Since we are going through the Gospel of John in our college group, I taught on this a few months ago and I’ll try to condense the lesson into this post.
One of the more famous sayings of Jesus is John 8:7, which is typically paraphrased as, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The saying occurs during the story of the adulterous women, who is thrown before Jesus by the scribes. Here is the passage:
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11, NASB)
This story, and the saying in 8:7, come up frequently in several contexts: People have used it to argue against capital punishment, to advance some sort of feminist agenda, and more generally, to tell admonish others that they should not rebuke another’s sin unless they are completely sinless themselves, which nobody is (in effect, don’t ever call out another person’s sin). Recently, I’ve seen John 8:7 used by Christians to tell other Christians that they should not be saying that homosexual relationships are sinful because it sounds “judgmental.”
As usual, unfortunately, for many oft cited verses, this verse and the entire story are grossly misunderstood by people. Not only are such people unfamiliar with the text critical issue, even if one were to take the story as true, a careful study would not lead to these conclusions.