Let He Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone?


In John 8:1-11, we read the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery, and she was brought before Jesus teaching in the temple. The Pharisees said, “Teacher, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him. If He said, “Let her go,” he’d be ignoring the law of Moses. But if He said, “Stone her,” he’d be going against Rome and that would get him in trouble with the Romans. Jesus responded by writing on the ground with his finger.

When they continued to press Him, He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Upon hearing this, the Pharisees left, and Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And He said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”

This story is commonly used to say no one is without sin, therefore no one has any right to judge. But Jesus said just a few verses before to judge with right judgment (John 7:24). When Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin be the first to cast the stone,” He was saying, “Which one among you is the dude she had adultery with?” Was he without sin? According to Leviticus 20:10, he’s supposed to be stoned with her.

Having been exposed that they were ignorant of the law, the Pharisees high-tailed it out of there. Jesus, the author of the Law (represented by Him writing on the ground with His finger, just as He wrote the Law with His own hand at Mt. Sinai), forgave the woman and told her not to sin anymore.

However, there’s a problem with this story. John didn’t write it, and your Bible will tell you that — John 7:53 through 8:11 didn’t appear in any of the earliest manuscripts. This section is known as the pericope adulterae. In some textual variants, it’s found after John 21:25, and in other places it comes after Luke 21:38 or 24:53.

It’s a nice story, but it has no original authorship, and doesn’t belong in the Bible. The greatest story of love and forgiveness is found at the cross of Christ, when we understand the text.

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