Jesus is the true judge of humanity, “the one without sin”, who receives on behalf of the world the condemnation of his own law. This is the grace and love of the gospel.
Many view this pericope as a later addition to the Gospel narrative. But there is something of a mystery regarding this pericope.
The pericope is entirely absent from all pre-fifth century AD manuscripts.
When it does appear, it is located in ten different places in the manuscript traditions (7:36, 44, 52; 21:25, and Luke 21:38).
The pericope is different from the usual style of John’s writings.
The pericope is not dealt with in early patristic writings up to the fourth century; moreover, no Greek church father prior to the 12th century comments on it.
The above evidence strongly suggest that this pericope does not belong to the original Gospel. And yet every contemporary Bible - even if the text is given double brackets or italics or a smaller font - contains this pericope, thereby declaring to today’s reader that it is part of John’s Gospel.
The story was a part of an oral tradition preserved by the early Christians which suggests that they deemed it appropriate to be used and reflect upon it. And its insertion into the Gospel of John suggest that the early Christians deemed it appropriate.
The leaders after their dispute went home and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
This is the only place John mentioned the Mount of Olives in his Gospel. It was located near Jerusalem and it could be Jesus’ primary residence (Lk 21:37).
Despite the tensions narrated in chapter 7, Jesus comes back to the temple and continues teaching the people. The content of his teaching is not provided this time, because his action is the focus of this story.
The presence of “all the people” prepares us for what is going to happen. According to Deut 13:9; 17:7, after the hands of the witnesses, the hands of all the people will put the accused to death.
Jesus’ teaching was interrupted by the Jewish authorities. This is the first time the “scribes” are being mentioned.
Scribes occupied an important profession in Judaism, functioning as a combination of roles: lawyer, ethicist, theologian, catechist, and jurist. Their presence makes formal the legal proceedings about to take place.
The woman is unnamed. “Caught in adultery”?
It is possible that she was indeed caught in the act of adultery.
It is also probable to assume that the entire situation is a setup, given the character of the Jewish leadership displayed thus far.
Another interesting fact. Why do the Pharisees not arrest Jesus as they planned (7:30,32,44)?
Moreover, they could judge her by themselves. Why do they place the judgement at the feet of Jesus?
As much as the woman had been “led” and “placed” before Jesus - terms that depict the treatment of a prisoner - in this pericope it is Jesus who is on trial.
The way they phrase the charge indicate that it was certain.
According to the Jewish law, the charge required eyewitnesses - (see Deut 22:22). But, where are they?
They are addressing Jesus “teacher” (see Mk 12:14). By this title, Jesus is summoned to the ‘court proceeding’.
They brought the charge against the woman, and now they apply the law of Moses to this type of moral offence. She deserve death. The woman is spoken of derogatorily “such women”.
But their application contains a significant omission. The law states that both the man and the woman are to be stoned (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). So, where is the man? Moreover, the law further qualifies when the stoning can be applied to the guilty pair (Deut 22:23–24) and provides an example when only the man and not the woman supposed to be stoned (Deut 22:25).
“What do you say?” If only they knew that the one they are trying to set up is the Judge (5:22).
The first part of this verse explains to us the intentions of the Pharisees and the scribes (cf. Mk 12:13). They were actually focused on Jesus and not on the woman.
Jesus was not sought out for guidance or to serve as a member of the scribal authorities - he was put on trial here.
The accusation against the woman was to serve as a pretext for a greater accusation against Jesus.
Jesus lowers himself and began to write on the sand with his finger.
The focus is not what he wrote but that he wrote on the ground.
The Pharisees and the scribes were not satisfied with such a response of Jesus to their question. So, they keep insisting on his answer.
Rising from the ground Jesus only makes one statement. It is a forceful command. Who is qualified to throw a stone at this woman? Apparently not the eyewitnesses, who are not mentioned, but the one without sin.
The narrator informs us that after this one sentence Jesus goes back to his writing on the sand.
Exodus 31:18 and Deut 9:10 - the Ten Commandments were written by “the finger of God”.
The Pharisees and the scribed challenged Jesus with reference to Moses. But, the Evangelist indicates that the one who is writing with his finger on the sand is God himself - his finger is the very “finger of God”.
The word for “writing” used in 6a is “κατέγραφεν” and here it is “έ͗γραφεν”. They have synonymous meanings and appear in Exodus 32:15 LXX. Thus, the meaning is obvious: Jesus himself is the author of the law.
When the scribes and Pharisees challenge Jesus with the legality of the law of God, they are speaking directly to its author.
Jesus’ statement made an impact. Everyone leaves. They leave one by one, they leave “beginning from the older ones”. Only Jesus and the woman remained - the God, the law Giver and the Judge - the only one who met his own qualification “being without sin” (8:7) and the accused one.
The woman is still “in the midst” which means that she has not moved at all. Jesus is also still positioned as described in 8:8 - bent on the ground.
Just as Jesus rose to address the legal experts, he now rises to address the accused. He is asking two questions. “Where are they” - sound like a sarcasm. To the second question the woman gives the answer.
The answer of the woman states what the reader knows: Jesus alone is the Judge.
Jesus says that he does not condemn her either - referring to condemnation in a legal sense. The Author of the law and the Judge sets her free (cf. 5:26–27; Luke 4:18–19; 5:24).
Jesus’ further statement indicates that the woman was not without guilt. And so Jesus sets her free but not without qualification (cf. John 5:14). She must live as a truly free person under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).
True freedom is found in Christ (8:31–38).