Woman Caught in Adultery

by PammyMcB

The woman in John 8:1-11 could have been any one of Gilligan’s stages. She was either in the selfish stage, in which she committed adultery in order to fulfill her primitive desires; or she was in the second stage, in which she committed adultery in order to make someone else happy by fulfilling their primitive desires. The woman could have also been in the final stage, in which she was not thinking about everyone else, but thinking about her interconnectedness with others. She could have been tired of making everyone else happy and decided to make herself happy for once by giving in to her primitive desires. Women during that time were thought of more as property. They did not marry for love, but usually to pay off debts of their fathers. We do not have a clear indication of why this woman committed adultery, nor do we have enough background information to make such assumptions about her reason for committing adultery. It is possible that she did not believe she was ethically wrong for committing adultery. She may have felt that she was still a virtuous person because she did not feel wrong in the act of committing adultery.

The woman may have been married to a man that she never loved, therefore she may have never felt as if she were his wife. If this were the case, then the woman would be in Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral reasoning, which would be universal ethical principles. The woman could have possibly been in the fifth stage of moral reasoning too. She could have had different values. She may have been pagan instead of Jewish or Christian. If so, then she would not have been bound by the laws of God. In pagan societies during this time, it was completely acceptable for people to commit adultery especially those in the upper classes of society. Another aspect to look at is the fact that what we consider children today, were considered women in Biblical times.  If this were actually a pubescent child (which were considered women), perhaps a teenager, then she may be more at stage three of Kohlberg’s theory. She may not yet have the mental capacity to make legal decisions.

Along the same lines, the woman may have had a limited mental capacity and be well into full adulthood. This could have put the woman at any of Kohlberg’s other stages. The woman may have wanted to be a “good girl” and please the man she committed adultery with. The woman may have needed money for something and looked at what was in it for her which would put her in Kohlberg’s second stage. She may have gotten money for her services. The woman could have been in Kohlberg’s first stage and never learned right from wrong. She may not have had any idea that adultery was bad. Perhaps the woman was of full mental capacity and been in Gilligan’s second stage. She may have been a prostitute that was trying to make money to feed her family. Therefore she sacrificed herself to care for the needs of her family.

The men in the story thought they were at stage six of Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning. However, these men were more at stage four. They thought that punishing the woman was better for all mankind. They figured out though that they were just pushing people to “obey laws;” yet they too were not without sin, which means they were not obeying God’s laws. The men began to realize they had a lot more to learn about morals and ethics than they had previously known. Finally, Jesus is at Kohlberg’s unproven seventh level. His moral reasoning comes from his being the Son of God. It is more spiritual and mixed with religion.




STAGE 1:  Deferring to authority

STAGE 2:  Learning to satisfy one’s own needs.


STAGE 3:  Conforming to stereotypical roles.

STAGE 4:  Sense that individual roles contribute to social order.


STAGE 5:  Morality thought of in terms of rights and standards endorsed by society as a whole.

STAGE 6:  Morality thought of as self-chosen, universal principles of justice.

On Kohlberg’s model, moral development is the development of an autonomous self, capable of being motivated by abstract principles understood as a kind of “mathematical” solution to conflicts of interests.




STAGE 1:  Caring for the self.

STAGE 2:  Stage 1 concern judged to be selfish.


STAGE 3:  Goodness is caring for others, frequently equated with self-sacrifice.

STAGE 4:  Illogic of the inequality between self and others becomes evident. Search for equilibrium.


STAGE 5:  Focus on the dynamics of relationships, to eliminate the tension between self and others.

STAGE 6:  Care is extended beyond personal relationships to a general recognition of the interdependence of self and other, accompanied by a universal condemnation of exploitation and hurt.

On Gilligan’s model, moral development is the development of a self-in-relation. Morality is understood in terms of the preservation of valuable human relations. Progress from stage to stage is motivated by increasing understanding of human relationships.