Sin no more
53 They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Our heavenly Father,
We continue to pray for our nation in these tumultuous times.
Lord, may we look to you as our rock and salvation.
Lord, may we not be burdened by this election cycle, but may we be focused on you.
Lord, regardless of what happens, may we continue to pray for revival around the world, in our nation, and in our community.
May we reach people with the love of Christ and with your gospel.
May that be a burden on our hearts.
May we be dawn to you and greater holiness. May we be sanctified by you and have greater love for you and for your people.
Lord, I also pray for our community as we’ve seen increases in Covid cases recent weeks.
Lord, by your grace, we have never had significant issues with Covid in this church. We praise you for that. Lord, we continue to ask for your protection. Lord, may we exercise wisdom in our decisions.
For people who are infected with this virus, we pray for them and their recovery.
Lord, we also pray for our medical care providers who have spent months on the front lines battling Covid. We pray for them and for their safety.
Lord, we ask that you bless our time in your word this morning. May our hearts and minds be focused on you, your Word, and on worshipping you, our great God.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Your Bible probably has brackets around this section with a note that says something to the effect that this passage was not part of the earliest manuscripts.
There’s a lot that could be said about this subject but I wanted to begin this morning by giving a few notes on how we got our Bibles and why we can trust our Bibles.
The printing press was invented in the year 1440.
So you have a gap of more than 1,400 years between the time of Christ and the invention of the printing press where there is one – and only one – way to copy a text. You had to write it out by hand.
Now in the couple of generations after Jesus died, you had the books of the New Testament written.
And they were copied. And the copies were copied.
Thousands of fragments and copies of the New Testament from ancient times. The earliest pieces we have are verses from books, not entire books.
Now for the scribes who did the copying, we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. They had an incredibly tedious job.
But the scribes were just men and they were not perfect. And so sometimes mistakes were made.
The encouraging fact is that the vast majority of scribal variations – or variants – is that they’re over minor issues. Maybe there’s a switch where they say Jesus Christ when it should have been Christ Jesus. Greek uses the word “the” a lot, maybe they accidentally added or omitted a usage of that. Maybe they forgot a word. Maybe they spelled a word differently.
None of those changes make significant differences in the meaning of a text.
And the good news is that there are no major doctrines of the Christian faith which are seriously called into question due to manuscript variations.
That should be an encouragement to the trustworthiness of the Bibles that we read.
We have this long scribal tradition of people who took the work very seriously.
They put tremendous care into the copying of the texts.
In the 19th century, scholars began comparing all of the known Biblical manuscripts.
They considered the age of the manuscripts, and the weight of manuscript evidence in favor of any given verse, among other criteria.
And from that, they produced a New Testament that was a product of all of the existent sources.
The work has been updated over the last century plus, but it is that work and Greek New Testament which is the basis for all major modern translations of the New Testament, with the exception of the King James and New King James Versions.
With that, we come to our passage in John 8.
There are several reasons why most translations are so specific in blocking off this section and making a note about the text.
Let’s consider them briefly.
- This passage is absent from all manuscripts of John prior to the fifth century.
- When the early church theologians comment on this overarching section of John 7 and 8, this passage is never mentioned.
- From the Eastern Orthodox Church Fathers, none of them ever mention this passage prior to the tenth century.
- When the story does start to appear, it’s located in several different places in the gospels.
- The story doesn’t fit into this section.
-By that I mean that John 7 is at the Feast of Booths. When we left off, Jesus is speaking and it’s the last day of the feast. This story totally interrupts that story and changes the day. But when we get back to verse 12, Jesus is again at the Feast of Booths.
- Greek scholars point out that some of the language in this passage is not consistent with the rest of John.
And the conclusion of many of the finest Biblical scholars in the world is that there is overwhelming evidence that this story is not original to John.
All of that being said, many scholars do believe that it’s an event that really did happen during the ministry of Jesus.
But is it original? And if it’s not original, is it scripture?
I think it should also be said that there are people on both sides of this issues: was it original, was it not, there are people on both sides who love God, who love the Bible, and who are sincerely trying to be accurate in their approach to God’s Word.
But it leaves us with a question. How do we approach a text like this?
Some pastors won’t even preach this passage.
I like the approach John Piper has taken. Let’s look at the passage and the points that it makes but then support those points from other places in the scripture. Because this passage is teaching truth.
So with that, we’ll jump into this well known event in the ministry of Jesus.
7:53 into chapter 8:
They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
The beginning of the passage is setting this scene, but as Jesus is teaching, he’s interrupted.
3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery
And this is the first point we want to focus on this morning. The woman caught in adultery.
The first thing that’s noteworthy is that in the story, they bring a woman who was caught in adultery.
Something’s missing. They didn’t bring the woman whom they had heard committed adultery.
They brought the woman who was caught in adultery…
So she was in caught in the act, but there’s an issue…
Where’s the man?
In Jewish Law, capital adultery charges were not based on rumor or hearsay. You had to be caught in the act.
But the fact that the it’s just the woman and not the man leads to one of two possibilities.
To borrow from D.A. Carson, who I think was half-joking: either the man was a faster runner than the woman.
Or the more common view is that this woman was setup by some of the ruling authorities who had hatched a plot to catch her.
And they do this, not because of a desire for justice or because they’re primarily concerned with holiness, or because they’re really even concerned with this woman.
But it’s because they hate Jesus and want to try to use this situation to make a mockery of Christ.
What do I mean?
Let’s continue reading.
Verses 4-5: they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
Adultery is certainly a very serious sin against God and against one’s spouse.
And it is serious in this passage.
It’s a sin which completely undermines the sacred bond of marriage. It’s destroyed marriages and families. It’s a sin of lust, of weakness, and of selfishness.
I said this a moment ago, but in the Old Testament, adultery was a capital offense.
Or again in Deuteronomy 22:22: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
And so the people who had caught this woman point to the Law and that the appropriate punishment for this woman is death.
And they come to Jesus asking for his input in the situation.
It’s a trap.
They’re seeking here to undermine Jesus.
They’ve created a theological dilemma for Jesus.
He could pass the buck and have them take the woman before the Jewish court.
If he says he should be forgiven, they’ll accuse him of being soft on the Law. If he says she should be stoned, they’ll say he’s contradicted his own message of grace and forgiveness.
Our passage establishes that in verse 6: This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus responds first without words, but with an action.
Second part of verse 6: Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
What he was writing has been the subject of much speculation.
Some think he was writing the Ten Commandments, others think he was writing sins of the accusers, others think he was writing other Old Testament legal commands.
Ultimately, we don’t know.
I mentioned in the beginning that many scholars don’t believe the story is original to John. But I’ll say again, that many believe it happened. I believe it happened. And this writing in the dirt is part of why I believe it happened.
Tim Keller brings up this point.
But why is that included in the story?
Jesus is writing in the ground, we never find out what. It contributes nothing to the story.
If you were to make up a story, why would you have a detail of the story be absolutely meaningless to the story?
Instead, I believe that it really happened and the writing in the dirt is mentioned because the person who wrote this story saw it happen.
Verse 7: And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
So it appears to be a combination of what Jesus was writing and his words that have totally flipped the script.
Couple of things to consider about this story.
When Jesus says “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” is he saying that to judge her sin, you have to be morally perfect?
Again, that’s often the way people interpret the story.
Everyone knows this verse.
Everyone knows the Bible says “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
And the verse everyone knows, almost everyone gets wrong.
And not just this verse. Our society knows lots of Bible verses that mention judgment.
Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.
Same passage. Matthew 7:4: how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
We like verses that speak against judgment. Because our society has decided that the absence of judgment is love.
And to judge someone is seen as unloving.
Is it a sin to judge someone?
Consider those passages in Matthew:
how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
But then the following verse also says: You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
What these verses are saying is that everyone of us is a work in progress and that we need to also work on ourselves and our own holiness as we help challenge and exhort others to holiness.
It is not saying that we can never make a moral judgment at any time.
In the previous chapter, Jesus had said:
24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
The Bible clearly teaches, in multiple ways, that we are to have moral discernment and views on the world, influenced by the Word of God.
There are Bible verses that talk about avoiding sin which imply an awareness of what is and is not sinful so that we can avoid sin.
2 Thessalonians 3:6: Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
There are Bible passages that serve as warnings of false teachers in the church. To recognize a false teacher, you have to have opinions on the Biblical validity of someone’s message.
Matthew 7:15-17: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
To be able to do that requires us to have a moral understanding which is grounded in the truth of God.
We have Bible verses about exhorting people to live up to Biblical standards.
Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
1 Thessalonians 5:11: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
This requires us to have a sense of what is and is not sin.
Now, there are some guiding principles.
Because, we should never judge someone for its own sake. It should always be in the hope of seeing a person repent. Love should undergird everything we do.
And it can be done in a loving way.
The Biblical worldview is that sin is not arbitrary but sin is sin because it is an affront to God and it is an action against God’s righteousness, holiness, and truth. The best way to live life is in accordance with God’s truth.
When we sin, we are living against his truth and that is therefore not a path that leads us to flourishing.
But we should want that both for ourselves and for others.
Again, it’s a challenge. Grace and law.
Because I think most of us have a tendency to lean more on one side or the other with that.
Some of us are rule followers. Rule enforcers. More on the side of the law. And for that person, the temptation is to be puffed up and self-righteous. We can forget our own sinfulness and need for grace when we do that.
But if we go exclusively on the side of grace, we can forget about God’s call for holiness in our lives and have a worldview that is generally apathetic to sin.
Both extremes are problematic.
Back in our passage. Jesus has been writing. He says “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.
We always think that this is a story about grace.
But is that what’s really happening here?
John and Paul Feinberg have a fascinating analysis of this passage in their book “Ethics for a Brave New World” where they look at this passage in light of Old Testament laws.
This trial is illegal.
For starters, Old Testament standards for capital offenses were very stringent. It wasn’t a matter of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You had to have total certainty.
Capital punishment for adultery was probably actually very rare in Israel. Because clearly an accusation can be made. But you needed to have multiple witnesses.
Deuteronomy 17:6: On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness
And the witnesses would be cross-examined and their stories had to corroborate with each other.
Also it should be noted that in the Old Testament: perjury about a capital offense was itself a capital offense.
We see both of these ideas. Cross-examination and punishment for perjury in Deuteronomy 19:
16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst
And as a reminder, the Law required that in cases of adultery, both of the guilty parties needed to be executed.
Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
The law required a public trial, here it’s a mob bringing the woman to Jesus.
The law also required right motives in a trial. And this was a matter of the heart, but you weren’t supposed to accuse someone out of malice.
Exodus 23:1: You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
Also entrapment would have been sinful. The Israelites were supposed to help keep the people in their community from sin, not lie and wait so you can catch someone.
So let’s summarize all of this. We like to look at this story as the supreme example of grace in the Bible.
It’s a story about court procedural violations!
The religious leaders want to come to Jesus with a legal case and we see that Jesus follows the law even more radically than the conspirators.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law. He says that himself in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus never says the woman doesn’t deserve death.
But when he says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her:
Jesus has exposed the sins or sinful motivations of these accusers and they leave.
Did she commit adultery?
Probably. There’s never an indication that that was untrue.
But Jesus has intervened in this mistrial.
He will later be a victim himself of an improper trial. We’ll talk about it more when we get there, but there was illegalities with the trial of Jesus.
But unlike this woman, Jesus would be illegally convicted and he would not have an advocate.
But it’s because Jesus died as an innocent man that the guilty could be forgiven.
That’s the gospel.
Back in our passage. Those who oppose Jesus have thought they had such a brilliant trap for him. And it fails. They leave. They don’t care about the woman.
So they leave and Jesus and the woman remain.
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Now, we do see grace from Jesus.
Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world was salvation.
John 3:17 says:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus doesn’t bring the hammer down.
Throughout the gospels, we see people coming to Jesus in their sins, or Jesus showing awareness of their sins.
The main point of the passage is the law and Jesus’ adherence to the Law and his honor for the law.
But that doesn’t mean that grace is absent from the story.
Because Jesus is gracious to sinners.
And we too should be.
It can be so easy to be cynical about the world, about sin, about people. It can be so easy to judge others, to judge their hearts and their motivations, when we don’t know people’s hearts and motivations, and experiences.
We need to ask ourselves when we’re tempted to feel judgmental about someone.
Is it out of pride? Is it to feel better about ourselves and our own sinfulness?
Or is it out a righteous desire to see God honored? Is it out of a righteous love for what is just and right? Is it out of a righteous love for sinful people and desire to see their salvation, repentance, and sanctification?
We should ask ourselves those questions.
Because it can be easy to just be snarky and critical.
Is judgment sinful?
It is when we feel like we’re better than someone or look down on them.
It is when it blinds us to our own sinfulness.
It’s not when we see a person’s life isn’t honoring Christ and bringing them to God.
At the end of the passage, Jesus says to the woman: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
He doesn’t condemn her, but he calls her to holiness.
From now on, sin no more.
Jesus is gracious. But he never, ever affirms sin.
He never celebrates sin, he never says sin is good or doesn’t matter.
His death shows that it matters. He didn’t die for us because our sins weren’t that big a deal.
He is gracious when we sin, and we should rejoice in that. But Jesus also calls us to holiness, and for that, we should also rejoice. Because a righteous life, a life dedicated to God is the best way to live.
There is forgiveness when we sin because we have a savior.
Our world likes to think the absence of judgment is love.
Jesus shows love. He gives his life to redeem sinners.
Jesus shows us love, because he points us to real life, and in pointing to the life to which he has called us, Jesus desires our holiness.
Because he loves us.