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Bible Commentaries
John 4

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This chapter relates the journey of the Lord and his disciples through Samaria (John 4:1-5), recounts the interview with the woman at the well (John 4:6-26), gives the conversation with the disciples upon their return (John 4:27-38), sums up the results of Christ’s teaching in Samaria (John 4:38-42), narrates the continuation to Galilee, and records the performance of the second of the seven great signs (John 4:46-54).

Verse 1

When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.

The disciples of John the Baptist were already jealous of Jesus’ success; and the Lord knew that the mighty acclaim hailing his efforts, if uninterrupted, would shortly bring upon him a premature confrontation with the Pharisees; and, in order to avoid it, he promptly switched the scene of his labors. The inference here is that if relatively friendly persons such as John’s disciples were actively jealous of Jesus, the far more antagonistic Pharisees would be likely to take drastic action. Not long after these events, the Pharisees accomplished the destruction of John the Baptist; and, although their hand is hidden in the sacred account of his martyrdom, it is very likely that those wily hypocrites of the priestly hierarchy had maneuvered John into making the comment on Herod’s unlawful marriage which resulted in his execution. The Lord, in time, planned to die for the salvation of all men; but, at that particular time, his hour had not yet come.

Verse 2

(Although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples).

See under John 3:22-26. An important deduction from the fact of Jesus’ many baptisms, none of which were administered by himself personally, yet being referred to as his baptisms and his accomplishment, is this: All who are baptized in obedience to God’s specific command, and by the hand of the Lord’s disciples in harmony with his will, are truly baptized by Jesus! In the light of this undeniable fact, what becomes of the human allegation that would make of Christian baptism "a work of human righteousness"? It is no such thing, but an act of the Lord himself.

Verses 3-4

He left Judaea and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs pass through Samaria.

Samaria lay between Jerusalem and Galilee, the most direct route, therefore, going through Samaria. The boundaries of Samaria varied in history; but in the time of Christ it was a small province about twenty miles wide, north to south, and about thirty miles long, east to west. The eastern boundary was the Jordan River, and the southern line lay about seven miles south of Shechem. The capital was the city of the same name, occupying an impressive butte some six miles northwest of the area where the events of this chapter happened.(F1)

Verse 5

So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph.

Sychar … was near Shechem and the piece of ground Jacob had purchased from the sons of Hamor for a hundred pieces of money. It was also the scene of the bloody episode revolving around Jacob’s daughter Dinah; it was the place where Jacob dug that famous well and belonged to the sons of Joseph, to which son Jacob had bequeathed the property. When the children of Israel brought with them out of Egypt the bones of Joseph, here is where they buried them. Thus, although the scene of the events here recorded was not at that time a part of Israel, it had, nevertheless, figured prominently in their history. (See Genesis 33:18-20 and Joshua 24:32.) Significantly, Jacob had once constructed an altar there to [~’El] [~’Elohey] [~Yisra’el], i.e., "God, the God of Israel" (Genesis 33:20).

Verse 6

And Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Jacob’s well … As Ryle noted, this reference contains all that is certainly known about this well, as to its origin; because the Bible nowhere mentions Jacob’s digging a well, although it is recorded that Abraham and Isaac dug wells. Still, this reference is enough. The well is still there and is, in all probability, one of the few authentic places that can be identified as the place where Jesus sat.

J. W. McGarvey, after visiting the well, wrote:

Jacob’s well is still there, about one hundred feet from Mount Gerizim, which rises high above it to the west. The well is a perfect cylinder, seven and a half feet in diameter, walled with stones of good size, smoothly dressed, and nicely fitted together, an excellent piece of masonry. Its depth was stated by the earliest modern who visited it (Maundrel) at 105 feet with fifteen feet of water. In 1839, it was found to be seventy-five feet deep with ten or twelve feet of water. All visitors of more recent date have found it dry and gradually filling up from the habit of throwing stones into it to hear the reverberation when they strike the bottom.(F2)

Jesus, being wearied with his journey … The perfect humanity of Jesus is very evident in John. He alone recorded the saying from the cross, "I thirst!" and it appears that the apostle was particularly impressed with the bone-tired weariness of Jesus as he sat wearily by the well when the apostles departed to buy provisions. It would appear that the Lord’s unusual weariness might have resulted from the fervor and enthusiasm with which the preaching and baptizing had been accomplished in the preceding days. It was the kind of letdown that every great campaigner feels when the effort is over; and the long march up from Judaea had intensified his weariness.

Sat thus by the well … Such a detail only an eyewitness would have included.

It was about the sixth hour … The ancient Jews reckoned time from sundown to sunrise, roughly twelve hours of darkness; and from sunrise to sunset, roughly twelve hours of daylight. The Romans and other ancients reckoned time from midnight to noon, and from noon until midnight. In this light, the "sixth hour" would have been about noon, six hours after sunrise, by the Jewish method of reckoning; or, by the Roman method, it would have been six hours after noon, or about six o’clock in the evening.

For those interested in full discussions of the arguments on this question of the time of day, reference is made to the works of Westcott who favored understanding this as Roman time (6 P.M.),(F3) and to the works of Ryle who favored Jewish time (noon).(F4) One thing for sure, it was one or the other; and perhaps the best way to determine which it was is by the events related in the context. There is no necessity at all for supposing that John invariably used either method of reckoning time, probably using Jewish time in one episode and Roman time in another, as for example, when Roman courts were involved.

To this writer, it seems that the extensive results that flowed out of this episode, such as the coming of the whole city out to meet Jesus, and their inviting him and his disciples to stay with them, indicate that the event happened at noon. Of weight in this preference is the fact of the woman’s having come to the well alone, rather than with a group of women who, like herself, needed water. It is written of Abraham’s servant that "He made his camels kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water" (Genesis 24:11). Now, if the woman had gone to the well at the usual time, there is the probability of the presence of others and the absence of the privacy evident in this narrative. Also, the social status of the woman suggests that she might have preferred to go at a time when she would not have encountered the neighbors.

Verse 7

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.


A woman of Samaria … The tragic story of the Samaritans and the contempt in which that unfortunate people were held by the Jews endow this incident with the deepest interest. Following the capture of the ten northern tribes by Shalmaneser (722 B:C.), the cities and villages of Samaria were totally depopulated and left to the wild beasts. Not wishing to let the land lie idle, the king of Assyria repopulated the area with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avah, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. Of course, they brought their old idol worship with them; but they were introduced to the Jewish Scriptures in the following manner: the people were troubled by the marauding wild beasts, and the king of Assyria decided that the trouble might have been due to the new settlers having neglected the "god of the land." So he dispatched one of the captive priests of Israel to enlighten the people; and thus the Samaritans came into possession of the Pentateuch, the only part of the Hebrew Bible which they accepted. They set up a system of religion based partially upon the Pentateuch, but containing also a number of foreign elements.

When the Jews rebuilt the temple, following the captivity of the southern tribes, the Samaritans desired to help, but were rebuffed. Animosity and hatred multiplied; and, at the time here spoken of, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (although they traded with them); and, when the hierarchy referred to Jesus Christ as a "Samaritan," they had exhausted their vocabulary of invective. It is a matter of wonder and awe that the Dayspring from on High should have bestowed upon a woman of this unfortunate people the honor of the ensuing interview.

Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink … In this account, one is confronted with a contrast of remarkable dimensions:

Here is a contrast between God and man.

Here is a contrast between man and woman.

Here is a contrast between royalty and commonality.

Here is a contrast between wisdom and ignorance.

Here is a contrast between the unmarried and the oft-married.

Here is a contrast between purity and immorality.

Here is a contrast between Jew and Gentile.

These multiple contrasts of race, sex, religion, moral status, marital status, social position, ability, wisdom, etc., must be accounted the most dramatic and significant of any that occurred in our Lord’s ministry. Yet, Jesus and that woman had one thing in common; both wanted a drink of water. Unerringly, Jesus saw the common ground between them and did not hesitate to stand with her upon that common platform of their mutual need. How loving, tender and considerate was our Lord in his attitude toward this daughter of Samaria!

Give me to drink … By these words, Jesus placed himself in the position of one requesting a favor, and by such a gesture assumed a social equality with her which astonished her and led to the conversation that followed. Jesus here did for her only what he did for all of wretched and fallen humanity; for he came from heaven to become a man, to take upon him the form of a servant, and to die for the sins of the whole world. All this is fully known; but, in this specific instance of it, the humiliation of our Lord becomes epic in its depth and intensity.

Verse 8

For his disciples were gone away into the city to buy food.

Hovey remarked that the disciples, for some reason, did not appear to have been as tired and weary as Jesus; but this is not strange. To the leader of such a campaign as they had just terminated, there is always the greater intensity, enthusiasm, and emotion exhibited by all great leaders; and, as noted earlier, this excessive fatigue on the part of the Master is exactly what was natural. Some insist that this weariness of Jesus suggests 6 P.M. instead of noon for the time of this interview; but it may be accounted for differently.

Verse 9

The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

How is it? … How? It was the Master’s way of opening a door into her heart that he might give her eternal life. How? It was the Saviour’s way of recruiting one of the most effective missionaries he ever had. How? It was Jesus’ means of entry into that city as an honored guest for two days and nights. All of it began with this request for a drink of water.

Who am a Samaritan woman … For the origin of this people and the development of the hatred between them and the Jews, see under John 4:7, above.

A Jew … The first estimate of Jesus formed by this woman was stated in these words; but her knowledge and understanding of Jesus grew rapidly. Note the following: "A Jew" (John 4:7), "Sir" (John 4:11), "a prophet" (John 4:19), and "the Christ" (John 4:29).

Verse 10

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink: thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

If thou knewest … thou wouldest have asked … This is the glory of that woman. These words show why Jesus accomplished this interview. He saw that the woman, despite her fallen life, would respond to a genuine opportunity to know the truth. In that precious quality, she was far superior to many of every age who indeed know the Lord of life but who will neither ask of him nor respond in any way to his mercy.

Living water … is a reference to the water of life, the spiritual realities that lead to everlasting life in the presence of God. The metaphor was probably suggested by the thirst which had brought them both to the well. Just as the body requires water, just so the soul, if it is to live, must drink at the everlasting fountain of God’s word.

The gift of God … In this, Jesus referred to himself, the gift of God to all the world. Amazingly, the supreme gift of God from all eternity sat at that very moment on the ledge of Jacob’s well; but the poor woman, dodging the scorn of neighbors, and coming to the well in the heat of the day, had suddenly confronted the Lord of life. Moses’ discovery of the burning bush was not any more remarkable. What a pathetic thing it is to contemplate this woman standing face to face with God incarnate, and yet unaware of it. How blind are our eyes, how deadened our senses, how feeble our souls, when, face to face with God, we nevertheless cannot see him!

Verse 11

The woman said unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water?

The woman’s response shows that she did not understand what was meant by "living water," hence the question of its source, especially in view of the fact that Jesus had no rope.

Whence then hast thou that living water … indicates that the woman had already apprehended the fact that Jesus was not talking about the water of Jacob’s well. This question of hers reveals that she understood at least a part of what Jesus was saying to her, and that she might have suspected, even at that point, the metaphorical significance of his words, as the next verse shows.

Verse 12

Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle?

Art thou greater than … Jacob …? Indeed a greater than Jacob was there, and a greater than Moses, and a greater than Jonah, and a greater than Solomon; and the very fact of this woman’s employment of such a question is of deep interest. Some have understood her words as a scornful denial that Christ had any power to give the living water he had mentioned; but it appears that something far different from scorn was intended by this reply.

Verses 13-14

Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.

In this, Jesus defined the living water he promised as a spiritual power leading to eternal life. Such would satisfy the deepest thirst of the soul, and not merely for a time, but eternally. The source of such a blessing is uniquely in Jesus Christ; and it may not be earned or merited, but is a heavenly gift to fallen and sinful men. The gift, however, is conditional. The woman would not have given Jesus a drink of water unless he had asked it, nor would Christ have blessed her unless she had asked. The Lord will not endow any soul with living water unless that soul shall ask in the appointed way through compliance with conditions prerequisite to his blessing.

Eternal life … here plainly identified the blessing Jesus promised the woman of Samaria. It was impossible after these words for the woman to have misunderstood the direction of our Lord’s remarks. It does seem, however, that she misunderstood the promised blessing as including a cessation of ordinary thirst also, which would have made it unnecessary for her to come again to the well of water.

Verse 15

The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw.

Some element of misunderstanding is evident in this request, but she rose to the height of asking the blessing in its fullest extent. Those who would be blessed should never wait until they know fully all that they ask; and, for the most spiritual person on earth, there is the likelihood that he, like this woman, would have many incorrect ideas of the ultimate blessing. The important thing is to ask; and, as Jesus said at the beginning of the interview, this woman was a person who would ask. May all men be just as diligent to ask of him who alone can satisfy the soul’s deepest need. The woman, at this point, did not know that the blessing the requested involved moral surgery in her life, but Jesus quickly moved to enlighten her.

Verse 16

Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband and come hither.

Go, call thy husband … The reason for Jesus’ rather abrupt injection of this command into the conversation may have been complex. The gift of eternal life is not a blessing that anyone receives ALONE; it is always for others also; and those others always include, first of all, those who are members of one’s family. Also, the gift of eternal life is never bestowed apart from the correction of the moral condition of the recipient. Perhaps both of these considerations may be understood as explaining the Lord’s command, in which the Lord addressed himself to the woman’s conscience, and in such a manner as to give her the opportunity of confessing her sins. Sins, however, are never easily confessed, and her reply fell short of revealing any moral fault.

When any soul would turn to Christ and receive his inexpressible gift. the one desiring salvation is always confronted with a similar command with reference to his life. To the embezzler, the Lord says, "Go, bring thy records"; to others, he says, "Go, bring thy tax returns"; "Go, bring thy wife"; "Go, bring thy child, thy brother, thy sister"; or "Go bring anything in thy life that is contrary to divine law!"

Verse 17

The woman answered and said unto him, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou saidest well, I have no husband.

This, of course, was truth, but far from all of it. The Lord already knew everything in her life, and he had not asked for information but to elicit from her a recognition of her moral condition. Nevertheless, he commended, in part, her response.

Verse 18

For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this hast thou said truly.

This was an astounding revelation to the woman that the stranger at the well knew all about her sinful and unhappy life; and yet this had not prevented his earnest conversation with her, nor his asking a drink at her hands. The marvel is that she did not fall upon her knees. Note that this woman had had five husbands, meaning five persons to whom she had been married, and that she was living with a sixth man without benefit of a marriage ceremony. Some deductions made from this passage fail to take these facts into consideration. It is easy to allege sin where it does not exist; and the sin uncovered here was primarily an immoral relationship with a sixth man, and not necessarily the fact of her having been so often married. The Lord left out of our sight the reasons for the break-up or termination of those marriages, some of which could have been due to the death of the husband, rather than to the wanton adultery of this woman whose heart hungered after eternal things. Let them who would charge her in such a manner sustain their charges if they can, it is the preference here to leave the matter of the multiple marriages covered. The present sin of this daughter of Samaria was fully exposed by the Lord’s statement.

Verse 19

The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

Before the day ended, she would hail him as the Christ, but her perception at this point had not reached that height. Significantly, the confrontation of her own sinful conscience was the occasion of Jesus’ rising so abruptly in her estimation. Only a few minutes earlier, she had recognized him only as "a Jew," who she had every right to suppose hated and despised her; but now she hailed him as a prophet. The more deeply conscious any person is of his sins, the higher Jesus rises in his sight. The woman did not deny or offer excuses or explanations, but let the implications of her sinful life stand naked and unadorned in his holy presence. There is a nobility in such an attitude that staggers belief.

Verse 20

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

The view that these words were a mere device on the woman’s part to change the conversation appears to be wrong. It reveals the deep religious interest of the questioner, and the presence of one whom she had just hailed as a prophet gave her the opportunity to learn the truth about a question that had troubled her heart a long time. What a commentary is this regarding the inner thoughts of some whom the world would count hopelessly lost. Deep within every heart the abiding question of how men "ought" to worship God is firmly implanted; and no encrustation of sin, however coarse, can fully eradicate it. There is nothing short of genius in this woman’s going straight to Jesus with such a question. Christ is the source of finding the answers for all difficult and perplexing questions, none of which shall ever be answered until they are answered by the Master. It should be noted that the question was a valid and relevant one, that there was a proper answer, and that Jesus promptly gave it.

Verse 21

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, and now is, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father.

Jerusalem had been until that time the correct place to worship God, but Jesus deferred that part of the answer in order to reveal that a totally new system was about to be initiated, in which the PLACE of worship would have no significance at all. God may be worshipped properly ANYWHERE, provided only that the divine worship is tendered in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Verse 22

Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews.

Ye know not … The Samaritan worship (see under John 4:7) was faulty in several important factors. It was founded upon only a part of the word of God (the Pentateuch), and even that part was not strictly obeyed. Also, many polluting elements of paganism had been incorporated into it.

That which we know … Thus Jesus affirmed the truth of the Old Testament and the validity of the covenant with the chosen people, affirming the authenticity of the Hebrew religion.

Salvation is from the Jews … God took hold "of the seed of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:16); the Jews were custodians of the Scripture (Romans 3:2); Christ was born "under the law." The Old Testament Scriptures are they which "testify" of Christ (John 5:39). Even the church today is the Israel of God, and all Christians are "the seed of Abraham" (Galatians 3:29). In the sense of origins and the typical nature of the Jewish religion, it is still true that "salvation is of the Jews."

Verse 23

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers.

The hour cometh and now is … indicates that a new dispensation was about to be initiated by Jesus Christ. Within only four years after this interview, all of the regulations concerning the worship of God in Jerusalem were superseded by the ordinances and requirements of the new covenant. Jesus was already baptizing thousands who would, if they continued to follow him, soon receive the Holy Spirit (after Pentecost). It was the near approach of the new order.

The true worshippers … These contrast with the false, vain, ignorant worshippers of every age who have improperly worshipped God. Who are the true worshippers? They are they who worship God in spirit and in truth. See under John 4:24.

For such doth the Father seek … The initiative of God himself in man’s salvation appears in the fact of God’s actually seeking those of earth who will truly worship him as he has directed.

Verse 24

God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is a Spirit … The countless anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament probably caused Jesus to set such a statement as this over against them all. God may be spoken of in terms of the activities of men, such as walking, seeing, hearing, etc., but there is a sense in which God is not like man at all. God is a Spirit, eternal, immortal, invisible, omniscient, ubiquitous, omnipotent, and all-pervading. He is above all and through all and in all. Nothing can be hidden from God. He is the First Cause, himself uncaused, the Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists. He is nonetheless personal, hence the anthropomorphisms of Scripture.

They that worship him … Just what is worship? Is it the carrying out of any kind of ritual, the observance of any days or times, or the presentation of any kind of gifts and sacrifices? Despite the fact that worship, from the earliest times, has been associated with such things, actual worship is spiritual.


A good description of worship is that of Isaiah 6:1-8, an analysis of which shows that worship is: (1) an awareness of the presence of God, (2) a consciousness of sin and unworthiness on the part of the worshipper, (3) a sense of cleansing and forgiveness, and (4) a response of the soul with reference to doing God’s will: "Here am I, send me!"

In the New Testament, it is evident that the worship of God involved the doing of certain things: (1) meditating upon God’s word in sermon or Scripture reading, (2) singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, (3) praying to God through Christ, (4) observance of the Lord’s supper, and (5) the giving of money, goods, and services for the propagation of the faith and the relief of human needs. Very well, then, does the person who DOES these things worship God? Not necessarily, because an apostle spoke of certain persons who ate the Lord’s supper in a manner unworthy of it, not discerning the Lord’s body. Moreover, the singing and praying were commanded to be done "with the spirit and with the understanding also." From this: it is clear that the things done in the New Testament worship were the authorized channels through which the true worship flowed, and that worship has the same relationship to the channels that electricity has to the power line that carries it. This, of course, does not disparage the authorized channels, nor suggest that man may select channels of his own. See below under: "Two Ways to Worship." True worship is the soul’s adoration of the Creator functioning obediently to the divine will.

Must worship in spirit and in truth … This speaks thunderously of the fact that the worship of God must be done properly, the two requirements being that it must be engaged in with utmost sincerity and as directed by the word of God. God has revealed the manner in which he should be worshipped, and those who hope to have their worship accepted should heed the restrictions.


The verse before us is a powerful prohibition. Also, Jesus said, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). An apostle declared that "God … dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything" (Acts 17:24-25). The author of this gospel wrote, "Testify unto every man that heareth the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18). And also, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (2 John 1:9). Jesus said of the Pharisees, "Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Matthew 15:6). Paul warned the Corinthians, "Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure, transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). From these specific prohibitions, as well as from the spirit and tenor of the entire Bible, it is clearly impossible for man to approach his Creator in worship, except as God has directed. This was true in the days of Cain and Abel, of Nadab and Abihu, of David and Uzzah, and of the Lord Jesus Christ and ever afterward. It is true now and always.


Worship is as old as the human race, but in the long history of mortal events only two ways to worship God have ever been discovered. These are: God’s revealed way, and any other way that man might have devised himself. A glance at both is appropriate.

I. God’s way to worship. People are commanded to worship God, and it is simply inconceivable that God has not instructed men how to obey this commandment (Revelation 14:7). Of the ancient tabernacle, only a type of the worship men offer today, God said to Moses, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern" (Hebrews 8:5), and there is no way to avoid the application of this to Christian worship. Why else should it have been in the book of Hebrews? And what is the New Testament pattern of Christian worship? "The things which are written" (1 Corinthians 4:6) reveal that the New Testament churches:

Offered prayers to God through Christ (Acts 2:46).

Observed the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7).

Gave of their means (1 Corinthians 16:2).

Taught the sacred Scriptures (Acts 2:46).

Sang certain kinds of songs (Colossians 3:16).

No student of the Bible will deny that both precept and example for the above pattern of worship are found in the New Testament. If this is not God’s pattern of worship, what is it?

II. Man’s way of worshipping. This has varied in time, place, and circumstance; but a survey of the entire field of worship, as it has developed since the foundation of Christianity, reveals numerous activities, ceremonies, doctrines, commandments, and devices unknown to the Bible, as well as alterations, restrictions, additions, subtractions and substitutions with reference to the things that are revealed. There are even examples of incorporating elements of the old covenant, and of the acceptance of pagan elements into the sacred arena of Christian worship. It would be nearly impossible to list all the human changes, additives, and aberrations inflicted upon Christianity by the historical church, but a complete list is not necessary. The partial list below will show what is meant:

Auricular confession, baptizing of images, baptizing of bells, baptizing of infants, baptism of desire, baptism for the dead, burning of incense, canonization of saints, celibacy of the clergy, communion under one kind, elevation of the host, extreme unction, invocation of saints, lighting of blessed lamps and candles, Lenten fasts and ceremonies, monasticism, orders of monks and nuns, societies of Jesus, purgatory, prayers for souls in purgatory, paschal candles, priestly robes and vestments, holy paraphernalia, penance, redemption of penances, pouring for baptism, sprinkling for baptism, the rosary of the Virgin Mary, the sale of indulgences, the sacrifice of the mass, sacrifices for the dead, the sign of the cross, the separation of clergy and laity, tradition received on a level with the word of God, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and of consubstantiation, the sprinkling of holy water, the stored-up merit of dead saints, works of supererogation, the use of mechanical instruments of music, ceremonies of Ash Wednesday, the development of a hierarchical system of earthly church government, etc., etc.

Now this writer has never met a person, throughout a lifetime of discussing Christianity, who would deny that at least some of the above deviations from God’s pattern of worship are sinful. But, of course, the thing that makes any one of them sinful MAKES THEM ALL SO! They were not first spoken by the Lord (Hebrews 2:3). Their authority derives not from God but from men.

Verse 25

The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ): when he is come, he will declare unto us all things.

What a priceless jewel of faith lay at the bottom of this poor beleaguered woman’s heart. How glorious the conviction. "I know that Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ)." All the sins and mistakes of her life had not effaced her knowledge of the essential truth that Christ would come into the world and teach men all that they need to know of salvation. There it was bubbling out of her heart spontaneously, her conviction that God would send the world a Saviour. All of her failures to live a life that would have honored his coming had not destroyed her.

Verse 26

Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he!

Why did Jesus speak so forthrightly here, while on so many other occasions he was so careful not to say plainly that he was the Christ? Jesus was charged with the duty of convincing all people that he is King of kings and Lord of lords, Dayspring from on High, the Son of God, and the Lord of all creation; but he was also under the most urgent necessity of doing so in a manner that would not provide the Romans with any pretext for executing him as a seditionist. To make this even more difficult, the Pharisees and Sadducees would gladly have cooperated with the Romans in just such a judicial murder. This poor woman’s word, however, was not good in any priestly court, due to her being a Samaritan; and thus it was perfectly safe for Jesus to tell her that he was the Messiah. This same phenomenon appears later in this gospel, in the case of the man born blind; who, after being cast out of the synagogue was not an acceptable witness in Jewish courts, and who was also told plainly by Christ that he was the Son of God.

Through this woman Jesus taught an entire city and yet left the Pharisees without a single word that they could use in any trumped-up charge against Jesus. It is remarkable how the Lord walked unharmed and untouched through every trap that Satan laid for him.

Verse 27

And upon this came his disciples; and they, marvelled that he was speaking with a woman; yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why speakest thou with her?

They marvelled that he was speaking with a woman … The low estate of woman in that generation is evidenced by these words. It simply was not done. No holy man, after the custom of the times, would have done what Jesus did here; but, in the beautiful words of McCartney:

Woman, who made it fit and decent and moral for a prophet to talk with thee? Who threw a zone of mercy and protection around thy little child? Who lifted thee up and changed thee from man’s chattel and property to man’s friend and equal and inspirer? Who obliterated the brand of the slave from thy face and put on thy brow the halo of chivalry and tenderness and romance? Who so changed thy lot, that instead of marvelling today that a prophet should talk with a woman, what men marvel at is that there ever was a time when men should have marvelled that Christ talked with a woman? Come then, woman; break thine alabaster box, filled with the ointment precious and very costly. Come, break the box and pour thine ointment of love and gratitude upon his head and feet. Come, wash his feet with the tears of thy love and wipe them with thy hair for a towel.(F5)

Verses 28-29

So the woman left her water-pot, and went away into the city, and saith to the people, Come see a man who told me all the things that ever I did: can this be the Christ?

So the woman left her water-pot … When from our low plain of sin and mortality, the soul of man glimpses light of the Eternal City, all temporal and secular concerns recede. Important as the water-pot was to that woman, what a negligible trifle it became to her whose heart had just been lifted up to see the Christ! Here was that same motivation that inspired the fishermen of Galilee to leave their nets and their father, and Matthew to leave his seat of custom, and follow Jesus. No mortal considerations can withstand the blast of that solar wind which emanates from the Sun of Righteousness.

Come see … With these same words, Philip persuaded Nathaniel (John 1:46); and with the same Jesus invited the disciples to his abode (John 1:39); and, with the same words, an angel of heaven said, "Come see the place where the Lord lay" (Matt. 2:8:6). That phenomenon which is Jesus Christ our Lord needs only to be observed to be believed; and the apostle who wrote this gospel retained that truth in focus throughout.

Can this be the Christ …? There is no reason to suppose that this woman had any doubt that Jesus was the Christ; but she wisely presented her witness in such a manner as to require the citizens of Sychar to provide their own answer to so great a question.

Verse 30

They went out of the city, and were coming to him.

Such a development as this would require some little time. There was some little distance between the well and the city, a distance traveled twice by this woman before any person in Sychar could hear the message. Then, some considerable time passed during the interview itself, and there would have had to be some further time before the word could be generally circulated among the people. Finally, the movement of an entire multitude of villagers toward the well would also have required still further time. All of these things taken together suggest that the hour was noon, not 6:00 o’clock in the evening. It should be remembered that they were not on daylight saving time.

The movement of the multitude toward Jesus across the plain that separated between the well and the city deeply touched the Saviour’s heart. The prevailing color of all clothing in those days was white, dyes being so expensive that only the rich used them; and the Lord’s reference to the "white" harvest fields a little later had reference to that field of people dressed in the white garments of the poor moving toward the Lord under the glare of the sun at noon.

Verse 31

In the meanwhile the disciples prayed him, saying, Rabbi, eat.

This urgency on the part of the disciples that Jesus should eat might be the key to the excessive fatigue of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus, caught up in the glorious enthusiasm of the previous days of baptizing great numbers, had not eaten much. Certainly, there was some variation in the case with Jesus from that of his apostles; the apostles were concerned about it and insisted that Jesus eat. But it was not yet time for eating. A great multitude of villagers, visible in the distance, was moving toward the Lord of life; and he would break for them the bread of life before relieving his own physical hunger. What a difference between the Lord of glory and human dignitaries. This writer once attempted to see the mayor of New York but was informed that "His Honor" would be leaving a little early that day for lunch and would be back after three o’clock!

Verse 32

But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not.

In John 4:34, below, Jesus explained that the "meat" here mentioned was "to do the will of him who sent" Jesus. Christ’s notice of the approaching multitude had not been shared by the apostles; and, of course, they misconstrued his words, taking them literally, as the next verse shows.

Verse 33

The disciples therefore said one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat?

In a Samaritan village, there was indeed slight likelihood that anyone might have brought food to Jesus; but the disciples were struggling with a literal understanding of Jesus’ words, and the possible solution they suggested was as good as any. Jesus helped them to understand.

Verse 34

Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work.

Jesus had not, as yet, received any food at all; but the amazing responsiveness of the woman at the well had triggered an opportunity to convert a whole city, moving at that very moment upon the Lord and his disciples; and the satisfaction of his physical hunger would have to wait, despite the Master’s weariness.

Verse 35

Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest.

Yet four months … Westcott noted that the "harvest began about the middle of April and lasted until the end of May."(F6) This would make the date of this episode to lie somewhere between the middle of December and the last of January; another piece of evidence favoring noon as the time of day in this narrative. In either December or January, it would have been dark shortly after six o’clock.

They are white already unto the harvest … See under John 4:30, above. The white-clad multitude passing over the green fields between the village and the well had indeed turned them white; and our Lord was looking upon the immediate harvest of souls as contrasted with the grain harvest yet four months in the future. By directing the eyes of the apostles to what was taking place, he restrained their further insistence that he should eat. Dr. Tristram, as quoted by Westcott, "found the wheat and barley near Jerusalem, sown just after Christmas, four inches high on February 2Oth."(F7)

The comparison of converted souls to a harvest made a profound impression upon John who made five references to it in as many verses (Revelation 14:14-19). "Send forth thy sickle and reap; for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is ripe," etc.

Verse 36

He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.

These words were spoken by the Lord during the interval before the arrival of the multitude. This is an extension of the metaphor of the harvest, there never being a harvest without a sowing and reaping. The great reward is the gathering of fruit unto life eternal, in the joy of which both sowers and reapers shall rejoice together.

He that reapeth receiveth wages … It is not known if Jesus was here thinking of the reaping that Philip the evangelist would do in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13), or if he was thinking of the multitudes who would believe that very day (John 4:41), or perhaps of both.

Rejoice together … Sowers and reapers alike rejoice in the harvest of the gospel; and their doing so together would indicate that, in the instance in hand, sowing and reaping would occur in the closest proximity of time, as it did on that occasion. Jesus was the sower who planted the word in the heart of the woman; but the fruit was coming over the fields at that very moment; and the apostles, who hardly knew that any sowing had taken place, were about to participate in the reaping. Evidently, the Lord intended in these words to show the equal importance of both sowing and reaping, both being necessary, and to show that the reaper should always, in humility, remember the one who had sown. That Christ was indeed the sower here is indicated by "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man" (Matthew 13:37).

Verse 37

For herein is the saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.

This metaphor of the harvest was also used by Paul who extended it to cover the interval between sowing and reaping, thus, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6). In Paul’s usage of the metaphor, the gospel preacher is the one who plants, and the one who waters; and he added, "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."

Verse 38

I sent ye to reap that whereon ye have not labored: others have labored, and ye are entered into their labor.

This was a stern reminder to the apostles that the great ingathering they were about to see was in no sense the result of their own efforts and abilities, and that they were to consider themselves instruments of God in reaping the fruit of the labors of others, in this case, the labor of the Master himself, and of the woman. This was the viewpoint expressed by Paul, as cited above. So great a response to the gospel as the apostles were about to see might easily have turned their heads except for the Saviour’s warning here.

Verse 39

And from that city many of the Samaritans believed on him because of the word of the woman, who testified, He told me all the things that I ever did.


The secret of all soul-winning is that of making oneself of "no reputation," even as did our Lord (Philippians 2:7 KJV); and one can only marvel at this woman’s willingness to make the exposition of her shameful life the principal evidence that would lead a city to the Lord. It must not be thought for a moment that her mere statement, "He told me all the things that I ever did," would have been enough to turn out a whole city to see Jesus. Not at all. Such a statement would have had to be followed up with a statement of "what things" he had told; and it may be assumed that, regardless of the woman’s standing in the eyes of her neighbors, or regardless of what any of them knew about her, there were areas of the Saviour’s revelation that laid bare the dark secrets of her soul; yet she unflinchingly cried out the message to all who would hear it. At the very least, the witness was such as publicized and blazed abroad the sordid details of her life to the total community. No one can look upon this as a small thing that she did.

The turnout of this city to accept Jesus Christ was a stark contrast with the snobbish rejection of the Lord by the hierarchy in Jerusalem. Here, quite early in the Saviour’s ministry, was wholesale evidence that the Gentiles would turn to the Lord when they received the opportunity. This overwhelming display of affection for Jesus in Samaria should have been a warning to Israel that the day of grace was running out for them, and that the times were hastening to the day foretold by God through Moses when it was prophesied that "I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, With a nation void of understanding will I anger you" (Deuteronomy 32:31).

Verse 40

So when the Samaritans came unto him, they besought him to abide with them: and he abode there two days.

Such had been the success of the woman’s efforts that Christ was immediately invited by the whole city to dwell there, and the Master graciously accepted their invitation. The heart cries out that this is the way it should have been everywhere that Jesus went; but, alas, this Samaritan village stands uniquely apart in the warm welcome they extended to the Saviour of the world.

Verse 41

And many more believed because of his word.

Many people who had not been convinced by the word of the woman did believe, however, as soon as they heard Jesus himself. No numbers are given, but the impression is left that practically all Sychar believed in Christ.

Verse 42

And they said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.

And they said to the woman … What a change is this! The poor soul who only two days previously had gone to the well in the heat of noontide, in solitary isolation, and shrinking from the scorn of neighbors, has suddenly been elevated to a status of equality and acceptance on the part of all. Those who extended the hospitality of Sychar to Jesus did not fail to include also the lonely and sinful woman who was their link to the Lord of life, "And they said to HER …!"

The Saviour of the world … Acute indeed was the perception of that village. They were not looking for a knight on a white horse who would throw out the Romans and resurrect the vanished empire of Solomon. They took Jesus for what he truly was and ever is, not a political or military hero, but a Redeemer come to give eternal life to men. Oh, that Jerusalem might have been as perceptive as Sychar!

Verses 43-44

And after two days he went forth from thence into Galilee. For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honor in his own country.


After two days … These were the two days just spent in Sychar.

A prophet hath no honor in his own country … The injection of this proverb in such a manner as to make it a reason for Jesus’ going into Galilee (which was his own country) presents a problem that has been solved in various ways. Alford thought that Jesus intended to bring about a decline in his popularity, that being exactly why he had stopped baptizing and headed north. If that indeed was the Master’s purpose, in order to avoid a premature crisis with the Pharisees, then the proverb fits. And yet the very next verse states that the Galileans received him, having seen the miracles done in Jerusalem when they went up to the feast. Meyer explained that Jesus’ mention of the proverb might have been intended to suggest somewhat indirectly the reason of his going to Galilee. Thus:

If a prophet, as Jesus himself testified, is without honor in his own country, he must earn it in another. And this Jesus had done in Jerusalem. He now brought with him the honor of a prophet from a distance. Hence too, he had found acceptance with the Galileans because they had seen his miracles in Jerusalem (John 2:23).(F8)

This interpreter prefers the view of Alford because the degree of acceptance in Galilee was not sufficient to thwart the Lord’s purpose of achieving a decrease in his popularity. True, the next verse mentions the Galileans’ reception of him, but it left much to be desired. Jesus said (John 4:48), "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe."

Verse 45

So when he came into Galilee, the Galileans received him, having seen all the things he did in Jerusalem: for they also went up to the feast.

See under preceding verse. This reception f the Galileans sprang not from any spiritual rapport with Jesus, but derived from the miracles they had witnessed in Jerusalem. Thus far, John had recorded only one of the seven great signs, that of the miracle in Cana; but there have been repeated references to a great plurality of "signs" (John 2:23; John 3:2), and "all the things" mentioned here.

Galilee afforded no outpouring of welcome like that of Sychar. If indeed the Lord intended a decrease of popularity, Galilee proved to be exactly the place to find it. At Cana he would do the second of the seven great signs. Cana was near Nazareth, the latter being guilty of an actual attempt to murder Jesus (Luke 4:29). Matthew detailed the scorn in which Nazareth held Jesus, adding that "they were offended in him" (Matthew 13:57). Thus, the statement here that Galilee received Jesus does not negate the hostile and unbelieving attitude that continued to prevail there.

Verse 46

He came therefore again unto Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.

Therefore … seems to make some event previously related the reason of Jesus’ going on to Cana a second time. The fact of the Galileans having received him as soon as he entered the province appears to be that reason. Jesus did not remain in the area where they had hailed him, due to the improper basis upon which they received him, that is, as a mere miracle worker and not as the Saviour of the world. John’s perception of this may account for the fact that, of all the miracles Jesus did, John recorded only the seven signs, chosen it seems for their spiritual implications and for their validity as proofs af Jesus’ deity. Therefore Jesus went on to Cana, located not very far from Nazareth which was a seat of unbelief against him. There at Cana he continued his ministry.


As noted repeatedly, this is the second sign only in the sense of being the second recorded by John. See under preceding verses.

The identity of this person is not known. Some have supposed that he might have been Chuza, the steward of King Herod (Luke 8:3), or Manaen (Acts 13:1), the king’s foster-brother; but these are just guesses. Not even the title "nobleman" is certainly understood. Trench said, "The precise meaning of `nobleman’ can never be exactly fixed … Either he is one of the king’s party, a royalist, one who sided with the faction of the Herods … a king’s officer … or one attached to the court."(F9)

Verse 47

When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him and besought him, that he would come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.

That he would come down and heal … The faith of the nobleman was sufficient to send him to Capernaum, a distance of some sixteen miles, over hilly and rough terrain. The fact of the son’s being at the point of death is pertinent; because only the direst necessity could have sent this nobleman to the despised prophet of Galilee; but it is possible that he had witnessed some of the miracles in Jerusalem and decided as a last resort to seek healing for his son. He supposed that it would have been necessary for Jesus to come to his son in order to heal him. Still, a little faith acted upon is far better than inactive big faith; and, to the immense joy of this ancient nobleman, his efforts were successful. It would seem that this nobleman was Jewish, since the Lord at once placed him in the category of the Jews who would not believe except they saw signs.

Verse 48

Jesus therefore said unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.

Except ye see … is plural, thus it seems that Jesus was here identifying this man with that extensive class of Jews of the same attitude, suggesting that the nobleman himself was a Jew.

Signs and wonders … is not a reference to two kinds of miracles, but rather to the two qualities in every miracle. A wonder is something exciting, phenomenal, and extraordinary; but the same deed, viewed in the light shed upon the person of Jesus, is a sign of the Lord’s deity. If the nobleman had indeed been in Jerusalem and had witnessed Jesus’ mighty wonders there, the rebuke would have reference to the weakness of his faith in the light of the evidence he had witnessed. The rebuke, however, was so stated as to encourage the nobleman to believe more fully.

Verse 49

The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die.

The nobleman did not pretend to a faith he did not have, but only poured out the agony of a broken heart before the only one who he knew could help. Such an outpouring of human sorrow was not lost upon "the Man of Sorrows." The faith that falls down before the Lord and pours the soul’s agony at his feet is always the beginning of something better, as it proved here.

Verse 50

Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. The man believed the word that Jesus spake unto him, and he went his way.

Little faith had suddenly grown strong. In Jesus’ presence, under the impact of the imperative word, and in the light of all he remembered from Jerusalem, he believed the word of Jesus. Having believed, he obeyed at once, returning to Capernaum as soon as he could. Later, it is stated that the healing of his son occurred at the seventh hour, equivalent to our seven o’clock; and, on the question of whether this was Roman or Jewish time and A.M. or P.M., the fact of the nobleman’s not arriving home until the next day suggests seven o’clock in the evening. Otherwise, we would have to account for his not returning a distance of a mere sixteen miles immediately. If it was at 7:00 P.M., the nobleman would have delayed his departure until the morrow, due to the inevitable dangers of night travel in those times.

Why did not Jesus accept the nobleman’s plea to go down to Capernaum and heal his son? The question becomes even more pointed when it is recalled that in another case, that of healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus was invited to do what he did here, merely speak the word; but in that instance the Lord proposed personally to enter his home. As Trench commented:

Here, being entreated to come, he does not; but sends his healing word; there, being asked to speak at a distance the word of healing, he rather proposes himself to come; for here, as Chrysostom explains it well, a narrow and poor faith is enlarged and deepened; there a strong faith is crowned and rewarded. By not going, he increased the nobleman’s faith; by offering to go, he brings out and honors that centurion’s humility.(F10)



Verse 51

And as he was now going down, his servants met him, saying, that his son lived.

The reward of the nobleman’s faith did not wait for his complete return but was brought by his servants who set out with the good news as soon as they could, which was the next morning, due to the lateness of the hour when the son was healed. Both the nobleman and the servants waited until the next day to begin their journey of sixteen miles, a thing that seems difficult of explanation if this sign was wrought at 1:00 P.M., as the Jews would have reckoned the seventh hour. Thus, in this case, the Roman method of reckoning time was evidently used. As observed earlier, there is no reason to assume that John used either method exclusively.

Verse 52

So he inquired of them the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.

The nobleman would have been using the official time, that of the Romans, because Herod was a subject of the emperor. It appears in this verse that the same kind of time-reckoning was employed in the nobleman’s home that John applied to the narrative of the sign; and this accounts for John’s using one method in this case and another at Sychar, where the official connection with Rome was not indicated.

The word of the servants was not of an improvement in the son’s condition, but a word of his healing. The fever did not merely abate; it left him! The miracles of Jesus were always wrought with dramatic and final authority. There was no piecemeal healing with him. He spake the word, and it was done. How utterly unlike Jesus’ miracles are the pretended miracles of our own times.

Verse 53

So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed and his whole house.

And himself believed … But was he not already a believer? In a sense, he was; but far more is intended here. Far more than merely believing that the Lord had healed his son, he now believed in the Lord as the Saviour of the world.

And his whole house … What a weight of responsibility rests upon every father. From the time of Adam who, as the federal head of the whole human race, plunged mankind into ruin, it has been a solemn and undeniable fact that whole families, cities, and even nations, partake of the consequences of a single decision for right or wrong by a single individual. The decision of this father brought redemption to an entire household.

Verse 54

This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judaea into Galilee.

The second sign … means the second fully recounted in John. This author presented seven great signs of the deity of Jesus Christ, and this is the second in that sequence. Jesus, even this early in his ministry, had already wrought countless miraculous deeds (12:23; 3:2; and 4:45).

The evident purpose of including this wonder in the list of seven was to show that the physical presence of the Lord was not required in the performance of his signs, but that his holy will was effective from any distance whatever. Such a miracle as this is never even attempted by modern claimants of miraculous power; and yet, why not? If one can do it at all, the distance is not a factor. Why must one enter the tent, or the studio, stand in line, and wait for the healer to wave his hand or jerk his head? This second sign placed Jesus our Lord in a category beyond all human imitations.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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