15. How should adulterers be punished?

Posted: August 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

lev 20:10 ≠ jn 8:3-8

Leviticus 20:10 “ ‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

John 8:3-8 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Is this contradictory? No, for several reasons.

Firstly, the death penalty for adultery in Leviticus 20:10 is part of the judicial code, not an endorsement of lynch mobs. The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in John 8 are not the criminal justice system of Israel, and so have no right to put this woman on trial or execute her. The law may mandate the death penalty for a certain crime, that doesn’t mean that I and my friends have the right to execute someone we catch committing that crime.

Secondly, Leviticus 20:10 demands that when a case of adultery comes to light both the woman and the man are to be executed. But here the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees only intend to stone the woman. Jesus has no interest in upholding hypocrisy or misogyny.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Jesus rightly points out that none of the crowd are in a position to condemn this woman since they too are guilty of sin. They all deserve death. The only person in the crowd who doesn’t deserve it is Jesus, yet he refuses to condemn her. Why? Well that’s the good news: although we all deserve the death penalty for our sin, we are forgiven and set free because Jesus takes the punishment on himself on the cross.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery Jesus is not contradicting Leviticus 20:10, he is upholding it. But he does so by taking the penalty for her sin, and ours, on himself.


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