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John 8:7

ESV 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."
NIV When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
NASB When they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'
CSB When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, "The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her."
NLT They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, 'All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!'
KJV So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
NKJV So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

What does John 8:7 mean?

Jesus' reaction in the prior verse is unusual. Jesus' critics were constantly trying to trick Him into making some kind of mistake (Matthew 16:1; 19:3; Matthew 22:35; Luke 10:25; 11:54). In most of those instances, Jesus seems to act or speak immediately in response. Here, however, Jesus begins by writing on the ground (John 8:6). And, once He has offered His simple, direct counter-challenge, He will go back to writing in the dirt. In the meantime, the men will press the issue, repeatedly asking Jesus what He plans to do about this woman caught in sin.

The trap laid by the Pharisees seems to present Jesus with a dilemma. The law does call for death for adulterers (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). However, Roman law prohibits Jewish leaders from using the death penalty (John 18:31), and Jesus is known to be a "friend of sinners" (Mathew 11:19). Jesus seems to be stuck between angering Rome and alienating His followers, and overtly defying the very Scriptures He has preached.

As always, though, Jesus' response cuts through the trap. His writing in the dirt is mentioned twice in this passage, suggesting that whatever He wrote was a deliberate part of His response. Perhaps He wrote relevant Old Testament verses, or the names and sins of some of those present. We cannot be sure, but we can be sure of how the crowd reacts. When He finally speaks, Jesus points out one of the areas where His critics are themselves falling short of the law: accusers are supposed to be the ones to begin the execution process (Deuteronomy 17:7). In blunt terms, Jesus is saying: "If you're going to appeal to the law, then go ahead and follow it!"

The remark about sinlessness is interesting, but not entirely clear. Jesus is not speaking of complete moral perfection, else no human being could ever "judge" as we are commanded to by God (John 7:24). His reference seems to be more specific. Since Christ had previously referred to lustful thoughts as adultery (Matthew 5:27–28), this might be part of what He has in mind. At worst, He might be suggesting that some of the men accusing this woman were themselves guilty of actual adultery—though the text itself does not say as much.

Jesus' reaction includes several layers. Here, he points out that the law also requires the accusers to begin the stoning process. Whomever caught the woman "in the act" was supposed to initiate her death. That, in and of itself, stymies any attempt to get Jesus in trouble with Rome, since the Pharisees would have to act first. Jesus' response also highlights another problem—a woman caught "in the act" would have been caught with a man, but the Pharisees have brought no guilty man with them.

In one fell swoop, Jesus points out that the Scribes and Pharisees are not actually interested in following the law. If they were, they'd at least follow the entire law, and not merely use it as a cheap publicity stunt. A complete submission to God means more than legalism, it also means using "right judgment" (John 7:24). Jesus' behavior after the Pharisees leave continues this contrast. The accusing men were ignoring God's frequent calls for His people to be merciful (Proverbs 21:10; Zechariah 7:8–9; Matthew 23:23).
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