In John 8:9 the company left the building, starting at the eldest unto the last. There were two left in the building, or room - Jesus and the woman.

John then records that :

Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst. [Young's Literal]

How could Jesus be 'alone' when the woman was with him ? And how could the woman be 'in the midst' when there were only two people in the room ?

[Note : I am referring to the Textus Receptus and I am aware of disputes about the passage. I am looking for answers to the text in the Textus Receptus and do not want to enter into matters of textual criticism in this question.

I am personally persuaded by the arguments of Dean John Burgon as outlined in Wikipedia and in the list of sources which include the passage (see 'Include Pericope' under 'Manuscript Evidence'.]

5 Answers 5


For a long time the intrigue of what Jesus wrote with his finger remained a puzzle and I have no recollection of anybody even trying to offer a suggestion. During one sermon on this passage of scripture the question of why the woman’s accusers disappeared from sight, one by one, raised this possibility in my own mind, generated by recollection of one of the two occasions in the Hebrew scriptures when a finger wrote.

The first time was at Mount Sinai when the finger of God wrote on stone tablets what we now call ‘The Decalogue’ (Exodus 31:18). The next time was in Belshazzar’s palace when fingers of a man’s hand appeared by a wall and wrote on the plaster the phrase ‘Me’ne, me’ne, te’kel, u-phar’sin’ (Daniel 5:5 & 25). Daniel interpreted those to be God’s words of judgment against a corrupt kingdom’s leader who had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. That very night, the king was slain and his kingdom ended. The way God’s finger seems to be distinguished from the fingers of “a man’s hand” could be significant if it applies to Jesus, the man.

The possibility of Jesus writing on the ground something from the already written law of God is obvious when the full story of this woman is taken into account. She was caught “in the very act of adultery”, her male accusers said (John 8:4). If that had been so, the man having sex with her must have been caught in the very act too. That’s simple logic. How strange, then, that the man was not also grabbed and brought before Jesus. Only the woman was apprehended. Could this be a case of a male honey-trap? Already (7:1) Jewish leaders were trying to kill Jesus. Was this a plot to trap Jesus into disregarding the law of Moses and thus giving occasion to stone him? By making this adulterous woman stand in their midst, with more than two witnesses testifying to her guilt, nobody could deny the law’s punishment (stoning to death). Even though the Jews were not supposed to administer any death penalty – only the Roman authority could do that – there were other times back then when they did stone Jewish people to death, if they thoughts they could get off with it (as with Stephen in Acts 7:54- 8:1).

Shortly before this episode Jesus had said, “Did not Moses give you the law, and none of you keep the law? Why do you try to kill me?” (7:19) Now note the question those men asked Jesus when the adulterous woman stood in their midst: “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned, but what sayest thou?” (8:5) John adds, “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him” (vs 6). At that point, Jesus stooped down and began writing on the the ground. I have always supposed that the ground was very dusty so that the writing was marks in the dust. They asked him again. Eventually he answered, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” and he bent down once more to continue writing. This does suggest that he wrote more than a few words. Just to write, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (as the Decalogue stipulated) would not have taken very long. That, alone, could have told them their honey-trap was exposed as Jesus knew it was a trap. Yet the fact that he continued writing implies there was a fair bit of writing going on. There’s a sense of time passing by, from the oldest men starting to leave until the last young hot-head knew the game was up and that he was no more a man without sin than were the older men.

The idea of Jesus writing all of the Decalogue in a circle around the woman is intriguing. She knew she deserved the law’s punishment, yet here was this holy man causing all her accusers to melt like mist. The hand of a man was operating in judgment against – not her – but her unrighteous accusers who deserved to be stoned themselves for wanting to stone the Holy One of Israel. Perhaps those men linked the writing on the ground with the writing on the wall? They could have feared that God’s judgment would come swiftly upon them, ruining their rule. The hand of a man, writing words of judgment. They had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. And they knew it. Yes, she was standing in the midst, surrounded by law, but also forgiveness, her sin not condemning her because Jesus alone did not condemn her. Awesome!

  • How does this answer the question?
    – user25930
    Jul 29, 2019 at 10:49
  • Jesus was alone with the woman in the midst because Jesus told the men let the first cast a stone. Then, "from the oldest men (they were) starting to leave", as noted above. Jul 29, 2019 at 14:25
  • @Mac's Musings Sorry I was not clear; I should have stressed the bit in my last paragraph, that the woman was standing in the midst of whatever Jesus had written, but that Jesus was not included in that. In a symbolic sense, he was outside of that - standing apart from the woman who was caught up in the midst of law, yet he was the means of delivering her from the law's accusations.
    – Anne
    Jul 29, 2019 at 16:04
  • @ John Martin Yes, I do see that and agree with that - as an outward, visible matter of geographic location. My answer deals with something symbolic that's going on, that places the woman in the midst of law - trapped by it, really, but Jesus stands alone as the one who, alone, delivers her from merciless judgement because he is not subject to that judgement, being sinless.
    – Anne
    Jul 29, 2019 at 16:07

The context for "the midst" is given in verses 2 and 3:

2And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst
-- John 8:2-3 (KJV)

The woman was brought in while Jesus was teaching -- in the midst of those who were listening to him. These people would not have left when the scribes and Pharisees arrived, but rather, would have stayed on to see what was going to happen.

Now, whatever Jesus wrote on the ground was sufficient to cause the accusers of the woman to depart, leaving Jesus alone "with" the woman in the midst of those still looking on.

Here is the Greek of the relevant part of the verse: enter image description here

The significant word to notice here is the second instance of καὶ. I have given "with" because it is applicable to the context, just as the KJV translators determined in:

  • Mark 10:46

    ... and as he went out of Jericho with καὶ his disciples ...

  • Acts 18:2

    ... Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with καὶ his wife Priscilla ...

  • Acts 19:25

    Whom he called together with καὶ the workmen of like occupation ...


In the whole of chapters 7 and 8, the disciples, although once mentioned, are not present. The people are mentioned in 8:2; then it is presumably they again to whom Jesus speaks in 8:12, but in 8:13 the Pharisees are back, having left the vicinity in 8:9.

In the general concourse of the temple, therefore - with its bustle and its various groups going about different functions within its precincts - the incident with the woman takes place as a separate activity and John reports it as such.

Whatever the actual conditions at the time; whoever was present in the immediate vicinity and whoever watched from afar, John reports the matter in such a way that it is isolated from anything else.

In 8:9 he reports that whoever was present - from the eldest to the last - has vacated the area. None is left. The Pharisees appear again in 8:13, and there are people present : ‘them’.

The point of view narrated by John is that Jesus has been left alone. And the woman is in the midst. John is telling us something, by narrating the incident in the way in which he does. There is something to be seen here - unless we miss it.

They which heard, went out ; is absolute. No-one was left who was within hearing distance.

Yet the woman is left in ‘the midst’. There is only one possibility : in the midst of what Jesus had written on the ground.

He had written all round her. She was encompassed with what he had written. Had anyone wished to lay hands on her in order to lead or drag her out of the temple, to be stoned outside - it would never have happened in the temple - then they must trample on what Jesus had written.

None did.

There is no doubt in my own mind as to what had been written by the finger of Jesus. Only one thing was ever written by the finger of God on this earth and we well know what it was. And only once is it ever recorded of Jesus that he wrote with his finger.

And she was surrounded by it. And he stood - alone - outside of it.

There, in this incident is depicted the true state of every one of us - surrounded by the letter of writing and condemned by every word of it. For he that offends in just one point has broken the whole of it and is condemned to death by all of it.

And what shall he do - who stands alone outside of it ? Hath no man condemned thee ? No man - Lord.

Go, and sin no more; and in so doing, he accepts the responsibility of all her law-breaking, every deed and every word and every thought. He shall bear the curse of that which is written and she shall go free - free of sin and free of curse, to live anew.

Those who have never felt what Saul of Tarsus felt - I had not known sin except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet - will not understand why John narrates the incident in the way in which he does. But those who have stood where this woman stood - trapped by the writing; condemned by its words - they will know.

They will understand.

  • As my comment was neither to ask for more information or to suggest improvements to this answer, I am forced to provide an answer which I didn't want to do as I have no academic back-up for it. But because comments are not for saying what I wish to say, please just go to my answer, bearing in mind that I am not criticising your answer or suggesting it is lacking in any way.
    – Anne
    Jun 21, 2018 at 14:34
  • You've lost me @Anne . Which question and what answer are you referring to, please ?
    – Nigel J
    Jun 21, 2018 at 14:59
  • Sorry, Nigel. I posted that comment before I had completed the draft of my answer which is now posted below, for your consideration! I should have posted my answer before leaving the comment but, then, I'm a back-to-front sort of person! Hope my answer makes more sense than my comment.
    – Anne
    Jun 21, 2018 at 15:44

An interesting question. The way I read the passage the word “midst” is used to indicate the “centre of the place they were in” rather than the English phrase “in their midst”. The word is used at the beginning of the passage where the Pharisees place the woman “in the midst” and then at the end “Jesus was left alone with the woman in the midst”. I take it that the author was underlining the woman’s powerlessness to help herself - she is rooted to the spot. Then Jesus stands up (having sat down at the beginning of the passage) and releases her.

An alternate reading would be that the author only intends to write about the woman’s accusers - so he zooms in on the Pharisees and scribes. When they leave, Jesus is left alone in the sense that the accusers have gone, but the people who came to hear him teach may still be present but unmentioned. Similar readings are often suggested to help understand the resurrection appearances of Jesus where a single person is mentioned but then goes on to say ”We” when speaking for themselves. The NT authors are quite happy to focus on individuals and small groups even if they were not the only ones present.


John 8:9 (TR)

. . . κατελείφθη μόνος ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ ἑστῶσα

κατελείφθη μόνος (he was left alone) refers to the fact that He was left alone in terms of all the others having left (John 8:9a), not that He was absolutely alone; as we coninue on, we read that He was "with" (καὶ) ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ ἑστῶσα (the woman standing in [the] midst).

This is an instance where καὶ functions as "with" ('Jesus + plus the woman' are one unit, and thus represent one lingustic unit to which anything applied to either is applied to both). @enegue notes three excellent examples in his answer to your question. Namely, Mark 10:46, Acts 18:2, and Acts 19:25.

Thus, ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ ἑστῶσα (the woman standing in [the] midst) means that Jesus is left in the midst alone, with the woman.

An analogy in English to help understand the usage of καὶ here might be:

The man fell on the ice; he and the woman [i.e. who was with him].

The sense is thus:

The woman was standing in the midst καὶ—with whom Jesus was left alone, having been deserted by the others.

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