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Home The Light Articles from 2001 The Perversion of "Casting the First Stone"

The Perversion of "Casting the First Stone"

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The Perversion of "Casting the First Stone"

During President Clinton’s tenure and the controversy that swirled around his immoral conduct, with almost predictable regularity media personalities cited what is possibly the only passage in their Biblical repository: "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone."

This passage of John chapter eight, has been abused in a number of egregious ways. First, as in the present example, it is employed to minimize adultery. "Oh, we all sin," it is claimed. "In the instance of John 8:1-11, a woman committed adultery, but Jesus did not condemn her. We should not, therefore, make a ‘big deal’ over such trifling and personal matters." Others paint with an even broader brush, alleging that no one who is guilty of sin himself has the right to censure anyone for any transgression; after all, none of us is "without sin." No one, therefore, possesses the moral authority to condemn. This episode in the Gospel of John even has been cited in an effort to set aside the clear Biblical injunctions which demand the judgment and discipline of apostate Christians. We believe, therefore, that a careful consideration of this context is warranted. The details of the New Testament narrative follow.

The Incident In Brief

Early one morning Jesus came from the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem, to the temple compound of the sacred city. Probably in the court of the Gentiles, the Lord sat down (the usual posture for a Jewish teacher) and began to teach the folks who had gathered. Suddenly, there was a rude interruption. The scribes (copiers of the law, thus religious "experts") and the Pharisees (those of the strictest Jewish sect, Acts 26:5), broke into the assembly, bringing a captive woman. They probably dragged her into the midst of the group.

Having positioned her prominently, they, with malevolent designs, fired a question at Jesus: "Teacher (no doubt with a tone of sarcasm), this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses commands that she be stoned. What do you say regarding her?" In answer, the Son of God quietly stooped down, and, with his finger wrote a message in the dust. (Note: This is the only context in the New Testament which mentions Jesus writing.) The Biblical text does not reveal the substance of the message. But the Lord said nothing.

The inquisitors continued to press him for a verbal response. It was at this point that he made the statement to which so many frequently appeal: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone...."

The Basic Facts of the Case

First, a sinful woman was somehow apprehended in the act of committing adultery, i.e., she was engaged in sexual activity that violated either her own marriage commitment, or that of her paramour. Adultery is a sexual act, and it involves the breach of the marriage covenant. There is virtually no

controversy among language authorities regarding this matter, not to mention clear Biblical testimony. "Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4). Note the connection between "bed" and "adulterers." The rather modern–certainly novel–theory, which holds that adultery is only "covenant breaking," whether or not sexual transgressions were involved, is utterly without merit, and is, in fact, a base attempt to sanctify adulterous relationships formed subsequent to unscriptural divorces.

Second, it is more than obvious that the scribes and Pharisees were not the least interested in seeing true justice executed. Had they been in pursuit of justice, they would have taken the woman to the appropriate authorities for remedy. What did Jesus of Nazareth have to do with such legal affairs? Nothing at all. No, this was a trap laid for Christ. The Jews did not have the authority to execute law-breakers (see Jn. 18:31), even though they at times did (see Acts 7). Rome retained for itself the right of life and death over its subjects. In A.D. 6 (the year that Judaea became a Roman province), Coponius, a governor, was sent to Palestine by Augustus Caesar. He was "granted supreme power over the Jews" (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.1.), which included the power of life and death (Wars 2.8.1). Though this fact has been disputed by liberal critics, the historical evidence sustains the Biblical record (Green, p. 850). A.N. Sherwin-White, Professor of Ancient History at Oxford, has addressed this matter most thoroughly in his work, Roman Society and Roman Law In The New Testament (pp. 35f).

Accordingly, had Jesus pronounced judicial sentence upon the sinful woman, the Jewish leaders would have reported the matter to the Roman authorities, and their diabolical plan to rid themselves of the Lord would have been achieved.

Third, the accusers committed a colossal tactical blunder. Their charge itself exposed their hypocrisy. Significantly, the scribes and Pharisees emphatically declared that the woman had been caught in the very act.

When the Jewish leaders decided to be so specific, "in the very act," they acknowledged an important point: They knew the identity of the male participant! What is the significance of that? Just this: The Old Testament code demanded that in cases like this both the adulteress and the adulterer be subjected to the same penalty (see Lev. 20:10; Dt. 22:22). Where, then, was the man? These sanctimonious prosecutors were themselves in stark violation of the law. Had Jesus been under a commission to render a civil judgment in this case (and he did not come to attend to such matters–see Lk. 12:13-14), he could not have countenanced this "kangaroo" procedure. The thrust of Christ’s statement, "He that is without sin...", was this: "None of you is in a position to stone this woman, for you have disregarded the very law you profess to honor. It is a travesty." Remember this: The Savior’s admonition in John 8 cannot be divorced from its immediate context and used as a general axiom, the design of which is to mute the proper rebuke of evil.

Fourth, whatever Christ "wrote" made a powerful impact upon his critics. Silently they slipped away into the shadows,

 

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