Problem: Adulterers should or shouldn't be punished
Verses: Leviticus 20:10, John 8:4-7; Status: Weak

This is Leviticus 20:10:

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (ESV)

Jesus seems to abolish the rule in John 8:4-7:

they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" 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. 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." (ESV)

This "contradiction" is pretty weak: it's a rather well-known piece of Christian theology that Jesus overturned and abolished many old laws. Christians do not keep kosher, for example, because of passages like Matthew 15:10-11.


It's now recognised that the text from John 7:53 to 8:11 is a later forgery and was not written by the original author. The ESV's notes contain the ominous statement "the earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11". Most other modern Bibles have similar notes and put brackets around the passage, though few seem brave enough to remove it completely.

The fact that the passage is a forgery dissolves the problem entirely - though the general point remains, that Jesus did indeed seem to bring in "a new covenant". I should note though that there is definitely a tension between this idea and passages like Matthew 5:17-19. I might examine this in a future page.

Updated: Summer 2008

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