I know you have heard this phrase uttered, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” At first glance it seems to be saying that nobody has the right to judge (access, critique, evaluate, or issue consequences for anyone else) because all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Right? Actually, that is not what this phrase actually means when you analyze the circumstances by which it was stated. So, let’s do just that.
First off, the phrase comes from John Chapter 8 whereas Jesus is in the midst of teaching and the scribes and Pharisees interrupt his lesson by bringing in a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Below are the scriptures.
- Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
- And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
- And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
- They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
- Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
- This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
- So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
- And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
- And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
- When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
- She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Now, let’s break it down. The Pharisees and scribes had the wrong motives and as verse 6 states, they were doing it to tempt Jesus by creating some sort of allegation to accuse him of wrongdoing. But, there are several problems with their act.
I. Under the law both the man and woman were to be stoned if they committed adultery. Leviticus 20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. The key and worst part about this situation as stated in verses 3 and 4 is that she was actually “caught in the act”, meaning they knew the man and had the ability to seize him so he could be stoned as well, but they didn’t do this.
II. This is where the sin issue for this group comes in. Check out what the Mosaic law says concerning their act.
Exodus 23:1-2 1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest (twist, pervert, alter) judgment:
Deuteronomy 16:19 Thou shalt not wrest (twist. pervert, alter) judgment; thou shalt not respect persons (show partiality, bias), neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
III. Because Jesus knew the law, he responds with the infamous phrase, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” This does not imply or mean the people were living sinful lives outside of this act. To quote, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” does not fit here although it is true. Even this phrase classifies the sin as being in the past; however, Jesus speaks about their present sin. Had the group brought forth the man, Jesus would have had to allow them to stone both because it was the Mosaic Law and remember, he came to fulfill (implement and complete) the law, not destroy it.
IV. As a result, because the people knew they were violating the Mosaic Law, as stating in verse 9, “they were convicted by their own conscience” because of this act and so they all left one by one because everyone was wrong, and nobody was justified or legally authorized to stone her.