1. But Jesus went to the mountain of Olives. 2. And early in the morning he again came to the temple, and all the people came to him; and sitting down, he taught them 3. And the scribes and Pharisees bring to him a woman caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst, 4. They say to him, Master, this woman was caught in the very act, while she was committing adultery. 5. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such persons; but what sayest thou? 6. Now they said this, trying him, that they might have ground for accusing him. But Jesus, casting down his eyes, 1 wrote with the finger on the ground. 7. And as they persisted in asking him, he lifted up his eyes, 2 and said to them, He who is without sin amongst you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9. And having heard that, and being reproved by their conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest even to the last; so that Jesus was left alone, and the woman who stood in the midst. 10. And Jesus, lifting up his eyes, having seen nobody but the woman, said to her, Woman, where are thy accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? 11. She said, No man, Lord. Jesus answered her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
3. And the scribes and Pharisees bring to him. It is plain enough that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage. When the Evangelist says that the scribes brought to him a woman, he means that it was done by an agreement among them, in order to lay traps for Christ. He expressly mentions the Pharisees, because they were the chief persons in the rank of scribes. In adopting this pretense for slander, they display enormous wickedness, and even their own lips accuse them; for they do not disguise that they have a plain commandment of the Law, and hence it follows that they act maliciously in putting a question as if it were a doubtful matter. But their intention was, to constrain Christ to depart from his office of preaching grace, that he might appear to be fickle and unsteady. They expressly state that adulteresses are condemned by Moses, (Leviticus 20:10,) that they may hold Christ bound by the sentence already given by the Law, for it was not lawful to acquit those whom the Law condemned; and, on the other hand, if he had consented to the Law, he might be thought to be somewhat unlike himself.
6. And Jesus stooping down. By this attitude he intended to show that he despised them. Those who conjecture that he wrote this or the other thing, in my opinion, do not understand his meaning. Nor do I approve of the ingenuity of Augustine, who thinks that in this manner the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is pointed out, because Christ did not write on tables of stone, (Exodus 31:18,) but on man, who is dust and earth. For Christ rather intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if any person, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show, by any other sign, that he was not attending to what was said. Thus in the present day, when Satan attempts, by various methods, to draw us aside from the right way of teaching, we ought disdainfully to pass by many things which he holds out to us. The Papists teaze us, to the utmost of their power, by many trifling cavils, as if they were throwing clouds into the air. If godly teachers be laboriously employed in examining each of those cavils, they will begin to weave Penelope's web; 3 and therefore delays of this sort, which do nothing but hinder the progress of the Gospel, are wisely disregarded.
7. He who is without sin among you. He said this according to the custom of the Law; for God commanded that the witnesses should, with their own hands, put malefactors to death, according to the sentence which had been pronounced on them; that greater caution might be used in bearing testimony, (Deuteronomy 17:7.) There are many who proceed rashly to overwhelm their brother by perjury, because they do not think that they inflict a deadly wound by their tongue. And this very argument, had weight with those slanderers, desperate as they were; for no sooner do they obtain a sight of it, than they lay aside those fierce passions with which they were swelled when they came. Yet there is this difference between the injunction of the Law and the words of Christ, that in the Law God merely enjoined that they should not condemn a man with the tongue, unless they were permitted to put him to death with their own hands; but here Christ demands from the witnesses perfect innocence, so that no man ought to accuse another of crime, unless he be pure, and free from every fault. Now what he said, at that time, to a few persons, we ought to view as spoken to all, that whoever accuses another, ought to impose on himself a law of innocence; otherwise, we do not pursue wicked actions, but rather are hostile to the persons of men.
In this way, however, Christ appears to take out of the world all judicial decisions, so that no man shall dare to say that he has a right to punish crimes. For shall a single judge be found, who is not conscious of having something that is wrong? Shall a single witness be produced who is not chargeable with some fault? He appears, therefore, to forbid all witnesses to give public testimony, and all judges to occupy the judgment-seat. I reply: this is not an absolute and unlimited prohibition, by which Christ forbids sinners to do their duty in correcting the sins of others; but by this word he only reproves hypocrites, who mildly flatter themselves and their vices, but are excessively severe, and even act the part of felons, in censuring others. No man, therefore, shall be prevented by his own sins from correcting the sins of others, and even from punishing them, when it may be found necessary, provided that both in himself and in others he hate what ought to be condemned; and in addition to all this, every man ought to begin by interrogating his own conscience, and by acting both as witness and judge against himself, before he come to others. In this manner shall we, without hating men, make war with sins.
9. And being reproved by their conscience. Here we perceive how great is the power of an evil conscience. Though those wicked hypocrites intended to entrap Christ by their cavils, yet as soon as he pierces their consciences by a single word, shame puts them to flight. This is the hammer with which we must break the pride of hypocrites. They must be summoned to the judgment-seat of God. Though it is possible that the shame, with which they were struck before men, had greater influence over them than the fear of God, still it is a great matter that, of their own accord, they acknowledge themselves to be guilty, when they thus fly away as if they were confounded. It is immediately added,
Beginning from the eldest even to the last. Our attention is drawn to this circumstance, that, according as each of them surpassed the others in honorable rank, he was the more quickly moved by his condemnation. And would to God that 4 our scribes, who in the present day sell their labors to the Pope to make war with Christ, had at least as much modesty as those men; but they are so destitute of shame that, while they have rendered themselves infamous by every detestable crime, they glory in the fact that they are permitted to be as abominable as they choose, without being punished. We ought also to observe how widely this conviction of sin, by which the scribes were affected, differs from true repentance. For we ought to be affected by the judgment of God in such a manner, that we shall not seek a place of concealment to avoid the presence of the Judge, but rather shall go direct to Him, in order to implore his forgiveness.
Jesus was left alone. This was brought about by the Spirit of wisdom, that those wicked men, having gained nothing by tempting Christ, went away. Nor is there any reason to doubt that we shall succeed in defeating all the contrivances of our enemies, provided that we permit ourselves to be governed by the same Spirit. But it frequently happens that they gain an advantage over us, because, not attending to their snares, we are not careful to take advice, or rather, trusting to our own wisdom, we do not consider how much we need the government of the Holy Spirit. He says that Christ remained alone; not that the people, whom he was formerly teaching, had left him, but because all the scribes, who had brought the adulteress, gave him no farther annoyance. When it is said that the woman remained with Christ, let us learn by this example that there is nothing better for us than to be brought, as guilty, to his tribunal, provided that we surrender ourselves mildly and submissively to his government.
11. Neither do I condemn thee. We are not told that Christ absolutely acquitted the woman, but that he allowed her to go at liberty. Nor is this wonderful, for he did not wish to undertake any thing that did not belong to his office. He bad been sent by the Father to gather the lost sheep, (Matthew 10:6;) and, therefore, mindful of his calling, he exhorts the woman to repentance, and comforts her by a promise of grace. They who infer from this that adultery ought not to be punished with death, must, for the same reason, admit that inheritances ought not to be divided, because Christ refused to arbitrate in that matter between two brothers, (Luke 12:13.) Indeed, there will be no crime whatever that shall not be exempted from the penalties of the law, if adultery be not punished; for then the door will be thrown open for any kind of treachery, and for poisoning, and murder, and robbery. Besides, the adulteress, when she bears an unlawful child, not only robs the name of the family, but violently takes away the right of inheritance from the lawful offspring, and conveys it to strangers. But what is worst of all, the wife not only dishonors the husband to whom she had been united, but prostitutes herself to shameful wickedness, and likewise violates the sacred covenant of God, without which no holiness can continue to exist in the world.
Yet the Popish theology is, that in this passage Christ has brought to us the Law of grace, by which adulterers are freed from punishment. And though they endeavor, by every method, to efface from the minds of men the grace of God, such grace as is every where declared to us by the doctrine of the Gospel, yet in this passage alone they preach aloud the Law of grace. Why is this, but that they may pollute, with unbridled lust, almost every marriage-bed, and may escape unpunished? Truly, this is the fine fruit 5 which we have reaped from the diabolical system of celibacy, that they who are not permitted to marry a lawful wife can commit fornication without restraint. But let us remember that, while Christ forgives the sins of men, he does not overturn political order, or reverse the sentences and punishments appointed by the laws.
Go, and sin no more. Hence we infer what is the design of the grace of Christ. It is, that the sinner, being reconciled to God, may honor the Author of his salvation by a good and holy life. In short, by the same word of God, when forgiveness is offered to us, we are likewise called to repentance. Besides, though this exhortation looks forward to the future, still it humbles sinners by recalling to remembrance their past life.