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?’

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    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
    Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 19:53
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    @Mike Please see: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14061-stoning Note also the apparent contradiction between the fact that Rome did not permit the Jews to kill people so they asked Pilate to do it and the stoning of Stephen.
    – user10231
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 20:46
  • @Mike David did not deserve stoning-- he was not an adulterer. See Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 56a. Commented May 24, 2016 at 23:17
  • Also, FWIW, let's not confuse Jewish tradition and practice with God's commands/wishes. They didn't even carry out his commands conquering Canaan, and didn't get better at it thereafter. Jewish tradition is full of explanation, but is also known for standing in direct contradiction to God's wishes (e.g. Mt. 15).
    – mojo
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 6:57

6 Answers 6


While the Bible does not proscribe how execution by stoning should be carried out in detail, later Jewish tradition does and may reflect how stoning was performed during Second Temple Judaism or earlier.

The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes the procedure:

The convict having been placed on a platform twice his height, one of the witnesses throws him to the ground. If the concussion does not produce instant death, the second witness hurls a heavy stone at his chest; and only when this also proves insufficient to end his misery, the bystanders throw stones at the prostrate body until death ensues.

As the Bible does not seem to say anything about pushing, one might wonder why this is the first step in execution by stoning. It is, in fact, based on Exodus 19:13:

No hand will touch him – but he will surely be stoned or shot through, whether a beast or a human being; he must not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast they may go up on the mountain.” (Exodus 19:13 NET)

לֹא־תִגַּ֨ע בֹּ֜ו יָ֗ד כִּֽי־סָקֹ֤ול יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה אִם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה אִם־אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א יִחְיֶ֑ה בִּמְשֹׁךְ֙ הַיֹּבֵ֔ל הֵ֖מָּה יַעֲל֥וּ בָהָֽר׃ (Exodus 19:13 BHS)

First, there is ambiguity regarding the meaning of 'No hand will touch him'.

Second, יִיָּרֶ֔ה is interpreted to mean pushed, or hurled down.

Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin Chapter 6 states:

"One of the witnesses pushed him," etc. The rabbis taught: Whence do we know that he must be pushed? From [Ex. xix. 13]: "But he shall surely be stoned, or shot through." From the term "יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה" which means pushing. And whence do we know that he must be stoned? From the term "סָקֹ֤ול." And whence do we know with both stoning and pushing? Therefore it reads:

סָקֹ֤ול יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה

And whence do we know that when he died from pushing nothing more was to be done? From "אוֹ" which means "or." And because the term is future, we infer that the same shall be in later generations.

Why is the convict placed on a platform twice his height?

The website Jlaw.com explains:

The condemned defendant was pushed from a platform set high enough above a stone floor that his fall would probably result in instantaneous death.

The Talmud explains that the height from which the accused was pushed was substantial enough that death was virtually certain. Providing for an immediate death was, according to the Talmud, derived from the Biblical commandment (Leviticus 19:18), "You shall love your fellow as yourself." This commandment requires a court to select for a condemned man a humane (i.e., painless) death (Sanhedrin 45a). Rashi, the leading medieval commentator on the Talmud, explained that when the Talmud says a "humane death" it means a "quick death."

The continuation of the discourse in Sanhedrin reveals that the rabbis’ ultimate concern was that the mode of execution be as quick and as painless as possible, and that it cause as little disfigurement as possible. When one rabbi suggested that the height of the platform should be increased so that death from the fall would be certain, another rabbi responded that raising the platform is unacceptable because a fall from too high a platform would result in disfigurement.

If hurling down does not result in death, witnesses drop one large stone on the convict, which is based on Deuteronomy 17:7:

The witnesses must be first to begin the execution, and then all the people are to join in afterward. In this way you will purge evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 17:7 NET)

Why one stone?

Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin Chapter 6 explains:

as we have learned in the following Boraitha (a tradition in the Jewish oral law not incorporated in the Mishnah). It reads, "they stoned him with a stone," which means him--his body--but not his garments; i.e., they had to undress him before the execution. "With a stone" means that if he dies by the first stone no others are needed. In Num. xv, 35 it reads: "With stones," in the plural. And both expressions are needed, as if it were stated only in the singular, one might say that one stone should be thrown, and should it not cause death, no other stones must be thrown; and if it were mentioned in the plural only, one might say that many stones are needed to start with. Therefore both are stated.


Deuteronomy 17:6  At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

This seems fairly straightforward: if a person committed adultery, the penalty under the law was described in Leviticus 20:10:

"And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

The rules were set up and the judges would follow the law. In the NT situation, the men have left out the man... maybe he bolted away from them so quickly, they could only catch the woman. Jesus hits a masterful stroke with one sentence: If they were conjuring a case, or lying about the case, they all would need to start stoning only if they were without sin. And like me, they were all guilty of having broken God's laws. In grace and with mercy, he calls us to repentance: go and sin no more!

"Neither do I condemn thee" is the language of John 3:17:

For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

The story shows the heart of God. It is beautifully concordant with scripture and very relevant for the days in which we live.


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).

  • It is important to note that Lev. 20 stipulates both the man and the woman are to be punished. By not bringing forth the man, the woman's accuses in the story were in violation of the law. Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 16:49

As far as I can tell, the most important aspect of stoning in the Torah is that at least 2 witnesses stone the condemned first, and then the rest of the people of the area where crime has occurred. See Deut 17:6-7

6 Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you.


John 8:5 - Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

In fact stoning is nowhere specified as a punishment for adultery in the Torah. The Pharisees who claimed this were ignorant, or else the author story itself did not know the Law. (The story does not appear in early manuscripts of John, by the way, and thus may not be by the same author as the Gospel.)

According the Jewish Encyclopedia the capital penalty for adultery would be executed by strangulation. Stoning was reserved for crimes against God such as blasphemy, witchcraft and idolatry.

So the answer to the OP is that stoning would not be carried out under that Law of Moses.


The story of Jesus and the parishes bringing a women who was an adulterer before him in order to deceive him. Their intent was to stone her, but Jesus asked her accusers who had not sinned to throw the first stone. Thank goodness, there were some honest people there because no one was left to stone her.

Jesus did not make adultery a less serious sin when he told her since no one is left to accuse you neither do I. The important sentence here is when he told her, go and sin no more( quit her adulterous relationship).

Then Jesus replied to the parishes who had reminded him, Moses gave the Israelite a writ of divorcement by saying Moses did so because they were hard hearted and it wasn't so from the beginning when God made Adam and Eve and they were twain(one).

Jesus announced therefore, whatever God joined together, let no man put asunder.

It is not necessary to stone adulterers according to Jesus, but it is necessary to remember that adultery is not acceptable to God. In fact, those in Moses days got writs because they were Hard Hearted.

Then for a Christian who is married in the sight of the Lord, not having anything to do with a man made civil authority that issues marriage licenses although Christians are required to keep the law and not to be lawless; Such a marriage is Sanctified(joined by God Himself), who would dare assume they had authority to undo what God joined together.

Adultery can be cheating on a spouse but remaining in the Sanctity of the marriage or it can be a choice to live a live as an adulterer and even if the new spouse has never married cause them to sin with someone still bound to the marriage God joined together. It is not a sin that can be confessed and forgiven, unless like Jesus told the adulteress, sin no more.

A sin that puts a hard hearted person against God's Will.Every day an adulterer remains in an unsanctified marriage, he or she lives in opposition to God.

It says in the Bible a person who brings a soul to the Lord covers a multitude of sins.

Can you imagine the responsibility anyone takes who takes one of the Lord's Sheep away?

So even though adulterers were stoned under Moses' Law, mercy and repentance should be contemplated, but forgiveness can not happen until an adulterer quits their adultery.

The Bible only allows divorce in the case of fornication which might of happened when young men and women were given to marriage like Joseph and Mary were and subsequently, it's found out infidelity happened during that betrothal or engagement after they were married, divorce was possible.

Paul told us in the case of a Christian marrying a non-believer, if such a marriage fails because of their beliefs, a divorce can happen,

What makes it even worst, Churches turn a blind eye to adultery yet will throw stones nevertheless at other sinners they will not turn a blind eye to.

The hypocrisy turns Christianity into something God hates.

Didn't Jesus tell the pharisees, you changed the law to rob widows of their inheritance making God's Law into nothing with the commandments of men?

Churches are filled with adulterers because God's House has become a den of thieves when it's more profitable to turn a blind eye to those living in adultery because of the money they give to church clergymen.

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    Welcome to BHSE! We're a little different, please read our Site Directives as they will help you in asking or answering questions-Thank you!
    – Tau
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 3:21
  • @CharlesSlakin You answered the question(albeit-without citing sources) and then started started 'preaching a sermon on adultery. We ask that you simply "Answer the Question", explaining the meaning of the text, quoting whatever sources are relevant to your answer, and then let the 'text speak for itself'. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 3:29

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