NEITHER DO I CONDEMN THEE
T. PIERCE BROWN
The beautiful story in John 8 of the compassion of Christ shown toward the woman caught in adultery has been perverted to teach that which is false in at least two ways. First, there is the idea apparently conceived by those who are desperately trying to find some way to justify those who want to continue living in an adulterous relationship. They have advanced the theory that the basic idea of adultery has nothing to do with the sexual act, but is merely breaking a covenant. It is even suggested that when the God said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” He meant, “Thou shalt not break a covenant.”
The sophistry may be more difficult to see because it is true that when persons commit adultery they do break a covenant. This is why God could speak figuratively ofIsraelcommitting adultery when they worshipped idols or followed other ungodly practices of the nations around them. One may notice that He showed that adultery was not merely breaking a covenant when he expressed it as “whoring after other nations.” That is, the basic idea of adultery is involved with the sexual act, and even when it is used in a figurative or spiritual sense the language shows that.
Those who espouse this false theory are faced with the difficulty of trying to explain how she was caught in the very act of breaking some indefinite covenant that made her liable to be stoned. One would have to stretch his imagination to the breaking point to imagine such a thing. Even with all the imagination we have seen, we have not heard anyone suggest any covenant that might have been broken except the marriage covenant.
We certainly are not opposed to a person studying more deeply into the meaning of any word or phrase in the Bible, but are firmly convinced by our study so far that the term translated “adultery” either in the Old or New Testaments was not merely “covenant breaking.” Any person who takes every reference in the Bible and reads them in the context cannot escape the fact that adultery had primary reference to a sexual act, and even when used figuratively or in a spiritual sense the language clearly shows that it is not merely breaking a covenant, but being joined to another in an unfaithful way, like an unfaithful wife would be joined to another in harlotry.
The second equally false and reprehensible idea is that Jesus did not condemn her, so we are to receive such a person in fellowship, no matter how vile a sin may be. It is taught or implied that we cannot speak a word against adultery or any other sin if we would be Christlike. We are to simply preach the good news, for if Jesus did not condemn sin, neither can we.
When Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you,” he was not saying, “I find no fault in you” or “What you did may have been wrong, but I have no reason to criticize you, for all others are equally guilty.” The word condemn, from “katakrino” has reference to the passing sentence or a judicial act by which she could legally be stoned to death. The law taught that in some cases one could not be stoned to death except at the mouth of two or three witnesses and that those who were witnesses and brought the accusation should cast the first stone (Deut. 13:9, 17:5-7). In this case Jesus could not legally condemn her or pass a judicial sentence on her, for he was neither a judge nor a witness to her sin. What He said and did here has nothing whatever to do with whether it is or was proper to put a person to death for some crime, or whether we should preach or teach against sin. There is no question that a person who is Christlike must have a compassionate heart, a forgiving spirit and a gentle and kind disposition. In no case does that mean overlooking sin, having a compromising spirit, or allowing sin of any kind to go unrebuked.
One may legitimately raise the question, “If one has a forgiving spirit, can one still agree with the concept of capital punishment?” The answer is a definite, “Yes.” When justice demands payment for a crime, and that payment is the life of the one who committed it, love and forgiveness does not cancel out the demands of justice. God can forgive us of our sins but not simply because in His love and mercy He disregards it. It is because the demands of justice were met in the sacrificial death of Christ. Sin must be paid for. Either we accept Christ and His sacrifice on the terms He offered forgiveness, or we pay the penalty ourselves. When a person says, “I want God to be merciful, not just,” he may be mistaken either in his understanding of God’s nature, or what is involved in our salvation. God has to be both merciful and just, and can do that because Christ died for us, paying the penalty which justice demands yet graciously forgiving us as we accept that payment on His terms.