By Stephen W. Hiemstra
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12 ESV).
What does it mean to walk in the light?
The story of the woman caught in adultery is probably the most celebrated capital judgment case in scripture. The woman’s guilt is not in question; the only question was the sentence. The Pharisees asked Jesus: “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5).
Notice that under Jewish law both parties in adultery face the same penalty of death (Leviticus 20:10). Because the Pharisee covered up the man’s identity, they broke the Ninth Commandment (do not bear false witness; Exodus 20:16) in presenting this case. In other words, true justice was not being presented here irrespective of the penalty assigned. Quite the contrary, the Pharisees have no regard for the woman.
Jesus points to the Pharisee’ bias when he says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). The law required that witnesses to the crime throw the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:7). If anyone picks up a stone, then that person is liable for prosecution under the law because they have not revealed the identity of the man who participated in the adultery. The Pharisees understand the dilemma so they leave. The penalty for perjury was the same penalty as for the alleged crime (Deuteronomy 19:18-9).
Jesus’ words to the woman are important. He says: “Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). Jesus offers both truth and grace. True alone or grace alone is not the Gospel. Truth alone is too harsh to be heard; grace alone ignores the law. Jesus seeks our transformation, not our judgment (Romans 12:2).
It is interesting the next discussion in John 8 focuses on the nature of Jesus’ testimony. What does it mean to walk in the light? Scholars often argue that the case of the woman caught in adultery does not fit in John—that it was added later. However, the context of the pharisaic controversy makes perfect sense—it is an example of fair treatment under Jewish law that the Pharisees contested.
Jesus said: You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one (John 8:15). Under law, the woman was guilty even though she had been set up. Under grace, the context is important—the law must be applied with impartiality and fairness to all parties.