Sign up ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How would stoning of an adulterer actually be carried out under the Law of Moses?

In John Chapter 8 there is the familiar story of how Jesus prevented a stoning of a woman who had committed adultery. I know that many think this was not in the original scriptures; even the NIV notifies the reader on this. My question is not whether this is ‘scripture’. My question is how would stoning for adultery have ever been carried out before Christ? I am specifically looking for rabbinic historical accounts. The image in my mind, usually portrayed in movies, is that the crowd ‘drops their stones’ after Jesus speaks. It is all very heart moving, but I am not sure if that is realistic, or maybe it is?

I have noticed that for ‘blasphemy’ people would literally pick up stones and kill someone, for they started to do that with Christ himself on two occasions. (John 8:59, 10:31)

I also have noticed that the punishments of the Law were often not carried out when people in the Bible sinned. At the very giving of the law, when Moses threw the tablets away (Exodus 21:19), the whole camp should have probably been stoned at the strict letter of the law he just received! That’s seems to be why we find this thing about God revealing his nature to Moses and declaring his ‘mercy’, to reconcile this extreme contradiction of law compared to Israel’s behaviour. (Exodus 34:7) King David, the pride of Israel’s moral history, was worthy of death by stoning, but God was merciful to him as he really was a model believer. I assume, therefore, that the mercy by God, or the person offended in any crime, was allowed to spare a person under the penalty of the law, somehow? But when the penalties are declared in Exodus, they do not imply any leeway? This will lead me to posting a different question, if not actually answered by the entitled question: ‘How would stoning of an adulterer actually be carried out under the Law of Moses?’

share|improve this question
For what it's worth, most modern text critics and commentators that I am aware of regard John 7:53-8:11 as inauthentic (i.e. not originally part of the Gospel of John), and thus, probably not "inspired Scripture" -- although the question of whether it is true (historically accurate) is more difficult to answer. –  Jas 3.1 Jun 11 '13 at 19:53

2 Answers 2

The Priests were to hold a "court" and recieve accusers and evidence ( if any ) and hear all sides, and then consult the Lord ( through the Urim and Thummim ) as to the Verdict, death or no. Then the execution by stoning was I believe to be conducted outside the Camp and/or city performed by a gathering of peers of the guilty. As far as burning, whether alive or not, or bound or what, I am not so sure. As to the above process, it is buried within the texts of the pentateuch somewhere. BTW, one of the best texts of the Letter of James has oh ye adulteresses, and not adulterers and adultresses.

share|improve this answer
I'm very grateful for your participation here. We're a little different from a forum, so do take the site tour if you haven't already. Answers are expected to have informed argument, cite evidence (primary and secondary), and not simply offer speculation. I think you can benefit a lot if you see the kind of answers that this site is looking for. –  Paul Vargas Apr 8 at 14:21
The four methods of execution are not buried at all. The rabbis (aka the Pharisees) preserved the details of practices in the Second Temple in the Mishna, and they are discussed at length (a great deal of length) by later generations of the rabbis in the Gemara (together the Gemara and Mishna are published in what we know today as the "Talmud." None of the executions were what you commonly expect. I'll write an answer. –  Bruce James Apr 9 at 18:03
By the time Jesus, the character in question was present, it is widely known, according to jesus' own comments, that the rabbis along with all of the extra biblical literature was corrupt and not valid for reasoning concerning what Jesus should have, would have or did do. Don't you read the bible? That "coruption" was the primary reason for Jesus arrival and revelation as The Meshiach Joshuah. –  reidh Apr 11 at 20:00

The Mosaic law didn't explicitly write anything about stoning, but it did state that the adulteress shall be put to death.

“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 ESV)

But, the prophet Ezekiel wrote interesting analogy, Israel as the unfaithful bride of God.

38 And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. 39 And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. (Ezekiel 16:38-41 ESV, emphasize mine)

While it was not specified in the Torah, Ezekiel was a major prophet in both Bible and Tanakh. It wouldn't be too far stretched if the religious leader of that time established the stoning 'law' (or tradition).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.