The Philosophy of Jesus
by Peter Kreeft
From page 55: The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 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. What do you say about her?” 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 be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No man, Lord.” And he said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:3-11)
The scribes and Pharisees demand an answer from Jesus to a question they are certain must trap Him: what does He say should be done to this woman who has been caught in the act of adultery? The Law of Moses, i.e. the law of God, commanded them to stone her. (Note that the law did not merely allow or recommend this punishment but commanded it.) But Roman law forbade the Jews to exercise the right of capital punishment for any crime at all. (Note that this law did not merely discourage but forbade this punishment to be meted out by the Jews rather than by the Romans.) So if Jesus says, “No do not stone her,” he disobeys Moses, and is a heretic. If he say neither, he disobeys the law of honesty and is a coward.
No human wisdom could have escaped this perfect trap. Only three answers are logically possible (yes, no, and nothing), and all three leave Jesus condemned: by Mosaic law if he says no, by the natural law if he says neither.
Ah, but remember who He is. He is I AM. He is the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush when Moses tried to pin Him down by demanding His name. Then, it was He who pinned Moses down by giving him as His name the name no pious Jew would henceforth ever dare to pronounce. “I AM” is to claim to bear that name, to be that “I”. “I” can only be said in the first person. Any other name can be said in the second person, the person addressed (“you”) or in the third person, the person expressed or referred to (“him” or “her”).
Now, 1500 years later, Jesus enacts the same role reversal He enacted at the burning bush, by making His answer a question. (He’s a rabbi, remember. “Why does a rabbi always answer a question with another question?”) He says, in effect, “My answer to your question is this: I tell the one among you who is without sin to cast the first stone.” And suddenly they all realize, as Job did, that they had all along only seemed to be the questioners, the teachers, the judges, the testers, the controllers, the active ones, the knowing ones, like scientists examining some new species of animal. In reality they were and had always been the questioned ones, the students, the judged, the tested, the controlled, the ones who were acted upon, the known ones, not the knowing ones. They had always been this because they are creatures. God had always been testing them, not vice versa, every moment of their lives. What Christ did here was simply to snatch back the curtain of human ignorance for a moment so that all could see clearly for the first time what had always been happening throughout all of time.