In John 8:2-11 Jesus makes the statement “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone“. Normally Christians, or at least professing-to-be-Christians quote this line from Jesus to rebut any who points out sin in their lives. Although this is certainly the context of the passage, it isn’t the whole story. A rebuttal against admonition is never to characterise the disciples of Jesus.
In that passage the moral self-righteous and an obvious sinner bump into each other. The moral self-righteous see it as an opportunity to test Jesus. Will Jesus disobey the stoning law of Moses (Cf. Lev 20:10 and Deut 22:22-24), or will Jesus keep the Law of Moses and get Himself into trouble with the Roman Law?
But first, a quick interruption. We do not know what v. 8 refers to. We do not know what Jesus wrote on the ground. I think He wrote “big white elephant in the room”, but that is as much speculation as any and every other theory. … Back to the point: what would Jesus do?
In Deuteronomy 13:9 and again in Deuteronomy 17:6-7 the procedure for the death penalty is given – and the point being made is that the witnesses of the offender’s sins are the ones who follow through with the execution. Perhaps the Pharisees expected Jesus to say “You who witnessed her sin, cast all the stones” – a task they no doubt might have relished in. Instead, Jesus says “You who are without sin, cast the first stone”.
Everyone’s conscience forced them to leave with only Jesus, the one who never ever sinned, remaining. What did “the one without sin” do to the obvious sinner? He did not stone her, but evangelised her.
It is therefore true to the text to belief that none of us can condemn another. But, we must still, as Jesus did, encourage and instruct one another to change so as to receive a no-condemnation status from God too. To achieve such a status, one must indeed repent and sin no more, and for that to happen, one’s sins must be rebuked.
Therefore, honouring the full story, a proper response to the wrong use of the verse would be: “O, I don’t condemn you, and indeed I cannot, for I am also a sinner. But Christ can condemn you and He said that one day He will. But while you are still alive, He does not condemn you so that you can repent and sin no more. In fact, to prove that I am not some self-righteous religious hypocrite eager to follow through with your condemnation, I’ll see you through in your sanctification.”
May the God of all grace, show His grace to us, so we can demonstrate it to others.