Sinful Accusers and Capital Punishment
The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-4; where was the guilty man?). They wanted to see how this increasingly popular, would-be Messiah, might respond. Their motive, of course, was to entrap Jesus (vs. 6). The law explicitly commanded that adulterers had be stoned to death (Lev 20:20; Deut 22:22). If Jesus agreed with this and had the lady stoned, it would likely get him in trouble with Roman authorities, for they alone had the right to try and carry out capital punishment. If Jesus disagreed with this, however, it would set him in explicit opposition with the Torah and justify the Jewish court trying him as a false teacher.
Displaying his signature genius, Jesus found a way to affirm the Torah in principle while undermining it in practice. “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said (vs. 7). In agreement with the Torah, Jesus affirmed that sinners like this woman deserve to be executed. Yet, he added, only a sinless person would be justified in carrying out this sentence. Since none of the woman’s accusers were sinless, they ended up dropping their stones and walking away.
Since all people are sinners, it seems to me that Jesus’ teaching in this episode applies not just to this particular accused sinner and to this group of sinful accusers, but to all accused sinners and to all sinful accusers. And if you think it through consistently, this entails that none of the Old Testament’s commands to carry out capital punishment should ever be acted on! Indeed, for followers of Jesus, it entails that no command to carry out capital punishment should ever be obeyed, regardless of where it is found or who it comes from.
The command itself may be just, but unless you are without sin, you’re not justified putting it into practice.
Think about it, and have a blessed day!