John 7:53-8:11 The Story That Isn’t There

They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The Story That Isn’t There

Someone found a story about Jesus and his great forgiveness.  What was to be done with it?  Was it part of one of the gospels?  Which one?  In the west the story of the woman caught in adultery was circulating quite early, but in the eastern traditions it didn’t show up for quite a while.  Jerome included the account in the book of John, where we find it here.  However, it doesn’t belong here.  the Feast of Tabernacles teaching of Jesus is broken in two by its insertion.

Should we just remove it again?  John probably didn’t write it.  However, it is a true story about Jesus with a high level of credibility.  One of the reasons that it might have become dislocated from another gospel is because of its content.  A woman is forgiven for sexual sin.  In other cultures women are sometimes seen as the reason for men’s wayward sexual behaviour.  If sexual sin in a woman can be forgiven as easily as Jesus forgives this sin, won’t we just have women seducing men at the drop of a hat?  Sexual sin was seen in the early church as unforgivable by some.  This story obviously contradicts that, so there was reason for some of the church fathers to suppress it.

However, this does reflect the grace and forgiveness that comes with Jesus.  The sin is real but the forgiveness is also real.  Jesus expects repentance as the response to such grace.  Sexual sin is a serious sin.  It involves satisfying self at the cost of another.  It is often borne out of wanting something so badly that another person is not treated with the respect that they deserve.  It destabilizes relationships and breaks up families.  It sometimes forms unhealthy bonds and addictions that are enslaving.  However, the greatest part of the sin is that it takes God’s purposes for sex and it twists them.  Sexual sin is rebellion against a holy God.  It is worthy of death.

The irony of the response is not that the woman is innocent and needs to be acquitted, but that her accusers are guilty and they need to examine themselves.  They have received mercy from God, but they can not extend mercy to a woman.  It seems that they have extended mercy to the man – he is not present.  These men probably have lusted in their hearts.  They are guilty of carrying the same corruption within their bodies.  The only one who can condemn out of a position of purity is Jesus and he chooses not to.

We need to see what our motives are when we want to see others publicly disgraced or we want justice for our neighbours.  Jesus sees the world as it is.  He understands the horror of all of our sin.  He doesn’t want to see our bodies broken and our blood soaking into the sand.  He surrendered his body to that punishment so that we could walk away forgiven and free.


Jesus, I believe that you really did these things.  You are merciful and forgiving in ways that we are not.  Help us not to run with the crowd in condemning others and writing ourselves off too.  Help us to take on your attitude of mercy and forgiveness.  Help us to forgive ourselves of our darkest crimes and to accept ourselves as you have accepted us.  Then help us to walk in the Spirit and sin no more.

This picture challenges our cultural assumptions just as Jesus challenged the assumptions of his day.


  1. Do you believe this is a genuine story of Jesus?  Why?  Why not?
  2. What does this teach us about people?
  3. What does this story tell us about Jesus?
  4. Have you been caught up in a rush to judgment which condemned a public figure or personal acquaintance?
  5. Have you extended mercy and grace to yourself and others?  How can you do this more?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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22 Responses to John 7:53-8:11 The Story That Isn’t There

  1. Sara Cavitt says:

    1) I do believe that this is a genuine story of Jesus, because I am confident that the Bible speaks truth.
    2) This story teaches that people are quick to judge others, and they easily forget the mercy they have received from Jesus.
    3) In this story, we are reminded of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.
    4) Sadly, yes. It is much easier for me to judge others than to judge myself.
    5) Yes, when I remember how much Christ has forgiven me, it is easier to forgive others and to show grace and mercy.

  2. Jenna says:

    1. I do believe that this story is true because it is in the Bible. While there is debate about whether this story was added later or is from a different Gospel, I don’t think that God, in His sovereignty, would allow a whole story about Jesus into the Bible if it wasn’t true.
    2. This story shows us that we are so willing to judge and condemn others without considering our own sin. We want to condemn others so that we feel better about ourselves.
    3. Jesus, while He is the only one who is sinless enough to condemn, chooses not to – He has mercy on this woman. He judges her sin and finds her guilty, but He chooses not to condemn her but to call her to repentance.
    4. Yes!
    5. I try to! I am sometimes my harshest critic and very quick to critique others, but I am trying to have more mercy and grace for others. I think that the way to do this more is to constantly renew my mind – until I think differently, and view others in the light of how God sees them, I will not change.

  3. Amy McCashen says:

    1. Yes I do. The Bible says that Jesus did or said many different things, and I believe it because I believe the Bible is true.
    2. People are wicked, sinful and judgmental and they are quick to point out the sin of others before they examine their own lives.
    3. Jesus is compassionate and he cares for, not only the woman, but also the men who tired to stone her. He wants them all to examine their hearts.
    4. I have, unfortunately. Its really convicting how quick I am to judge other people. Who am I to think the things I do? Jesus is always at work in me- Praise Him!
    5. I have, but not as much as I probably should. I can do this more by remembering how sinful I am and how much God has done for and forgiven me and treating others in a similar way.

  4. Beth Coale says:

    1. Yes, because the accounts in the Bible have undergone a lot of scrutiny & it is very reasonable to see them as credible. Also, it aligns with the actions of Christ (challenging the Pharisees, showing mercy and grace).
    2. that people are judgmental and like to keep to the rules (when it comes to others at least)
    3. that Christ does not take pleasure in punishing the wicked but would prefer for them to turn from their old way and live! (just like His Father in Ezekiel 18:23)
    4 & 5. Yes, on the other end, I even find myself frustrated to see people be forgiven of things that I try hard not to do or that I wasn’t forgiven of so quickly – I’m maybe jealous of the mercy given to others? I need to get over myself & these feelings so that I can show mercy and grace more. Also, I need to stop calling/ masking unmerciful attitudes as “tough love” when I really just need to show love.

  5. Sarah Deurbrouck says:

    This passage is said to refer back to Jeremiah 17:13 “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.” The religious rulers would have known this passage and I believe it is because of this that they turn away from Jesus.

    I am so guilty of being quick to judge people. I am caught up in what I believe are my own right beliefs and actions that I am easy to condemn those who do not act like I believe is correct. Not even Jesus condemns the woman here (of quite a hefty sin!). How am I to respond to people I think are in sin? Perhaps not judge whether they are in sin, but encourage them to live a godly life, and know that God will judge rightly.

  6. karas says:

    I never knew this story was under doubt. I think it’s true, because it is better than something I think most humans would think up and reflects God’s character. It shows us God’s great grace. I remember someone saying that when something terrible happens, we should consider that we are just as sinful and potentially horrible as the person committing the homicide or whatever. That has helped me remember not to be too quick to condemn others.

  7. Ashley says:

    1. I have no reason to doubt this story. It seems in complete character with who Jesus is! The Bible is true and cannot be disputed.
    2. This story teaches us how hypocritical we are.
    3. Jesus was so loving and accepting, yet spoke truth and told people when they were being wrong. He was also very clever.
    4. Yes—I can be very judgmental.
    5. Yes—I have extended mercy and grace before. I can do this more by realizing how much grace Christ has extended to me. I sometimes think of the sins I struggle with and imagine them being unleashed…It is a terrible, frightening thought process and reminds me how much Jesus has saved me from and that he has saved me from myself.

  8. Rachel says:

    I believe that this story is one of the most powerful examples of the grace of Christ. While revealing the sinful desires of man to see others destroyed, this story reveals Christ’s powerful ability to perceive and forgive. Just earlier today I was judgmental of a man I once looked up to for some poor personal choices he made. I am quick to judge others, and myself, quite harshly! I rarely extend mercy and grace. I try to punish myself for my sin before anybody else can.

  9. tim pruiett says:

    I do believe that this is a real story about Jesus. It just fits. This is a perfect going against the normal and shows Jesus love for the woman and the grace He extends but, not justifying the sin He tells her to go and sin no more!
    2. we are so quick to judge others but, refuse to look at ourselves first.
    3.Yes and it is a wonderful thing to do and yet, a hard thing at the same time.

  10. What does this teach us about people?
    What does this story tell us about Jesus?
    “People often in rebuking or judging another person of sin, forget that they are supposed to be pushing them closer to Jesus, not making them feel guilty but to seek to have a contrite heart. Jesus’ shrewd ways illumine people to their errors. His love though pours forth in that He wants us to see the truth and error of our ways and TURN to Him. So He subtly (or not so subtly!) points us to the cross and reminds us of His sacrifice and then in His face you are reminded of the immense privilege it is to be included in the love and intimacy within the triune relationship of God Himself.”

  11. Janice Lee says:

    Wow! I didn’t know all this background information to this story. I always took it for granted as part of John’s Gospel. The story teaches that people are quick to judge others, while Jesus does not condemn us. As I recognize how great my sin is, I also experience and learn how great God’s grace and mercy is. Jesus, the only person with the right to judge and condemn people, did not condemn us to death but died in our place so that we might be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with Him. What an awesome God!

  12. zacbodine says:

    What was Jesus writing? I wish we knew. I never knew this passage was under scrutiny. How beautiful that must have been to see Jesus in this. Jesus takes death and sin and makes it something beautiful. Even the seriousness of the whole thing is slowed down by Christ’s actions.

  13. Dylan says:

    1. I do believe this story is true, and I’m not convinced that it is misplaced or written by someone other than John. Without the story, the text reads awkwardly. I also read an interesting article about the debate suggesting there were reasons to suppress this story in the early church but no reasons to add it in later.
    2. Human beings are great at being hypocrites. Knowing something and living it out are two entirely different practices.
    3. Jesus is gracious, all loving and able to forgive us of all our sins.
    4. Yes. I find It’s easy to get involved in making fun of customers at work. I have to be careful not to do this to demean them and make false assumptions.
    5. I have been trying to do both, more the past couple of weeks. One way I could increase my mercy and grace is to use the circumstances God presents me with rather than complain about them.

  14. Austin Brose says:

    I do believe the genuine story of the adulterous woman and Jesus, it is scripture, and has been backed up with credibility. I say that a bit blindly though, seeing that I have not researched its credibility. This teaches us that 1) Sexual sin (especially from a woman) was abhorrent. 2) The people who wanted to trick Jesus were very legalistic. 3) The people were made aware of their own sin. This story tells us that Jesus does not look at sinners with judging eyes and harsh words, but he is forgiving and gracious. Yes, I am guilty of rushing to judgement of a public figure or personal acquaintance. It is easy to judge and not look into the facts or the matters of the heart. I believe I have extended grace and mercy to those around me, I can do this more by not being so quick to judge and treating people with more love.

  15. Mary says:

    I have always believed this to be a true story; it was accepted into the canon of Scripture. Although, I have always wondered what Jesus wrote. Did he write out the 10 Commandments? Other rules in the Torah they may have broken? After he writes, he says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” and then they all disappear. I think whatever Jesus wrote must have convicted them of their own guilt.

    Jesus protects her from being stoned to death even though she is guilty of sin and deserving of punishment according to the law. Rather, Jesus extends grace. He forgives her and tells her to go and sin no more. Sound familiar? Since I have been locked in my room studying Romans all day, all I can see at the moment is grace and law being contrasted. I think this story fits right in the gospels…or the Epistles. I’m not sure. But it definitely belongs. (Not liking what my ESV Study Bible has to say about this one…likely true, but “should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.”)

  16. Kathleen says:

    I do believe this is a real story. This story shows that all are sinful and Jesus extends mercy. We are often quick to judge others without examining our own lives. Pointing fingers can be easy but when the finger is pointed our way, we get defensive trying to justify our actions. Jesus didn’t ask the woman why she did what she did. He simply forgave her. I can be quick to judge others. I also can be hard on myself and sometimes not hard enough.

  17. Bethany says:

    5. It is sometimes really hard for me to extend mercy and grace to myself. It is even harder than giving others grace. When I let others down I tend to get very discouraged and self-deprecate. My Mom once told me to not count others wrongs against me because that will create a bitter heart over a joyful one. This is something that I need to apply to myself because it is almost harder for me to not count my own mistakes and wrongs. I need to remember my clear need for a Savior and how I am a sinful being yet Christ loves me just the same.

  18. nataliaria says:

    I do believe that this is a true story of Jesus. This conviction is based upon my belief that God’s sovereignty extends to His Word, and that if a false story about Jesus were circulating at the time of the compilation of the canon, God is able to have prohibited it from being included. As a secondary reason, I am affected deeply by the grace, gentleness and wisdom of Jesus that are so evident in this story, and I very much believe that these characteristics are true of Him.

    I am intrigued by the human reactions shown in this story, because those who bring the woman (the Pharisees, specifically, have previously seemed so calloused to Jesus’ words, and yet seem to be legitimately convicted in this passage. I believe that this shows that

    I have actually been convicted quite recently of the judgments that I allow myself to feel towards certain people who I do not know. Rather than grand-scale judgments on deep issues, these judgments are usually based on the physical appearances of others, and are usually made in comparison to myself.

    This is a very good question, and I appreciate the parallel between giving oneself grace and giving it to others. I often find myself holding unrealistically high standards for my own performance, and becoming unreasonably upset with myself when I (inevitably) am unable to live up to my own expectations. However, when I am wound tight about whatever small way I have not done what I thought was my best, I am unable to be kind, gracious, and loving to those around me, and therefore unable to demonstrate Christ to them.

  19. Nick says:

    I have caught myself multiple times rushing to judgement on someone caught in the spotlight. Being a huge football fan, I have dealt with that seemingly a lot lately with all the reports of domestic and substance abuse among the NFL’s players lately. In most of these cases the players are in the wrong and my judgement was “correct.” However, I have to remember that it is not my right to judge them, and I need to continually pray for people caught up in their situations and I have to remember that there is still grace in their situations, although none of us deserve that grace.

  20. Rebekah Thompson (Bekah) says:

    1. Absolutely, because it comes from the word of God which is inspired and inerrant word of God
    2. That they are so quick to judge someone who has done an external sin that can be easily seen
    3. That he is a loving God who is quick to forgive and that he views all sins equally
    4. Yes, I’m sure I have usually people who say things I don’t like I feel like I am kind of judgmental on the use of certain words as well as when people get upset and angry about silly things
    5. Yes I have but I definitely need to do this more on both sides

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