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Allow me to explain (15 of 439)

March 25, 2011

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15. How should adulterers be punished? Leviticus 20:10 vs. John 8:3-8

Yes. Finally, some good stuff.

Leviticus 20:10
‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”

John 8:3-8
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At least this time it’s about teaching instead of translation issues or poor reading skills. This is legit, and the explanation is beautiful.

Leviticus 20 is giving the new nation of Israel The Law. Six hundred – and then some – laws that, if followed, would ensure the holiness of both the individual and the nation at large, before God. These are the rules and regulations that, if followed, would have formed a faithful (to God) and just (to each other) society.

We need to remember, though, that although Leviticus 20:10 is pretty clear, not every adulterer was put to death. There was forgiveness under the Old Covenant; it involved pilgrimages and sacrifices in the temple. Death was the sentence for the unrepentant, but forgiveness and mercy have always been as much a part of God’s nature as justice. All of the sacrifice and ritual for atonement in the Old Testament is symbolic of Jesus’s sacrifice in the New.

Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. Mary was clearly pregnant, and hadn’t been with her husband, which could only mean she’d committed adultery as far as anyone in Nazareth knew. But Matthew 1:19 tells us that Joseph was a “righteous” man, so he decided to just quietly divorce her. If the husband of the accused did not charge her, no one else could.

The question itself is a little misleading. “How should adulterers be punished?” There are options. The final sentence is death, but mercy is allowed too.

So what’s Jesus doing in John 8? He didn’t deny that her sentence was death, or that they would have been perfectly within their rights to drag her outside the city and stone her to death that moment. Jesus chooses mercy. He does it all through the gospels and it really pisses off the Holier Than Thou crowd.

If you really want to dig into it, we can talk about God frequently referring to His people as His “bride.” Even in the New Testament, believers are often called the “bride” of Christ. In John 8, Jesus assumes His rightful authority as this woman’s husband – in an ultimate, eternal sense – and puts a stop to the accusations against her. If the husband doesn’t charge her, no one else can.

If you keep reading in John 8, we’re told that every last one of the accusers – from the oldest to the youngest, significantly – turned and left. Then, Jesus tells her the same thing He is waiting to tell all of us: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Short answer: Death, ultimately, but mercy is available in the interim for those who want it.

Significance: God is, and always has been, merciful. We have all screwed up, and while some sins seem bigger and badder than others, the smallest one is enough to make you and I unworthy of God’s perfect presence. God gave us The Law to teach us about Him and about justice, but even then forgiveness was on the table.

And now, ever since Jesus drew a line in the sand, it got even easier. He reversed the pilgrimage when He came to us. He offered Himself as the eternal sacrifice. All we have to do is say Yes to Him, and we hear the same response, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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