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Forgiveness and Punishment for Adultery

Q. When Jesus forgave the adulterous woman (see John 8:2–11), what was the punishment, if any, for the man with whom she committed adultery?

A. The Old Testament prescribes the same punishment — capital punishment — for both adulterers. “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10; see also Deuteronomy 22:22).

We should recall that the scribes and Pharisees were enemies of Jesus, intent on trying to create some charge to bring against Him. Here they thought they had posed a dilemma for Him.

If He upheld the Old Testament law and agreed the adulteress should be executed, they could accuse Him of sedition, because the Roman conquerors had forbidden Jews to carry out capital punishment. On the other hand, if Jesus said the woman should not be punished, they would accuse Him of breaking the Old Testament law.

So why didn’t Jesus’ enemies bring the guilty man along with the woman? This detail of the story shows that their motivation was not simply doing justice under the Jewish law. They were conspiring against Jesus. They evidently were using the woman in an attempt to trap Jesus in either sedition or heresy.

It’s possible that they had sent someone (perhaps one of their own number?) to entice the woman into adultery and then arranged to break in on the adulterous act. This scenario, incidentally, would make them accessories to the crime of adultery and therefore guilty also. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). PT

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