The modern Western church often portrays Jesus as the quintessential New Man; exalting women over men, downplaying female sexual transgressions and generally white-knighting His way around the holy land. This idea rests on a few passages in the Gospels: the sinful woman in Luke 7; the woman at the well in John 4; and the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Dealing with all of these would take me an age, so -- and by way of an answer to phoenix's question -- I shall focus on the last one, which is the one which the church gynolaters cite most frequently, and with which they do the most damage. ...And which is the least straightforward of the three to unpack.
It's a short account -- only nine verses -- but there's quite a lot in it. You can read it here.
The popular conception of what occurs in this account is that Jesus the Great White Knight rides to the rescue of a woman caught in adultery and waives the charges against her, throwing out the nasty old Law that God gave Moses. And sadly it is the church itself which has spread this error.
But think about it. Jesus came to live a perfect life -- to keep the Law perfectly -- so that in fulfilling the Law, He could offer up His perfectly righteous life as a ransom for the unrighteous lives of those who choose to follow Him. Jesus therefore could not break the Law, much less simply throw it out. The religious authorities knew this and knew His claims -- they were watching him like hawks to see whether He "walked the walk", and moreover, were always trying to catch Him out.
And the incident described in John 8 was one such attempt to discredit Him. The episode with the adulterous woman was not about the woman: it was all about Jesus. We're told in the account
They thought they had Him between a rock and a hard place. At that time, the Jews in Israel were under the rule of Rome, and were not permitted to carry out their own judicial executions -- Rome had to do it (which is why the Jewish religious authorities had to get the Roman authorities to do their dirty work of crucifying Jesus Christ). Hence, those who brought this adulteress before Jesus thought that they had him trapped between keeping the Law of Moses and obeying the law of the land -- if He were to disregard the former, He would be forever discredited as a rabbi (and certainly as the Messiah); if He were to disregard the latter, then He could be handed over to the Romans as a troublemaker. Either way, He'd be out of their hair.John 8:3-6a (KJV) wrote: And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.
So, what did Jesus do?
This is one of Jesus' most misinterpreted statements in the whole New Testament. The common misconception is that Jesus is saying that only those who are morally perfect can execute a judicial sentence or punish someone. Think about that for a moment. If that were the case, then since no-one is morally perfect, all criminals would have to go free; all law would be effectively toothless and people could do evil with impunity; parents could not even discipline their own children. It is a recipe for lawless anarchy, something which is seen as evil throughout Scripture. More significantly, it would contradict the Law God gave to Israel, since He commands them to carry out certain punishments.John 8:6b-8 (KJV) wrote: But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
Those who have thought more deeply about this may say that the sin to which Jesus refers is itself the sin of adultery -- that anyone who was about to stone this adulteress would have to be clear of the sin of adultery themselves. ...Which is perfectly reasonable, of course, and it may have been the case that these men were all guilty of adultery themselves: in the society of Jesus' day men often treated women poorly, and it was very common for men to divorce their wives frivolously (rather than the other way round, as in our society). However, the text doesn't tell us that they were adulterers, so this is a conjecture.
The text also doesn't tell us what Jesus wrote on the ground, itself the subject of much conjecture. Many have suggested that it was a list of sins of the men present, pointing to the fact that the men were convicted in their conscience. ...But the text says that they continued to ask Jesus whilst He was writing these things down, rather than being stopped in their tracks and quickly filtering away mortified. Ultimately we don't know for sure what it was that He wrote. However, an idea suggests itself, given the circumstances.
Jesus is being asked to act as judge in a legal case. And so, what does any good judge do? He clarifies the law pertaining to the case brought before him. When tested by Satan, Jesus repeatedly used the expression, "it is written", pointing Satan back to the Law. So what could it be that is written on the ground during this trial? It's hardly a stretch to think that Jesus, called to act as judge would have written out the relevant portion of the Law.
...But irrespective of whether He wrote the Law down or not, He had to keep it. So what was the Law as it pertained to this case? Let's see.
First, some general principles God gave for handling legal trials...
And, as regarding cases pertaining to capital crimes:Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV) wrote: One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
So, we need two or three witnesses. And the witnesses must cast the first stone.Deuteronomy 17:6-7 (NIV) wrote: On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.
Now to the Law dealing with this specific crime:
Reiterated later as...Leviticus 20:10 (NIV) wrote: If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
Notice anything? Have this group of men actually followed this Law? Or have they, in their haste to trap Jesus, overlooked what exactly they were supposed to do? If they were concerned with justice, rather than with trying to catch Jesus out, they would have followed the Law and brought the man along, too. The witnesses to the act would have seen who the man was -- and yet they've let him go. Why? And what does the Law say about this?Deuteronomy 22:22 (NIV) wrote: 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.
So this legal case has clearly not been brought in accordance with the Law; the plaintiffs are themselves corrupt -- as the judge (i.e. Jesus) well knows. As their own guilt becomes apparent, they are convicted in their conscience and begin to walk away -- first the older ones (who would have been more familiar with the Law), and then the younger.Deuteronomy 16:19 (NIV) wrote: Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.
John 8:9 (KJV) wrote: And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
So the case against the woman has effectively collapsed, with the prosecution giving up and leaving the courtroom. The defendant and judge are now alone. The judge speaks to the defendant...
The defendant replies.John 8:10 (KJV) wrote: When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
And so the judge sums up.John 8:11a (KJV) wrote: She said, No man, Lord.
Jesus does not condemn her because He cannot lawfully condemn her -- there is no case to answer because there are no witnesses. At this point, the Law itself demanded her release. Had Jesus condemned her to death, then He would have broken the Law. By keeping the Law, He has defeated those who tried to entrap Him, and in the process, has spared this woman her life.John 8:11b (KJV) wrote: And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
...But that says absolutely nothing about her guilt. It simply means that the case brought against her was a fiasco.
And what are Jesus' parting words to the woman? "Your sins are forgiven you?" No. "Your faith has saved you, go in peace?" No. They are a straight rebuke. "Go, and sin no more." (The NIV renders "sin no more" as "leave your life of sin".) ...And both He and she knows the sin to which He is referring here. He knows exactly what she is. But He will not break the Law in order to condemn her to the punishment she deserves.
And that is it. The passage is simply an illustration of how Jesus kept God's Law. Perfectly.
Sadly, the churches fail to teach this (largely because the churches ignore the Old Testament and therefore the foundations of Jesus' teaching). I've even seen Muslims offer a better analysis of this passage than most Christians.
...A long post, to be sure, but much needed since the misinterpretation of the first part of John 8 is the cornerstone of the gynolatrous Jesus-as-white-knight movement which has done so much damage in the church, alienating so many men from God.
Anyway, to phoenix and the Christian HBs out there, I hope this has been useful...