Criminally Law-Abiding

Jesus was growing in popularity. His list of accomplishments and feats was already the stuff of legend. He had already turned water into wine and cleansed the temple. He clandestinely explained new birth to a Pharisee and caused a commotion through one woman in Samaria. He had already healed the son of a nobleman and a man at Bethesda’s gate. He fed 5000 and walked on water. By the time we read John 8, Jesus has amassed a huge following, and in so doing has become a problem for the Pharisees.

To address this problem, the Pharisees devise a trap. They bring a woman who had been caught in adultery (in the very act they say) and ask Jesus for his counsel. But they make it clear that they already know what the answer should be. According to the law, they say, such people should be stoned. This is a dangerous question for Jesus. If He lets her go, they’ll accuse Him of disrespecting the Law of Moses. If He advocates stoning her, He risks losing His audience. Christ solves the conundrum by ignoring it. Instead of addressing the sin of the woman, he addresses the sins of the audience. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” As so many other times in the Gospels, Christ respects and yet expands the old law. He has not said that she should not be stoned. Instead he has created a higher standard for those who would mete out punishment. Only those who are spotless, and therefore in the best position to judge, may execute judgment. Because no one qualifies, the query ends and the trap is foiled. Interestingly enough, Jesus is the only one who could stone her, and yet he chooses to extend grace.

There seem to be two lessons here. The first is the most apparent and comes from the conclusion of the story. Too often as Christians we forget that we are not much different from those whom we despise as “sinners.” We still struggle with sin in our relationship with Christ. We too find ourselves far from God at times, wondering like the Prodigal Son if we will ever make it home. We are as much in need of God’s grace today as we were before we came to know the Lord. Yet we look down on those who live sinful lives (in our opinion) and seem to be enjoying themselves. We forget that there was time when we enjoyed our sins. We forget that sometimes we still do. Christ’s admonition to the Pharisees that day reminds us that we should be careful who we judge and how we adjudicate punishment. We may find ourselves on the receiving end as easily as anyone else.

But there is another lesson here that interests me as a lawyer and as someone who studies the intersection of religion and politics. The Pharisees claim that this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. If this is true then there is a legal problem. Leviticus 20:10, which the Pharisees reference as the law in this case, clearly states that in cases of adultery, both the man and the woman are to be stoned. Where is the man who was involved in this situation? Why has he not been brought? Did they let the man go in their rush to bring a woman to Jesus to be stoned? It seems that in their zeal to uphold the law (or their way of life – after all this is done just as much to trap Jesus and ruin his ministry as it is to see justice done) they have actually violated it. I was reminded of this element of the story as I reflected on religious liberty and its misuse by those who would impose their religious mores on others. God’s law is based on freedom. Human beings cannot be forced to accept God and His laws. Those who would restrict civil marriage from homosexuals in the name of a Christian definition of marriage are making the same mistakes these Pharisees made. In their zeal to see their beliefs lived out in the lives of others, they violate the foundation of the very principles they seek to uphold. God does not compel anyone to follow Him. Instead, He stands at the door and knocks. (Rev 3:20) After there was no one left to accuse her Jesus said to the woman, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” We would do well to follow Jesus’ example and extend grace to those who have sinned, as opposed to attempting to control whether they sin in the future.

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The key phrase is: “Jesus is the only one that could stone her, but he offered grace!” A a later point He said, 'He that hath seen Ne hath seen the Father"

A working example of John 3:16. Of course we don’t throw stones, but do we see the mote in our brothers eye as a beam? Grace received demands Grace given. Tom Z


Of course his big problem finally comes when he crosses the Sadducees. As the very act of raising Lazarus who was dead and very dead after 4 days goes across their belief in no resurrection.

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The gay marriage dilemma, as it currently expresses itself in the SDA church is not so much with civil unions (or gay marriages in a civil/state context) as it is with the idea of acknowledging/sanctifying/celebrating those unions within the context of the church. Some see the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19 as His own definition of what a marriage is and why it was created to be so. Others don’t draw the same conclusion, thinking that Jesus was only talking within the context of a teaching on divorce and within the context of His own time and place, and the topic of gay marriage was not “on the table” at that time.

The Methodists have been dealing with the same dilemma. Toward that end, some of their congregations have decided to bless and celebrate gay marriage while others refer to themselves as “reconciling” congregations by determining to welcome and include LGBT individuals without taking steps toward approval/consecration of those marriages within the context of the church.

Is the SDA church 'criminally law-abiding" by refusing to consecrate gay marriages within the context of the church?

Civil marriage is the legal right of every couple. When the church imposes its belief structure on a secular population, it has become an oppressive organization. Congratulations on standing for truth…you will need to be nimble on your feet when the stones come flying at you. Rene G.


Jason asks how the man escaped this trial. I would ask where was the husband to bring charges? It seems he is to only one who has standing to bring charges. But Jesus doesn’t ask either of these questions. Instead he recognizes the trap and springs it the accusers. The accusers present Jesus with a hopeless dilemma. He must either extend grace and offend Jews or stone her and incur the wrath of the Romans. Jesus’s solution is to make the accusers resolve their own dilemma and when they leave they are conceding that they are sinful. However unlike them Jesus did not witness the adultery and so he was under no obligation to throw stones.

PS, while she may have committed adultery in the past the woman was likely there for money not because she got caught being naughty. The accusers would not have wanted to explain to the Romans why they were dragging this screaming woman into the temple courtyard.

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Regrettably many Adventists have been brought up in such a codified existence, with so many do’s and dont’s, proscriptions and prescriptions, Coke/Pepsi/Coffee/cocoa, wedding rings/brooches/pins/necklaces,
meat/fish/fowl/dairy/pork/shrimp, we stratify ourselves into a vast caste complex of discriminatory nuances where we judgmentally relegate non-conformists on minor issues, to an Adventist purgatory.

I myself, when visiting a new Adventist congregation, gauge the judgementalism of the group, by the number of necklaces/ear rings adorning the lady members. I have no issue with jewelry, one way or the other, but if a lady can wear a piece of jewelry to church, it indicates to me that she has not been accosted and criticized on this issue on a previous Sabbath!

I know of one Adventist congregation who fired their pastor, because one member happened to have seen cheese, on a shelf of the pastor’s home refrigerator! The petty, piffling infringements which can result in spiteful, cruel condemnations are endless. Adventists are some of the most judgemental Christians on the planet.

And adherence or non- adherence to EGW’s pronouncements are usually the cause. We venerate her more than Catholics do the Virgin Mary, and woe to those who do not follow her edicts!

It is interesting that fundamentalists of any persuasion, are usually anti-women.
Jason, you rightly point out, where was the man also caught in the sexual act with this woman?

The Pharisees were as male chauvinists as are the Sharia Law enforcers, and may I add, the heretical headship dogma promoters!


Not in any way was illegitimate sexual activity condoned by Jesus in this event. To use His mercy and forgiveness as promulgation of his enduring Moral Law is offensive.

It was and forever will be deplorable to have extramarital sexual gratification. (That’s why He told her to “Knock it off”. Same is true of any same sex, sexual gratification.

If you insist that the woman caught in adultery has trumped all other codified mandates in Scripture, you can always go to a church like the one in SF which features a male pastor who has a husband. There are a growing number of options out there. Otherwise, please don’t impose your religious mores on the SDA church at large. We want to be progressive, not regress to Sodom.

So many times, I hear, in church and elsewhere, the Matthew 7:1 verse… “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” overused to the max.,
yet it evidently doesn’t apply to the Pharisees here. I guess they all need to be written off the possibility of being forgiven, loved, or saved list.
This portion of scripture can be spun so many ways to accommodate various attitudes and lifestyles.
Some can spin it so that one has to be sinless to be able to judge in any crime of any sort.

Seems to be a catalyst, to some, to bring out bitter memories and grudges.

I see two problems here. First

The law was clear, and though the Pharisees were not following it properly, (no husband there, and where is the male part of this sin) it is not clear to me that sinlessness is a requisite for meting out punishment. Otherwise his statement does away with all man made law! Who of is sinless so that we could cast a stone, or punish anyone for anything? All order would disappear. I don’t think that was Jesus’ intention here, and he did follow the law, not objecting to being brought to trial, but using the laws to prove his innocence. He did not tell them his trial was illegitimate.

So, it may be that this statement was only used to shame the ones who were acting lawlessly here.

The US was set up in the beginning as a republic. The people codified the laws, and chose to make marriage a civil (religious marriage was allowed) contract between a man and a woman. Under this definition of marriage and the definition of a republic, that was perfectly acceptable, and did not deprive any of their rights.

Nothing has changed since then. If a people decide to define marriage as a contract between a man and a woman, there is nothing wrong with that, and no rights have been violated.

Now if the definition of marriage is to be changed, then another issue has arisen. It would be best if the people would decide that, rather than the courts.

An argument can be made that marriage between a man and a woman is the best for society. And wee have not seen the end of this redefining stage. Why not a marriage between two brothers? or father and his daughter? or between three people? Or as an arrangement for college roommates?

Marriage brings certain govt. privileges to individuals who do so because they bring benefits to society (the perpetuation of that society by procreation, the raising of children in a healthy environment etc.). Other arrangements do not bring such benefits.

So, it can be argued (and no doubt will be!) that the best for society as a whole is the traditional marriage definition, whether you bring Christianity in or not. The Romans, after all, were a pagan society and defined marriage as we used to.

I therefore see no reason to apologize for my support of traditional marriage, whether I am a Christian or not.

As a prosecutor, I follow the example of Jesus but I rarely extend grace to those who have broken the law. Neither should I. I attempt to control behavior in the future. I don’t think you want sexual predators living alone without oversight.

If woman caught in adultery was in my courtroom accused of a sex crime, the least I would do would be to offer 36 months of community control, HIV/STD testing, a psycho-sexual evaluation with recommended treatment, 50 community service hours, court costs, cost of prosecution and cost of investigation.

And that is what Jesus did for her. She was on probation with Jesus. He was there for her during here times of demon possession and death of her brother. Jesus watched over her. That is the grace Jesus extended toward her, IMHO.


Whether the church consecrates same sex marriages, it has always accepted marriages performed elsewhere as legitimate without questioning. There are also common law marriages that become recognized as legal after a certain number of years on which the church is silent.

If a same sex married couple, just as other married couples desire to join the church, is there a questioning about their very personal lives or does the church welcome them? If either chose to become adulterous and broke their marriage vows, should they be treated the same or differently?

Has any congregation been faced with two same sex married couples who have either been welcomed or refused membership? Has the church questioned or refused different gender marriages because of a former promiscuous lifestyle? What about same sex couples?

Adventists believe that God is love, but, just like earthly tyrants, he must resort to violent force to achieve his ends, which does not reconcile with freedom in any logical, moral sense.

This split view of God allows people to extol his virtues while it forces them to engage in special pleading in his behalf when God’s purported laws and actions are such that modern sensibilities are outraged in a way that, were he a human being, he would be placed in an institution for the criminally insane or sentenced for hate crimes. Genocide and torture are widely considered atrocities in the 21st century, to point out the obvious.

Was Jesus really repudiating the God-given Jewish laws that mandated stoning for adulterers and other acts considered capital crimes (such as Leviticus 20:13)?

It is hard to draw that conclusion, since Jason tells us that the Pharisees were setting a trap for Jesus and that he foiled it.

But they can bloody well be stoned to death and burned alive in the fires of hell, we are assured by inspiration.

Special pleading (or claiming that something is an overwhelming exception) is a logical fallacy asking for an exception to a rule to be applied to a specific case, without proper justification of why that case deserves an exemption. Usually this is because in order for their argument to work, they need to provide some way to get out of a logical inconsistency — in a lot of cases, this will be the fact that their argument contradicts past arguments or actions. Therefore, they introduce a “special case” or an exception to their rules.

I see a much bigger problem here, even, than trying to figure out how to welcome gays in an Adventist church, which, implausibly, in 2016, still has a racially divided power structure, and which seems to be flirting with Rick Warren and his dangerously intolerant, authoritarian crowd.

Adventist doctrine/eschatology is totally dependent for its denouement on the ability of the Remnant to engage in convincing Special Pleading in God’s behalf regarding his Final Solution to wipe out his enemies, which act, even with the most compassionate construction, will dwarf the French Reign of Terror, and every other human holocaust, combined, into obscurity. (Look up “wrath” in Scripture.)

It seems to me that Adventists, more than any other religious group, are, because of their doctrine and eschatology, inescapably on the horns of Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

Bertrand Russell: If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not?

If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good.

If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them.

If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.

If right and wrong are, in their essence, logically anterior to God, then God himself is subject to them, as much as human beings are.

It then becomes baseless special pleading to argue that actions which would be considered morally reprehensible when human beings perform them are somehow loving when God performs them, and it becomes impossible to tell God from Satan, based on God’s actions, as recorded in Scripture.

But without this morally baseless special pleading, the Adventist’s Great Controversy can never resolve, it seems to me.

David Larson @davidrlarson recently published a piece here entitled Our Faithlessness, His Faithfulness based on advice about the value of reading the book of Judges in the Bible:

David Larson: If when reading the book of Judges we focus not on how faithless the people were but how faithful God was, everything changes.

I have in my hands at this moment the Second Quarter 1996 Adult Sabbath School Lessons, Teacher’s Edition, Judges: Deterioration and Deliverance, the Principle Contributor being the impeccably educated Roy E. Gane. From Lesson 1, Day 1:

Memory Text: “I said, I will never break my covenant with you.”
–Judges 2:1

Key Thought: Since God was always faithful in keeping His covenant promises to His people, the Israelites continued to be successful in occupying the Promised Land as long as they relied upon Him. But as they neglected their covenant with God and disobeyed Him, they failed to make headway against their enemies.

Mr. Gane’s very next words are about a piano recital he regarded as an epic fail because he forgot that “success” depended on God.

Let’s be clear that Israel’s “success” was in the killing of large numbers of people, including children, in what we would now label genocide.

So, in David Larson’s reasoning (correction welcomed), God’s “faithfulness” in Judges involves making sure the Israelites were “successful” in committing genocide (including killing children), and that this is directly applicable to our lives, thinking and morality in 2016.

A quote from the 1996 Quarterly again (page 7):

II. God the Warrior
The question may arise why God wanted the Cannanites killed. Point out that they had 400 years of opportunity to learn of the true God and repent of their sins.

This passage also points to Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 434:

Ellen White: The Lord had shown Himself to be long-suffering, of great kindness and tender pity, even to these heathen peoples. (…) Although the Amorites were idolaters, whose life was justly forfeited by their great wickedness, God spared them four hundred years to give them unmistakable evidence that He was the only true God, the Maker of heaven and earth.

The Rational Christianity site addresses the child-killing problem head-on:

Question: Couldn’t the children have died painlessly?

Answer: It’s worth noting that being killed with a sword (perhaps beheaded) was at the time one of the quickest ways for the children to die (as opposed to suffocation/strangulation, starvation, disease or being torn apart by wild animals
–see Exodus 23:28-29 [“I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter.”]

The children had to die for the Greater Good, so it was probably “good” that they were beheaded, i.e., relatively quickly and painlessly, since God wanted the children dead. This is Christian moral reasoning.

Even the “infidels” in the French Revolution didn’t behead their enemies’ children, as far as I know, but Ellen White assures us that God’s “tender pity” was involved in the murder of the Canaanite children. This is Christian moral reasoning.

Perhaps this view of God is good enough for you.

Perhaps you can convince yourselves that you love a being who has promised to burn you alive if you don’t love it back. Perhaps you can even convince yourselves that that’s “freedom.”

Perhaps you’d cast your lot with Rick Warren in his belief that it is our God-given duty to take out evil doers.

In that case it would seem to me that the “Criminally Law-Abiding” Pharisees were merely being true to a Criminally Law-Abiding God (but one who has different moral “laws” that apply to him than he applies to humans, in which case, the Great Controversy can only be solved by fiat, and all these thousands of years of suffering are without meaning).

Personally, I think we suffer from a massive failure of the spiritual imagination (as well as a stale anachronism, and completely incoherent moral reasoning), and, FWIW, I think better of God.

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Not sure that “Christ solves the conundrum by ignoring it. Instead of addressing the sin of the woman, he addresses the sins of the audience.” In capital cases, the Torah prescribes that “the hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting [her] to death, and then the hands of all the people” (Deut 17:7). But obviously perpetrators or accomplices cannot act as executory witnesses. Thus Jesus does not ignore the sin of the woman, nor requires a higher standard for conviction; the standard has been there all the time.