The Pharisees brought a woman who had been taken in the very act of adultery to Jesus and asked Him what to do about her. Should she be stoned as the law said? They were not really interested in the law, nor right and wrong, nor the woman. They were trying to prove Jesus to be a false prophet. They wanted proof in order to accuse him (Jn. 8:6). Jesus said to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7). The statement Jesus uttered on this occasion has often been violently and blatantly misapplied. His reply was strictly in keeping with the law which said, “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you” (Deut. 17:2-7).
The case Jesus dealt with was not simply one in which a woman had committed adultery. Jesus always dealt with the primary issue and then with the subordinate issues. Here the primary issue was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their incredibly intense hatred of Jesus. There were actually three issues involved in the episode: the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the demands of the Law of Moses, and the fate of the woman. When Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” He convicted the Pharisees of their sin of hypocrisy, because not even they had the audacity and gall to step forward and say, “Well, I’m perfect. I’ll cast the first stone.” They knew that in this matter they were not innocent. One by one, beginning from the eldest, the people began to walk away. When Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn you?” He satisfied the requirement of the law because, with no witnesses, the woman could not be stoned. Then Jesus dealt with the woman and her sin by saying, “Neither do I condemn you: go your way; from henceforth sin no more.”
Men and women who are stubborn of heart and who desire to walk in their wicked ways often use this statement of Jesus to reply to any who would attempt to rebuke them or to condemn their ways. Thus the drunkard, the adulterer, the liar, the homosexual, the child abuser, etc. will defend themselves by saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Jesus’ words in Mt. 7:1 are similarly used. “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Let us bring the question into clear focus. Since all of us are imperfect and do sin, does any one of us have the right in God’s sight to condemn the actions of another or to rebuke another for wrongdoing? Most say no, but what saith the scripture?
It was the same Jesus that said, “And if your brother sin against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he hear you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican” (Mt. 18:15-17). It was Jesus who so severely condemned the Pharisees (Mt. 23). It was Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, who condemned the adultery of Herod Antipas and Herodias (Mt. 14:1-4). When Jesus uttered the above condemnations He had the same awareness of man’s weak nature that He did when He said, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” Therefore, when Jesus said this He did not mean that it is wrong ever to rebuke anyone for sin.
The writings of the apostles make the issues in this dispute very clear. Someone will usually say, “I like Jesus, but I think His apostles missed it.” Most do not realize that the only impression we have of Jesus is that which His apostles have left us. Matthew and John were apostles. Mark was a personal disciple of Jesus, though not an apostle. Luke, a physician, was a convert who aided Paul’s ministry. Only through their testimony do we have any record of Jesus’ deeds and words. The apostles who testified about Jesus, such as John, were unaware of any discrepancy between Jesus’ teaching and theirs. When people talk about liking what Jesus said but not His apostles, they are speaking from ignorance and prejudice rather than facts. Please consider the facts.
Jesus told His apostles to go out and teach or preach. He said, ‘Teach all nations.” He then said, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). He said, “Preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Earlier Jesus told His apostles, “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you” (Jn. 14:26). The apostles went out and did as Jesus commanded. What they taught was what Jesus said to teach. If the Spirit did not guide the writers of Acts through Revelation, then He did not guide Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. One may reject Jesus and His apostles, but one cannot accept Christ and reject His apostles. The apostles were inspired by the Spirit and they spake the unadulterated truth of God, and lied not (Rom 9:1 ff; 2 Cor 11:31; Ga; 1:20; 1 Tim 2:7).
The brethren at Thessalonica were told to withdraw themselves from every brother that walked disorderly (2 Th. 3:6). To walk disorderly means to walk out of step with what the apostles taught. The passage clearly implies that there are those who, though not perfect, nevertheless do walk in order. Then there are those who walk “disorderly”. Those imperfect people who are walking orderly are commanded to withdraw from anyone who walks disorderly. Paul told the saints at Ephesus to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). He told Timothy, “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. . .” (2 Tim. 4:2, 3). One wonders if Paul imagined that those who would not endure sound doctrine would twist statements of Jesus to attempt to silence the rebukes and reproof that His word says must be given.
Condemned by Jesus was hypocritical judging. It is not required that one have a perfect record before he has the right to reprove and rebuke. The commands we have studied were given to flesh and blood people who were imperfect. Yet they were clearly told to condemn, to reprove and rebuke. If one condemns another when he himself is not even trying to do right or when he is doing something much worse than the one whom he is condemning, he is guilty of the judging the Lord condemned. In other words, teachers and preachers must practice what they preach. This is something Paul made note of to the Romans when he said, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.” (Rom 2:21-24) When we must rebuke or reprove, let us look to ourselves, lest we also be tempted (Gal. 6:1). Let us beware of Satan’s influence when we ourselves are rebuked, lest we give him an opportunity to close our eyes to the truth by causing us to resent the reproof. Before we judge others, let us first examine ourselves that the Word of God be not blasphemed (2 Cor 13:5). Let us do this lest we hear the proverbial words of the wicked who will say, “Sweep around your own front door before you try to sweep around mine“. And when we judge another, let us not judge them by our own words but rather by the sinless, the perfect Word of God. This, and only this, is righteous judgment! (Jn 7:24)