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What did Jesus mean when He said, “Neither do I condemn you” in John 8:11?

neither do I condemn you

Jesus’ statement, “Neither do I condemn you,” is found in John 8:11 and comes in the context of the judgment of a woman taken in adultery. In John 7:53—8:11, a woman is brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees after she was caught in the act of adultery. Adultery, however, is not a sin that one commits in isolation. So, it is reasonable to wonder why the religious authorities did not also bring the man involved. The sheer inequity of the situation arouses feelings of sympathy and compassion, even if the woman is morally and legally guilty (John 8:5; cf. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).

The woman stands before Jesus, a sinless (Hebrews 4:15) and perfect man (John 8:46). As such, He has the divine right to condemn the woman. However, in a powerful lesson about mercy, grace, and forgiveness, Jesus chooses not to condemn her (John 8:11).

Nothing is known about the woman except that she committed adultery. Was she married? Was she engaged to be married? In Deuteronomy 22:23–24, stoning is the proper punishment for a betrothed virgin who is sexually unfaithful to her fiancé and for the man whom she had sex with. Both in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, death is prescribed for all unfaithful wives and their lovers, but stoning is not specifically mentioned. This suggests that the woman in John 7:53—8:11 is betrothed, not married. At any rate, the story is less about the woman’s marital status (or even what she did) and more about what Jesus was about to do.

The authorities brought the woman to Jesus “to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him” (John 8:6, ESV). If Jesus dismissed the Law of Moses, He would be viewed as a sinful and lawless man who deserved to die. But if Jesus upheld the law and condemned the woman, He would have contradicted the purpose of His earthly ministry: “‭God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, ESV).‬‬ Further, He would have sanctioned the Pharisees’ injustice of only bringing the woman who had sinned.

‬ In response to the religious leaders’ question, “Now what do you say?” (John 8:5), Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground (John 8:6). There has been much speculation about why and what Jesus wrote. A common theory is that He wrote part of Jeremiah 17:13—“Those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water” (ESV). Another suggests that Jesus listed the sins committed by the Jewish authorities present. The truth is that we do not know. What is clear, however, is that Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, ESV; see Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7). This does not mean that the authorities must be free from all sin before condemning the woman. It simply means that they must not be guilty of this particular sin (i.e., adultery). Jesus’ words pierced their conscience, for “they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9, ESV).

Alone with the woman, Jesus asks a simple question: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10, ESV). To which she replies, “No one, Lord” (verse 11, ESV). Regardless of what the Mosaic Law required, Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (ESV). Although the woman is guilty, Jesus opts to forgive her sin. Forgiveness, of course, is a right reserved for God alone (Matthew 9:1–8); thus, this act further supports Jesus’ identity as God in the flesh.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13), a truth certainly illustrated in Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterous woman. The proper response to such a spectacular display of mercy is to wholly commit ourselves to purity in the future: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11, NLT).

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What did Jesus mean when He said, “Neither do I condemn you” in John 8:11?
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This page last updated: December 11, 2023