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Caught in the Act

January 8, 2017

Image result for image christ and the woman caught in adultery"
“Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” by Nicholas Poussin (1635), Location Louvre Museum, Paris, Source, (PD-Art, PD-Old)

In flagrante delicto (adverb):  In the very act of wrongdoing, especially in an act of sexual misconduct.

The Latin phrase in flagrante delicto is a legal term used to convey that a criminal was caught red-handed.  The woman caught in adultery, and brought before Christ for judgment, was caught in the act (John 8: 3-11).

We do not know her name or what she looked like.  We do not know the name of the man caught with her.  He seems to have escaped the consequences of his actions, at least as far as the Scripture story is concerned.  Perhaps the crowd let him go.  Yet his guilt was equal to hers, and should have merited the same punishment.

The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20: 10).

This woman must have thought her lover would defend her, if their secret were ever revealed.  Not only were they caught in the act of what she may have mistaken for love (a relationship for which she had risked her life); she was abandoned at the very moment of intimacy, and cruelly left to her fate.

Perhaps initially defiant, she must have been terrified by the time the crowd reached Christ.

The First Stone

What we should remember from the story is the mercy Christ extended to this woman.  You will recall that He said to the crowd bent on stoning her, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8: 7).

One by one, the members of the crowd drifted away, convicted of their own sins.

Without Sin

Those of us who have never committed adultery may think ourselves superior to this woman.  But that is an error.  Like the crowd which sought this woman’s death, we are all too ready to overlook our own shortcomings [1].

Were we, like the woman caught in adultery, stripped of our defenses – the excuses, the rationalizations; were our secrets exposed to view, how many of us could withstand the scrutiny?

If we delude ourselves that we have “never” sinned, we are guilty of pride and have likely overlooked countless sins of omission.  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3: 23).

Nowhere to Hide

As far as God is concerned, we are all caught in flagrante delicto.  Sin is anathema to Him.  There has been nowhere to hide since the fall.  “…Adam and his wife…[attempted to hide] themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3: 8).

But in His great mercy, God sacrificed His own Son to restore the relationship with mankind.  Christ, in effect, says to believers what He said to this woman.

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?’

She said, ‘No one, Lord.’

And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’ ” (John 8: 10-11).

[1]  In relaying what he called his testimony, a minister I once knew proudly declared that he had stopped committing adultery when he realized the women with whom he was sexually involved were all “whores”.  Not that he was a “whore”, mind you.  But that the women he had sinned against were unworthy of his attentions.  The statement is an illustration of hubris and self-delusion.


From → Christian, Faith, Law, Religion

  1. I often think about what the men surrounding that woman might have been guilty of, Anna. I heard someone theorize that what Jesus wrote in that sand was THEIR individual transgressions. Makes one think huh?

  2. What a great post Anna. Thank for sharing your insights.

  3. I stumbled over this minister’s testimony in your footnote, Anna. It does not happen that rarely that men who have been drawn toward adultery share their ‘testimony’ by somehow subtly admitting that they still long for these ‘good old times’. But alas, God seems to have saved them from their sins. Biblical repentance? None. In fact, real repentance must happen in many tears and at pains of the heart. Having been convicted by God will never leave someone so cold-hearted that he needs a scapegoat for his own desires and sins. “Ugh!” is all I can say.

    • Exactly my feeling, Susanne. I thought the man was despicable, gloating over his conquests. I left that church for a multitude of reasons.

    • I have to wonder if the adulterous man in this story that should have been stoned as well, was not exactly like the preacher you told about, Anna. We are all guilty, having committed the act or not for God looks on the heart.

      You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28, KJ2000)

  4. Oh my goodness, I’m stopped in my tracks by the minister’s ‘proud’ testimony… Nonetheless, I’ve been brought down a peg or 2 too many times to say more than that adulterers, however they justify their actions, generally hurt more people than they realize; and certainly this could be said equally of many other sins. It’s a wonder God doesn’t just throw His hands up over the whole messy world–but His mercies are new every morning, His love and grace limitless.

  5. Very nice post. Always a good reminder to not judge others.

  6. Amongst other things, I think the story unfortunately shows the patriachal society of that time, focusing on the woman and allowing the man to go free. Unfortunately in my experience this still exists in fundamentalist churches. Don’t you think it’s time it ceased, Anna?

    • I wrote the post to emphasize Christ’s attitude toward men and women. He died for both.

      The Apostle’s Creed does not address the sometimes thorny and misunderstood issue of “headship” expounded in Ephesians 5. Different sects will, therefore, differ. First and foremost, however, Christ is the head of the body which is the church. Men and women are to walk in love, in imitation of Him. To the extent we fall short of this, we are in error.

      Nowhere in the Bible does Christ treat women as “second class citizens”. But to suggest that Jesus Christ was a mere feminist is to limit Him.

      Similarly, to suggest that the Bible — which contains eternal truths — supports a single political viewpoint, is to limit it. But the Bible is a record of its times, and can be misused. For instance, the Bible read as a whole does not favor slavery. Yet, it was misinterpreted by white slave owners to favor their lifestyle prior to the Civil War.

      Is it time that sin of all kinds ceased? Certainly. We are though incapable of saving ourselves. Despite great vigilance, sin will creep even into the church. This is not to say we should tolerate it.

  7. I appreciate you pointing out that there’s no “hierarchy of sin”. We’re all equally guilty before God…and all equally offered grace through faith!

    • Thanks, Brandon. I heard someone explain it this way. You may be able to throw a baseball farther than I can. But neither of us, standing in New Jersey, can pitch that ball across the Canadian border. That’s the difference between God’s high standards for holiness and our own.

  8. It is so easy to point fingers at others rather than taking responsibility for our own actions and that’s the meaning I took from this post. Thanks for such a thoughtful write, Anna

  9. You make a good point about not judging, but there needs to be repentance, and forsaking the affair. Jesus required this woman to “sin no more.” I just wrote a blog post about the fallout from an affair, which I saw happen to a family I knew growing up. The children in this family, who were around my age, really influenced me in a positive way with their faith, but what I saw happen to them, and the people they grew up to be, because of this affair, was one of the things that made me disillusioned with church, for many years. While it was not the only thing, it was one of them. Adultery can have far reaching, and long lasting consequences.

    • I agree completely. It was not my intention to make light of adultery, though our culture seems to have accepted it as the norm. Thank you for the clarification.

  10. Lowly developed men and their delusions. Product of over pampering by awed parents, most of the times I assume.

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