Is it Wrong to Call Jesus “Clever”?

by Kathy Collard Miller @KathyCMiller

The story of Jesus responding to the Pharisees’ demands that He condemn a woman caught in adultery offers many lessons for us. I’m curious whether you would say one of them is that Jesus is clever. “Clever” is a tricky word because we might think of “deceitful.” But synonyms actually include intelligent, brilliant, skillful, astute, and quick. Those words do describe the way Jesus handles being “trapped”—at least the Jewish leaders thought they had Him trapped.

Jesus’s question, “Woman, where are they?” (John 8:10 ESV) comes at the very end of the story yet there’s so much vital background. The Jews, who are hypocritical about their own sins, drag this guilty woman, caught in the very act of adultery, to stand naked before Jesus. Leviticus 20:10 says both the sinning man and woman should be stoned. So where is the man? We can easily wonder if the whole incident is a set up. Regardless, she has no defense. She is guilty and deserves to be stoned.

But the religious leaders don’t care about her. Jesus is their target. Their motive is to trap Jesus and destroy his growing reputation. The Pharisees craft this trick believing Jesus only has two options. If he says stone her, then the main theme of his ministry of love and forgiveness is repudiated. If he says to let her go, Jesus is a lawbreaker, dismissing sin. Either way He might answer, their goal is reached: the common people will be convinced Jesus can’t be the Messiah. Plus, the respect the leaders are losing because of Jesus will be restored.

Even if Jesus says to stone her, the Jews are powerless to follow through. At that time, only the Romans were allowed to carry out capital punishment. This is an empty threat. But the Jews are desperate, trying to gain back the respect of the people.

In the meantime, this naked woman is convinced that within moments, the people will start throwing stones at her.

In the midst of the woman’s shame, the Jews’ gloating, and the onlookers’ gawking, Jesus stands confidently. He is clever, brilliant, sharp, and quick. He doesn’t feel trapped by those two choices. He thinks outside the limited human box of cleverness.

He writes on the ground. Oh yes, we want to know the words. Or are they scribbles? We will never know. But his action has the desired effect. The accusers slink away, most likely feeling and knowing they are as guilty as this woman.

Jesus then asks the shocked adulterer, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

His questions are not intended to excuse her sin. But in this particular case, the time isn’t right for him to act as judge. After she answers “no one,” he says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV).

His brilliant intellect calmly dissolves the “trap,” convicts the hypocrites, and invites the sinner to repentance and godly living—without a single moment of concern or confusion. Only by writing in the dust. How many of us would have thought of that?

When you are feeling perplexed, remember that the Holy Spirit wants to help you think wisely and possibly “cleverly” like Jesus. Call upon Him who resides in you to help you see beyond the “seen” circumstance. And be open to His leading which may be “outside the box.”

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 ESV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Collard Miller is an international speaker and the author of 58 non-fiction books including devotionals, Bible studies, commentaries, and over 1,000 blog posts and articles. She has spoken in 35 US states and 9 foreign countries. Her latest book is co-written with her husband, Larry, titled God’s Intriguing Questions: 60 New Testament Devotions Revealing Jesus’s Nature. This post is an excerpt from that book. Visit her at https://linktr.ee/kathycollardmiller.

Join the conversation: Can you share a time when the Holy Spirit gave you a “clever” solution to a difficult problem?

2 thoughts on “Is it Wrong to Call Jesus “Clever”?

  1. I always appreciate reading the observations of others on a Bible passage–things I’d never noticed before. However, I’ve never seen a version that says the woman was naked! (Is there one?) “Caught in adultery” and naked are not necessarily the same. That’s quite visual! But it’s hard to imagine that “Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (v. 9) if she was really naked. I think he surely would have offered her his robe. But whether or not I agree with that extra detail, I appreciate that discrepancies make me look harder at such things.

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    1. Patti, I so appreciate you pointing out this very important point. I did more research and you are right. No translation actually says naked. I think why some commentators speak of nakedness is because she was “caught in the act” therefore naked at that time and pulled out to walk down the street. But I will no longer mention about being naked. I really am grateful for the correction and your passion for accuracy in the Word of God. Because He is too! Blessings to you!

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