How John 8:1-11 Informs My Faith


What part of “Do not judge” is so difficult for us to understand and follow? It’s an important question for us all to reflect on.

Over and over in the New Testament we are told not to judge others. Jesus says it plainly in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged (Matthew 7:1).”

And Jesus wonderfully shows us how to withhold our judgment in John 8:1-11. Just as this story of the woman taken in adultery is controversial as Scripture because it does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, it is also, perhaps, controversial in its point.

As Jesus is teaching, the powers that be bring a woman they claim was caught in the act of adultery. When they ask Jesus what He says to this, He just bends down to the ground and swirls his finger in the dust. Finally, as they continue to pester Him, Jesus exclaims, “Let any one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The accusers melt away, leaving just the woman and Jesus, writing again in the dust. When she confirms that no one has condemned her, Jesus says, “Nor do I. Go and sin no more.” Wow. That’s the way I want to be.

Jesus never even gets close to judging this woman. He does not assume that those who say she was taken in the very act of sinning against the seventh commandment are right about her. There is no evidence given that she committed the sin she is accused of. Jesus sends her forth exclaiming, “Sin no more.” He knows she is a sinner like everyone else, including her accusers.

In our time, the powers that be routinely bring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people before Jesus, claiming to have caught them in sin. Jesus’ response is still the challenge: Let the one without sin punish them. He makes no judgment one way or the other on the purported sin of LGBT people, sending us all out as He does the woman, “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus shows us in this story how God loves us and yet we find it so excruciatingly difficult to let go of judgment as Jesus does here. Paul clearly struggles to be like Jesus with regard to judgment. For example, Paul works hard to articulate himself in Romans Chapter 14. He finally confronts us with the question, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or your sister (Romans 14:10)?” Why, indeed.

Yet, Paul has answered his own question at the start of this chapter when he refers to “quarreling over opinions (Romans 14:1).” That is always what we are doing — we are always just arguing about our interpretations of Scripture or our opinions of what God’s desires of us. And it really gets nasty when we conflate our opinion with God’s will. This is what the powers that be were doing with that poor woman, identifying their will with God’s will. This is what Jesus refused to do even though He could have done it, as God’s only begotten Son.

We are allowed to have our opinions and our interpretations of Scripture but we are not allowed to equate those with God’s judgment. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and therefore we have no business judging anyone.

I want to be like Jesus writing in the dust, challenging us to cast the first stone and sending us all away to sin no more without saying what that means for each of us. Only Jesus knows and He lovingly sends every one of us on our way. This is how the story of the woman taken in adultery informs my faith.

Do you join me in this?


Reverend Janet

11 Responses
  • Gordon Clason on March 19, 2011

    Outside of Leviticus 19:17, this story, taken along with the first five verses of Matthew 7, is the most damning indictment of Fred Phelps and his misbegotten crew of Westboro Baptist Church that I can imagine. God clearly comdemns bigotry in no uncertain terms in both the Old and New Testaments. 1 John 4:20: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:

    I am constantly being hit back with, “Oh, I don’t hat the sinner, just the sin”. And my response is your actions speak louder than your words, and do you really thing God is dumb enough to be taken in by your silly denials? Anyone who marches in protest at funerals hates. No matter how hard he insists that he’s just hating the sin, not the sinner. He is a liar, and it’s God who says so.

  • Janet Edwards on March 19, 2011

    Dear Gordon,

    Thank you very much for your heartfelt application of several related verses in Scripture to the challenge the Westboro Baptist Church behavior presents to us all. I also find the “love the sinner/hate the sin” justification of those who judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be disingenuous. At the very least, the being and actions of real people can not be split apart in that way in real life.

    At the same time, I am not sure how you answer my question of whether you will join me in the discipline of accepting all people with a recognition that we are all sinners and suspending condemnation for any particular sin, even Fred Phelps.

    Living this way is the conclusion I draw from this story and its a hard lesson for me. Will you join me in following Christ in this way? I am eager for your response.

    Peace, Janet

  • Mary Eidson on March 23, 2011

    In this particular story there are tow things that would normally at that time happen.

    1. Is that you were caught in the act of Adultery (This was the judgement)
    2. Stoning – was the condemnation for adultery.

    She knew she was guilty. The people with rocks, knew she was guilty. And Jesus knew she was guilty. The judgement and the condemnation are two separate issues.

    SO what I understood in the story is that we all have to face our judgement that is against us for our sins, but Jesus intervened on our behalf to cancel the condemnation.

    But it does not end there with everyone walking away. Jesus has some wisdom to share with her. He does not condemn her, (Although Jesus being God incarnate was in position to do so) tells her that she may leave and to sin no more.

    We are all guilty of sin, but in this situation he means all her sins and especially the sin of adultery that she was judged guilty of.

    We are all found guilty of our sins. It is inescapable, but God’s Grace through his son Jesus Christ we do not suffer the condemnation of our sins.

    “In our time, the powers that be routinely bring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people before Jesus, claiming to have caught them in sin. Jesus’ response is still the challenge: Let the one without sin punish them. He makes no judgment one way or the other on the purported sin of LGBT people, sending us all out as He does the woman, “Go and sin no more.”

    This particular sin is still a sin of which anyone can still be judged guilty. So go and sin no more.


  • Janet Edwards on March 24, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you so much for sharing with us your interpretation of John 8:1-11 which coincides in the most important ways with my understanding of this passage. You and I both confess that Jesus is Grace who, alone, can condemn. As you say, “We do not suffer the condemnation of our sins” through God’s Grace in Jesus Christ.

    One way we differ is your assurance that the woman, the scribes and Pharisees and Jesus knew she was guilty of adultery. If we take the accusers as witnesses to her being caught in the act of adultery then, I would say perhaps, though that is not made clear. And I suppose Jesus authorizing the one without sin to throw the first stone may imply that Jesus sees her as guilty as charged. None of this, I hope you agree, is explicit in the text which means that it is a matter of our differing interpretations. Since the main point of the story is that Jesus does not condemn her nor does he charge her explicitly not to commit adultery, it is not a very important consideration, in my view. “Go and sin no more” applies to us all–that is the most important thing.

    Another important consideration for me is another difference between you and me (Please tell me if I am wrong about this): you judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners per se and I do not. I trust the LGBT Presbyterians who tell me that they and their relationships are blessed by God who loves them exactly the way they are. At the same time, I see the fruits of their service both inside the church and outside in the communities where they live. I remember the Historic Principle in the first chapters of the PCUSA Book of Order, “Truth is in order to goodness” and I believe them.

    These good LGBT Presbyterians confess their sins, rest in Jesus’ assurance that He does not condemn and rise, as we all, as Christians, do, to try to sin no more. That’s what I see, Mary. I am very interested in your thoughts on my further reflections. Please write again.

    Peace, Janet

  • Mary Eidson on March 27, 2011

    So you do not think that the woman was not guilty of what she was accused? I think if this was a set up to trick Jesus then that would of been a part of the story. I am not trying to be sarcastic but is it common among PhD’s in Divinity to question everything to that degree? At some point do you ever come to the conclusion that you are over thinking this? When I think of the Bible, especially the New Testament, I remind myself that Jesus spoke to the uneducated, the fringe of society, meaning he made this real simple so that all can understand. I really am just trying to understand where you are coming from.

    Jesus say two things
    1. Then neither do I condemn you,”
    2. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    To me if there was just no judgement then the story could of ended with
    ““Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said.
    “Then neither do I condemn you.
    But he doesn’t it continues with “Go and sin no more”

    This statement really got me
    “Another important consideration for me is another difference between you and me (Please tell me if I am wrong about this): you judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners per se and I do not. ”

    I do not judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners. I believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender behavior is a sin. I think this point right here is that crux of most of the disagreements that people have. I truly can’t and won’t try to state where you are coming from, but I would love for you to tell me. But for me, homosexuality is not a defining characteristic of a person. I mean if I was someone walk into a room, I would know a few things immediately. Man or Woman, race(such as White or Black) maybe you could recognize an ethnic persuasion, but I would not know if someone was gay when they walk through a door. Really unless the subject comes up no one would know. Here is an example, Elton John. If you were going to introduce him to to someone he did not know who he is would you introduce him as a phenomenal singer songwriter, or as gay?

    Looking forward to continuing our conversation.

  • Janet Edwards on March 28, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Your questions and comments are all good, Mary. I am very grateful for them. I deeply appreciate that you are trying to understand where I am coming from. You prompt a whole stream of thoughts on my part.

    First, many instances of the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trick Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. I think of their question about the greatest commandment, the story of the widow of seven brothers and the question about paying taxes. Perhaps you can think of others. John does comment here that they brought the woman to Jesus to test Him–in other words to trick Him.

    I agree with you completely that Jesus spoke to the uneducated fringe of society. Perhaps we both see that He speaks very simply in this story. He certainly does not say much. But even what Jesus does say seems to prompt different translations and different interpretations. For example, you report that Jesus says, “Go and leave your life of sin,” which I agree might suggest that she leave a situation of adultery. You sent me to the Greek New Testament and what I find is the Greek verb, “to sin,” My translation would be “Do not sin ever again.” This is a statement about future acts not a reference to a “life” of anything. Where I am coming from is a simple reading of Jesus’ words and I find no condemnation there. I do see encouragement to go and sin no more–a word meant for us all.

    I want to share one thought on your comment that you do not judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners but you do believe their behavior to be sin. I do not see the difference between believing their behavior to be sin and believing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners. I recognize that scientists sometimes distinguish between the person and the behavior but that is not a distinction that has any meaning in real life. Our being and our actions are bound together. This has important consequences. Only one of them is that a judgment of the actions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is an judgment of their being. And it is clear to me that such judgment is not ours to make. I hope that helps you to understand where I am coming from.

    I am in complete agreement with you that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is not “a defining characteristic,” necessarily or for most people. For me, this is a complicating aspect of life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because coming out to themselves and to the world is an on-going, never ending process of choosing how to present oneself. But I am not sure what conclusion you draw from this distinctive aspect of their lives. What is your answer to the question about Elton John?

    I don’t know whether the woman accused of adultery was guilty or not. I do not trust the people who brought her to Jesus, I confess. I find Jesus’ model here of how to deal with judgment to be the most important thing. What makes you think she is guilty and why is it important to you?

    There is more I could say, but I think that is enough for us to continue our conversation. I hope that is true and hope to hear from you again.

    Peace be with you, Janet

  • Mary Eidson on March 30, 2011

    You said,
    “I want to share one thought on your comment that you do not judge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners but you do believe their behavior to be sin. I do not see the difference between believing their behavior to be sin and believing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be sinners.”

    What I get from this sentence is I believe it to be a behavior and you do not believe it is a behavior. Therefore, if you don’t think it is a behavior then you think it is something other than behavior, but what would that be? I don’t know why I feel like I am making a big deal out of this, but as a woman I recognize restrictions society has put on me, and I know the privileges I have because I am white. I also know how awkward I am because I am “me”.

    I don’t know if I am throwing up my own mental roadblocks or I am not asking you or wording things that could trigger a response from you that I would understand. But I do appreciate you muddling through with me.

    Elton John, is a great musician and song writer. And that is what I recognize and think of first.

    This story could of gone a number of different ways. Was she was or was not actually guilty and was this a set up. Who and why did those people assemble and be ready to stone her. If you think about it you get some over zealous person in the crowd they might of just stoned both of them. The over thinking to me loses the heart of the story.

    You asked me “What makes you think she is guilty and why is it important to you?” I guess it comes down to the root of our differences. I interpret this story as Jesus found her guilty, but did not condemn her to being stoned. When I hear people talk about Grace and Jesus excepting us as we are. (I call that my “warts and all” theory), but that Grace does not excuse any sin. The sin will alway be there. He calls us to be a new creation, knowing we will not be perfect, but we are striving to the example he set for us. But in are failing we are cushioned by he Grace so that we don’t give up.

    I have thought about this and I keep coming back to the same conclusion. Knowing that I am of a sinful nature and found guilty (Just like the woman in the story)it makes the gift of God’s grace and salvation an even greater gift, in my mind.

  • Janet Edwards on March 31, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Please know my gratitude for your willingness to continue our conversation here! I hope two thoughts will help you understand my perspective and see its place in Christian life.

    First, I trust we both know that what is of central concern in all of this is behavior, the sexual practice of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I know that. If I have misunderstood you, then help me better to understand. I think, after this agreement, we differ in two ways. I took from your words that you were making the distinction between loving the sinner even as you judge the sin. And I am saying that this distinction between the sinner and the sin does not work in real life because being and behavior are bound together in real life. If you judge the action that you are judging the actor. All the LGBT Presbyterians I know sense that they are being judged, not loved, by those who judge them as sinners.

    A second significant difference between us is that I do not see LGBT behavior to be a sin. This means that there is no analogy between LGBT people and a woman guilty of adultery. LGBT people in their sexual practice have not sinned. A person guilty of adultery has. The Bible passages offered to teach that LGBT behavior is a sin (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:3-13)are all dealing with other sins like idolatry, or prostitution, or abuse, not the responsible, loving relationships of LGBT Christians. In A Time to Embrace, William Stacy Johnson outlines seven Biblically rooted positions on LGBT behavior. Mine–that it is not sin–is one of them. Knowing that I do not see LGBT behavior as inherently a sin may explain a lot about where I am coming from. Does it help you?

    The other thing I wanted to comment on is seeing first that Elton John is a great musician and song writer. He has also chosen to share with us all that he is gay. I am not sure he would be fully satisfied for us to dismiss that he is gay and focus solely on his talent. To do this seems to me to disrespect his own way of being in the world. Or are you saying you will love his talent as you judge–but turn your eyes from–what you consider his sin?

    I don’t know if Elton John is a Christian. I do know that LGBT Christians confess, as you do, their sins before God. However, their experience of God in Christ leads them to the conclusion that loving their partners in every way is not a sin. I believe them but I am assuming you do not. Of course, I could be wrong.

    I so hope this has been helpful to you and I treasure your thoughts in response.

    Peace in Christ, Janet

  • Bill on August 13, 2011

    With all due respect ,we are allowed to judge others, Not there motives or if they are to receive salvation but most definitely if they are teaching false doctrines among other things, but its late and I’m tired.

  • Janet Edwards on August 14, 2011

    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your respect, Bill, and for sharing your view on judging with us.

    Correct me if I am wrong, it seems to me that you are speaking specifically about disagreeing with another about what that person says he or she believes. This is what you mean by judging another as teaching false doctrine. Am I understanding you correctly?

    Of course, as you point out, this is a different situation than the one in John 8:1-11 where the concern is sinful action, not belief.

    With regard to difference in belief what I would say is that we are allowed to prayerfully come to conclusions about what we believe and we must, actually, share those with others in order to test them as to how close our own sense of God comes to Scripture and Christian tradition as well as to lern. There are boundaries to Christian doctrine.

    At the same time, you have pressed me to think about it and I would say that in these matters, the setting and patrolling of those boundaries are not our jobs. That is just as much God’s prerogative as judgment of sin is. Whatever a person believes, my job is to know him or her as a beloved child of God–not to judge.

    I am certainly allowed and encouraged to express my disagreement with others over doctrine and to try to inspire them to agree with me. None of that includes making judgment about false and true doctrine. That is God’s judgment to make.

    I hope that makes some sense to you and I look forward to your response.

    Peace, Janet

  • Christine Longfoot on May 12, 2018

    As a lay preacher, I’m preparing a sermon on this text…….

    I found the discussion between you and Mary Edson interesting.

    Janet, I found your comments on not judging to be the basis for my sermon.

    That said, I cannot help but think that, as one of the Jewish faith at that time, Jesus did see the woman as having sinned. (personally, I prefer the expression “missing the mark’ – the mark being an inability to love as God loves, unconditionally.)

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Process relational theology has the answer. God’s power is not in “control” but in the ability to love unconditionally. Thus, God has worked through us since Jesus’s time in seeing that loving those that love in the LGBTI community is a valid expression of love.

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