It has become a cliche that, if a Christian speaks of holding a woman to account for her adultery, then another Christian will chime in with the story of the adulteress who is brought before Jesus by the pharisees.
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
And with a flourish of contextless Scripture, the conversation is settled along these lines: Anyone who ignores a woman’s adultery is like Jesus. Anyone who has the bad taste to bring it up is a dirty pharisee. I’d like to share with you some context; some light shining forth from the dark spaces between the lines. But before I do that, I want to clear away one bit of false yet commonly believed context.
It is often bawled by the second Christian that there obviously was a man who was caught in adultery with the woman, yet he is not brought before Jesus. This, the second Christian will say, proves that the pharisees were misogynist pigs, and, quid pro quo, wrong no matter what.
It’s more likely that the truth is that the woman was brought because no one likes to see a woman punished. If Jesus had done so it would have lowered his estimation in the eyes of the masses. Jesus was known for healing, gentleness, and forgiveness. Emotionally, the rightness or wrongness of the law is almost always beside the point to people. The crowds would have disdained it viscerally. That’s why the pharisees thought it was such a good trap: If he kills her, they could say how generous they have always been to overlook such poor creatures as this adulteress; not like that brute Jesus. If he lets her go, then they can say Jesus is not serious about God’s commands.
That leads into the second point of context: The pharisees did not believe in God’s commandments. One thing you’ll notice about the Jewish religious leaders is that–with one notable exception–they never get their hands dirty. If they believed in God’s law, and if they believed Jesus was just some backwater hillbilly with the gift of gab, then they would have stoned that woman. They didn’t. To them it was just politics; control tactics for maintaining their power and prestige. Jesus means it when He calls the pharisees and sadducees hypocrites. Even when they wanted to get kill Jesus they had the Romans do it.
You may be wondering who was that notable exception. It was Saul of Tarsus; who presided over the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and many more persecutions of the first Christians. Saul was a true believer who was willing to stone people. So God chose Saul to be His missionary, changed his name to Paul, and then used Paul to change the world. Paul, like the Romans, was a man of action. And like Paul, Rome was quickly converted. Their salvation makes sense. It was Romans who performed the ultimate Passover sacrifice and painted a wooden post with the Lamb’s blood; albeit in ignorance.
The third point of context is that rebuke without condemnation–without punishment–is gentle and loving. It is no favor to the sinner to allow her to go on in sin. She needed to be told that she stood in danger of the penalty of death. We all do. When we respond to a non-threatening (i.e., no punishment to follow) statement of real sin by using Scripture as an excuse, then we are bearing false witness against our neighbor. The Christian who uses John 8:1-11 to quash any pronouncement of sin becomes a stumbling block to his neighbors; both witness and the sinner. That Christians is fundamentally misunderstanding the righteous nature of Jesus, of God. Jesus did not nullify His law; his judgment of adultery. He reserved it.
Which brings us to the last brushstrokes of context: His reservation of judgment came to an end and that adulteress is dead. Our Lord does not–cannot!–reserve His judgment forever, and no one is snatched from the hand of God. He is a holy and righteous God and that woman was–like everyone else and like all of us will be–put to death. She did not get off the hook for her sins, and He Who is Without Sin will cast the killing stone at sinners; which is all of us. That’s why we need to repent and be born again; so that after that death which satisfies our righteous God’s judgment we can be raised to new life with Christ. The second Christian is wrong to say that Jesus just lets her walk away forever.
 This is something I’ve intended to write for some time, yet kept forgetting.
 It’s an observation of mine that I’ve never heard this in reverse; I’ve never heard a male adulterer defended under the rubric of John 8. That’s a curious thing, as the sort of person most likely to use John 8 as a conversation-ending rebuttal is very often the same sort of person that clings to the idea of equality of the sexes.