Our culture is awash in the thought that we must not judge anyone. For example, to tell someone that homosexuality is sin and if not repented of then the consequence will be eternal punishment, is “judging,” and, as many say, “we ought not to judge.” This “don’t judge” attitude is a lie of the devil. The story of the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11 has been abused to teach that we ought not to make any judgment about another’s sin. Let us consider whether Jesus could be teaching that on this occasion.
The scribes and Pharisees had brought to Jesus a woman they said was caught in the very act of adultery. They had a dishonest, ulterior motive in bringing the woman to Jesus, for John records, “this they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him” (verse 6).
Their question was this: “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” (verse 5) They continued to question Him, and Jesus answered, “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (verse 7). There it is – an answer from Jesus that some will say is reason not to make a judgment about another’s sin. One may think they see in Jesus’ teaching that only the person without fault can express judgment on the fault of another, the bottom line being that no man may identify or expose another’s fault because we all sin. That notion on judging is patently false.
First, such an idea contradicts plain Bible teaching. Jesus Himself had just previously commanded, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Also, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus instructed, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Jesus did not say you will know them once you have determined their motives and intentions. No, He said you will know them by their fruits. Their actions, and that includes their teachings in this case, are the things that will distinguish them from teachers and practitioners of the truth. Knowing such requires judgment; that is, you must compare their actions and teachings to what is written, to the word of God, and discern, determine, and decide (i.e. judge) whether they are the same. We have from the Lord not just a suggestion to make a judgment, but a command and even a must if you will remain faithful and not be carried away by error and sin.
Furthermore, apostolic teaching demands we not only make judgments but take actions based on those judgments. The apostle John, for example, enjoins saints to not receive one who does not bring the doctrine of Christ (2 John 10). To follow that instruction requires 1) making a judgment of the teaching one brings, and 2) taking the appropriate action based on that judgment. Like it or not, judgments must be made!
Then what did Jesus mean by “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”? In this context, Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They had come to Jesus with dishonest intentions and they had shown their own disrespect for the Law of Moses by not also bringing the man, who would be known to them, if this woman was “caught in the very act.” He should be brought also – Leviticus 20:10. Jesus’ question gets them to see themselves for who they are – men pretending to be concerned about the law’s sentence of stoning when they have evidenced their own disregard for another part of that same law. They’re hypocrites! How is their behavior really any different than Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1-5? There Jesus says that in order to remove a speck from your brother’s eye, you must first remove the plank from your own eye. The scribes and Pharisees had planks in their eyes.
Neither Jesus nor the apostles teach us to be faultfinders who are just itching and looking for opportunity to find some fault in another! But they do teach us to judge righteously, according to the word of God, and to be willing to identify sin, and when necessary, even reprove and rebuke sin and error when it is known. Searching through the Bible, I believe you will find righteous judgment to be a recurring principle of responsibility of those who are trying to serve God.