In the biblical narrative of John 8:7, we find an account of a woman caught in the act of adultery. The religious leaders of the day, eager to test Jesus, brought the woman before Him and asked if she should be stoned according to the Law of Moses. Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, responded with the now-famous words, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Convicted by their own conscience, the accusers left one by one, and the woman was spared.
Whether or not this passage was part of the original text has been a subject of debate among scholars for centuries, yet that is irrelevant. While this passage still beautifully illustrates the mercy and compassion of Jesus, it is often misused and misinterpreted in today’s world, particularly in discussions surrounding the addressing of false teachers and their teachings. Some argue that “casting stones” in the form of words, reasoning, and Scripture is tantamount to physically harming them, and therefore, we must refrain from doing so. However, this dangerous comparison ultimately leads people astray and is not an accurate understanding of John 8:7.
First and foremost, the context of the passage is critical as Jesus was not advocating for the avoidance of addressing sin or doctrinal error. Rather, He was challenging the self-righteousness of the religious leaders who were more interested in hypocritically condemning others for breaking the law than examining their own hearts. These religious leaders believed that their outward works would somehow earn them favor with God while they had no internal heart change. In other words, they were false teachers and Jesus was *gasp* criticizing their false teachings. This distinction is often overlooked when people argue against confronting false teachers.
Scripture is replete with examples of godly men and women who confronted false teaching and error, often using strong language and direct rebuke. The Apostle Paul, for instance, did not shy away from naming false teachers and their heresies in his epistles. In Acts 13:8-11, Paul rebuked Elymas the sorcerer for attempting to turn the proconsul away from the faith. He also warned against false teachers and divisive people in Romans 16:17-18 and called out Hymenaeus and Alexander for their blasphemy in 1 Timothy 1:20. Additionally, Paul cautioned Timothy about Hymenaeus and Philetus, who taught that the resurrection had already occurred, leading some believers astray (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Paul even used harsh, graphic imagery to express his frustration with those who would defile the name of Christ with their false teachings (Galatians 5:12).
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Jesus Himself denounced the hypocrisy and false teachings of the Pharisees and scribes. In Matthew 23, Jesus issued a series of “woes” against these religious leaders for their hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and neglect of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In Matthew 16:6-12, He warned His disciples to beware of the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which represented their false teachings. Furthermore, in Mark 7:6-13, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for their adherence to human traditions over the commandments of God.
Confronting false teachers and their teachings is an essential aspect of the Christian faith. By warning others about these dangers, we help protect the flock and maintain the purity of the Gospel and the purity of the Church.
Attempting to dissuade people from practicing discernment and caring about the Church by misusing John 8:7 as a blanket statement to silence any form of correction or confrontation is a gross misinterpretation of this passage, and it is a false teaching in and of itself that can have dire consequences. If left unchecked, false teachings can spread like cancer, causing untold damage to the spiritual health and well-being of even true believers.
Unfortunately, too many false teachers in the Church today are given a pass and allowed to spread their ungodly teachings without open rebuke from the Church at large. This gives them a false sense of security, believing themselves to be righteous, yet they themselves are on a path to destruction and taking countless multitudes along with them. While our hope is always for repentance, our first duty is to defend the Church and the gospel entrusted to her by marking and avoiding those who wreak havoc among her.
While we must always approach matters of false teaching with humility, discernment, a sincere love for the truth, and most importantly, a desire to see God glorified in that truth, we should not be deterred from addressing and correcting such issues when they arise. To do so is not to “cast stones” in the manner condemned by Jesus in John 8:7, but rather it is to faithfully carry out our duty as Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Therefore, we should do our best to hold fast to the truth, and in doing so, guide others along the narrow path that leads to life.