The Unparalleled Love Of Jesus

John 7:53-8:11 They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 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.”


Concerning the Bible, our church and denomination’s doctrinal statement reads, “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

There is a ton of good stuff in there. But for the purposes of our text this morning, the key phrase is “the Bible is without error in the original writings.” And within that, the key word is “original.” It’s key because(, as your Bible probably indicates,) John 7:53-8:11:

  1. Probably wasn’t in the original Gospel of John.
  2. Probably wasn’t written by John.

If these things are true, why, then, (1) were they included in certain copies in the first place (beginning in the 8th C), (2) why in this place in John’s Gospel, and (3) why are they still in it if we’re fairly certain they shouldn’t be?

The answer to the first question (originally included) is twofold. (1) Scholars have, for centuries, and still do to a very large degree, believed the event described in this passage probably did happen in the ministry of Jesus and (2) that the account recorded in our Bibles today was quite possibly written by an apostle (most likely Luke).

The answer to the second question (in this place in John) less clear. In later manuscripts it’s found in at least five different places (three in John and two in Luke). Given the answer to the first question, though, it seems that the sentiment was that it had to go somewhere. Why it eventually ended up in this place in John, we’re just not sure.

And the answer to the third question (still in) is that the Church is rightly very, very slow in doing anything to alter the biblical text as it’s been handed down to us. Scholarly fads are all too common and it’s not entirely certain the passage isn’t original. (Cynically, fear and ignorance probably play a role in it as well.)

It may be news to you that there are certain words or passages in the Bible that scholars aren’t confident are original. But all of those places are clearly marked with footnotes in most modern translations (far less than one percent of the entire Bible), and none deal with substantive issues of the gospel. Our passage is the most significant example of these things (along with Mark 16:9-20). Given all of this, there are five things I want you to keep in mind as I make my way through this text:

  1. Because it probably happened and was possibly recorded by an apostle, I’m going to cover this passage in the context of a worship service. But because it probably wasn’t original or written by John, it’s better to think of this as a standalone lesson rather than ordinary preaching.
  2. I’m not going to try to link it with the rest of John.
  3. We should avoid any attempt to establish doctrine from this passage alone.
  4. We should have confidence in any conclusions or applications we draw from this passage only insofar as they are established in other, non-contested passages (which I’ll try to do even more than usual).
  5. I’m happy to talk more about this with anyone who is interested and to provide you with some of the scholarship that I’m basing my conclusions off of.

In spite of all of this, it is my hope that rather than serve as a discouraging or doubt-casting confession (I remember being a little rattled when I first heard this), this intro and message will give you greater confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible and provide you with a beautiful, historical picture of the love of our Savior in action.

Let’s pray, therefore, and then dive into this most intriguing passage.


The first two verses provide us with the backdrop of the scene. In them we see that those who were with Jesus went home and that Jesus spent the night alone on the Mount of Olives. And we see that early the next day, Jesus went back to the temple, sat down, and taught. This time Jesus taught in the public court of the temple (which was a normal thing for rabbis to do), making Himself easily seen and heard by anyone who was so inclined. It also indicates that Jesus drew a decent sized crowd to listen to his teaching.

The rest of the passage (8:3-11) tells us that at some point in the course of His teaching, a group of Jewish leaders interrupted Jesus by bringing an adulteress before Him in an attempt to trap Him.

Ultimately, this is a simple story of the unparalleled love of Jesus Christ. That is, this is not primarily a story of corrupt religious leaders, the role of the law of God in the lives of God’s people, the mysterious writing of Jesus on the ground, or even the adulterous woman. First and most, it is a living picture of John 3:16-18 in action.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

With that in mind, this passage does describe the trickery of the scribes and Pharisees. It also gives us a picture of salvation in the woman. Above all, though, in those two things we see Jesus’ unmatched wisdom, courage, mercy, and grace. Combined, these things marked His love expressed; His love incarnate. Let’s dive into each of these things now, beginning with the trickery of the scribes and Pharisees.


Again, although the main point of the passage isn’t about the Jewish leaders, they contribute something important. Their important contribution is a kind of trickery that serves to provide a stark contrast with Jesus’ love. It is the self-serving deceitfulness of the scribes and Pharisees that gives the righteous love of Jesus such a clear opportunity to shine in the darkness. This trickery shows up in four distinct ways.

They Only Brought the Woman (3)

First, the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman, but not the man. Adultery, as you know, requires two parties. The fact that they caught the woman in the act, means they caught the man too. And yet, it was the woman alone, the most vulnerable to manipulation, the least able to defend herself from any injustice, the one who was able to put up the least resistance, the easiest target, that they brought.

They Brought the Woman to Jesus (3)


econd, they brought the woman to Jesus, not those who had the responsibility to rule on such cases. The Sanhedrin held court on such matters and was responsible for rendering a verdict and prescribing the proper sentence. Jesus was not a member of the court or Sanhedrin. He had no earthly authority, and no authority at all in the eyes of the men before Him. Their trickery is seen in the fact that they brought the woman before Jesus instead of the place they considered proper. But why? We see the answer in the next point.

They Brought the Woman Before Jesus in Order to Trap Him (6)

Third, they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap Him. Their question wasn’t genuine. Tragically and treacherously, the men who most postured themselves as experts in the law and as those most serious about keeping the law, were entirely uninterested in actually upholding the law in this case. In fact, this really wasn’t a question of the law at all. The law was clear. “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

The gist of the trap seems to be this: If Jesus were to show compassion and suggest the woman should not be stoned, He could be charged with advocating the breaking of God’s law. But if Jesus insisted that the woman should be stoned according to the law, He could be charged with promoting insubordination against the Romans who, at that time, demanded to have oversight over all capital punishment. Again, as we’re told explicitly in v.6, all of this was simply a way to trick and trap Jesus. “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”

They Left When Faced with the Consequences (9)

Finally, forth, their trickery is seen in the fact that they left when faced with the consequences of their own scheme. When Jesus turned the question back on them, rather than stand firm on what they knew was right, “they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

Even if this passage doesn’t belong here, it presents a picture of the Jewish leaders that is consistent with the rest of John’s Gospel. It shows them to be confused, cowardly, hypocritical, and more interested in maintaining power than doing the will of God. But again, all of that simply served to best show the unparalleled love of Jesus. And that’s where we’ll turn now.


Again, according to John 3:16, it was the love of God that brought Jesus into the world and salvation through Him. But, as I mentioned earlier, true love is always incarnate. That is, love is not an unexpressed feeling. It is benevolence lived out. In our passage, the lived-out love of Jesus took several forms: wisdom, courage, mercy, and grace.

Wisdom (2, 7)

If love is something like affectionately pursuing that which is best for a person, and wisdom is something like knowing what’s best, then wisdom is a fundamental component of love. How can we affectionately pursue that which is best for someone if we don’t know what that is? Love requires wisdom. Jesus’ wisdom is on display in a couple of ways in this passage.

First, we see it in v.2 where “all the people came to him” to be taught by Him. This was mainly because many people recognized that Jesus possessed a wisdom that was extraordinary. That is the consistent teaching of the Gospel writers.

Matthew 13:54 coming to his hometown [Jesus] taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” Similarly, in Mark 6:2 we read, “on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?'”

Jesus’ wisdom is seen here in the fact that people flocked to Him to gain it and were astonished when they did.

A second way in which we see the unparalleled love of incarnate Jesus, incarnate as wisdom, is in His response to the tricky trap of the Jewish leaders. We saw earlier that the scribes and Pharisees had gone to great lengths to set a trap for Jesus. They seemed confident in their plan. It seemed to be going well as Jesus failed to answer their question, writing something in the dirt instead. And then, in His wisdom, in a single sentence, Jesus upheld the Law and simultaneously turned both the issue of Roman insubordination and that of adultery back on His questioners.

The single sentence was, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” In these words, Jesus acknowledged that the law was clear and authoritative on this issue and the woman was guilty. And with these words, Jesus also made it clear that those who brought the woman to Jesus and laid the trap for Jesus would have to decide whether they would keep God’s law or Roman law. Let me explain.

Jesus upheld the authority of the law by admitting that a first stone ought to be thrown. But insodoing, He pointed the scribes and Pharisees to another aspect of the law. Deuteronomy 17:7 says that when it comes to a capital crime, more than one witness is needed. It also says that “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death…”. In other words, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You’re right, the law commands that an adulteress be stoned to death. And you’re right to bring with you several witnesses to the crime. Now, keep the whole law and be the first to stone her.”

What’s more, Jesus turned the crime itself back on the “witnesses.” While He turned the law back on them in the second half of His sentence, He turned the crime back in the first half, ” Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus wasn’t saying that only sinless people could be a part of executing judgment on sin as God commanded. Instead, it seems that Jesus was directly accusing them of being guilty of the same crime which they accused the woman! “If you’re going to stone her, you must stone yourselves too!”

That His accusers understood Jesus’ wisdom to be superior in every way is indicated by their response to this single sentence, “9 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.”

Loving someone well requires the wisdom to know what is best for them. Jesus’ wisdom is seen clearly here in exposing the leaders’ hypocrisy and providing the woman with an opportunity for redemption (more on that later).

Courage (6-9)

The second way in which we see the unparalleled love of Jesus in this passage is in His courage. Sometimes the pursuit of that which is best for another is costly. It can be difficult to know what’s truly best for a person and sometimes even more difficult to actually do it. And in those cases, love requires courage.

The Jewish leaders are consistently pictured as bullies in the Gospels. They regularly used their learning and authority to shame, guilt, and manipulate people who challenged them. We’ve seen this a number of times in John’s Gospel. For instance, in last week’s passage (in 7:52), when Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, spoke up against the hypocrisy of his fellow Pharisees (who were set to condemn Jesus without a hearing, contrary to the law), they mocked him. Likewise, in 7:10 we read that it was “for fear of the Jews [the Jewish leaders]” that the crowds were afraid to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. In chapter 5 they tried to intimidate the man Jesus healed by the pool of Bethesda.

The leaders had significant power; power to put people out of the temple and synagogue, power to interrupt their livelihood, power to make the lives of the family members of those they opposed very difficult, power to ruin reputations, power to drive people from the land, and even power to put people to death. For the 1st century Jew, government, family, religion, and work were all intertwined in a single system, and the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus held power over almost all of that. Standing up to them was no small thing.

That is perhaps most clearly seen in the fact that these same Jewish leaders regularly made plans and attempts to kill Jesus (5:18, 7:1; 7:25). Eventually, as we know and Jesus knew, they would be successful.

In the face of all of this, Jesus feared no man. His courage was unwavering. He was so committed to giving His life as a ransom for the world, that He had no fear of anything man could do to him. Thus, when pressed and cornered by the leaders, rather than timidly back down, Jesus courageously remained true.

In this , we’re confronted with the question of our own courage. How much are we willing to risk for the sake of identifying with and following Jesus? When confronted with mockers or enemies of the cross, what will we do?

Mercy (7-11)

More than just wisdom and courage, however, Jesus’ love took the form of mercy—compassion for the hurting. While the woman was indeed guilty of adultery, and while the crime and consequences were indeed serious, that the men brought only her, brought her into the center of the most public place, making her stand alone in the midst of everyone, and used her guilt merely as a tool for accomplishing their own twisted purposes, meant that the woman was truly in a lowly place. While Jesus in no way condoned her actions, He was not indifferent to her as a person. He showed significant mercy to her.

Jesus commanded His followers to be merciful. In Matthew 5:7 we read of Him saying, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Likewise in Luke 6:36 He said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” He promised that He would be merciful in passages like Luke 4:16-21.

And most significantly, Jesus was merciful. This is the unwavering picture of Jesus we find in the Gospels. Jesus showed mercy to the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), to the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8), to the lost and sick (Matthew 14:14), to the hungry (Mark 8), to the blind (Matthew 20:30-34), to a leper (Matthew 8:2-3), to the paralyzed (Matthew 8:5-13), to the demonically oppressed (Mark 1:39-40), to a grieving man when his child fine (Matthew 9:18-30), and mercifully on and on.

In this passage, Jesus’ was primarily dealing with the treachery of the scribes and Pharisees, but insodoing, He expressed His love in His profound mercy to the lowly woman. And in that, we are rightly faced with the question of our response to those who are hurting? The religious lack of mercy among the leaders stood in stark contrast with Jesus in this. Which side do we fall on?

Grace (10-11)

And finally, more even than through His wisdom, courage, and mercy, Jesus love took the form of amazing grace. Mercy is compassion for the hurting. Grace is help for sinners. As we’ll see in just a moment, in the final section, Jesus offered this guilty woman a way to be forgiven of her sin and reconciled to God. She deserved death, but Jesus offered His in her place!

Grace, consider the love of Jesus. His love expressed is filled with wisdom, courage, mercy, and grace. That is the heart of this passage and that is the love He has shown for us and calls us to show to the world. Would you consider that afresh today? Would you ask God for help to live that out even more faithfully today?


Finally, unfortunately, when this passage is addressed, it’s often with the woman at the center. That is understandable and compelling. It makes for a good story, especially for all who can understand the pain and loneliness of sinning in ways that are particularly egregious. Understandable and compelling, but also truly misguided. The woman isn’t named, barely speaks, and not a single description is given of anything she did in the presence of Jesus. While she isn’t the center (Jesus is), just like with the scribes and Pharisees, that isn’t to say we learn nothing from her. Indeed, she provides a remarkable picture of what it looks like to be undeservingly saved by the loving, sovereign grace of God. She brought nothing but guilt, shame, and weakness. And those things help us most clearly see that Jesus brought perfect and sufficient innocence, glory, and strength.

Jesus’ love came upon the woman in a manner that graciously offered her eternal salvation (not merely salvation from imminent stoning). And to best see that, there are two specific things we need to focus on: 1) The fact of her sin, and 2) The means of the redemption Jesus offered her.

She Had Sinned

We now live in a culture where a person suggesting that adultery (now called an affair) is a sin deserving any kind of negative consequence is more likely to be shamed than a person who actually committed adultery. This couldn’t be further from the truth or from the culture in which this passage took place.

As we saw earlier, the fact and consequences of the woman’s sin were unquestionable. She committed adultery. There were a sufficient number of witnesses. And the divinely-prescribed sentence was death by stoning. In a very real way, the woman brought before Jesus was condemned and powerless to do anything about it.

The key for us to see here is that the love of Jesus is offered to all, but is only able to be received by those who acknowledge their sin, its fatal consequences, and their inability to do anything about it on their own. There can be no loving grace, no forgiveness and salvation, where there is no humble acknowledgement of sin. Again, the first thing to see in the woman is that there most certainly was sin to be forgiven.

Jesus Offered Forgiveness by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone

The first point leads to two questions: 1) Would the woman acknowledge this?, and 2) What could be done about it? Look again with me at vs.9-11 to find out…in reverse order.

… 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.”

An uncareful reading of these verses might sound like Jesus told the woman something to the effect of, “Yeah, you did something you shouldn’t have, but don’t worry, I won’t hold that against you. You’re fine. Just try not to do it again.” But, as you may remember from our time in John 3 (the passage I read at the beginning, 16-18), the fact that Jesus did not need to come into the world to condemn the world, doesn’t mean He never passed judgment on sin or found people guilty of sin. It means, rather, that He didn’t need to condemn the world, because the world already was condemned. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, He came to save the condemned world. Thus, when Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you,” He was saying in effect, “You are already condemned, but I came to rescue you from that.”

So, what solution did Jesus offer? How might the woman escape her condemnation? Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” Again, on the surface, the meaning of this might not be obvious. It sounds at first hearing, like the woman needed to stop committing adultery and whatever other sins she might have been committing and Jesus would expunge the condemnation for those things from her record. “You get yourself right and I’ll forgive you.” But Grace Church, once again, that’s emphatically not what Jesus was telling the woman.

His charge to her was to repent, “from now on sin no more.” Repentance is one side of the coin of faith. Belief is the other side and is a prerequisite of repentance. In other words, if the woman did not believe in Jesus, she would not have obeyed His command to repent. To be clear, then, Jesus called the woman to place her faith in Him. For her redemption would be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, or nothing. There is no other manner by which she might have been saved. Jesus was able to offer this because He would soon die in her place, taking upon Himself the just penalty for her sins.

All of that leads to the second question and my conclusion. What was the woman’s response to all of this. There are some contextual and grammatical hints that the woman might have believed in Jesus and received forgiveness by grace through faith. I don’t find those arguments particularly compelling.

It seems to me, rather, that Jesus merely offered Himself to her, letting her know that He would forgive her if she would believe and repent. I don’t believe this passage tells us how the woman responded.

In some ways, that’s an even more powerful ending. It leaves all of us, having considered the unparalleled love of Jesus and the scribes’ and Pharisees’ prideful rejection of it, wondering what the woman would choose. I say that’s even more powerful in that it forces us to choose as well. Will you acknowledge your sin and its consequences before God, trust in Jesus, and receive the unparalleled love of Jesus? Or will you remain obstinate like the scribes and Pharisees, or undecided like the woman seemed to be (both of which are to remain condemned)? Jesus does offer His love to you, but as we’ve seen over and over in John’s Gospel, He offers a particular form of love and on His terms—genuine faith in Him.

This is a story of Jesus’ unparalleled love, shown most clearly in contrast to a broken sinner and prideful religious leaders. The story and the contrast help us more plainly see the gospel offer this before us. May we all receive it in faith.