John 7:53-8:11 – Jesus and the woman caught in adultery


John 7:53-8:11


The famous story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery appears in John 7:53-8:11. In the surrounding context in the gospel, the Jewish leaders have been disturbed by the way Jesus taught and acted in ways that seemed contrary to their understanding of the law.


So in 7:58–8:11 Jesus is confronted with a situation in which the verdict would seem to be self-evident. The woman was caught in the act of committing adultery, and the law clearly says that the punishment for adultery is death (Leviticus 20:10). So the Jewish leaders want to see whether Jesus will uphold the law in this case.

Yet the literary context also warns that people are not to judge by appearances (John 7:24), and in this episode there is more going on than what initially meets the eye. The evidence actually works against the woman’s accusers. Note that the woman was caught in the act, which means that the man also must have been present, and the law is quite clear that in a case of adultery both people are to be put to death–the man as well as the woman (Leviticus 20:10). The accusers are guilty of ignoring the clear statutes in the law. When Jesus asks the person who is without sin to cast the first stone, no one responds. The accusers are guilty of a travesty of justice. They have violated the law by condemning the woman’s sin while letting the other guilty party go free.

This story does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. Footnotes in many modern translations note that the story is missing from many manuscripts, while others insert it after John 7:36 or after 21:25 or even after Luke 21:38. The story seems to have circulated for some time before it was included in the written gospels. Nevertheless, it is possible that the story preserves an early tradition about Jesus, which circulated in oral form.