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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

John 4

Verse 1

1. οὖν. This refers back to John 3:22-26. Of the many who came to Jesus some told the Pharisees (see on John 1:24) of His success, as others told the Baptist, and this was reported to Him again: ὁ κύριος here, which is rarely used except by S. Luke of Christ before the Resurrection (John 6:23, John 11:2; Luke 10:1; Luke 11:39; Luke 12:42; Luke 17:5-6, &c.) is no evidence that the knowledge was supernatural. see on John 2:25.

ποιεῖ κ. βαπτ. Is making and baptizing; the very words of the report. This is important for the meaning of John 4:2, which is a correction not of S. John’s statement, but of the report to the Pharisees: in A.V. the Evangelist seems to be correcting himself.

ἣ Ἰωάν. They had less objection to John’s success. He disclaimed being the Messiah, he ‘did no miracle,’ and he took his stand on the Law. They understood his position better than that of Jesus, and feared it less. Jesus had been proclaimed as the Messiah, He wrought miracles, and He shewed scant respect to traditions.

Verses 1-42


The whole section is peculiar to S. John, and is evidently the narrative of an eyewitness: of the Synoptists S. Luke alone, the writer of ‘the Universal Gospel,’ mentions any intercourse of Christ with Samaritans (Luke 9:52, Luke 17:16; comp. Luke 10:33). John 4:1-4 are introductory, explaining the change of scene, like John 2:13 in the previous section.

Verse 2

2. αὐτὸς οὐκ. Because baptizing is the work of a minister, not of the Lord: Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).

Verse 3

3. ἀφῆκεν. ‘He left it alone, let it go’ (John 4:28) as something that He would have retained, but now left to itself. First the Temple, then Jerusalem, and now Judaea has to be abandoned, because He can win no welcome. On the contrary, the report of His very partial success seems at once to have provoked opposition, which He avoids by retiring. Perhaps also He wished to avoid the appearance of being a rival of John. There is no trace of His continuing to baptize in Galilee.

πάλιν. Omitted by some important witnesses. It points to John 1:43 to John 2:12. He had come from Capernaum to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13); He now returns to Galilee, where His opponents would have less influence. That this return is the beginning of the Galilean ministry recorded by the Synoptists (Matthew 4:12) is possibly but by no means certainly correct. See on John 6:1 and Mark 1:14-15.

Verse 4

4. ἔδει. There was no other way, unless He crossed the Jordan, and went round by Perea, as Jews sometimes did to avoid annoyance from the Samaritans (see on Matthew 10:5). As Jesus was on His way from Jerusalem, He had less reason to fear molestation. Contrast Luke 9:53.

Verse 5

5. ἔρχ. οὖν. He cometh therefore; because that was the route.

πόλιν. Town; the word does not imply anything very large. Capernaum, which Josephus calls a κώμη, the Evangelists call a πόλις. Samaria here is the insignificant province into which the old kingdom of Jeroboam had dwindled.

λεγομένην Συχάρ. Λεγομ. may be another indication that this Gospel was written outside Palestine, or it may mean that Sychar was a nickname (‘liar’ or ‘drunkard’). In the one case Sychar is different from Sychem or Shechem, and is the mediaeval Ischar and modern ’Askar; in the other it is another name for Sychem, the Neapolis of S. John’s day, a name which survives in Naplûs, the home of the Samaritans at the present day. The former is very preferable. Would not S. John have written Νεαπόλις if he had meant Sychem? He writes Tiberias (John 6:1; John 6:23, John 21:1): but Tiberias was probably a new town with a new name, whereas Neapolis was a new name for an old town; so the analogy is not perfect. Eusebius and Jerome distinguish Sychar from Sychem: and Naplûs has many wells close at hand.

τ. χωρίου. The portion of ground; Shechem means ‘portion.’ Abraham bought it, Jacob gave it to Joseph, and Joseph was buried there (Genesis 33:19; Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32).

Verses 5-42

5–42. Doubt has been thrown on this narrative in four different ways. [1] On a priori grounds. How could the Samaritans, who rejected the prophetical books, and were such bitter enemies of the Jews, be expecting a Messiah? The narrative is based on a fundamental mistake. But it is notorious that the Samaritans did look for a Messiah, and are looking for one to the present day. Though they rejected the Prophets, they accepted the Pentateuch, with all its Messianic prophecies. [2] On account of Matthew 10:5. Would Christ do what He forbad His disciples to do? But what He forbad them was to undertake a mission to the Samaritans until the lost sheep of Israel had been sought after; whereas, 1. He had already been seeking after Israel; 2. this was no mission to the Samaritans. He went thither, we are expressly told, because He could not help going, ἔδει. Was it to be expected that being there He should abstain from doing good? [3] On account of Acts 8:5. How could Philip go and convert the Samaritans, if Christ had already done so? But is it to be supposed that in two days Christ perfected Christianity in Samaria (even supposing, what is not certain, that Christ and Philip went to the same town), so as to leave nothing for a preacher to do afterwards? Many acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah who afterwards, on finding Him to be very different from the Messiah they expected, fell away. This would be likely enough at Samaria. The seed had fallen on rocky ground. [4] On the supposition that the narrative is an allegory, of which the whole point lies in the words ‘thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.’ The five husbands are the five religions from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, brought to Samaria by the colonists from Assyria (2 Kings 17:24); and the sixth is the adulterated worship of Jehovah. If our interpreting Scripture depends upon our guessing such riddles as this, we may well give up the task in despair. But the allegory is a pure fiction. 1. When S. John gives us an allegory, he leaves no doubt that it is an allegory. There is not the faintest hint here. 2. It would be extraordinary that in a narrative of 38 verses the whole allegory should be contained in less than one verse, the rest being mere setting. This is like a frame a yard wide round a miniature. 3. Though there were five nations, there were seven or eight worships (2 Kings 17:30-31), and the worships were simultaneous, not successive like the husbands. 4. There is a singular impropriety in making the heathen religions ‘husbands,’ while the worship of Jehovah is represented by a paramour.

The narrative is true to what we know of Jews and Samaritans at this time. The topography is well preserved. ‘The gradual development of the woman’s belief is psychologically true.’ These and other points to be noticed as they occur may convince us that this narrative cannot be a fiction. Far the easiest supposition is that it is a faithful record of actual facts.

Verse 6

6. πηγή. Spring; John 4:14; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 14:7; Revelation 16:4; Revelation 21:6; elsewhere in N.T. rare. Similarly φρέαρ, well, occurs John 4:11-12; Revelation 9:1-2; elsewhere only Luke 14:5. see on John 7:30. It still exists, but without spring-water, in the entrance to the valley between Ebal and Gerizim; one of the few undisputed sites. Samaria was now to receive the fulfilment of the promises in Genesis 49:22; Deuteronomy 33:28, and become the heir of the patriarchs. Jacob’s well was a pledge of this.

ἐκαθ. οὕτως ἐπὶ τ. π. Was sitting thus (just as He was) by (John 4:2) the spring. These details shew full information. He is willing at once to surrender His rest by day to the Samaritan woman, as His rest by night to Nicodemus (John 3:2) and His retirement on the mountain to the multitude (John 6:5). On ἐκ expressing result see Winer, pp. 459, 772.

ὡς ἕκτη. This case again is not decisive as to S. John’s mode of reckoning the hours. On the one hand, noon was an unusual hour for travelling and for drawing water, while evening was the usual time for the meal (John 4:8; John 4:31). On the other, a woman whose life was under a cloud (John 4:18) might select an unusual hour; and at 6 P.M. numbers would probably have been coming to draw, and the conversation would have been disturbed. Again, after 6 P.M. there would be rather short time for all that follows. These two instances (John 1:39 and this) lend no strong support to the antecedently improbable theory that S. John’s method of counting the hours is different from the Synoptists’.

Verse 7

7. ἐκ τ. Σαμ. Of the province, not of the city of Samaria. A woman of the city would not have come all that distance for water. The city was at that time called Sebaste, a name given to it by Herod the Great in honour of Augustus (Σεβαστός), who had granted the place to Herod on the death of Antony and Cleopatra (see on John 6:1). Herod’s name Sebaste survives in the modern Sebustieh. In legends this woman is called Photina. For ἀντλῆσαι, comp. John 2:8.

δός μοι πεῖν. Quite literal, as the next verse shews: He asked her for refreshment because His disciples were not there to give it. ‘Give Me the spiritual refreshment of thy conversion’ is a meaning read into the words, not found in them. This request and κεκοπιακὼς ἐκ τ. ὁδ. (John 4:6) shew how untenable is the view that the Fourth Evangelist held Docetic views: the reality of Christ’s human form is very plain here (see on John 19:35). The reality of His human sympathy appears also; for often the best way to win a person is to ask a favour.

Verse 9

9. ἡ Σαμαρ. The adjective, as distinct from ἐκ τῆς Σ. in John 4:7, lays stress on the national and religious characteristics. The repetition of the article, ἡ γυνὴ ἡ Σ., giving emphasis to the adjective, is very frequent in S. John 5:30; John 6:38; John 6:42; John 6:44; John 6:50-51; John 6:58, &c. &c.

πῶς σὺπαρ' ἐμοῦ. The pronouns are in emphatic opposition: she is half amused and half triumphant. She would know Him to be a Jew by His dress and speech. In His request He would use the testing letter (Judges 12:6), ‘Teni lischekoth,’ which a Samaritan would pronounce ‘lisekoth.’

οὐ γὰρ συγχ. For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans; no articles. The remark is not the woman’s, but S. John’s, to explain her question. Comp. Luke 9:53. As He was on His way from Judaea she would suppose Him to be a Judaean. Galileans seem to have been less strict, and hence His disciples had gone to buy food of Samaritans. But even Pharisees allowed Samaritan fruit, vegetables, and eggs. Some important authorities omit the remark.

Verse 10

10. εἰ ᾔδεις. If thou hadst known; on account of the aorists which follow: οἶδα has no aorist; comp. John 11:21; John 11:32, John 14:28, for the same construction; and contrast John 5:46 and John 8:19, where A.V. makes the converse mistake of translating imperfects as aorists.

τ. δωρεὰν τ. θεοῦ. What He is ready to give to all, what is now held out to thee, salvation, or the living water. Comp. Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 9:15.

σὺ ἂν ᾔτ. Σύ is emphatic; ‘instead of His asking of thee.’ ‘Spiritually our positions are reversed. It is thou who art weary, and footsore, and parched, close to the well, yet unable to drink; it is I who can give thee the water from the well, and quench thy thirst for ever.’ There is a scarcely doubtful reference to this passage in the Ignatian Epistles, Romans, VII. See p. xxi. and on John 6:33, to which there is a clear reference in this same chapter, and on John 3:8. The passage with these references to the Fourth Gospel is found in the Syriac as well as in the shorter Greek versions of Ignatius; so that we have almost certain evidence of this Gospel being known A.D. 115.

Verse 11

11. Κύριε. Sir, not ‘Lord.’ Having no neutral word in English, we must, as A.V., translate Κύριε sometimes ‘Sir,’ sometimes ‘Lord.’ But ‘Sir’ is a marked change from the feminine pertness of John 4:9 : His words and manner already begin to impress her.

βαθύ. Earlier travellers say over 100 feet; now it is about 75 feet deep. For φρέαρ see on John 4:6 : ἄντλημα here only in N.T.

τὸ ὕδ. τὸ ζ. The water, the living water (see on John 4:9), of which Thou speakest. She thinks He means spring-water as distinct from cistern-water. Comp. Jeremiah 2:13, where the two are strongly contrasted. In Genesis 26:19, as the margin shews, ‘springing water’ is literally ‘living water,’ viva aqua. What did Christ mean by the ‘living water’? Christ here and John 7:38 uses the figure of water, as elsewhere of bread [6] and light (John 8:12), the three most necessary things for life. But he does not identify Himself with the living water, as He does with the Bread, and the Light: therefore it seems better to understand the living water as the ‘grace and truth’ of which He is full (John 1:14). Comp. Sirach 15:3; Baruch 3:12; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1.

Verse 12

12. υὴ σὺ μείζ. Σύ is very emphatic; Surely Thou art not greater: comp. John 8:53, John 18:33. Her loquacity as contrasted with the sententiousness of Nicodemus is very natural, while she shews a similar perverseness in misunderstanding spiritual metaphors.

τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν. The Samaritans claimed to be descended from Joseph; with how much justice is a question very much debated. Some maintain that they were of purely heathen origin, although they were driven by calamity to unite the worship of Jehovah with their own idolatries: and this view seems to be in strict accordance with 2 Kings 17:23-41. Renegade Jews took refuge among them from time to time; but such immigrants would not affect the texture of the nation more than French refugees among ourselves. Others hold that the Samaritans were from the first a mongrel nation, a mixture of heathen colonists with Jewish inhabitants, left behind by Shalmaneser. There is nothing to shew that he did leave any (2 Kings 18:11); Josephus says (Ant. IX. xiv. 1) that ‘he transplanted all the people.’ When the Samaritans asked Alexander the Great to excuse them from tribute in the Sabbatical year, because as true sons of Joseph they did not till their land in the seventh year, he pronounced their claim an imposture, and destroyed Samaria. Our Lord calls a Samaritan ‘one of a different race,’ ἀλλογενής (Luke 17:18).

ἔδωκεν ἡμῖν. This has no foundation in Scripture, but no doubt was a Samaritan tradition. She means, ‘the well was good enough for him, his sons, and his cattle, and is good enough for us; hast Thou a better?’ The energetic diffuseness of her statement is very natural. Θρέμματα might mean ‘slaves.’

Verses 13-14

13, 14. He leaves her question unanswered, like that of Nicodemus, and passes on to develope the metaphor rather than explain it, contrasting the literal with the figurative sense. Comp. John 3:6, John 6:35; John 6:48-58, John 10:7-9. Note the change from πᾶς ὁ πίνων, every one that drinketh (habitually) to ὃς ἂν πίῃ, whosoever hath drunk (once for all).

Verse 14

14. οὐ μὴ διψ. εἰς τ. αἰ. Strongest negation (John 4:48), will certainly not thirst for ever (see on John 8:51), for it is the nature of the living water to reproduce itself perpetually, so that the thirst is quenched as soon as it recurs. And this inexhaustible fount not only satisfies the possessor but refreshes others also (John 7:38).

εἰς ζωὴν αἰών. This is the immediate result; the soul in which the living water flows has eternal life: see on John 4:36 and John 3:16; John 3:34. Comp. John 6:27, where the living bread is said to abide εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

Verse 15

15. She still does not understand, but does not wilfully misunderstand. This wonderful water will at any rate be worth having, and she asks quite sincerely (not ironically) for it. Had she been a Jew, she could scarcely have thus misunderstood; this metaphor of ‘water’ and ‘living water’ is so frequent in the Prophets. Comp. Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8. But the Samaritans rejected all but the Pentateuch. With διέρχωμαι comp. Luke 2:15; Acts 9:38.

Verse 16

16. φών. τ. ἄνδρα σοῦ. Not that the man was wanted, either as a concession to Jewish propriety, which forbad a Rabbi to talk with a woman alone, or for any other reason. By a seemingly casual request Christ lays hold of her inner life, convinces her of sin, and leads her to repentance, without which her request, ‘Give me this water,’ could not be granted. The husband who was no husband was the plague-spot where her healing must begin.

Verse 17

17. οὐκ ἔχω ἄνδ. Her volubility is checked: in the fewest possible words she tries to stop a dangerous subject at once.

καλῶς. There is perhaps a touch of irony, as in Matthew 15:7; 2 Corinthians 11:4. Comp. John 8:48; Luke 20:39.

Verse 18

18. πέντε ἄνδ. Quite literally; they were either dead or divorced, and she was now living with a man without being married to him. The emphatic position of σου may possibly mean that he is the husband of some one else.

τοῦτο ἀλ. εἴρ. This thou hast said truly, literally ‘a true thing.’ Christ exposes the falsehood lurking under the literal truth.

Verse 19

19. προφήτης. One divinely inspired with supernatural knowledge, 1 Samuel 9:9. The declaration contains an undoubted, though indirect, confession of sin. Note the gradual change in her attitude of mind towards Him. First, off-hand pertness (John 4:9); then, respect to His gravity of manner and serious words (John 4:11); next, a misunderstanding belief in what He says (John 4:15); and now, reverence for Him as a ‘man of God.’ Comp. the parallel development of faith in the man born blind (see on John 9:11) and in Martha (see on John 11:21).

Verse 20

20. Convinced that He can read her life she shrinks from inspection and hastily turns the conversation from herself. In seeking a new subject she naturally catches at one of absorbing interest to every Samaritan. Or possibly she has had her religious yearnings before this, and eagerly grasps a chance of satisfying them. Mount Gerizim shorn of its temple recalls the great national religious question ever in dispute between them and the Jews. Here was One who could give an authoritative answer about it; she will ask Him. To urge that such a woman would care nothing about the matter is unsound reasoning. Are irreligious people never keen about religious questions now-a-days?

ἐν τ. ὄρει τ. Gerizim; her not naming it is very lifelike. The Samaritans contended that here Abraham offered up Isaac, and afterwards met Melchisedek. The former is more credible than the latter. A certain Manasseh, a man of priestly family, married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 13:28), and was thereupon expelled from Jerusalem. He fled to Samaria and helped Sanballat to set up a rival worship on Gerizim. It is uncertain whether the temple on Gerizim was built then (about B.C. 410) or a century later; but it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus B.C. 130, after it had stood 200 years or more. Yet the Samaritans in no way receded from their claims, but continue their worship on Gerizim to the present day.

ὑμεῖς λέγ. Unconsciously she admits that One, whom she has confessed to be a Prophet, is against her in the controversy. Comp. Deuteronomy 12:13. Δεῖ, must worship (John 4:24) according to God’s will.

Verse 21

21. πίοτευέ μοι. See on John 1:12, John 6:30. This formula occurs here only; the usual one is ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν, λέγω σοι (John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:11, John 13:38, John 21:18; comp. John 1:51, John 4:35, John 5:24-25, &c.). The present, as distinct from the aorist, means ‘believe, and continue to believe’ (John 10:38, John 12:36, John 14:1; John 14:11). T. R. here reads πίστευσον.

ἔρχεται ὥρα. There cometh an hour (John 5:25; John 5:28, John 16:2; John 16:4; John 16:25; John 16:32). He decides neither for nor against either place. The claims of both will ere long be lost in something higher. The ruin on Gerizim and the Temple at Jerusalem will soon be on an equality, but without any privileges being transferred from the one to the other. Those who worship ‘the Father’ must rise above distinctions of place; for a time is coming when limitations of worship will disappear. ‘The Father’ (ὁ πατήρ, never πατήρ) used absolutely of God is very common in S. John, very rare elsewhere in N.T. (Matthew 11:27; Acts 1:4; Acts 1:7; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:18).

Verses 21-24

21–24. “We shall surely be justified in attributing the wonderful words of John 4:21; John 4:23-24, to One greater even than S. John. They seem to breathe the spirit of other worlds than ours—‘of worlds whose course is equable and pure;’ where media and vehicles of grace are unneeded, and the soul knows even as it is known. There is nothing so like them in their sublime infinitude of comprehension, and intense penetration to the deepest roots of things, as some of the sayings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:6). It is words like these that strike home to the hearts of men, as in the most literal sense Divine”—(Sanday).

Verse 22

22. ὃ οὐκ οἴδ. That which ye know not. The higher truth having been planted for the future, Christ proceeds to answer her question as to the present controversy. The Samaritan religion, even after being purified from the original mixture with idolatry (2 Kings 17:33; 2 Kings 17:41), remained a mutilated religion; the obscurity of the Pentateuch (and of that a garbled text) unenlightened by the clearer revelations in the Prophets and other books of O.T. Such a religion when contrasted with the Jewish, which had developed in constant contact with Divine revelation, might well be called ignorance.

ἡμεῖς κ.τ.λ. We worship that which we know. The abstract form conveyed by the neuter should be preserved in both clauses (Acts 17:23). The first person plural here is not similar to that in John 3:11 (see note there), though some would take it so. Christ here speaks as a Jew, and in such a passage there is nothing surprising in His so doing. As a rule Christ gives no countenance to the view that He belongs to the Jewish nation in any special way, though the Jewish nation specially belongs to Him (John 1:11): He is the Saviour of the world, not of the Jews only. But here, where it is a question whether Jew or Samaritan has the larger share of religious truth, He ranks Himself both by birth and by religion among the Jews. ‘We,’ therefore, means ‘we Jews.’

ὅτι. The importance of the conjunction must not be missed: the Jews know their God because the salvation of the world issues from them. Their religion was not, like the Samaritan, mere deism, but a παιδαγωγός leading on to the Messiah (Galatians 3:24).

ἡ σωτηρία ἐκ τ. . . The salvation, the expected salvation, is of the Jews; i.e. proceeds from them (not belongs to them), in virtue of the promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18) and Isaac (Genesis 26:4): comp. Isaiah 2:3; Obadiah 1:17. This verse is absolutely fatal to the theory that this Gospel is the work of a Gnostic Greek in the second century (see on John 19:35). That salvation proceeded from the Jews contradicts the fundamental principle of Gnosticism, that salvation was to be sought in the higher knowledge of which Gnostics had the key. Hence those who uphold such a theory of authorship assume, in defiance of all evidence, that this verse is a later interpolation. The verse is found in all MSS. and versions. See Introduction, Chap. II. 2. For τῶν Ἰουδαίων see on John 13:33.

Verse 23

23. καὶ νῦν ἐστίν. These words could not be added in John 4:21. The local worship on Zion and Gerizim must continue for a while. But already a few are rising above these externals to the spirit of true worship, in which the differences between Jew and Samaritan disappear. In the heavenly Jerusalem there is ‘no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty is the temple of it, and the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:22). Perhaps Jesus sees His disciples returning, and the sight of them prompts the joyous καὶ νῦν ἐστι.

οἱ ἀληθινοὶ πρ. True as opposed to unreal and spurious (see on John 1:9), not to insincere and lying worshippers. Jewish types and shadows no less than Samaritan and Gentile imitations and delusions must pass away. Worship to be perfect and real must be offered in spirit and truth.

ἐν πνεύματι. This is opposed to what is material, carnal, and of the earth, earthy; ‘this mountain,’ the Temple, limitations of time, and space and nation. Not that such limitations are wrong; but they are not of the essence of religion and become wrong when they are mistaken for it. In the ‘holy ground’ of his own heart every one, whatever his race, may at all times worship the Father.

καὶ ἀληθείᾳ. Just as ἐν πνεύματι confirms the declaration against local claims in John 4:21, so ἐν ἀληθείᾳ confirms the condemnation of an ignorant worship, that sins against light, in John 4:22. True worship must be in harmony with the Nature and Will of God. In the sphere of intellect, this means recognition of His Presence and Omniscience; in the sphere of action, conformity with His absolute Holiness. ‘Worship in spirit and truth,’ therefore, implies prostration of the inmost soul before the Divine Perfection, submission of every thought and feeling to the Divine Will. The two words express two aspects of one truth; hence ἐν is not repeated: Winer, p. 522.

καὶ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ τ. For such the Father also seeketh for His worshippers. ‘Such’ is emphatic; ‘this is the character which He also desires in His worshippers.’ The ‘also’ must not be lost. That worship should be ‘in spirit and truth’ is required by the fitness of things: moreover God Himself desires to have it so, and works for this end. Intus exhibe te templum Deo. In templo vis orare, in te ora (S. Augustine). Note how three times in succession Christ speaks of God as the Father (John 4:21; John 4:23): perhaps it was a new aspect of Him to the woman.

Verse 24

24. God is spirit (not ‘a spirit’), and must be approached in that part of us which is spirit, in the true temple of God, ‘which temple ye are.’ The premise was old (1 Kings 8:27); it is the deduction from it which though necessary (δεῖ) is new. Even to the chosen three Christ imparts no truths more profound than these. He admits this poor schismatic to the very fountain-head of religion.

Verse 25

25. ΄εσσίας. See on John 1:41. There is nothing improbable in her knowing the Jewish name and using it to a Jew. The word being rare in N.T. we are perhaps to understand that it was the very word used; but it may be S. John’s equivalent for what she said. Comp. John 4:29. Throughout this discourse it is impossible to say how much of it is a translation of the very words used, how much merely the substance of what was said. S. John would obtain his information from Christ, and possibly from the woman also during their two days’ stay. The idea that S. John was left behind by the disciples, and heard the conversation, is against the tenour of the narrative and is contradicted by John 4:8; John 4:27.

ὁ λ. Χριστός. Probably the Evangelist’s parenthetic explanation (but contrast John 1:42), not the woman’s. The Samaritan name for the expected Saviour was ‘the Returning One,’ or (according to a less probable derivation) ‘the Converter.’ ‘The Returner’ points to the belief that Moses was to appear again. Comp. John 11:16, John 20:24.

ἐκεῖνος. Emphatic; in contrast with other Prophets and teachers; the pronoun implies the exclusion of her present Teacher also.

ἀναγγελεῖ. He will announce to us all things: the revelation will be complete.

Verse 26

26. Ἐγώ εἰμι. It is the ordinary Greek affirmative (Luke 22:70). There is no reference to the Divine name ‘I AM,’ Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 32:39. This open declaration of His Messiahship is startling when we remember Matthew 16:20; Matthew 17:9; Mark 8:30. But one reason for reserve on this subject, lest the people should ‘take Him by force to make Him a king’ (John 6:15), is entirely wanting here. There was no fear of the Samaritans making political capital out of Him. Moreover it was one thing for Christ to avow Himself when He saw that hearts were ready for it; quite another for disciples to make Him known promiscuously. Contrast Matthew 26:63.

Verse 27

27. ἐθαύμαζον. Change of tense; their coming was a single act, they continued wondering (John 4:30; John 4:40) that He was talking with a woman, contrary to the precepts of the Rabbis. ‘Let no man talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife. Rather burn the words of the Law than teach them to women.’ This was probably the first time that they had seen Him ignore this prejudice, and the woman’s being a Samaritan would increase their astonishment.

οὐδείς. Out of reverence: comp. John 21:12.

μέντοι. Only thrice (2 Timothy 2:19; James 2:8; Judges 1:8) outside this Gospel (John 7:13, John 12:42, John 20:5, John 21:4). The two questions are probably both addressed (hypothetically) to Christ. The word λαλεῖν, thrice in two verses, seems to point to the freedom with which He had conversed with her.

Verse 28

28. οὖν. Therefore, because of the interruption: see on John 3:25. Ὑδρία occurs John 2:6-7 and nowhere else. Her leaving it to take care of itself (John 4:3) shews that her original errand is of no moment compared with what now lies before her; it is also a pledge for her speedy return. This graphic touch is from one who was there, and saw, and remembered.

τοῖς ἀνθρώποις. The people, those whom she met anywhere. She feels that the wonderful news is for all, not for her ‘husband’ only (John 4:16). Like Andrew, John, and Philip, her first impulse is to tell others of what she has found, and in almost the same words; ‘Come, see’ (John 1:41-46). The learned Nicodemus had given no sign of being convinced. This ignorant schismatic goes forth in the enthusiasm of conviction to proclaim her belief.

Verse 29

29. πάντα ὃ ἐπ. How natural is this exaggeration! In her excitement she states not what He had really told her, but what she is convinced He could have told her. Comp. πάντες in John 3:26, and οὐδείς in John 3:32. This strong language is in all three cases thoroughly in keeping with the circumstances. See on John 1:50, John 20:28.

μήτι οὗτος. Can this be the Christ? not ‘Is not this,’ as A.V., which has a similar error John 18:17; John 18:25. Comp. John 4:33, John 7:31; John 7:48, John 8:22, John 18:35, John 21:5; where in all cases a negative answer is anticipated; num not nonne. Here, although she believes that He is the Christ, she states it as almost too good to be true. Moreover she does not wish to seem too positive and dogmatic to those who do not yet know the evidence.

Verse 30

30. ἐξῆλθονἤρχοντο. Went outwere coming (comp. John 4:27): the single act (aorist) is contrasted with what took some time (imperf.). see on John 11:29. We are to see them coming across the fields as we listen to the conversation that follows (31–38).

Verse 31

31. ἐν τῷ μετ. Between her departure and their arrival.

ἠρώτων. Were beseeching Him (John 4:40; John 4:47): they had left him exhausted with the journey (John 4:6), and they urge, not their own wonder (John 4:27), but His needs.

Ῥαββί. See on John 1:39. Here and in John 9:2 and John 11:8 our translators have rather regrettably turned ‘Rabbi’ into ‘Master’ (comp. Matthew 26:25; Matthew 26:49; Mark 9:5; Mark 11:21; Mark 14:45); while ‘Rabbi’ is retained John 1:38; John 1:49, John 3:2; John 3:26, John 6:25 (comp. Matthew 23:7-8). Apparently their principle was that wherever a disciple addresses Christ, ‘Rabbi’ is to be translated ‘Master;’ in other cases ‘Rabbi’ is to be retained; thus obscuring the view which the disciples took of their own relation to Jesus. He was their Rabbi.

Verse 32

32. ἐγὼὑμεῖς. In emphatic opposition: they have their food; He has His. Joy at the fruit of His teaching prompts Him to refuse food; not of course that His human frame could do without it, but that in His delight He for the time feels no need of it. Βρῶστς is rather ‘eating’ than food, which is Βρῶμα, as in John 4:34; comp. John 6:27; John 6:55. S. Paul accurately distinguishes the two; Colossians 2:16; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:10; so also Hebrews 12:16 : πόσις and πόμα the same; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 10:3; also Hebrews 9:10.

οὐκ οἴδατε. Know not; not (as A.V.) ‘know not of,’ which spoils the sense. The point is, not that He has had food without their knowledge, but a kind of food of which they have no conception.

Verse 33

33. πρὸς ἀλλ. Comp. John 4:27, John 16:17. They refrain from pressing Him with their difficulty.

ἤνεγκεν. Emphatic: ‘Surely no one hath brought Him anything to eat.’ This would be specially unlikely among Samaritans. Another instance of dulness as to spiritual meaning. In John 2:20 it was the Jews; in John 3:4 Nicodemus; in John 4:11 the Samaritan woman; and now the disciples. ‘What wonder that the woman did not understand the water? The disciples do not understand the food!’ (Augustine). Comp. John 11:12, John 14:5. These candid reports of what tells against the disciples add to the trust which we place in the narratives of the Evangelists.

Verse 34

34. ἐμὸν βρ. ἐστιν ἵνα. Ἐμόν is emphatic: My food is that I may do the will of Him that sent Me and (thus) perfect His work. Christ’s aim and purpose is His food. See on John 1:8; ἵνα is no mere periphrasis for the infinitive (John 6:29; John 6:40, John 17:3; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 5:3; comp. John 1:27, John 2:25, John 5:40). This verse recalls the reply to the tempter ‘man doth not live by bread alone,’ and to His parents ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’ Luke 4:4; Luke 2:49. It is the first of many such sayings in this Gospel, expressing Christ’s complete conformity to His Father’s will in doing His work (John 5:30, John 6:38, John 11:4, John 12:49-50, John 14:31, John 15:10, John 17:4). Τελειοῦν (not merely τελεῖν) means ‘to bring to a full end, make perfect;’ frequent in S. John (John 5:36, John 17:4; John 17:23, John 19:28; 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:17) and in Hebrews.

Verse 35

35. ἔτι τετράμ. κ.τ.λ. This cannot be a proverb. No such proverb is known; and a proverb on the subject would have to be differently shaped; e.g. ‘From seedtime to harvest is four months;’ ἔτι points to a single case. So that we may regard this saying as a mark of time. Harvest began in the middle of Nisan or April. Four months from that would place this event in the middle of December: or, if (as some suppose) this was a year in which an extra month was inserted, in the middle of January. The words form an iambic verse.

ὅτι λευκαί εἰσιν. In the green blades just shewing through the soil the faith of the sower sees the white ears that will soon be there. So also in the flocking of these ignorant Samaritans to Him for instruction Christ sees the abundant harvest of souls that is to follow. Ὅτι should be taken after θεάσασθε, behold that, not as A.V. ‘for,’ or ‘because.’ The punctuation is very uncertain, as to whether ἤδη belongs to this verse or the next. The balance of authority gives ἤδη to John 4:36; but in punctuation MSS. are not of great authority, and ἤδη at the end of John 4:35 seems intended to balance ἔτι at the beginning of it. Comp. 1 John 4:3.

Verse 36

36. εἰς ζωὴν αἰ. see on John 3:15-16. Eternal life is regarded as the granary into which the fruit is gathered; comp. John 4:14, and for similar imagery Matthew 9:37-38.

ἵνα. This is God’s purpose. Psalms 126:5-6 promises that the toil of sowing shall be rewarded with the joy of reaping; but in the Gospel the gracious work is so rapid that the sower shares in the joys of harvest. The contrast between His failure in Judaea and His success in Samaria fills Jesus with joy. Christ, not the Prophets, is the Sower. The Gospel is not the fruit of which the O.T. is the seed; rather the Gospel is the seed for which the O.T. prepared the ground. And His ministers are the reapers; in this case the Apostles.

Verse 37

37. ἐν γὰρἀληθινός. For herein is the saying (proved) a true one, shewn by fulfilment to be a genuine proverb and not an empty phrase. See on John 4:23, John 7:28, John 19:35. Ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes (comp. John 15:8, John 16:30), in your reaping what others sowed (John 4:35-36).

Verse 38

38. κεκοπιάκατε. Ye have laboured. The pronouns, as in John 4:32, are emphatic and opposed. This will be the rule throughout; sic vos non vobis.

ἄλλοι. Christ, the Sower; but put in the plural to balance ὑμεῖς. In John 4:37 both are in the singular for the sake of harmony; ὁ σπείρων, Christ; ὁ θερίζων, His ministers.

Verse 39

39. πολλοὶ ἐπ. εἰς αὐ. Strong proof of the truth of John 4:35. These Samaritans outstrip the Jews, and even the Apostles, in their readiness to believe. The Jews rejected the testimony of their own Scriptures, of the Baptist, of Christ’s miracles and teaching. The Samaritans accept the testimony of the woman, who had suddenly become an Apostle to her countrymen. The miraculous knowledge displayed by Jesus for a second time (John 1:49) produces immediate and complete conviction, and in this case the conviction spreads to others.

Verse 40

40. ἠρώτων. Kept beseeching (John 4:30-31; John 4:47). How different from His own people at Nazareth (Matthew 13:58; Luke 4:29) and from the Jews at Jerusalem after many miracles and much teaching (John 5:18, &c.). And yet he had uncompromisingly pronounced against Samaritan claims (John 4:22). Comp. the thankful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:16-17).

μεῖναι. See on John 1:33. They wished him to take up his abode permanently with them, or at least for a time.

Verse 42

42. οὐκέτι κ.τ.λ. Note the order: No longer is it because of thy speech that we believe (see on John 1:7). Λαλιά and λόγος should be distinguished in translation. In classical Greek λαλιά has a slightly uncomplimentary turn, ‘gossip, chatter.’ But this shade of meaning is lost in later Greek, though there is perhaps a tinge of it here, ‘not because of thy talk;’ but this being doubtful, ‘speech’ will be safer. S. John uses λόγος both for her word (John 4:39) and Christ’s (John 4:41). See on John 8:43, where Christ uses λαλιά of His own teaching.

αὐτοὶ γ. ἀκ. For we have heard for ourselves.

ἀληθῶς ὁ σ. τ. κ. See on John 1:48; John 1:10. It is not improbable that such ready hearers should arrive at this great truth so rapidly. They had the Pentateuch (comp. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4), and not being in the trammels of Jewish exclusiveness would believe that the Messiah was not for the Jew alone. The Samaritan gave up less than the Jew when he accepted Christ. It is therefore unnecessary to suppose that S. John is unconsciously giving his own expression (1 John 4:14) for theirs.

Verse 43

43. τὰς δ. ἡμ. The two days mentioned in John 4:40. These three verses (43–45) form a sort of introduction to this section, as John 2:13 and John 4:1-4 to the two previous sections.

Verses 43-54


Verse 44

44. αὐτὸς γὰρ κ.τ.λ. This is a well-known difficulty. As in John 20:17, we have a reason assigned which seems to be the very opposite of what we should expect. This witness of Jesus would account for His not going into Galilee: how does it account for His going thither? It seems best to fall back on the old explanation of Origen, that by ‘His own country’ is meant Judaea, ‘the home of the Prophets,’ and, we may add, the land of His birth, for centuries connected with Him by prophecy. Moreover, Judaea fits in with the circumstances. He had not only met with little honour in Judaea; He had been forced to retreat from it. No Apostle had been found there. The appeal to Judaea had in the main been a failure. True that the Synoptists record a similar saying (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24) not in relation to Judaea, but to Nazareth, ‘where He had been brought up.’ But as they record the Galilaean, and S. John the Judaean ministry, it is only natural that a saying capable of various shades of meaning, and perhaps uttered on more than one occasion, should be applied in different ways by them and by S. John. Origen’s explanation accounts quite satisfactorily not only for the γάρ here, but also for the οὖν in John 4:45, which means When therefore He came into Galilee, the welcome which He received proved the truth of the saying; ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ received Him whom οἱ ἴδιοι (John 1:11), the Jews of Jerusalem and Judaea, had rejected.

Verse 45

45. ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ. The Passover; but there is no need to name it, because it has already been mentioned in connexion with these miracles, John 2:23. Perhaps these Galilaeans who then witnessed the miracles were the chief of the πολλοί who then believed.

Verse 46

46. ἦλθεν οὖν. He came therefore, because of the previous invitation and welcome: see Introduction, chap. John 4:6, c.

βασιλικός. Royal official of Herod Antipas, who though only tetrarch was given his father’s title of βασιλεύς. The word has nothing to do with birth (‘nobleman’ A.V.), nor can we tell whether a civil or military officer is intended. That he was Chusa (Luke 8:3) or Manaen (Acts 13:1) is pure conjecture. Here and in John 4:49 the form βασιλίσκος is strongly supported.

Verse 47

47. ἀπῆλθενἠρώτα. Comp. John 4:27; John 4:30; John 4:40; John 4:50, and see on John 11:29. The leaving his son was a single act (aor.), the beseeching (John 4:31; John 4:40) was continuous (imp.). For ἵνα see on John 1:8. Some scholars think that in constructions like this ἵνα does not mean ‘in order that,’ but ‘that,’ and simply defines the scope of the request or command; comp. John 11:57, John 17:15; John 17:21, John 19:31; John 19:38, John 15:17; John 15:12, John 11:57. Winer, pp. 425, 573.

καταβῇ. Down to the lake (John 2:12); about 20 miles. See on John 1:7.

ἤμελλε. ΄έλλειν here simply means ‘to be likely’ without any further notion either of intention (John 6:6; John 6:15, John 7:35, John 14:22), or of being fore-ordained (John 11:51, John 12:33, John 18:32).

Verse 48

48. σημεῖα κ. τέρατα. Christ’s miracles are never mere τέρατα, wonders to excite astonishment; they are ‘signs’ of heavenly truths as well, and this is their primary characteristic. Where the two words are combined σημεῖα always precedes, excepting Acts 2:22; Acts 2:43; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36. S. John nowhere else uses τέρατα: his words for miracles are σημεῖα and ἔργα.

οὐ μὴ πιστεύσητε. Strongest negation (John 4:14). Ye will in no wise believe: or interrogatively; Will ye in no wise believe? Comp. οὐ μὴ πίω; John 18:11. The words are addressed to him (πρὸς αὐτόν), but as the representative of the many who demanded a sign before believing (see on 1 Corinthians 1:22). Faith of this low type is not rejected (John 10:38, John 14:11, John 20:29); it may grow into something better, as here, by being tested and braced (John 4:50). But it may also go back into sheer unbelief, as with most of those who were won over by His miracles. The verse tells of the depressing change which Christ experienced in returning from Samaria to the land of Israel.

Verse 49

49. Κύριε. See on John 4:11. His words shew both his faith and its weakness. He believes that Christ’s presence can heal; he does not believe that He can heal without being present. The words for the child are characteristic: the father uses παιδίον, the term of endearment; Jesus and the Evangelist use υἱός, the term of dignity; the servants the more familiar παῖς.

Verse 50

50. ἐπίστ. τῷ λόγῳ. Not yet ἐπίστ. εἰς αὐτόν: but this is an advance on κατάβηθι πρὶν ἀποθανεῖν.

Verse 51

51. ὑπήντησαν (always used by S. John 11:20; John 11:30; John 12:18) for ἀπήντησαν (never used by him), with אBCDKL against A.

Verse 52

52. κομψότερον ἔσχεν. Literally, got somewhat better; a colloquial expression: κομψῶς ἔχεις, ‘you are getting on nicely,’ occurs as a doctor’s expression, Arrian, Diss. Epict. III. x. 13. The father expects the cure to be gradual: the fever will depart at Christ’s word, but in the ordinary way. He has not yet fully realised Christ’s power. The servants’ reply shews that the cure was instantaneous.

ἐχθὲς ὥραν ἑβδ. Accusative; during or in the seventh hour. Once more we nave to discuss S. John’s method of counting the hours. (See on John 1:39, John 4:6.) Obviously the father set out as soon after Jesus said ‘thy son liveth’ as possible; he had 20 or 25 miles to go to reach home, and would not be likely to loiter. 7 A.M. is incredible; he would have been home long before nightfall, and the servants met him some distance from home. 7 P.M. is improbable; the servants would meet him before midnight. Thus the modern method of reckoning from midnight to midnight does not suit. Adopting the Jewish method from sunset to sunset, the seventh hour is 1 P.M. He would scarcely start at once in the mid-day heat; nor would the servants. Supposing they met him after sunset, they might speak of 1 P.M. as ‘yesterday.’ (But see on John 20:19, where S. John speaks of the late hours of the evening as belonging to the day before sunset.) Still, 7 P.M. is not impossible, and this third instance must be regarded as not decisive. But the balance here seems to incline to what is antecedently more probable, that S. John reckons the hours, like the rest of the Evangelists, according to the Jewish method.

Verse 53

53. ἔγνω. Recognised, perceived.

ἐπίστευσεν. Εἰς αὐτόν, i.e. as the Messiah: comp. John 4:42, John 1:7; John 1:51, John 6:36, John 11:15, where, as here, πιστεύω is used absolutely. The growth of this official’s faith is sketched for us in the same natural and incidental way as in the cases of the Samaritan woman (John 4:19), the man born blind (John 9:11), and Martha (John 11:21).

ἡ οἰκία αὐ. ὅλη. The first converted family. Comp. Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian gaoler (Acts 10:24; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:34).

Verse 54

54. τοῦτο π. δ. σ. This again as a second sign did Jesus, after He had come out of Judaea into Galilee. Once more S. John carefully distinguishes two visits to Galilee, which any one with only the Synoptic account might easily confuse. Both signs confirmed imperfect faith, the first that of the disciples, the second that of this official and his household.

The question whether this foregoing narrative is a discordant account of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:2) has been discussed from very early times, for Origen and Chrysostom contend against it. Irenaeus seems to be in favour of the identification, but we cannot be sure that he is. He says, ‘He healed the son of the centurion though absent with a word, saying, Go, thy son liveth.’ Irenaeus may have supposed that this official was a centurion, or ‘centurion’ may be a slip. Eight very marked points of difference between the two narratives have been noted. Together they amount to something like proof that the two narratives cannot refer to one and the same fact, unless we are to attribute an astonishing amount of carelessness or misinformation either to the Synoptists or to S. John.

[1] Here a ‘king’s man’ pleads for his son; there a centurion for his servant.

[2] Here he pleads in person; there the elders plead for him.

[3] The father is probably a Jew; the centurion is certainly a Gentile.

[4] Here the healing words are spoken at Cana; there at Capernaum.

[5] Here the malady is fever; there paralysis.

[6] The father wishes Jesus to come; the centurion begs Him not to come.

[7] Here Christ does not go; there apparently He does.

[8] The father has weak faith and is blamed (John 4:48); the centurion has strong faith and is commended.

And what difficulty is there in supposing two somewhat similar miracles? Christ’s miracles were ‘signs;’ they were vehicles for conveying the spiritual truths which Christ came to teach. If, as is almost certain, He often repeated the same instructive sayings, may He not sometimes have repeated the same instructive acts? Here, therefore, as in the case of the cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-17), it seems wisest to believe that S. John and the Synoptists record different events.


The Work now becomes a CONFLICT between Christ and ‘the Jews;’ for as Christ reveals Himself more fully, the opposition between Him and the ruling party becomes more intense; and the fuller revelation which excites the hatred of His opponents serves also to sift the disciples; some turn back, others are strengthened in their faith by what they see and hear. The Evangelist from time to time points out the opposite results of Christ’s work: John 6:60-71, John 7:40-52, John 9:13-41, John 10:19; John 10:21; John 10:39-42, John 11:45-57. Three miracles form crises in the conflict; the healing of the impotent man [5], of the man born blind [9], and the raising of Lazarus [11].

Thus far we have had the announcement of the Gospel to the world, and the reception it is destined to meet with, set forth in four typical instances; Nathanael, the guileless Israelite, truly religious according to the light allowed him; Nicodemus, the learned ecclesiastic, skilled in the Scriptures, but ignorant of the first elements of religion; the Samaritan woman, immoral in life and schismatical in religion, but simple in heart and readily convinced; and the royal official, weak in faith, but progressing gradually to a full conviction. But as yet there is little evidence of hostility to Christ, although the Evangelist prepares us for it (John 1:11, John 2:18-20, John 3:18-19; John 3:26, John 4:44). Henceforth, however, hostility to Him is manifested in every chapter of this division. Two elements are placed in the sharpest contrast throughout; the Messiah’s clearer manifestation of His Person and Work, and the growing animosity of ‘the Jews’ in consequence of it. The opposition is stronger in Judaea than elsewhere; strongest of all at Jerusalem. In Galilee they abandon Him, in Jerusalem they compass His death. Two miracles form the introduction to two great discourses: two miracles illustrate two discourses. The healing at Bethesda and the feeding of the 5000 lead to discourses in which Christ is set forth as the Source and the Support of Life (5, 6). Then He is set forth as the Source of Truth and Light; and this is illustrated by His giving physical and spiritual sight to the blind (7–9). Finally He is set forth as Love under the figure of the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep; and this is illustrated by the raising of Lazarus, a work of love which costs Him His life (10, 11). Thus, of four typical miracles, two form the introduction and two form the sequel to great discourses. The prevailing idea throughout is truth and love provoking contradiction and enmity.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.