11 April 2011

John 8:1-11

"Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, ' No one, sir.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.'" (vv. 10-11)


This is a very meaningful story, though it is marked doubtful in some older manuscripts. It is set in the context of a discussion about right judgement, before and after this passage (John 7:45-528:12-20). The statement "you judge by human standards" (John 8:15) is earlier described as judging "by appearances" (John 7:24). This is a good definition of prejudice: pre-judging, by appearance alone, without facts.

Jesus challenges prejudice.

A group of men bring a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus and ask for his judgement. Their reasoning by Scripture and tradition is to "stone such women" (verse 5).

Their fingers and eyes are fixed on the woman.

But Jesus refuses to leer at her. He deliberately fixes his eyes and fingers to the ground. No evidence has been presented to him. The woman's appearance alone is being used to condemn her. For example, where was the man involved? Was he standing among the woman's accusers?

Jesus did not readily concur with Scripture and tradition.

But familiar with tradition and Scripture, Jesus reflects deeply before speaking.

The nameless woman too looks at no one and looks down.

Jesus refuses to judge by appearance and without evidence. He asks all present to examine themselves, and anyone "without sin" (verse 7) is to throw the first stone.

Jesus is shown to be consistent with his teaching refusing to "judge by human standards".

Jesus responds to the challenge presented to him in a public place, in the context of hostile threats to his own well-being. Yet if prejudice is not challenged by even a single voice, injustice prevails.

Jesus' words "do not sin again" (verse 11) are a reminder that that our highest ideals are spoilt by our selfishness. Can we act without being selfish?

To Ponder

What steps can we take to act without being selfish?

Identify occasions when you have witnessed someone challenging prejudice.

How do those in authority bring prejudice and power together in practice?

Bible notes author

The Revd Inderjit Bhogal

Inderjit Bhogal is a Methodist minister with a wide experience at local, regional, national and international levels. He is a former president of the British Methodist Conference and is currently working as leader of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland.