John 8:1-13 records that when the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus, he did not accuse her, but drew in the dust on the ground. Most commentators claim that Jesus was showing that mercy is greater than the law, but that is not right. Jesus showed mercy, but he also applied the law more correctly than the Pharisees.

Commentators also speculate about what words he wrote that caused the crowd to slowly disperse, but they have missed the point. Jesus did not write any words. If he had, such powerful words would have been recorded. Every male should understand what he was doing. He doodled in the dust on the ground, because he wanted the people gathered to realise where he was looking.

Jesus was the only man in the crowd, who was not looking at the woman, and he wanted them to notice. (No women were there, because the Pharisees would not have allowed a woman to be a witness).

This woman had been "caught in adultery, in the very act". Women in those times wore a single garment. They did not have fancy lingerie. So, she would have removed her garment while she was engaged in the adulterous act. When they dragged her out of the house and placed her in front of Jesus, she would have been standing naked. She might have been holding her garment and trying to hide behind it, but more likely one of her accusers was holding the garment to support their claim that she had been caught in the act of adultery.

I presume she was an attractive woman, or she would not have been in this situation, so every man in the crowd would have been ogling her. Except for Jesus, who was looking at the ground. When they noticed that Jesus was not looking at her, they would remember that Jesus had taught on the nature of adultery.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus and made her stand in front of him. They demanded that he condemn her. They were testing Jesus to see if he would apply the law of Moses. However, Jesus understood the law better and applied it correctly to this situation.

The law has specific requirements for witnesses. Firstly, a person can only be convicted of a crime if there are two or three witnesses to it.

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

The Pharisees and teachers of the law understood this, so they stood the woman in front of the crowd and claimed to be witnesses who had caught her in the act.

Jesus knew that the law had a second requirement. The witnesses must not have committed the crime they are testifying against. Adulterers cannot testify against adulterers. A witness who has committed the same crime is a false witness (Deut 5:20). Jesus reminded the teachers and Pharisees of this requirement when he said,

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7).

This was not a new idea; it was a requirement of the law of Moses.

After saying these words, Jesus continued doodling on the ground. Every man in the crowd would have noticed that Jesus was not looking at the naked woman, and have remembered that Jesus had taught on the nature of adultery.

I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:28).

As they looked at the naked woman, and noticed Jesus had not, they would realise that they had committed adultery where they were standing. They had disqualified themselves as witnesses, because they were guilty of the crime that they were accusing her of committing. There was no alternative but to leave before Jesus revealed their sin.

When they had all gone, Jesus looked at her. He was probably the only man on earth who could do that without sinning. However, he had not witnessed her sin, so he could not condemn her. He told her to leave, and to stop sinning.

There was no witness, who was not guilty of the same sin, so the woman could not be convicted of a crime. Therefore, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law of Moses, he did not set them aside.

Jesus did more than that. He demonstrated that the adultery laws could not be applied. Given the nature of human hearts, it would be impossible for three men to observe a man and a woman completing an act of adultery without committing the same sin by lusting after the woman. If they did not do it at this time, they would have done so previously. Therefore, there could never be innocent independent witnesses to testify against the adulterers. Adultery is an unenforceable crime.

This was not new. Moses understood this. Jesus had already explained that Moses did not enforce the laws against adultery.

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard (Matt 19:8).

Moses did not apply the penalty of exclusion for adultery, because he understood human hearts and knew that he could not get three independent, innocent witnesses who had not committed the same sin. Instead, he allowed divorce as a pragmatic solution to the problem. Jesus did not change Moses' standard.

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matt 19:9).

Jesus did not abolish the law that required exclusion for adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:21). He left it on the books, to demonstrate God's abhorrence for this sin. It is a serious evil that undermines society from the inside out. Jesus also confirmed that this law should not be enforced, because human hearts are not up to it.