Monday, February 02, 2009

Why Didn't Jesus Cast the First Stone?

I answered this question initially a while back (here), but I thought I would expound on it further for my upcoming Q&A in the parish bulletin. Here's what I wrote:

Q: Did Jesus break the Law of Moses by not stoning the woman caught in adultery?

Great question! The incident you are referring to is found in Jn 8:3-11. The Pharisees catch an adulterous woman and bring her to Jesus to see what He will do. You may want to open your bible to this passage so that you can have it on hand as I discuss what is happening here.

Now, at first glance, it may appear that Jesus did break the Law of Moses. After all, the Law stated that anyone who commits adultery must be stoned to death (cf. Lev 20:10; Deut 22:20-22), yet Jesus prevented this woman from being stoned. However, the truth is this: Jesus did not break the Law here, He fulfilled it.

First, we must keep in mind that the truest justice comes not when the Law is enforced by those who are themselves transgressors of it (as all mankind are), but when it is enforced by He who is sinless, who is in no way a transgressor of the Law of God (cf. Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). When Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” He basically revealed to the crowd that He is the ultimate Judge, not the Pharisees (or anyone else, for that matter).

Once He established that, He went on to enforce the Law when He said to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” After all, the purpose or spirit of this particular law (which the Pharisees so often neglected) was to impress upon Israel the gravity of the sin of adultery. Jesus acknowledged this when He told the woman to never do it again.

Finally, note that stoning the woman would have meant the condemnation of both the sin and the woman. She would have died in sin and suffered total separation from God. But, Jesus came to condemn sin, not sinners. He came to save what was lost, not to lose it (cf. Lk 19:10; Jn 12:47; 18:9). So, by preventing the stoning while at the same time commanding the woman to “Go and sin no more,” Jesus condemns the sin but saves the sinner. In this way, He is both Just and Merciful, and He brings about the fulfillment of the law in question.

Pax Christi,


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Nick, Great post!

God bless!

Anonymous said...

The law actually required the witnesses to begin the stoning and the pharisees made no mention of the witnesses and maybe did not bring them:

Deu 17:7 The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you."

Check Deuteronomy 17 which seems to be stating general principles for death cases which required more than one witness: Deu 17:6 "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; [but] at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death."

So Christ could not have been referring to Himself as the one to stone because one witness was not enough and He was not a witness anyway. But He was referring to the accusing group and He was daring them to find anyone amongst themselves who was without sin. And since they had not yet obeyed the law about witnesses as first stoners,then He would allow them to stone if they were without sin themselves but they could not be since Paul says: Rom 3:23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God".
Meanwhile Christ returned to bending down and writing in the dirt and what He wrote there was the sins of the accusers. How do we know this?

Jer 17:13 "O LORD... all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, [and] they that depart from me shall be written in the earth...."

Christ was writing their names and sins in the dirt "written in the earth".

But we now look at the reaction of the accusers and how they leave Christ in order of age which means that Christ wrote their sins in order of eldest first and wrote them in the dirt: Jhn 8:9 "And they which heard [it], being convicted by [their own] conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest..."
That's the King James but the NAB is identical as to their leaving one by one and eldest first.

Only if Christ was writing their names and sins in the dirt would this peculiar way of leaving make by one only...and eldest first.

Men prior to Christ had no sanctifying grace but had actual graces whereby they could do good case by case. But in general without sanctifying grace, God had to give great threats to prevent them from sinning and so many mortal sins had the death penalty. Since Christ came and was bringing sanctifying grace, these threats would no longer be necessary because with sanctifying grace, they could avoid adultery because of grace and not because of threats as primary.

phatcatholic said...

I have a few problems with your interpretation. You are basically saying that Jesus let the woman go free because there were no witnesses present to accuse her. The Ignatius Study Bible responds to that argument as follows:

"This could not have been so, first, because it wrongly implies that Jesus would have been caught off guard if the witnesses who caught the adulteress in the act did come forward and, second, because it wrongly implies that Jesus would then have authorized the stoning."

Also, while I agree with you that Jer 17:13 is an instructive passage here, I think that it's only one sin that caused them to walk away: disbelief. Just before the Pharisees bring Jesus the adulterous woman they are seen scoffing at His words when He says, "If anyone among you thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water' " (Jn 7:37-38). And what does Jer 17:13 say? "O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake thee shall be put to shame; those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water."

That said, no one can really say for sure what Jesus wrote in the sand, and in my post, I wasn't really as interested in that as I was in trying to explain why Jesus did not have the woman stoned.

Pax Christi,

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "You are basically saying that Jesus let the woman go free because there were no witnesses present to accuse her."

No...I didn't say that, He let her go because He had now brought the old death penalties for personal sins to an end since He had brought sanctifying grace (that obviates the need for extreme threats) which He was offering the Jews first. Generally Christ "came under the law" and did obey laws that were to be soon replaced but He did not always obey within pharisaic parameters and He hinted that technically He did not have obey at all: i.e. as to the Sabbath when He and the disciples had picked grain as they walked and were accused....He then gave the example of David eating the shew bread which only the priest can eat....and He proceeded to say of Himself: Mat 12:8 "For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day." Meaning they had failed to see the largesse of epikeia in the David incident and secondly, He as God was Lord over all such laws. Therefore He was Lord also over the death penalties which He was rescinding as to personal sin in the adulteress incident.
If we are to be eternally ignorant of why He wrote in the dirt, the expositor must come up with another explanation for the detail about the men leaving one by one and in order of elder first. You need not do that here but let it percolate over the future.

phatcatholic said...

haha, "largesse of epikeia," you and I would get along great I think :D

Just to clarify, are you saying that my interpretation is incorrect, or are you simply offering another possible interpretation? From what I can tell, you haven't presented anything that necessarily refutes my position, or explains exactly why it can't be right.

I re-read your first response and I found something I somehow missed before. You brought up the whole concept of the witnesses because you thought I was asserting that Jesus said, "He who is without sin cast the first stone" because He wanted them to know that He was the only one without sin and thus the only one worthy to stone her. I can see why you would derive that meaning from my post, but that's not what I intended to say.

Basically, I think Jesus said those words in order to convict the Pharisees of their sin and to show them He is the ultimate Judge, the one who will fulfill this law (and all the rest of it) in a way that they do not expect. They cannot trick Him for He is the one who cannot help but fulfill the Law. Then I went on to show how it was that Jesus fulfilled it.

Personally, I don't know if I would go so far as to say that Jesus was "above" the law, which is what you seem to be saying in your most recent response. Instead, I think that in cases where it appears that Jesus breaks the law, he is actually emphasizing the spirit of it -- a spirit that the Pharisees had long forgotten.

Finally, just for the sake of argument (who doesn't like a good argument from time to time?), I think the reason the crowd left from eldest to youngest was because the eldest, being the wisest, were the first to detect the truth in what Jesus was saying and then the youngest followed suit, in deference to the eldest. In the least, that explanation is just as plausible.

I don't know what Jesus wrote in the sand, but it could not have been very much. Have you ever written in the sand with your finger? It's not a very effect way of writing. This, along with the time span of the conversation (which seems relatively short) leads me to believe that Jesus probably did not write down all the sins of the Pharisees that were present (along with the name of each one), as you say He did.

What do you think? Let me know.

Pax Christi,

Anonymous said...

Phat some research on the finger of God and where it writes....Daniel is one place in the writing on the wall and remember how Christ said: "But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."
Your last post makes it seem like only two men were there: the eldest and the youngest. That is not true: "And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery"...plural of both groups so that there was a small crowd who left "one by one" begining with the eldest. I'm done. Believe as you will believe.

Anonymous said...

how can you get this wrong...its funny when someone says go do your research..Seriously....You have one Book too look at..if we have not got it down by now something is wrong.

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