Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – a different view

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.  It’s part of John’s gospel that is often talked about. However, here’s a different view of it.  Sure, it’s important to show that the “living water” that Jesus offered was about salvation and the next life.  But what if we look at it from the point of view of the Great Commission?  Not just as we’re to spread the word to all nations.  But as an example or template of how to go about spreading the gospel?

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman - a different viewNotice the word on the chalkboard.  “Feedback”.  It seems like when we spread the gospel, we tend to want to talk.  Just keep saying the nice “churchy” words, and people will get the message.  They’ll say the so-called sinners’ prayer – which doesn’t exist – and be saved.  Not.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – does Jesus know how to do the Great Commission?

If we read the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as an example of Jesus spreading the gospel, we’ll notice something.  He doesn’t even start by telling her that He’s going to save her soul.  Or by asking about her soul.  Nothing like that at all.

He asks for a drink of water.  And then, nearly everything that follows is feedback from Jesus to the woman, based on what she said.  The only exception is when Jesus takes a sharp turn from the path of the conversation and asks her to get her husband and come back with him.

Surely, this isn’t a good way to spread the word, is it?  Aren’t we supposed to ask something like, do you know where you’re going when you die?  Or, is something missing in your life?  Maybe, will you see your loved ones after you die?  How about, you’re going to Hell if you don’t say that sinners prayer thing?  But Jesus didn’t do any of those things.  He asked for some water.

What is the Great Commission?

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, let’s look at the Great Commission.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

First of all, notice that Jesus told us to make disciples, not to get people to say a sinners prayer.  That discipling thing also included teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  Often times, that’s a far cry from what we actually do.  Please see The Great Omission from The Great Commission for more on that.

Jesus also said this command was for people of all nations.  Not just our “nation”.  Actually, the Greek word in the passage has nothing to do with a nation / country.  Here’s what it’s actually about.

1484 ἔθνος [ethnos /eth·nos/] n n. Probably from 1486; TDNT 2:364; TDNTA 201; GK 1620; 164 occurrences; AV translates as “Gentiles” 93 times, “nation” 64 times, “heathen” five times, and “people” twice. 1 a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together. 1A a company, troop, swarm. 2 a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus. 2A the human race. 3 a race, nation, people group. 4 in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles. 5 Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Jesus told us to teach everyone – even people we hate – everything that He taught.  And then, as we learn, we also begin to act like that.  Like Jesus.  All the while, we’re also preparing them to go out and do the same thing – teach others.  Even people they hate.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – teaching people we hate

So, let’s get back to this view of Jesus and the Samaritan woman as an example of how to carry out the Great Commission.

Of course, Jesus didn’t hate anyone.  But we do.  We shouldn’t.  But we do.  When we claim we don’t – we’re lying.  You’ll see in a bit why I pointed that out.

We’ve probably all heard about the hatred between Jews and Samaritans.  But then, how much do we actually know about where that hatred came from?  We’ve probably heard it had something to do with Samaritans being half-Jewish.  If you think that’s a weird reason to hate someone, realize that being a Jew was more than just having a certain religion.  The Jewish people were a race.  God’s chosen race.

Now, you begin to see that it’s both religious and racial hatred.  Are you starting to get the picture?  And are you starting to realize that you really do hate some people?  Further, are you beginning to realize that some of that hatred actually started with religious beliefs?  Finally, do you realize that kind of hatred is against everything Jesus taught?  If we are truly Christian, truly disciples of Jesus, these are the kinds of things we need to stop doing.  Stop teaching.  And we need to start living our lives differently.  We need to stop doing those things too.

Samaritans and Jews – why the hatred?

Before we go further into the example of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, I want to get into the topic of why the Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  From just the brief explanation above, maybe we can see why the Jews hated the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were only half Jewish.  That makes it sound like the Samaritans hated the Jews because they were jealous – or maybe just hate returned as more hate.  Something along those lines.  The reality is that it’s much deeper than that.

SAMARITANS [sə mărˊə tənz] (Heb. haššōmerōnî; Gk. Samareitēs).† Inhabitants of the region of Samaria and adherents of the Samaritan religious tradition.

The Jewish view of the origin and nature of the Samaritans occurs already in the Old Testament, beginning with the judgment (summarized at 2 Kgs. 17:7–23) that the northern kingdom of Israel consistently deviated from the course of true religion. Those living in the territory of the northern kingdom after its destruction by Assyria are regarded as non-Israelites settled there by Assyria who adopted Israel’s religion, combining it with their own polytheism (vv. 24–41). Samaritans came to be regarded by Jews as neither fully Gentile nor fully Jewish. “Samaritan” could itself be a term of contempt among Jews (John 8:48). The Mishnah calls the Samaritans “Cuthites” (cf. 2 Kgs. 17:24), thus labeling them as non-Israelite in origin.

I leave it to you to read 2 Kings 17:7-23, which records the warnings from God to the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom.  Eventually, the refusal of the people to return to God led to the northern kingdom being defeated and destroyed by the King of Assyria.

What happens next, although not included in the reference above, is what led to the hatred that followed.  It’s recorded in 2 Kings 17:24–33.

Samaria Resettled

2Ki 17:24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.”

Question – does settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites mean that literally every single Israelite was removed from the northern kingdom?  Answer – no.  There are many times when the Bible uses the English word “all”, or implies it in this case, but it’s not to be taken literally.  It could mean many or most.  It’s also possible that it means important people.  We see this possibility  here:

After deporting the important citizens of the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrian policy called for importing people from the eastern part of the empire to augment the less important Israelites who were as so many cattle to the Assyrian king.  [2]Wilson, C. R. (1967). Joshua-Esther (Vol. 1:2, p. 323). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

It’s not necessary to replace everyone to effectively take over the kingdom.  The only requirement is to remove the Israelites who could influence the Assyrians who were brought in from their homeland.  That gives the Assyrian king control over the kingdom, but doesn’t require Assyrians to do the menial tasks to keep things functioning.

2Ki 17:27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.

In that effort to replace the “important” people, the priests would certainly be included.  Remember, the Israelites lived under a king who was responsible for both the governmental and the religious affairs.  They were very influential.  Therefore, they would have to be removed.

But what about this one priest who was returned?  Did God leave His people with no hope?  Or was God influential, in the way only He can be, regarding the choice of who would return?

Under the providential hand of God, the Assyrian king sent back one of the priests of Israel whom he carried away, and this priest taught them how they should fear the LORD (vv. 27–28). The concept of fearing the Lord or fearing/worshiping other gods permeates the entire chapter (cf. vv. 7, 25, 33–34, 37–38). The Lord had called His people to fear Him from the very beginning of their covenant relationship (cf. Gn 17:1–5; Dt 1:17; 31:12). However, Israel, Judah, and the nations who resettled the land were always halfhearted in their worship.   [3]Shields, H. E. (2014). 2 Kings. In The moody bible commentary (p. 542). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

2Ki 17:29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They worshiped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

Of course, the people – Assyrians and Israelites – in the northern kingdom after the defeat by Assyria still failed to worship the LORD.

It wasn’t until Jesus before that situation could be rectified.

The author summarized the ongoing corruption of humanity by saying, So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day (v. 41). Centuries later Jesus dialogued with another citizen of the land about the quality of religion that occurred in Samaria and in Jerusalem (cf. Jn 4:7–45). Religious syncretism would continue for centuries. And only the true King who was to come would be able to transform the hearts of the citizens of the land. Only then would they be inclined to fear the Lord as He intended.  [4]Shields, H. E. (2014). 2 Kings. In The moody bible commentary (p. 542). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

Which brings us back to Jesus and the Samaritan woman – the conversation they had at the well.

The Samaritans’ canon contains only the Pentateuch. They regard Moses as the final prophet of God and a superhuman being. Mt. Gerizim they identify as the place where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22) and where God intended that Israel’s one place of sacrificial worship be established (cf. Deut. 11:29–30; 12:5–14). The Samaritans’ alternative to the Jewish history of the relation between the two groups teaches that the Jewish departure from the truth began when Eli set up a shrine at Shiloh (cf. 1 Sam. 1–3), not Gerizim; Ezra compounded the falsehood by altering the Pentateuch and by rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem. Though they acknowledge that non-Israelites entered the region of Samaria under Assyrian auspices, the Samaritans regard themselves as descendants of exiled Israelites who returned to the land.

We see here the beginnings of both the racial and religious differences between the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ time.  Two “histories”.  Only one can be correct.  Differences between places of worship – I leave that for another day / another article.  However, items such as Moses being a superhuman and the last prophet are clearly huge differences between the Jews and the Samaritans that were alive in Jesus’ time.

Only a portion of Israel’s population was exiled after defeat by Assyria (cf. 2 Chr. 34:9), and it is possible that some of these did return. Those who remained were assimilated with the new inhabitants the Assyrians had resettled from elsewhere. Furthermore, it would appear that the Jewish view of the Samaritan religion as indebted to non-Israelite religions is exaggerated.

Here we see that the assumption that only some Israelites were deported is true.

2Ch 34:9 They went to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the temple of God, which the Levites who were the doorkeepers had collected from the people of Manasseh, Ephraim and the entire remnant of Israel and from all the people of Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

the entire remnant of Israel means that Israelites were in fact left behind by the king of Assyria.

The next two paragraphs talk about additional things that happened, over time, to stoke the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans.

The division between the Jews and the Samaritans developed gradually over a long period of time. King Josiah of Judah (640–609 B.C.) destroyed Samaritan worship places at a time of Assyrian weakness (2 Kgs. 23:19–20). Some of the Samaritans did, nonetheless, continue for some time regular pilgrimages to the Jerusalem temple (Jer. 41:5). Postexilic Judah was reconstituted under the strict reformation of religion under Ezra and Nehemiah, in which the Samaritans could not participate because of their supposed non-Israelite ancestry and syncretism (Ezra 4:2–3; Neh. 2:20). Having been rebuffed by the Judahites, the Samaritans opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and were successful for a time (Ezra 4:9–24; cf. Neh. 2:19; 4:2 [MT 3:34]). The schism was made complete by the building of a Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim, probably early in the fourth century B.C. (according to Josephus Ant. xi.8.4 [321–324], at the beginning of Alexander’s rule over the region), and that temple’s destruction by John Hyrcanus in 129–128 B.C.

The Jewish report that the Samaritans willingly paganized their temple under pressure from Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Macc. 6:2) is at least exaggerated. Samaritan worship continues on Mt. Gerizim in modern times, though no temple survives. The Passover lamb is sacrificed every year, and other Pentateuchal feast days are occasions for pilgrimage.

Not surprisingly, history shows exaggerations regarding the feelings between the two groups.  That’s what happens with hatred.  An element of truth exists.  But as the hatred increases, the truth is minimized and the falsehoods grow bigger and more important.

Now, to Jesus’ time.  As we saw above, this is inevitable.  God wouldn’t leave His people with no hope for reconciliation with Him.  And now we have Jesus begin the dialog with the Samaritans, through this woman at the well.

Jesus’ ministry was not normally directed to Samaritans, and he directed his disciples as they embarked on speaking and healing missions during his ministry not to go to Samaria (Matt. 10:5–6). In Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42), the decisive issue of the proper place for worship was faced (v. 20). Isa. 66:1–2 anticipates what Jesus told the woman: the answer is neither this place nor that place, because the religion of spirit and truth will supplant the religion of place (John 4:21–24). Thus, despite his loyalty to Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 23:37–38; Luke 9:52–53) and the Jews (John 4:22), Jesus laid the foundation for a transcendence of the division between the two peoples. Samaritans appear in positive roles in Jesus’ teaching and the record of his ministry, mainly because faith and mercy on the part of Samaritans would not be expected by Jesus’ Jewish audience and were, therefore, worthy of note (Luke 10:30–37; 17:11–19).

Notice the issues here.  Of course, the hatred.  Also the correct place to worship – which was one of the initial problems leading up to this hatred.  Of course, this also brings up the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  And finally, after all the years, hope for the Samaritan people to be reconciled with the Jews and both of them with God.  Through Jesus.

After his resurrection Jesus specifically instructed his apostles to take the gospel to Samaria (Acts 1:8). It was because of persecution directed against the Hellenistic branch of the church at Jerusalem that missionary work in Samaria was begun (8:1, 5–25). The work was successful at least for a time in establishing a lasting Christian fellowship in the region (9:31; 15:3). What effect this Samaritan Christianity had on the New Testament is disputed. It has been suggested that Stephen’s origin was Samaritan and that the gospel of John, particularly its christology, reflects Samaritan influences.  [5]Myers, A. C. (1987). In The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (pp. 907–908). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Although no reason is brought up in the text above, I find it interesting that Jesus told His disciples not to go to the Samaritans while He was alive.  But after His death and resurrection, things changed.

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven

Ac 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Ac 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Ac 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Not only to the Jewish people in Jerusalem and Judea – but even to those “half-Jewish” people in Samaria.

After they have the Holy Spirit, for sure.  But also after they have an example from Jesus to follow when they talk to the Samaritans?

Remember, Jesus spoke to the Jewish people in the synagogues.  He spoke to crowds that included both Jews and Gentiles.  However, also remember Jesus’ command to the twelve when He sent them out.

Mt 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”

Jesus also said this to a Canaanite woman (whose healing request He granted) about Himself:

Mt 15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

But then, Jesus also said:

Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

So we see that even though Jesus’ time here on earth was for the Jewish people, and even though He spoke to gentiles and healed them, and even though He reached out to the Samaritan woman – the larger plan was to actually have His disciples go out to the gentiles.  After His death and Resurrection.  After they had the Holy Spirit.  And with some idea of how to reach out to even the worst of the worst – in the mind of Jewish people at the time – via this event with the Samaritan woman.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – a different view

With all of the above in mind, let’s look at the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  A look that considers our current day task of performing the Great Commission.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Jn 4:1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Jn 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

Jn 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jn 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Jn 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jn 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jn 4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jn 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Jn 4:17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Jn 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jn 4:21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jn 4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Jn 4:26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – is that the end of the encounter?

This is the point where many people think this scenario ends.  I say that because  it’s where the NIV puts in a new section header.  And for those who only read the red text that indicates Jesus’ words, verse 46 is the last time Jesus actually speaks to or about the woman.  Plus, it’s probably where a lot of sermons end – because that’s all there’s time for in an hour (or less). 

Even Augustine’s sermon on this event has a mere paragraph at the very end to cover verses 27-43.   The dialog between Jesus and the woman is the emphasis.  The effect of that dialog on others is, if anything, not much more than a footnote in history.  This, even though the bulk of Augustine’s paragraph is:

This also must be slightly noticed, for the lesson is come to an end. The woman first announced Him, and the Samaritans believed her testimony; and they besought Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days, and many more believed. And when they had believed, they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of thy word; but we are come to know Him ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world:” first by report, then by His presence. So it is to-day with them that are without, and are not yet Christians. Christ is made known to them by Christian friends; and just upon the report of that woman, that is, the Church, they come to Christ, they believe through this report. He stays with them two days, that is, gives them two precepts of charity; and many more believe, and more firmly believe, on Him, because He is in truth the Saviour of the world.  [6]Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. Gibb & J. Innes (Trans.), St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on … Continue reading

I can’t help but feel that, as an example of a successful example of how to carry out the Great Commission, those last 17 verses deserve much more attention.

While it’s true the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman ended in verse 26, there is more.  Much more.  So why don’t we hear more about it?  Maybe, because that part of the message is for us.  You know – those who are already Christians?

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – a closer look

Let’s go back and look at the whole thing in more detail.  Not from the point of view of why the Living Water Jesus spoke of is important.  All Christians should already know why.  But that doesn’t mean the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has nothing else for us.

Did Jesus have to go through Samaria?

Jn 4:1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Jn 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 

map - jesus and samaritan womanThe text says Jesus had to go through Samaria.  But is this really true?  let’s take a look at the map.  To get a better view, it’s linked to a larger image.

The orange line running from Jerusalem to Samaria is the path Jesus’ likely took.  To be sure, it is the fastest way to get from one to the other.  After that, the brown line shows the likely path from Samaria to Galilee.

You can see, it’s considerably shorter than  the blue/purple path to the right of it.  And yet, that longer path is the one many pious Jews would take.  From

In Jesus’ day there were three regions stacked on top of one another. There was Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea in the south. The easiest and quickest way to get to Galilee from Judea was to go due north right through Samaria. John 4:4 says that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria. Now why did he have to do that? The answer is, he didn’t. There was another route he could have taken. Some pious Jews would go east, cross the Jordan River, enter the region of Perea, then go north, re-cross the Jordan River, and they would be in Galilee. This was out of the way but it meant they wouldn’t have to go through Samaritan territory.  [7]//

 So – did Jesus have to go back by way of Samaria?  I’d say, yes and no.  No, because it wasn’t physically necessary.  In fact, pious Jews would have looked down on Jesus for taking the shortest path.  But then, when did Jesus start taking into account what pious Jews thought of Him?

However, there was a reason why Jesus did “have” to go through Samaria.  And it had nothing to do with being in a hurry.  One time, when Jesus was speaking to a group of people, Jesus said this:

Jn 8:27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.”

Jesus “had” to go through Samaria, because that’s part of the reason He came to earth.  Remember what we read earlier about the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans – and Jesus’ role in beginning to heal that divide.

Jesus laid the foundation for a transcendence of the division between the two peoples. Samaritans appear in positive roles in Jesus’ teaching and the record of his ministry, mainly because faith and mercy on the part of Samaritans would not be expected by Jesus’ Jewish audience and were, therefore, worthy of note.

So yes, Jesus “had” to go through Samaria.  The fact that some Jews would have been upset about it, along with the results of that trip, only added to the reasoning behind why it “had” to happen on a trip from Judea to Galilee.  It would have been in keeping with Jesus shedding positive light on the Samaritans and His attempts to show the “pious” Jews that they weren’t as righteous as they thought they were.

That’s something we need to keep in mind as we proceed.

Jn 4:5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

So much detail.  Is it really important?  Let me answer that question with another question.  Do you believe that all Scripture is God-breathed?  You know, as in: 2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If it’s God-breathed, it must be important.  So let’s see what’s going on.

First of all, there’s enough detail to show Jesus had traveled about 40 miles.  Since there weren’t thinks like buses and cars, that meant transportation was probably a donkey or His own two feet.  That’s tiring.  While Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man, and that was a long and tiring journey.

What about the time?  The sixth hour was what we’d call noon these days.  Maybe 6 PM.  It depends on whether it was Jewish or Roman time.  Which of those is correct depends, tongue somewhat in cheek, whose commentary you read.  The most important thing is this:

Jesus chose an opportune time to arrive at the well, when women would be there rather than men with the flocks. The day was warm, and He was noticeably hot and weary. He took advantage of the situation to open a conversation, asking the woman for a drink of water. The disciples had gone to the city (Sychar-Shechem) for food; Jesus may have sent them. He and the woman were left alone.  [8]Blaney, H. J. S. (1966). The Gospel according to St. John. In Matthew-Acts (Vol. 4, p. 392). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

We’ll see in the next verse that Jesus sent the disciples on an errand to buy food.  Having them someplace else was entirely within His control – just say the word and off they go.  Whether it was noon or 6 PM, the important thing is that Jesus must be there with this woman.  Also, given social norms, that there not be men around the well.  If there were, the conversation would have been impossible or very short.  Certainly, it couldn’t have worked out as it did without causing outrage from the men who would have witnessed a male Jew talking to a Samaritan woman.  This was a case of mutual hate.  The Samaritan men would have been very upset.

Of course, the location at the well was also a necessity.  No well – no chance to ask for water.

So what we get out of all that detail is that God set things up quite nicely.  Some of it, as simple as asking the disciples to go do something.  The rest, as complex as making a 40 mile journey complete at just the right place at just the right time.  That’s something we should remember when we have an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission.  We may think it’s just coincidence.  But we’d do well to quickly pray and ask the Holy Spirit – is a “chance” encounter with someone just a coincidence and we’re turning it into something else – or is it something God worked out so that we could follow Jesus’ example, and talk to that person about God?

Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

Jn 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

We already looked at how much the Samaritans and Jews hated each other.  Add to that the cultural issue of a man talking to a woman and the scenario gets even “worse”.

I asked myself a question here – how do I know there was really a cultural issue of men and women talking to each other?  I mean, I’ve heard it.  I’ve read that it’s true.  But where exactly does the Bible say this?  I don’t remember ever reading it.  So it’s time to look it up.  It’s time to find out why women were treated so badly in Old Testament times.  To put it bluntly – was it because of God?  Or was it because of man’s misinterpretation of something God said?  Let’s take a look.


A woman’s position in Judaism seems to be a paradox which can only be solved by recognizing the distinction made between her proper and improper spheres of service. In the home her position was one of dignity and responsibility (Prov. 31). Children were the special charge of the mother (Ex. 20:12; 21:15; Lev. 19:3).

OK – I know this is a very sexist view today.  But we need to remember, or maybe learn, about life at that time.  Life spans were much shorter then.  Having large families to work the fields, or other family business, was important.  Healthcare wasn’t what it is today.  As a result of these and other non-cultural issues of the time, there was no such thing as a working-wife.  Having kids and raising a family was a critically important job back then.  The survival of the family was at stake.

Running the household was equally important.  There was no  If anything was needed, it had to be bought by going someplace, purchasing it, and bringing it home.  Obviously, that required money.  If the men were out in the fields / working all day long – guess who that left to perform these tasks?  Yes, the women.

Now – this begs another question.  If women and men weren’t supposed to interact, exactly how could these things be accomplished?  We’ll get to that shortly.  But first, let’s continue …

Legally her position was low, but practically she occupied a more dignified position. The right of divorce was at the discretion of the husband, and if he so chose, all the wife could expect was a bill of divorcement.

Yes, as a practical matter, the woman’s position was higher than we probably thought.  Unfortunately, in a male-dominated society, that didn’t translate into legal rights.  It also meant a divorce scenario that was far from what God intended.  Remember – Ge 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  That “one flesh” was a union that was not to be broken.  That’s what God wanted.  But it isn’t what men did.

Though women took part in religious activities (Deut. 12:12, 18; 14:26; 16:11, 14), “the majority [of women] were entirely dependent on men, and became in religious matters a sort of appendix to their husbands, who by their good actions insured salvation also for them.” The law expected the presence of women at the sanctuary at the festal seasons, and they were permitted to eat all the offerings except the sin offering (Lev. 6:29; 10:14). Yet there is no question but that men dominated the religious scene in Judaism.

And yet, it seems that the Jewish Law allowed for more than minimal participation.

The Nazirite

Nu 6:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow , a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite,

Notice that verse 2 says specifically man or woman.  That is not  a politically correct addition made in an English translation of the Old Testament book of Numbers.  The original Hebrew really does translate to “man or woman“.  However, as the passage proceeds, some modern translations do have the word “They” rather than “He” as the 1984 NIV has below.

It’s worth noting though – the original Hebrew has no such designation – no pronoun attached to any of the actions.  As such, “he must abstain from wine …” is properly translated as “must abstain from wine“.  In that light, the politically correct translation of “they” is actually the better one.

While the practice of the time may very well have been for only men to take the Nazirite vow, it seems clear from the original Hebrew text that God’s intention was that it be something both men and women could do.  Since that was a very sacred vow, the ability for women to take it has to call into question other areas where men and women could participate, but didn’t.  Was it because God wanted it that way, or was it men preventing women from doing something God said was acceptable and allowable?

3 he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

Nu 6:5 “ ‘During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. 6 Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. 7 Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. 8 Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.

…  There is much more detail presented in Numbers 6:9-20.  I invite you to check it out, but my point has been more than made about the occurrences of “he” where “they”, as in men or women, would have been a better translation.

Nu 6:21 “ ‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’ ”

The major contribution of Jewish women was in their service in the home, where they were accorded a place of honor in carrying out the privileges of motherhood.  [9]Ryrie, C. C. (1991). Biblical answers to tough questions (p. 35). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

The question of whether or not the woman’s place in Jewish society in biblical times was what God wanted – or was it what men wanted – is clear in some areas, but debatable in others.  Yes, being mothers, raising children and running the household were very important back then.  Things were different.  Survival was based on circumstances that just don’t exist in parts of the world today.  However, that doesn’t seem to mean that God intended for the women to be so dependent on men as what they turned out to be.  Divorce shouldn’t have been so easy.  Service to God should have been easier.

So how did we get from what the Bible says about men and women – to what actually transpired?  Again, it’s something I had to look up.  Answers seem to be all over the place.  Some said that things weren’t actually as bad as what we seem to think.  That women actually had it better.  Sorry – that’s just hard to believe, if not impossible.  Even the little bit we looked at above makes that view hard to accept.

On the other side of things, here’s something from

When listing forbidden sexual relationships, the Torah doesn’t simply say “don’t do it.” It says, “don’t even come close.”  doesn’t simply say “don’t do it.” It actually commands us, “don’t come close” to committing these acts. “Coming close” means any sort of physical affection that might lead to transgression. The sages of the Talmud compare this to a Nazirite who is forbidden to drink wine or eat grapes, and as a precaution may not even enter a vineyard.

Practically speaking, this is understood to include all affectionate touch between men and women, aside from one’s spouse and closest blood relatives (parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren).

When it comes to touch that’s not affectionate, opinions vary. While some Halachic authorities permit such touch, others maintain that all touch between unrelated men and women is to be avoided. (This does not include professionals such as doctors, who are assumed to be involved in their work.)

That seems like a rather extreme interpretation.  The difference between don’t come close to forbidden sexual relationships and don’t have a forbidden sexual relationship can be a very fine line.  A slippery slope.  As in:

A firm handshake, a limp handshake, a hand held just a tad too long; so much can be conveyed through this seemingly innocent gesture. A handshake is just a handshake—until it becomes something more. There is a very fine line between casual touch and sensual touch, and an interaction can easily slip from one category to the other. We respect each other’s privacy and dignity and protect our own by maintaining clear boundaries.

However, is it taking things too far when we look at the way women were treated in biblical times?  What exactly was forbidden that made it scandalous for Jesus to talk to the Samaritan woman, other than the fact that she was Samaritan?  For that, let’s look at the two verses that are referenced at as the source for “don’t even come close“.

Lev 18:6 “ ‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.

Lev 18:19 “ ‘Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.

Really?  From this, not even a handshake between and man and a woman is allowed?  Well, yes, in some sects.  Here’s how:

Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Biah 21:1) rules that all physical contact that is affectionate (derech chibbah) is forbidden by the Torah, while the Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvot Lo Ta’aseh 353) holds that the prohibition is of rabbinic origin. Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuva 3:80) takes a stricter approach: “All physical contact is forbidden, such as touching the hand of a married woman.” According to this view, all physical contact is forbidden by Torah, whether or not it is affectionate. 

Within the approach of the Rambam, there is further discussion. The Shach (Yoreh Deah 157:1 and 195:20) writes that he would permit all non-affectionate touch. Others understand the Rambam to mean that non-affectionate touch is still forbidden on a rabbinic level, as there is a very fine line between touch that conveys affection and that which does not, and touch can easily slip from one category into the other. In order to avoid this, all touch is forbidden.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote several responses on the matter (Igrot Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:56 and 4:32 and Orach Chaim 1:113). In one instance he writes that shaking hands is “certainly clearly forbidden.” In another, he explains that while there is room to be lenient based on the Shach, who permits touch that is not intimate, it is difficult to rely on this, since it is hard to ascertain that there is no desire involved at all.

Does the same apply to shaking an already proffered hand, where there is the concern of embarrassing someone? In that case, he writes: “As far as your having seen even pious individuals returning handshakes offered by women, perhaps they think that it does not constitute an affectionate act, but it is difficult to rely on this.”

Rav Menashe Klein, author of the Mishne Halachot, writes that handshaking, even to avoid embarrassment, is forbidden for three reasons: 1) Many decisors disagree with the Shach and write that even touch that is not affectionate is forbidden. 2) The Shach’s lenient ruling is in regard to a doctor involved in his work; it is possible that even the Shach would forbid handshaking. 3) Even if a handshake begins non-affectionately, it can easily lead to something more affectionate, which all would forbid.

So we see, it’s not God that forbids contact to such a degree.  It’s men.  A command related to having forbidden sexual relationships ends up as one that can forbid any kind of contact at all.  You can see how even the above interpretations can have an impact on a desire for divorce.  If a man and woman have any kind of contact, by the logic above, it could lead to adultery and therefore would shame the husband.  Therefore, divorce could be asked and granted.  Talk about subverting God’s intentions.

Let’s continue with the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, now that we have some background on the event.  To Jesus, this is the way the Father intended things to be.  But to the people of the time, it was truly scandalous.

From the point of view that we’re considering, fulfilling the Great Commission, there’s an important conclusion we should reach here.  Remember, Jesus tells His followers to go and make disciples of all nations.  That means everyone.  And by Jesus’ example of speaking with a Samaritan woman, he’s covered two of the great social taboos of that time.  A Jew talking to a Samaritan.  And a man talking to a woman.  God didn’t intend for either of these to be forbidden.  And Jesus was letting us know that no social taboos should prevent us from fulfilling the Great Commission.

Jn 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

After a very brief conversation starter, “Will you give me a drink?”, Jesus gets right to the point.  Sort of.  Jesus knows He’s getting to the point, but the woman doesn’t.  He draws her into a conversation with a statement that’s likely to get a response – which gives Him a chance to counter back.  I know people today who start right off with something like, “do you know Jesus loves you?”  That can be a conversation terminator – rather than a starting point.  The people who are lost – the ones Jesus said He came for – at the most likely to say they don’t care and walk away.

So what do we do?  Find another question to ask?  Maybe something like, “do you know where you’re going to go when you die?”

Or do we come to the realization that Jesus didn’t have a one-size-fits-all question?  Maybe that’s an indication that we shouldn’t have one either.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not good at this myself.  Having said that, it feels like something more personal is in order.  Unlike Jesus, who knew the Samaritan woman’s situation before He ever said word one to her, we don’t know what’s happening with strangers.

But we do with our family and friends.  We should have something more personal to say to them.  Not that it’s always going to work.  I failed miserably with everyone in my family except for my grandfather.  We just need to remember, it’s not about us failing – it’s about them rejecting God.  However, I can’t help but look at Jesus’ example in the Gospels and think we should be more personal in our approach.  If that means talking to a stranger for a bit before getting into the Gospel, so be it.  In fact, doesn’t that seem like a good thing to do anyway?

As we move along, we see the response that Jesus’ question about getting a drink led to.

Jn 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

The Samaritan woman goes from the obvious – you don’t have anything to draw water with – to asking Jesus questions about the living water He spoke of.  Obviously, she also knew a fair amount about the history of the Jewish people, since she spoke of Jacob.

Again, we can’t count on a stranger to have any kind of background at all.  But, based on some initial conversation, maybe we can come up with something that can lead the person we’re speaking with (note: with, not to) that will get them to ask a question.  Or, we can ask them a question that came from something they said in the initial discussion.  As I’m writing this, I’m thinking back to times when I’ve had people from Jehovah’s Witness come to my door.  That is how they actually do it.  Granted, they come to me – and they want to discuss their faith.  But it does give me a chance to turn the questions around and talk about mine instead.

Jn 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Provocative answer.  It practically requires a response from the Samaritan woman.  Sure, she could just call Jesus crazy and walk away.  And sure, she misunderstood what Jesus was talking about.  But then, we must consider that Jesus hit a nerve, so to speak.  She’s interested, on a certain level.  Just not the same level as where Jesus is coming from.

But there’s a lot of that in life.  I even have a category of articles titled – Seeing God in non-Christian music.  Each one looks at the words of a non-Christian song.  It shows the desires that are expressed in that song.  And then how those desires, on a higher level, can actually be fulfilled by Jesus.  For anyone who has a personal interest in the songs, it can be a conversation starter for introducing them to Christianity.  Without even realizing it at the time, it seems that’s what that category was about all along.  There’s no reason why the same kind of thing can’t be used in a face-to-face conversation.  It’s not unlike what Jesus is doing with the Samaritan woman.

Jn 4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

OK – She’s interested now.  She still doesn’t understand, but she recognizes that somehow, this living water is interesting and she wants to check it out.  However, …

Jn 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Jesus has more to say before that happens.

Jn 4:17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Once again, Jesus has knowledge of the situation with the Samaritan woman.  We may or may not know this kind of thing.  But it’s for certain, if it’s a stranger and we don’t start with some kind of personal conversation before trying to offer the Gospel to them, we’re not going to know anything about the person we’re speaking with.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Here, Jesus seems to be addressing something that we’d have a hard time with.  We jump in with things like whether or not someone knows where they’re going when they die.  Jesus has a more immediate issue to address.  Remember, we are, and apparently they were, short-term focused.  A relatively young person doesn’t think about death.  That’s so far off – they probably don’t care.  Do we really want to wait until it’s nearly too late before we speak with someone about Jesus?  I hope not.  Although, I’ve been in that situation, so I get it.

In any case, this woman has a problem with her living situation.  She’s living in sin.  Something that needs to be corrected sooner, rather than later.  A short-term kind of thing.  It will catch her interest.

But there’s more going on here.  And it’s something we probably tend to shy away from.  Jesus points out the obvious.  The 800 pound gorilla sitting between them.  This woman is living in sin.  By doing this, yes, Jesus is making things uncomfortable.  However, Jesus is also letting the Samaritan woman know two things.  First of all – He’s getting to the idea that this living water He’s offering can help with that.  Second – that He cares about her.  Even though she’s a stranger, a woman, and a Samaritan, Jesus lets her know that He cares about her.  Her – and the man she’s living in sin with.

Now – it seems like many / most people think she’s a prostitute.  Is that true?  Let’s look at some things from the culture of the time.

Was prostitution against the Old Testament law?

If you google it, it’s easy to find places that say prostitution was forbidden.  Having said that, here are the verses that are pointed out to “prove” it.

Lev 19:29 “ ‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.'”

Honestly though, does that forbid prostitution?  Doesn’t it actually say that parents should not force their daughters to be prostitutes?

But let’s be a bit more honest.  This came in Chapter 19, a section of Leviticus the NIV calls “Various Laws“.   “Unlawful Sexual Relations” is in chapter 18.  While the Chapter designations aren’t part of the original texts, Lev 19:29 is far enough away from anything in Lev 18 that is does seem like more than coincidence that it doesn’t fall under Chapter 18.  As such, the broader definition of the Hebrew word that’s translated as daughters is probably more appropriate.

1323 בַּת [bath /bath/] n f. From 1129 and 1121; TWOT 254b; GK 1426; 588 occurrences; AV translates as “daughter” 526 times, “town” 32 times, “village” 12 times, “owl + 3284” eight times, “first” three times, “apple” once, “branches” once, “children” once, “company” once, “daughter + 8676” once, “eye” once, and “old” once. 1 daughter. 1A daughter, girl, adopted daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, granddaughters, female child, cousin. 1A1 as polite address. 1A2 as designation of women of a particular place. 2 young women, women. 1A3 as personification. 1A4 daughter-villages. 1A5 description of character.  [10]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

With the broad definition, and with other Biblical passages and warnings, including daughters, sons, any family member, and even towns and villages is appropriate.

However, having said that, the lack of any penalty for the warning in this verse is quite noticeable.  The group of warnings closes with:

Lev 19:37 “ ‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’ ”

So there’s no immediate physical penalty, as there is with stoning for adultery.  But it is still a sin.

Dt 23:17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.

This is another verse that points to prostitution being forbidden.  Shrine prostitution has to do with other religions – so the prohibition was about being a prostitute for some god other than the Hebrew God.  Verse 18 is about the earnings, but shrine prostitutes can’t really be singled out by the language – so it’s any kind of prostitute.

However, the proper reading of the last part is that God detests everything related to prostitution of any kind, and therefore He also detests using income from prostitution as a contribution to His house or to pay a vow.

Ultimately, everything in those verses is considered sinful.  However – again, no immediate physical penalty is stated.  They aren’t punishable by death.

Lev 21:7 “ ‘They [priests] must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God. 8 Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your God. Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy—I who make you holy. 

So priests aren’t allowed to marry women who were prostitutes or who were divorced.  Although God detests both prostitution and divorce, there are no statements that another man, who isn’t a priest, should not marry such women.

Lev 21:9 “ ‘If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire. ‘ “

It may seem odd, but the one instance where prostitution does carry an immediate physical penalty is if it’s a priests daughter.  On top of that, the reason is that she disgraces her father, who is a servant of the Lord.

However – after all that, there is this passage to keep in mind:

Dt 22:13 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her , dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. 16 The girl’s father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

Dt 22:20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

What we can take away from this is that the Samaritan woman, even after living with four men as if they were married, could still get married to the fifth.  It’s highly unlikely she could have been an adulteress, because that was punishable by death – and it’s hard to imagine she could have escaped stoning four times.  She could be a prostitute.  She could also have been widowed.  Either way, marriage was an option, as long as the husband-to-be knew of her past.

All we know from what Jesus said is that she’s not married to man number five.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  There’s no information on whether the first, second, third or fourth were married to her.

More on that after reading this cultural note:


God’s original design for man was one wife and no separation (Gen. 2:23–24; Matt. 19:6). Yet the Mosaic law did permit or tolerate divorce (Deut. 24:1–4). Actually that passage does not approve of divorce. Rather, it states that when certain things happen, a certain prohibition follows (vv. 1–4). In other words, verses 1–3 state the condition and verse 4 the conclusion. What this passage particularly teaches against is taking back a wife who has been divorced from her first husband, has married another man, and has been freed from him either by death or a second divorce. In such cases, the first husband was forbidden to take his former wife back. In stating the law Moses acknowledges that a bill of divorce was sometimes given, but the law did not institute it or sanction it.

The reason a man might divorce his wife is stated as “some uncleanness in her,” and this phrase has been the subject of much discussion. It cannot mean adultery, for the penalty for that was death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Nor can it mean adultery suspected but not proved, for there was a test for this (Num. 5:11–31). The words suggest some repulsive or immodest exposure (see Deut. 23:14), but the phrase is so indefinite as to give rise to controversy in the rabbinic schools at the time of Christ; the school of Shammai understood it to mean unchastity and that of Hillel any physical blemish or even a trivial cause of dislike. The more lenient view of Hillel enjoyed greater popularity and was usually followed.

The Lord Jesus affirmed the fact that the law did not sanction divorce but only permitted it (Matt. 19:3–9). When the Pharisees asked Him if it was lawful to divorce “for every cause” (v. 3), they were trying either to force the Lord to support a lower moral standard or to support a strict interpretation that would make Him unpopular. It was assumed that a man had the right to divorce his wife; the only question was, On what ground? Divorces were granted if a woman merely broke a single part of the Mosaic law, or when the behavior of a woman was such as to put her husband in a bad light, or because of barrenness, or if illness or the occupation of the husband would make continued living with him unthinkable. The Lord, however, took His questioners back to the original institution of marriage and showed that the bond was intended to be indissoluble. Divorce under the Mosaic law was allowed only because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.

At the close of the Old Testament period, the prophet Malachi condemned the increasing divorce rate among the people (Mal. 2:13–16). God’s attitude toward divorce is stated in no uncertain terms: “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away” (v. 16; see Deut. 22:19, 29 for the same word putting away, which means “divorce”). One of the reasons given is that divorce is contrary to God’s original purpose for marriage, that is, one man and one woman joined together to become one flesh (Mal. 2:15). Thus, from this passage, too, we are forced to conclude that the Old Testament did not sanction divorce, although it prescribed what could not be done under a particular circumstance which involved divorce. (Deut. 24:1–4).  [11]Ryrie, C. C. (1991). Biblical answers to tough questions (pp. 43–45). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

What’s with the five husbands and the current one isn’t a husband?

That leaves at least one really big question.  One that comes up various times in the Bible.  Why the lack of information?  How come we don’t know why the Samaritan woman had, as it’s put, five “husbands” and the current one isn’t her “husband”?  If you’re wondering, the Greek word for both occurrences of the word “husband” is the same.  Unfortunately, the Greek word only serves to make things remain cloudy.  It clears up nothing.

435 ἀνήρ [aner /an·ayr/] n m. A primary word cf 444; TDNT 1:360; TDNTA 59; GK 467; 215 occurrences; AV translates as “man” 156 times, “husband” 50 times, “sir” six times, “fellow” once, and not translated twice. 1 with reference to sex. 1A of a male. 1B of a husband. 1C of a betrothed or future husband. 2 with reference to age, and to distinguish an adult man from a boy. 3 any male. 4 used generically of a group of both men and women.  [12]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Five men.  Maybe married, maybe not.  Per definition #4, not necessarily even a man.  Per Jewish Law, that last one isn’t punishable by death.  It is detestable to God, but not punishable by death.  So it could be a whole bunch of possibilities, but we just don’t know.

I have to believe that’s intentional.  As with other times this happens. like the other two men on the crosses with Jesus, God doesn’t seem to want us to know the details.  If we did know the details of the Samaritan woman’s background, then we could place limits on the lesson Jesus is teaching us.  For example, if she was divorced from her first husband, then we could say Jesus taught that marriage after divorce wasn’t so bad – but prostitution or lesbian relations were not forgivable.  Or any other combination of things we could invent, as long as our target for the unforgivable sin was part of what Jesus was trying to exclude.

You know we do that, don’t you?  In spite of the fact that we are told very clearly:

Mt 12:30 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

This is the one and only unforgivable sin in the Bible.  Not divorce.  Not prostitution.  Not same-sex relations.  Yes, they are all sinful.  But they are also forgivable.  I submit that with this exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, when we look at the Greek words as opposed to the English ones, it’s telling us that very same thing.

That’s something else we need to pay attention to when we speak of the Gospel to someone.  Yes, we may very well need to talk about situations they are in that are sinful.  However – we do not have the right or the authority to condemn them for what they’ve done.  They will not go to Hell just because of what they did in the past – or are doing now.  However, they will if they don’t come to accept God’s offer of salvation.  And they’re not likely to accept it by way of anything we say if we condemn them to Hell before we say anything else.

Notice – Jesus hasn’t told this woman she’s going to Hell because of her five “husbands”.  In fact, He tells her to bring the current one, with the intention of talking with both of them.  Saving both of them.  That’s a lesson for us.  Love – don’t hate.  Save – don’t condemn.

Jn 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Interesting.  Now she’s bringing out the Samaritan issue.  She’s reached a point where she’s OK with what was said about everything else.  Just one more sticking point.

For us, when we are working on fulfilling the Great Commission, it’s one more chance to blow up and get mad – or to continue with the truth in love.

Jn 4:21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Now – Jesus completes the picture for her.  More hard truth.  And yet, offered in a spirit of love.  Offered as the path to salvation.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  That’s not easy to hear.  And yet, it needs to be said and heard.

For us, it won’t be the same issue.  But it will be something.  Something the person misunderstands, disagrees with, or in some way has a problem with the difference between their way of life and what Jesus commands.  And yet, it must be dealt with, or acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior cannot be made.  Again notice, Jesus is not condemning.  He’s honest.  Maybe brutally honest.  But loving and offering that path to salvation.  Are we like that when we talk to people about Jesus? 

Jn 4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

The Samaritan woman is on board now.  She’s ready to accept Messiah.  There’s only one thing left.

Jn 4:26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus finishes off – by officially introducing the Samaritan woman to Messiah.  Himself.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – a view of the Great Commission

The incident of Jesus and the Samaritan woman does seem to be a lesson in fulfilling the Great Commission.  Maybe it seems like a lot of work, just to get one woman.  But there’s two things to remember, if you have that thought.

First – Jesus was concerned about the lost.  You know – like the one, rather than the 99?

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – Luke

15:4-7 pp — Mt 18:12-14

Lk 15:1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Lk 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Second – the one isn’t really only one.  Not if the one also performs the Great Commission.  And while it’s not part of the immediate passages of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, this comes shortly afterwards.

Many Samaritans Believe

Jn 4:39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

Jn 4:42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

So now we also see the possible results of our performing the Great Commission.  Someone we talk with may very well turn around and talk with more people.  And on and on and …

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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