We read in John 8: 1-7 :

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Even though the Old Testament prescribed death by stoning for adultery, it is silent on who the competent authority to award the penalty is. So, we have to rely on Jewish traditions to know the same. Except in special cases where a king can issue the death penalty, capital punishment in Jewish law cannot be decreed upon a person unless there were a minimum of twenty-three judges (Sanhedrin) adjudicating in that person's trial who, by a majority vote, gave the death sentence, and where there had been at least two competent witnesses who testified before the court that they had seen the litigant commit the capital offence. Even so, capital punishment does not begin in Jewish law until the court adjudicating in this case had issued the death sentence from a specific place (formerly, the Chamber of Hewn Stone) on the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem. {Courtesy: Wikipedia}

Since it was early in the morning, there was no possibility of a formal trial and awarding of sentence having taken place. And Jesus would be the last one to recommend stoning by `innocent people ' if she had not been given a trial by the competent authority.

But we go on to see Jesus saying in Jn 8: 7:

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Now, most of the depictions of the scene show the crowd carrying stones to throw at the woman and each one dropping his stone as soon as Jesus makes the statement. But did they really carry stones, and did Jesus mean immediate stoning `by the innocent ones '? My question therefore, is: Did the crowd in John 8: 1-9 carry stones to throw at the adulterous woman ? Inputs from any denominations are welcome .

  • 1
    There is insufficient evidence in the text to comment upon stone-carrying or stone-dropping. Any assertions about this (depictions or suppositions) will be opinion-based.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 10:59
  • 1
    the one depiction that I recall seeing of stoning involved a specific place (like a pit) I'm assuming so people aren't hitting bystanders and the body isn't in public street. I'd assume a similar scenario when used as a specific punishment (not driving someone away)
    – depperm
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 11:25
  • Historical side note: this passage is not in the earliest Greek manuscripts (see "Manuscript History and John 8:1-8:11"
    – agarza
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


The accusers didn't care what happened to the woman - their goal was not stoning the woman, but trapping Jesus in His words.

Background-the trap being laid

The accusers were trying to get Jesus to say something inappropriate. Assuming the reliability of the account, the trap was designed to work like this:

  • If Jesus approved the stoning, He would be delivered to the Roman authorities for challenging their authority (since the Roman authorities had to approve the death penalty)
  • If Jesus did not approve the stoning, He would be accused of heresy for teaching something contrary to what Moses had said

But Jesus outsmarted the trap and did not answer the question on their terms


No shortage of rocks

If the people brought stones with them as is sometimes depicted in artwork (we do not know if this happened; we are not told) it would have only been for dramatic effect to put Jesus on the spot.

There was no need for people to carry rocks with them everywhere they went; the concentration of limestone in the region is such that a solid supply of rocks was always readily available.

  • We can assume that if they really were going to stone her, they would have taken her outside of whatever city or village they were in, and grab whatever stones were at hand.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 4:18
  • Also, it's worth mentioning that the Torah required putting both the adulterer and the adulteress to death, meaning that unless they killed the male partner in the crime, stoning the woman was not authorized under the Torah. Now, who can take life outside of the Law? The Sinless One, God.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 4:21

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