The back of a woman with a bun | What The Adulterous Woman In The Bible Can Teach Us About Mercy

What The Adulterous Woman In The Bible Can Teach Us About Mercy

There are so many Bible stories that can inspire and change us, and then there are the ones that challenge us. I think the story of the Adulterous Woman In The Bible falls in the latter category. It’s not the most comfortable read, we don’t often hear sermons about this story in John’s Gospel in the New Testament, and yet there is so much to glean from the story of a woman and her encounter with Jesus.

A cursory glance shows an incredible picture of God’s mercy and great compassion for us His children. But once we delve in, pull back the pages, and add the contrast of Jewish law, and culture in Jesus’ day we see an even greater example of God’s love for us.

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A Lesson In God’s Mercy The Adulterous Woman In The Bible

The 8th chapter in the gospel of John may be a well-known Bible story, but there is still so much to learn from this story of the adulterous woman in the Bible. The adulterous woman in the Bible and her life-changing encounter with Christ Jesus is a beautiful picture of the grace of God, forgiveness, mercy, and the gift of new life that each of us could learn from.

Where In The Bible Is The Woman Who Committed Adultery?

The story of the adulterous woman in the Bible can be found in a short passage of John chapter 8. The story spans 11 verses and is a striking picture of God’s mercy toward us, to save us while we were still sinners and make us a new creation.

While this story is small, and we have no back story as to who this adulterous woman in the Bible is we can however find hope in the adulterous woman’s encounter with Jesus.

Who Was The Woman Caught In Adultery In The Bible? The Bible doesn’t tell us who the adulterous woman in the Bible is, in fact, we don’t know a whole lot about her. Many people have speculated about her identity, however.

Sadly her name and much of her story save this encounter with Jesus are lost to time. We don’t know what brought her to this moment where she discovered God’s overwhelming mercy. We don’t know what choices she made after this predestined encounter, only that she appears in John 8 and disappears in the cloaks of time just as quickly.

Woman Caught In Adultery Scripture

Before diving into this passage let’s get some contexts. This passage is taking place in the turmoil of the Jewish leaders trying to trap Jesus so they can arrest Him. To really understand this passage’s significance we first need to delve into the Old Testament a bit. According to Mosaic law or Old Testament law, the sin of adultery was punishable by death sentence. 

The adulterous woman and the adulterous man would be brought before a priest, who would write their names, and their sins in the dirt. When the sentence was announced they would wipe out their name and they would be taken out and would receive the death penalty. 

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 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. 

Can you see it Jesus sitting in the temple court teaching, surrounded by those pressing near to hear over the bustle of the busy goings on? Suddenly there is a commotion this woman is dragged into the fray. Her appearance is probably not the best considering they have very publically announced that she had been caught in the “very act of adultery”.

She knows the penalty for cases of adultery. She must be terrified, humiliated even. She knows she’s going to be executed, she doesn’t expect mercy or help. Her eyes stay on the dusty ground beneath her feet, one lone woman standing in a sea of angry faces a pawn in a bigger game. 

 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. 

They didn’t need to remind Jesus of the law of Moses, but they needed to try to corner Him into saying the wrong thing. This was their brilliant trap, one way or the other they would have him. Can you sense the arrogance, the self-assuredness, and confidence that they finally had 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, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

There they are waiting, holding their breath for Jesus’ response to the adulterous woman in the Bible and He bends over and begins to write in the dirt. The moment stretches on with no words from Jesus and they begin to look at each other.

Did He not hear them? Did He not understand? The action would have been familiar to them, perhaps this too adds to their hatred of him. So they keep pressing, demanding an answer. 

Finally, Jesus straightens. Knowing their thoughts, knowing the law of God for sexual immorality. Knowing her every sin. Knowing according to their law the stoning of the woman would be the “expected” answer. His words fall like a gavel. Their well-laid trap unravels with one sentence. 

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 

In one sentence Jesus sidesteps, and holds up a mirror to their own lives. Without excusing the “sinful woman”, or breaking Roman law he holds up a mirror on each one of those gathered. Every sin in their lives was suddenly brought to mind.

You can nearly hear the stones begin to fall, the loud thuds of rock impacting dirt an echo to His words. One by one they begin to disappear unable to stand up to the scrutiny of those words because not one of them could throw those stones. By this standard, they were all guilty. 

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

Can you hear those soft words, this woman is still standing there. Slowly she begins to look around, they are all gone. It’s just her, and the one who knit her together. The one who has seen every joy and every sorrow. Seen every decision. Her Heavenly Father.

The story of the woman in John 8 could have a much different ending. “Justice” could have been met out. And yet when she comes face to face with the only one who could cast that first stone she’s met with mercy. 

“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:2-11 NIV

The words are hoarsely whispered as tears tighten her throat and quietly spill down her cheeks. This nameless woman who should have died for her sins is instead met with undeserved grace and mercy. 

The Story Of The Adulterous Woman In The Bible

The adulterous woman in the Bible had been dragged before Jesus as a test. She knew her guilt, knew their accusations were true. The crowd knew her sins, and even more than that Jesus saw her sins. He knew every decision this woman in the Bible had ever made.

He had known her since she was an infant in her mother’s womb, He’d followed her every step along the way to adulthood and even to this very moment. He’d seen it all. Witnessed His lost child stumble and fall, His heartbroken for Her. Waiting for her to realize that He’d been there the whole time. 


Her sins were like scarlet and the law said she must be punished, and it’s here that Jesus Christ steps into her messy life and meets her at her lowest. Not once she’s gotten her act together, not after she’s cleaned up her life. Not once she has gotten straightened out. Right in the very messiest part of it. 

Why Did The Pharisees And Scribes Bring The Woman To Jesus?

The Pharisees and Scribes would have been well versed in the law and known the penalty for adultery according to the law of Moses. And yet they brought this particular case of a woman caught in adultery in the Bible to Jesus and asked Him what He said they should do. To the observant reader reading John 8 several things stick out when the religious leaders bring this woman to Jesus. 

  • They know the law of Moses, they had been brought up and trained for their roles from a young age so they would never have needed to get Jesus’s opinion. They knew the whole law. They knew the “right thing” to do. 
  • If this woman was in fact caught in the act, then where is the man? According to the law, both should have been brought because both were equally guilty.

The fact that the religious leaders only brought the woman who committed adultery (when under the law both she and the man would be punished), attests to the fact that they had no real interest in justice. Instead, they brought the woman to Jesus as a trap.

If Jesus were to tell them to follow the law of Moses and call for her execution, the religious leaders could complain to the Roman government that controlled Jerusalem that Jesus was calling for the Jews to do something only the Romans could do (capital punishment). While if Jesus said to show her mercy for her sins He would be accused of taking the law lightly. 

He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone

To the religious leaders this looked like the perfect trap to discredit Jesus, but what they didn’t know is this moment had been ordained since the beginning of time. He was here for her, the adulterous woman in the Bible. He knew it was a trap when He journeyed to this area, and still, He came. Like with the man living among the tombs, He had come to seek her out, to find her right here at this moment. 

The voices of accusation, rejection, and condemnation all were silenced as He stooped -the creator of the Universe- and slowly began to run His finger through the soil that He had spoken into existence. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

The accusers fell silent in His presence, at the weight of His words. Every sin was marked in bold, all the masks ripped away to show the dirt beneath, the things they tried so hard to hide.

People are quick to judge, the slightest hint of a blemish and they gather like hungry vultures. They draw up battle lines and prepare to destroy – all in the name of the perceived blight, never mind mercy, never mind whether it’s true or not.

Never mind how many skeletons they hide in their own closets. God knew the adulterous woman in the Bible’s sins, knew her guilt in bold brush strokes nothing was hidden from him. He saw every tear, every choice, every place she had fallen, every alley she’d stumbled through- but He also saw theirs.

As they stood there, stones of judgment clutched tightly in their hands ready to condemn the adulterous woman in the Bible. Instead, they came face to face with their own sin, the spots they hadn’t turned over to Him. They saw just how dirty their own hands were.

They became uncomfortably aware that they were just like this woman, their whitewashed lives were filled with just as much dirt and grime. Their sins were just as unforgivable as this adulterous woman in the Bible. 

What Did Jesus Scribble In The Sand?

The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus scribbled in the sand when they brought the adulterous woman in the Bible to Him. Many have speculated over the years that He was writing the sins of those in the crowd in the dirt. However, we don’t know what He wrote, whatever it was coupled with His words convicted their hearts enough that they dropped their stones and left. 

What Does It Mean To Cast The First Stone?

Jesus told the crowd “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Meaning whoever has not ever sinned, who is pure and blameless and perfect in every way could throw the first stone at the adulterous woman in the Bible.

No man or woman is completely free from sin, so no one in that crowd was eligible to throw the first stone- only Jesus could do that. And He chose to show her God’s mercy.

God’s Mercy Toward The Adulterous Woman In The Bible

The adulterous woman in the Bible was everything they said and yet Jesus showed her mercy- can you imagine her reaction to those words? As she looked around- and found, no one. Her accusers had all left, disappeared convicted of their own blemishes, their own sins glaring and unignorable leaving her at her Savior’s feet.

Six words, twenty-four letters, and with those unassuming words he wiped it all away, swept her record clean – removed the bruised, worn, broken places- and set her free.

What Does The Story  Of The Adulterous Woman In The Bible Teach Us?

We can learn so much about God’s mercy from the adulterous woman in the Bible. Forget the world, and your would-be accusers, and fall at your Savior’s feet. Fall into His grace and mercy, let Him wipe it all away, sweep clean your slate, remove the bruised and broken places, and set you free.

Let Him close the chapter with Himself, and open a fresh page. A new beginning, just like the adulterous woman in the Bible.

But it’s also a powerful reminder to us that no one is outside of His reach. It doesn’t matter how sinful they seem to us our God is still big enough to bring them into the sheep fold and make them new. 

What stood out to you in the story of the adulterous woman in the Bible?

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