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"Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone!"

Analysis of an important Gospel phrase

By Maria Skambardoni, Student of Theology, Journalist.

The words “Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone” is one of the most familiar phrases in the Holy Bible and the Lord's teaching in the Gospel of John (John 8:7) and it concerns the woman that the locals had demanded be stoned to death, having been accused of adultery.

It is a phrase that is widely used to highlight the fact that none of us has the moral perfection to condemn others. It is also a phrase that receives criticism for various reasons.

The specific incident concerns an adulterous woman that certain representatives of the law had arrested and had wanted to be stoned to death publically, because she was “caught red-handed” in the act of adultery. They had responded with the Law of Moses, which stipulated that adultery was punishable by death.  As He quoted this Law before the .....indignant crowd, Christ was seen looking down and casually writing something on the ground with His finger, making all of the woman's accusers mutely slink off, on hearing those words - no longer daring to throw any stone at her. Christ then forgave the adulteress and advised her “never to sin again.”

Many regard this phrase as equating a misdemeanor with a tiny mistake. By using this phrase, we feel supposedly exempt of all criticism for all bad deeds. However, this equates a crime with a tiny mistake. But “the transgressor of one commandment becomes the transgressor of the entire Law”, says the Apostle James (Chapter 2:10-11).

Others say that in essence, Christ did not express a vertical, negative opinion on the practice of stoning; that on the contrary, He rendered it an acceptable act - but only by a sinless person - without categorically disapproving it for every single case.

When standing before the adulteress and averting her stoning, Christ did not intend to overrule legislation that punishes and condemns crimes and abominations.

When Christ said: “Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone” He was inviting us to look deep within ourselves and realize that none of us is completely and perfectly moral to condemn others.  He was motivating us to delve into our inner world and perform our own self-criticism about our own mistakes, omissions, imperfections, etc.. Recall all the times we've been forgiven even though we had wronged someone and fallen into mistakes, and the moment we too had wanted to “stone someone” for something bad they had done. Well, surely we wouldn't want to throw a stone at our self or be stoned for something bad that we did… Obviously this Gospel lesson is a prompt for self-criticism, awareness and a desire for catharsis (soul-cleansing).

Being the Creator of the World and of Life, according to the teaching of the Christian faith, the only sinless one - Christ - had every ('legal') right to “cast the first stone” at that woman. And yet, albeit absolutely sinless, He chose forgiveness, thus setting a moral example for every imperfect human being.

He did not relate stoning to an act befitting a sinless person; He rejected it and instead promoted forgiveness, love, tolerance, and the hope of the other's change.

If He who is perfect and sinless does not cast a stone at us, how much more should we not dare to?



Translation by A. N.

Greek Text

Article published in English on: 3-8-2023.

Last update: 5-8-2023.