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Sin (9) Accused Woman

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Some Christians quote John’s account of the woman accused of adultery. This story is often referred to as the Woman taken in Adultery. But there is no evidence that the woman was guilty of adultery. It should be more correctly be called the Woman Accused of Adultery.

Jesus talked to the woman with love and respect, but it is not clear that he hated her sin. He specifically said that he was not condemning her.

I do not condemn you, either (John 8:11a).

This is a very strong statement, so we must be careful that we don’t condemn her with our interpretation of the biblical text. Most commentaries on the passage assume that she was a sinner, so in effect, they do condemn her. (I explain what Jesus wrote on the ground in Dust.)(I explain what Jesus wrote on the ground in Dust) Jesus did not say, “Go and sin no more”, as is translated in most English bibles. He actually said something more complicated.

Go, and from now on, no longer be sinning (John 8:11).

This is quite a hesitant statement compared to the first half of the verse. It does not indicate a clear judgment of her behaviour.

Jesus’ statement tells her what she must do “from now on”. His only comment about the past was that he did not condemn her. He did not say that God hates her sin. He just says that she should be no longer be sinning. His instruction was directed towards the future. Clearly, she needed to make some changes in her life. She needs to stop failing and missing the mark. He was not dumping all the baggage carried by our word sin onto her (including the shame and sin).

Jesus did not say what sin she should avoid. If we assume that it was sexual sin, we are reading into Jesus’ comment. I suspect that he was really saying something like.

Go and get some clothes on before you get accused of something else.

I presume that his comment was quite general.

Go and get your life sorted out, so you don’t get into a pickle like this again.

Much significant information is missing from John’s account If the incident. We don’t know if what the accusers said was true. If we accept their claims as true, we have already condemned the woman; something that Jesus does not do.

John does not explain the situation the woman was in. We don’t know if she was married or single. We don’t know if she was a prostitute paid by the male adulterer, or if she was a vulnerable woman seduced or by the male adulterer, but this information would make a big difference to our judgment.

The woman’s accusers declared that she had been caught in adultery. However, the word translated caught (katalambano) can also mean “seized”. This could describe her being caught, but another possibility is that the male adulterer had seized her and forced her into a compromised situation. (They might have just grabbed her off the street to trap Jesus). If we assume that we know what type of women she was, we have probably condemned her, something Jesus was unwilling to do.

The accusers say nothing about the man who was caught with the woman. Since they had caught the woman in the act, he must have been caught in the act too. However, he was not there, so we can presume that he scarpered to avoid embarrassment and shame. Because they were trying to trap Jesus, it is possible the men who had come across them had deliberately allowed him to escape.

We can assume that the man was married, so he was the one who should have been judged. The fact that he had disappeared tells us something about what kind of man he was. He escaped to preserve his reputation while leaving the woman to face the music. Given the uncertainty about who was most guilty in this situation, there is no basis for concluding that Jesus hated the woman sin. I presume he was more upset about the man who committed adultery and disappeared to avoid shame.


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