In the story in John chapter eight of the woman taken in adultery, there is a very specific context, purpose and there are some pointed key elements. It is somewhat unusual to find a Christian who understands any of these and who does not often completely misunderstand the purpose of the story.
Many Christians believe that here Jesus overturned the Old Testament Law. He did not. The Bible is abundantly clear that God has never changed his mind about the Law. (Romans 7: The law is perfect and holy and just.)
Still many others believe that the central theme of this story has to do with Jesus condemning judgement. He never did that. He in fact said the precise opposite: “Judge righteous judgment.” Judgment ought never to be personal, but rather the application of God’s judgment as His appointed ambassadors. The elimination of judgement always results in moral anarchy.
If we look at the story carefully, the reason why God chose to include it in the Bible will emerge in a magnificent and unique brilliance, and our pop culture myths about its purpose will fade in the unmistakable brilliance of that divine light.
“ 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.
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.
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.
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?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her,
Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
The Pharisees had a very specific purpose in bringing this woman to Jesus. The narrative reveals that unsavory motive: they wanted to discredit Jesus by showing his disregard for the required penalty for this offense under Old Testament Law: stoning unto death. They cared nothing for the woman or the adjudication of her offense.
When Jesus said “He who is without sin,” this was a direct reference to Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7, where the witnesses of a crime are to start the execution. Only those who were not guilty of the same sin could participate! This makes the departure of the Pharisees considerably more telling, and may have been a most liberating thought to the woman.
Note here that the woman was on the ground, which we assume because Jesus stooped to write His message there for her. JESUS CAME TO HER THERE! The Pharisees and presumably the rest of the crowd was STANDING. This is noteworthy.
Then in addressing the Pharisees, Jesus STOOD UP. The text says that “He lifted Himself up.” He did not at that point ask the woman to stand up. After his confrontation of the Pharisees using their guilty consciences to leverage their guilt publicly, the text then states that Jesus went back to the woman, and He was left alone with her, AND THAT SHE WAS THEN STANDING!!!
The Pharisees had probably thrown her to the ground in front of Jesus. When Jesus demonstrated to her that her accusers were no less guilty of sin than she was, THE WOMAN STOOD TO HER FEET. I can just see the hand of Jesus extended to her, for I do not believe that her evident contrition would have allowed her to take that action upon herself. This always brings me to the much speculated upon issue of what Jesus wrote on the ground. The truth is that we don’t know. That being said, I tend to lean decidedly toward a question that I believe Jesus asked her: “Are you sorry?” I say this because divine forgiveness of sin never can occur this side of repentance. That means doing our utmost to see our sin as God sees it. I do not believe that Jesus had any other motive or goal with this woman, and I do not believe that He could have forgiven her absent her genuine repentance. Since there is no record of a conversation between the woman and Jesus, I tend to believe that repentance was the subject matter of the words Jesus wrote on the ground.
The glorious and literally uplifting miracle here is that this woman was thrown to the ground in disgust by her religious leaders, and that when the burden of her sin was lifted from her, SHE WAS STANDING UPRIGHT NEXT TO JESUS! Her condemnation was gone! It was gone because JESUS CAME TO HER LOWLY LEVEL TO REACH OUT TO HER while organized religion threw her to the ground and heaped their hypocritical scorn upon her. This is what religion does. Thank God, it is not what Jesus does.