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There has been much discussion about Jesus' forgiveness of the Woman Taken in Adultery in John 8. Studying the apocryphal story of Daniel and Susanna recently (Daniel 13 in Catholic Bibles) I was struck by its parallel to the episode of the Woman Taken in Adultery in John 8. In both stories, a woman is accused of adultery by supposed eyewitnesses. In both cases, her partner in this alleged crime is not brought forth along with her. And in both cases, the man of God succeeds in winning her a reprieve.

In Susanna's case, she is clearly innocent and her accusers are false witnesses. In John 8, the woman is presumed guilty but Jesus succeeds in convincing her accusers to leave and then declares:

John 8:10-11

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you."

It seems odd that Jesus would take the sin of adultery so lightly. Christians, of course, believe Jesus has the power to forgive any sin, and because he also says "Go and sin no more,” we tend to assume her sin was indeed adultery.

My main question is whether she is actually guilty of this crime, which Jesus harshly condemned elsewhere. (Matthew 5:29)

In saying "sin no more" could Jesus actually be referring to a different sin than adultery, such as immodest attire (Jeremiah 4:30) or failing to cry out during a rape attempt (Deuteronomy 22:24)? The story of Susanna shows that a woman accused and convicted of adultery may actually have been innocent. Could it even be that the word Jesus wrote on the ground (John 8:7) was "Susanna?" This, of course, would be guesswork, but the question of the woman's actual guilt or innocence is worth considering.


Note: Since most Protestant Bibles do not include the story of Daniel and Susanna, here is a link to an online version.

Note 2: Please do not answer with mere opinions, but provide facts and scriptural references to support you view.

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  • The closer objects to the question because in is opinion based. Maybe according the the letter of the site laws that is true. But it can still be answered with relevant facts that enlighten the reader - and I think this outweighs whatever harm may be done by defiling one's eyes with an opinion-based answer. Oct 18, 2023 at 20:54
  • Since Jesus says 'Sin no more' then I cannot see how one can question that the woman did, indeed, commit a sin. And since the woman says 'No man, Lord' then I cannot see how she, herself, does not expect the Lord to condemn, by the emphasis of her wording. Some are so outraged at Jesus pardoning adultery that they have removed the incident from their bible, I am told. (It remains firmly in my own.)
    – Nigel J
    Oct 19, 2023 at 11:52
  • I admit she must have sinned but wonder if her sin was something other than adultery: immodest dress for example, or failing to cry out during a rape attempt. The fact that her supposed partner was not brought forth is highly suspicious if there were really at least two eye witnesses. I do not claim her innocence as a fact, but I do raise the question. Oct 20, 2023 at 2:48
  • . . . . . in which case, Jesus, knowing their thoughts (as he always did) would have refuted the false accusation. But he does not. The whole point of the incident is that the law of Moses says one thing, for that is as far as law can ever go - but Jesus is able to transcend it, by his own future sacrifice in respect of not only that law but in respect of the Righteousness of Almighty God. And can thus, lawfully and righteously, pardon.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 20, 2023 at 7:31

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While there are superficial similarities between the stories of Susanna and the Woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11), there are important differences such as:

  • Susanna is a woman of noble birth and had a good reputation and high social standing (her lineage is listed etc); the woman caught in adultery is a woman of low reputation, possibly a prostitute with a sinful past. (See appendix 1 below).
  • the accusation of Susanna's accusers was false; the accusation of the those condemning the woman caught in adultery was valid - see appendix 1 below.
  • Susanna's witnesses were correctly accused of being false witnesses; the woman's accuses were not accused of being false witnesses. That is, their accusation was correct!
  • the premise of the story of Susanna was the virtue of Susanna and Daniel in contrast to her vial accusers; the premise of the story the woman caught in adultery was to trap Jesus between Torah and Roman law
  • Susanna's justice was achieved by a clever legal procedure; the woman caught in adultery was not given legal justice (!!) but shown grace and forgiven
  • Suzanna's justice involved condemning (and finally executing) the accusers; Jesus not only forgave the sinner (the woman) but ministered to the (his own) accusers without explicitly condemning them (there was an implied condemnation, but remained tacit). That is, He managed to effectively have the charges dropped!
  • Thus, the point of the story of Susanna was the legal acumen of Daniel; the point of the story of the woman caught in adultery was the GRACE of Jesus AND that such grace leads to a virtuous life (John 8:11).
  • that is, the result of the stories is the opposite of each other: one is innocent, released because of perfect justice and adherence to Torah; the other is guilty and released because of forgiveness, to subsequently lead an upright life.

APPENDIX 1 - the Woman Caught in Adultery

The woman caught in adultery is a classic case of the correct accusation but gained under false and inadmissible circumstances. Specifically, rules of jurisprudence at the time required that:

  • If someone saw a crime being committed, he had to do everything to try and prevent it
  • if a court of condemnation is assembled, and ALL believed the accused is guilty, the accused must be released as there is no one to defend the accused
  • if a punishment of death is valid, it cannot be carried out the same day
  • the trial could not be convened on the same day as the crime - at least one day had to pass to allow tempers to cool and justice prevail
  • the man involved in the crime of adultery was not also brought before the condemning crowd

[There is an interesting side-note to all of this. Many suggest that the punishments of death for adultery in the Torah were overly harsh; however, given the above rules, it was a crime almost impossible to prove because it was done in private thus preventing at least two or three witnesses, who if present should have tried to prevent the crime occurring!]

All this clearly demonstrates that the condemning crowd was much less interested in justice and much more interested in trapping Jesus. [Thus, some have speculated (with some justification) that the woman was actually set-up as part of a plan to trap Jesus.]

The Pulpit commentary observes this (John 8:3):

There is no indication of any mere sectional animosity or of any genuine desire to receive an authoritative or prophetic response to their inquiry. The Sanhedrin itself would certainly not have condescended at this epoch to have submitted any question of its own action to the arbitrament of Jesus. Numerous witnesses of the act of adultery are inconceivable, though in the excitement and confusion of the Feast of Tabernacles in a crowded city and suburbs, this may have been more feasible than might otherwise be supposed. The probability is that the act was undeniably committed in such a way as to bring this woman under the cognizance of these reformers or defenders of the theocracy who cropped up on all sides, and that a group of bigots scow at once that capital might be made for their antagonism to Jesus by proposing to him a query which would, however it might be answered, lower his prestige. According to ver. 10 (omitted in Codex B), these scribes and Pharisees were, if not the "witnesses" of adultery, the "accusers" ready to take the case before the highest court. Considering the long desuetude of the Law, and the impossibility of even the Sanhedrin legally inflicting the penalty of stoning, even if it were so disposed, the whole question looks like a subtle but ill-considered plot to entangle the Lord in his judgments, and to induce him to sacrifice his influence with the people.

APPENDIX 2 - Gill

I note an interesting comment reported by Gill when he comments on John 8:3:

And the Scribes and Pharisees,.... The members of the Sanhedrin, who had been so miserably disappointed the day before, were no less diligent and industrious in their wicked way, seeking all opportunities, and taking all advantages against Christ; and fancying they had got something whereby to ensnare him, and bring him into disgrace or danger, they pursue it; and brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; who, as some conjecture, might have been taken in it the day before, in one of their booths; being drawn into it through intemperance and carnal mirth, which at this feast they greatly indulged themselves in; which shows, that they were far from drawing the Holy Ghost at this time upon them; that on the contrary, they fell into the hands, and under the power of the unclean spirit: who this woman was, is not material to know; what is pretended to be taken out of the annals of the Spanish Jews, is no doubt a fable; that she was the wife of one Manasseh of Jerusalem, an old man, whose name was Susanna

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  • +1 A very erudite answer, and I accept the likelihood that the story's intent is to contrast Jesus' merciful judgment vs. the harsh requirements of the law. However I do not see any implication of the woman's supposed low reputation in John 8. As we discussed in another post the likely law here (Deuteronomy 22:24) implied that the woman was a virgin, a rape victim who failed to cry out, not a tramp. Also the presence of the male adulterer was required at the trial. Oct 20, 2023 at 3:00

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