Study 3: Singled-Out Sins

Find the text of Study 3: Singled-Out Sins below. If you’d prefer to listen to the study, you can watch the video — the content is the same. We hosted a Zoom meeting for discussion of this study the week we first posted it. If you have questions or would like to discuss this study, you can email us at or send us a message (anonymously, if you’d like) through the website here.



Read John 8:2-11 (NIV below).

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

We read here about a woman about to be literally physically “hurt by the church.” She is presented to Jesus as someone worthy of death by stoning — which, as the Pharisees and teachers of the law say, is the penalty prescribed in the Law for the offense of adultery she has committed. But while they might have been able to justify the “letter of the law” in their actions, we’re told in verse 6 that their ulterior motive was to trap Jesus, not their zeal to maintain justice. This woman has been singled out merely to serve as an example in a religious debate, which we would certainly see as hurtful and totally unfair if this incident had occurred in today’s world. And when we consider that this “game” of theirs included a death penalty for the victim, this whole incident would doubtless be one of the main news headlines had it occurred in the 21st century.

The Law the religious leaders are quoting in the Old Testament — contained mainly in the first five books of the Bible — names 613 separate commandments, according to Jewish tradition. Many of these are “capital” offenses punishable by death, including several sexual practices such as adultery, but also many other offenses such as sacrificing to another God (Exodus 22:20), false prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:5), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), breaking the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14), murder (Exodus 21:12-14), cursing a parent (Exodus 21:17), persistent disobedience of a parent (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), contempt of a judge or priest ministering before God (Deuteronomy 17:12), and bearing false witness against someone accused of a capital offense (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).

When confronted with the question of their own sinfulness, each of the religious leaders present has roughly 613 commands to consider — some of which are life-or-death just as in the case of adultery that they’re considering — and each of them walks away, unable to say they are truthfully “without sin.”

Do you think the church today singles out specific sins and treats them with special scrutiny? If so, which ones have you seen singled out? Why do you think the church has singled them out?
Do you know of anyone who has been hurt by the church because they felt like their “sin” was singled out?

Then we come to the issue of what is a “sin” and what isn’t. Christians today don’t all agree on a definition of sin, much less a list of 613 commands — although many might include those Old Testament commands in their arguments, and many might interpret those commands differently in light of the New Testament. Certainly there could be some who have felt “hurt” by the church’s focus on and attitude about something they themselves believe is sinful and with which they struggle. On the other hand, some also may feel hurt because the church proclaims the “sinfulness” of something they don’t believe is sinful.

How do you figure out if something is “sinful”?
Are there any times you’ve tried to answer a question like that?
Do you think it’s an important question? Why or why not?

If a member of a church and the leaders of the church disagree on whether something is “sinful,” what should the leaders of the church do? What should the member of the church do? Have you seen this scenario in real life?

The story begins with the religious leaders focusing on one person and one commandment, and Jesus invites them to consider each of themselves and all the commandments they know. The story ends with Jesus telling the woman to “go now and leave your life of sin.” This can be looked at as an instruction specifically related to adultery – as if Jesus is saying “I don’t condemn you, but stop committing adultery” – but that seems to leave out Jesus’ wider implied message to the religious leaders — that they should not just single out one commandment or one sin.

What have you heard the church say about this story?
If there is a message from Jesus for our lives today in this story, what do you think it is?

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