God will judge rightly, and all of us are accountable before God, and we deserve only punishment for our sin. But if:

“My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, then I will listen from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land”

2 Chr 7:14 (LSB)


We cannot answer every question from this story, but it does teach us much about the heart of God, “I do not condemn you.” You know, we may question at times why God would allow certain things in our world. But here is a question, “Why would God forgive this woman?” For He had created her, He gave her a conscience to know that her actions were wrong, and yet she chooses freely to sin against her Creator. Yet He does not condemn her. I know of many things in my own life, that I need to hear the words of Jesus, “I do not condemn you,” when I deserved condemnation.


My understanding of this story is that this woman does come to Christ. That she does believe in Him and therefore will follow Him. So, Jesus would do so much more than this for her. For she would not be punished for her sin, yet her sin does not go unpunished. As there would be bitter agony experienced because of her sin, as Jesus knew that someday He would die on a cross for her adultery. For this woman’s sin would not go unpunished, for He would die for every sin she ever committed. Paul told the Galatians that Christ gave Himself for our sins. Why would God do this?


It would seem that God is interested in sinners. Those who realize their sinfulness. This is why He would say, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I believe this woman knew she was lost, and Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost, not the millions who do not think they need a Saviour.

1 Out of the depths I called to You, O Yahweh.

2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my


3 If You should keep iniquities, O Yah, O Lord, who could stand?

4 But with You there is forgiveness, That You may be feared.

Ps 130:1-4 (LSB)


Charles Spurgeon said:

“Do not, therefore, think that when you have sinned, you are shut out from the Savior. Nay, but there is ‘a fountain … open to cleanse … from sin and impurity.’”

Charles Spurgeon


Let’s pray. Lord, we see here the compassion and forgiveness of our Saviour, as this is Your right, not Your obligation. So, we praise You this morning for Your invitation to come. To come to You with the same heart as this woman. And all God’s people said, amen.