John 4:4-26

Jesus talking to woman who holds a bucket at a well.

 "Jesus talking to woman who holds a bucket at a well." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


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

We are including this verse because of the word "had to." Not only did Jesus have to pass through Samaria because it lay in the way but also it happened by the plan and providence of God. The disciples were with Him, but in verse 4 begins to place the attention of the reader on Jesus, not on the disciples.

John 4:5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

Even though the disciples were with Him, the stress is laid on Jesus.

John 4:6 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.

"Well" is "spring." The well was fed by a spring.

"Tired" denotes the true humanity of Jesus. It was probably twelve noon.

John 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"

Our attention is focused on two people. Jesus came first and foresaw all this. It was planned. We are notified immediately that Jesus is dealing with a pagan woman. All she came for was to draw water. Little did she know what was going to happen. But Jesus did. Jesus' word to her is very simple and direct.

John 4:8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

This verse is parenthetical. It makes clear that the disciples were not present. Another indication of Jesus' true humanity, not only was He thirsty, but He was also hungry.

John 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.)

"Samaritan" is repeated to stress what kind of woman Jesus is dealing with.

She is perplexed. "How can you, a Jew, request a drink from me, a Samaritan, and a woman at that?"

What does the explanation in parenthesis mean? Does it mean "associate on friendly terms with?" Does it mean "use vessels for food and drink together?" We feel it speaks primarily of Jewish attitudes toward the Samaritans. The NIV makes it a parenthetical, a remark by John, the writer.

John 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."

We note the following about this verse:

It is a contrary to fact condition, with imperfect in protasis denoting present time and aorist in apodosis denoting past time: "If you knew, you would have asked, etc." Thus all translations except TEV and LB which have "you would ask" in the apodosis. The point is that if she had truly known, had been a believer, she would have asked for living water before Jesus asked her for a drink. Since she did not, Jesus asked her for a drink. By the way, we are not told that Jesus received a drink. Though thirsty, He forewent a drink to preach the Gospel to her.

"Knew" is to know on one's own without approval, not "know" as in "recognize." Jesus is saying that she doesn't know the Savior. Ignorance is a hindrance, but the disclosure of her ignorance shows the compassion of the Lord and kindled a longing desire in the woman's heart. Jesus was yearning for her to ask Him for spiritual water, just as He had asked her for physical water. She did, eventually.

"Living water" is the same as "the gift of God, Jesus Christ Himself."

John 4:11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?

"Sir" is found here and in verses 15 and 19.

Bengel: Previously she had not called Him 'Lord'; now she so calls Him, inasmuch as speaking piously about God, though as yet unknown to her . . . She had a feeling in some way or other of His dignity.

In this verse and in the next the woman presents five difficulties:

  1. You don't have a bucket;

  2. The well is deep;

  3. Where will you get the living water, different from the usual water;

  4. Jacob was satisfied with this water;

  5. Everybody is satisfied with this water.

John 4:12 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?"

This is a question that expects the answer "no." "Father" will occur four more times in this text. The Samaritans claimed Jacob as their patriarch, simply because of this well. He gave it, he was their benefactor. And furthermore, it was water good enough for him. The woman puts Jacob on a level with herself, a drinker of physical water.

Actually, Jacob was a true believer, who drank the water of life. There is plenty of evidence for that. In her ignorance, the woman misrepresents Jacob.

John 4:13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,

How often don't we have to drink water!

John 4:14 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."

In verse 13 Jesus said "everyone" but here He says "whoever." The type of condition is the same.

Note how many times the word "give" appears. Jesus says "I give" over and over, and finally the woman says "give me." A masterpiece of evangelism!

Jesus explains what the living water will do. People cannot live without water. That is the metaphor. But this water, the Gospel, will quench thirst forever. Furthermore, in the person whose thirst has been satisfied there will be a spring of water which springs up into everlasting life. He is making Himself plain.

By the way, verse 14 is not saying that the means of grace are not necessary. He is not saying that hearing God's Word are receiving the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are not necessary. He is saying that the reception of God's gift of life becomes a permanent possession.

Bengel: Truly that water, as far as it depends on itself, has in it an everlasting virtue; and when thirst returns, the defect is on the part of the person, not of the water . . . In addition, in believers there is a spring which is their abounding fruitfulness.

John 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."

Ylvisaker: At first He awakens in her a longing for something higher and nobler than the earthly considerations which have hitherto beset her heart.

Jesus is thirsty but He forgoes drinking water until He tells her about "the life-giving water." If it leads to life eternal it must be life-giving.

But she still does not understand. She wants this water for only two purposes: To quench her physical thirst once for all, and so that she does not constantly have to come here. It was hard work. But Jesus is not speaking of works. He speaks of a gift.

John 4:16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

Ylvisaker: The next step is to help her to a realization, an acknowledgement, and a confession of her sins.

Jesus has most definitely aroused her curiosity and she has given Him undivided attention. She doesn't want to come back here. Jesus uses the very same word. "Call you husband and come back here." That's where both would learn what He meant.

Kretzmann:Very often the real battle in the heart of a person begins only after the desire for salvation has been felt.
Lenski: Either Law or Gospel may be offered first, or both may be intertwined, though each always remains distinct, likewise the proper effects of each. Here Jesus uses the Gospel first. It is a mistake to imagine that in doing this he failed and then tried something else.

Correct. The Gospel aroused her attention, but she is about to learn what it means to be a sinner.

John 4:17 "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband.

The five occurrences of "husband" all mean exactly that. The woman does not lie. She truthfully tells Jesus that she has no husband. He corroborates her answer, thereby showing His omniscience. But she has something to hide.

John 4:18 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."

This is an explanation. "You see, you've had five husbands."

Bengel: Five marriage connections embraced almost the whole life of the woman, and by the mention of them He clearly recalled to the recollection of the woman her whole life . . . Whether they all died, or whether the woman lost some of them in other ways, the Lord stirred up her conscience . . . This sixth marriage was not a lawful one.

That many marriages surely indicates unforgiven sin. Jesus implies sin in the other marriages with the word "and." The Jews and Samaritans had lax divorce laws.

Jesus is saying: "Your truthful answer covered up your sins."

John 4:19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet.

She perceives that He is more than a mere man.

John 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Ylvisaker: His third objective is to remove her from the path of nationalism and religious error into the true way of the revelation of redemption through Himself.
Hendriksen: Here, as it seems probably to us, we see a woman who in her anxiety to drop a painful subject proposes a question about which she has heard much and in which she has developed a certain interest.

But Lenski is of the school which says, as do other Lutherans, that verse 19 is a virtual confession of sin. She comes clean.

Lenski: The woman really asks Jesus, who are right, her ancestors or the Jews. This she does in connection with her unqualified admission of sin and guilt. That matter is of the gravest personal concern to her for this reason and for this alone. She admits that she needs cleansing. Where is she to obtain it?
Stoeckhardt: The woman now recognized the man who spoke with her as a prophet, and asked Him about the true God and the right worship. Her soul now thirsts for the living God, and desires to become clean with the God whom she has greatly offended. When the sinner, in whom the Lord is working, recognized total personal unworthiness and corruption, the question becomes so much more active; Where do I find the true God? How can I reach a gracious Lord?
Ylvisaker: Peace is what she must have for her soul. This has now suddenly become the paramount issue.
Kretzmann: She wanted to know where the living God was to be found and which was the true worship . . . It was the question of a serious seeker after truth.

The woman compares the Samaritans with the Jews. Perhaps she claims the patriarchs falsely, because worship on Mt. Gerizim took place only after the Babylonian Captivity. She is asking: "Where is the true worship so that I can find it?"

John 4:21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

Bengel: In this passage alone, to the Samaritan woman, He says 'Believe me.'

True. Nowhere else did Jesus say that, not even to the disciples to whom He always said: "I say unto you."

Jesus says the important thing is not where  our fathers worshiped, but the worship of THE FATHER.

Fahling: In His reply the Lord showed marvelous wisdom and both tender human insight and consideration. As to the proper place for worship the Jews were undoubtedly right. Jerusalem was the place which the Lord has chosen. Even if inwardly the Jews had betrayed their solemn trust, outwardly they still had Moses and the prophets. It is not a question of where to worship, but of the whom and how.
Kretzmann: The Lord answers with one of the greatest and most far-reaching announcements of all times, earnestly inviting the woman, at the same time, to give full credence to His weighty words. Both places of the Old Testament cultus, that of Gerizim and of Jerusalem, would then be forsaken. This took place shortly after Christ's ascension. Then the Samaritans that came to faith, Acts 8, deserted Mt. Gerizim and worshiped the true God in Jesus Christ the Savior. Incidentally, however, Jesus states that there is a difference, even now, though this difference lay not in the place, but in the object of worship.
Lenski: (Commenting on "You will worship the Father") This prophecy, in the sense of foretelling the future, is another evidence of divine omniscience used for Jesus' saving purpose . . . The point in Jesus' words is that the specific place of the worship is a secondary question, whereas the true worship itself is essential.

True. Jesus will fulfill "the hour", "the time." In verse 21 Jesus is not saying that Mt. Gerizim and Jerusalem are on an equal footing and therefore will both be eliminated. That Jerusalem was the center of worship is implicit in verse 22. In verse 21 Jesus immediately attracts the woman's attention to Himself, the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies and types.

John 4:22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

This is straightforward proclamation of the Truth.

"Know" means to know without approval, without anyone telling you. The Samaritan's worship was based on inherent ignorance. That of the Jews was based on Truth. Jesus is speaking of the Jews without distinguishing those who believed from those who did not. The difference between ignorance and true knowledge is given in the "for" clause. "The salvation (there is none other) is of The Jews (the covenant people).

Lenski: Here 'the salvation' denotes the specific and only salvation contemplated in God's promises and to be realized in his incarnate Son. This salvation is in on way promised to the Samaritans, so that it would emanate from their midst, but to the Jews alone.
Bengel: For such was the promise that the Savior and the knowledge would be extended to others. . . . Jesus speaks of the Jews in more glorifying terms when addressing foreigners than when addressing Jews.
Ylvisaker: The Samaritans worshiped an unknown deity.
Stoeckhardt: The Jews had Moses and the prophets and knew about the true and living God. In the temple of Jerusalem God has established the memory of His name, because the salvation was to come from the Jews, preserving the right worship till then among His people, although inwardly they were estranged from Him.

John 4:23 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.

Verse 22 is a digression in thought. That does not mean that it is not important. "Yet" resumes the thought of verse 21. It means "furthermore." He is further explaining "time" which was used in verse 21. In verse 21 He stated that "time" would do away with all distinctions of place of worship, whether false or true. In 23 He adds "in fact, it is now here" (meaning Himself) and adds the thought of the genuine worshippers, whom they will worship and how they will do it.

This verse does not say that no worshippers in the Old Testament were true worshippers in spirit and in truth. Here again Jesus is attracting the woman's attention to Himself Who will fulfill all Old Testament types and prophecies and bring salvation not only to Jew but also to Gentile. True Old Testament worship was spiritual but it involved also the externals of the ceremonial law, presently to be fulfilled by Christ and forever abolished, look at the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Fahling: His presence is not confined to a temple built by the hand of man, nor are those who worship Him bound to mere forms, ceremonies, rituals, symbols, and sacrifices. This is a picture in miniature of the New Testament Christian Church, which is not bound to a certain place of worship and its prescribed ceremonies. The true Children of God, the believers in Christ, need not observe such and such outward forms; it is all a matter of a truly believing heart.
Kretzmann: The external worship of God at Jerusalem must give way to the true service of God.

At this moment the Son is seeking this woman. The Father (not Jacob or the fathers of the Samaritans, the heavenly Father, works with the Son. Natural man cannot find God. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit seek and save man.

Lenski: 'The Father' connotes, first of all, that Jesus is the Father's Son, and, secondly, connotes that all genuine worshippers are the children of the Father.

John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

"The true and only God is Spirit." Jesus is not classifying God but stating His nature. Jesus is not bringing a new revelation, different from that in the Old Testament. God was Spirit in the Old Testament and had spiritual worshippers there too. "In keeping with this" spiritual nature of God, His worshippers must worship Him in spirit and truth.

The Old Testament worship was restricted as to people (the Jews), place (Jerusalem), and method (the Old Covenant with its ceremonial law). The New Testament worship, fulfilled in Christ, does away with restrictions, all of them. Like the Father's very nature, true worship is spiritual.

Jesus is the Truth, the fulfillment of all that was promised.

Bengel:There is contained here a testimony as to the Holy Trinity. The Father is worshiped in the Holy Spirit, and in the Truth accomplished through Jesus Christ. They who worship the Father, as sons, in Spirit and Truth, these are placed above mere considerations of localities, and of all circumstances of that kind.

Small wonder that we begin our services in the name of the Triune God.

Bengel: Jesus holds a profound and striking conversation with an ordinary woman, whom He scarcely knew. He did not commit to His disciples more lofty truths.

He speaks of the coming hour when they (a prophecy and promise) will worship the Father, irrespective of place. In 23 this is expanded. The hour is already here. Now He tells her that these worshippers are genuine and how they will worship, and that the Father Himself seeks them. In 24 He tells her that the worship must be like God's very nature, spiritual and true.

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

Commentators are at a loss to explain how she knew what she knew. The best answer is that Christ Himself had awakened faith in her.

First the Savior comes to her, and then she comes to the Savior. He speaks about the coming hour, which is already there. And finally, she says: "I know that Messiah is coming." Faith had truly been awakened.

Are the words "the One called Christ" the words of the woman or added by way of explanation by the Evangelist John? Translators and commentators differ on this point. We shall not try to settle it. It makes little difference. In any case, "Christ" and "Messiah" mean the same thing.

The woman speaks with joy at the truth which she has come to know. Truly this is the language of faith.

John 4:26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

Fahling: Jesus opens wide the floodgates of living water.
Stoeckhardt: With these words Jesus tightly fastened the bond which He drew this soul to Himself.
Lenski: Now Jesus helps her with her confession of faith, verse 29. To this obscure woman Jesus reveals point-blank what He had revealed to no one else.
Bengel: He hastened to say the whole before the coming of His disciples . . . Nowhere did He speak of Himself more directly, even to the disciples themselves.

What a text! Jesus makes a simple request in verse 7 to which she counters with a thought of national prejudice. Hiding His identity, He introduces the subject of living water which really arouses her curiosity. She practically says: "Who do you think you are?" He continues with His discussion about life-giving water and what it can do for her. Though she does not understand she practically says: "That's for me!" Then Jesus gently unfolds her whole sinful life to her. She recognizes Him as a Prophet and indicates that she wants to know about the true religion. In verses 21-24 Jesus speaks a beautiful word about the whole sum and substance of the New Covenant. She confesses her faith. Not til then does He identify Himself. All along, the God-man, Who made Himself of no reputation, brings this obscure woman to a true faith in Himself. In His providence He had planned the absence of the disciples. What a text!


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 57-62. Used with permission.

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