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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Water (2)

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WATER (ὕδωρ).—For an Eastern country, Palestine (except in the Negeb and the districts which are desert) has a fairly abundant supply of water. It is described as ‘a land of brooks (torrent-valleys), of fountains and depths, that spring out of the valleys and hills’ (Deuteronomy 8:7). It is a matter of dispute whether the climate has changed since OT times. The rainy season is in winter, from November to March, when the rains are generally heavy. At other times there are only occasional showers. ‘The former rain and the latter rain’ (Deuteronomy 11:14) come about the autumn and spring equinox respectively. The rainfall on an average is from 25 to 30 inches in ordinary seasons (the average rainfall in England is less than 30 inches), but there are times of drought which cause great loss and suffering. In Galilee the water supply is much greater than in Judaea. The storage of water is much more imperfect than in former times. In many places the ruins of artificial tanks, pools, and aqueducts are visible. The chief waters which are referred to in the Gospels are those of the Sea of Galilee and the river Jordan.

Water is frequently mentioned in the Gospels (most instances are found in Jn.), both in its literal and figurative meanings. 1. Literally: e.g. ‘Jesus went up straightway out of the water’ (Matthew 3:16 || Mark 1:10); ‘Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water’ (Luke 16:24); ‘John was baptizing in aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there’ (John 5:1-7). The water of the pool of Bethesda (John 3:23) was supposed to have curative powers. Part of v. 3 (‘waiting for the moving of the waters’) and the whole of v. 4 are now rejected by critical editors. The moving of the water was a natural phenomenon, the flow of the spring being intermittent. The disciples who were sent to prepare for the observance of the Passover were instructed to look for ‘a man bearing a pitcher of water’ (Mark 14:13 || Luke 22:10). As water is usually carried by women in the East, the man bearing the pitcher would easily be distinguished. It was perhaps a token arranged beforehand, so that the place of observance should not be known till the last moment. See also art. Pitcher. In John 19:34 it is recorded that at the crucifixion of Jesus one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and forthwith there came out blood and water; see art. Blood and Water.

2. The figurative use of water in the Gospels is varied. It is a symbol (i.) of the moral cleansing of life in repentance, ‘I baptize you with water unto repentance’ (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:23-26); (ii.) its symbolical reference in connexion with the new birth is admitted, but its significance is uncertain, ‘Except a man be born of water and spirit (ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). The phrase ‘water and spirit’ has been regarded as an instance of hendiadys, and interpreted as ‘spiritual water’ (Neil, Figurative Language in the Bible). Others take it as referring to the baptism of John, and as indicating that repentance is an essential factor in the new birth (Expos. Times, vol. iii. p. 318). It has also been interpreted as referring to the sacrament of baptism. This is the most ancient and general view. Wendt and others, however, regard the words ὕδατος καί as a post-Apostolic interpolation (Gospel according to St. John, ad loc). This is the most probable conclusion, unless the words are interpreted as referring to the baptism of John unto repentance; see Expos. Times, vol. xv. p. 413. (iii.) Water is also used as a symbol of innocence: ‘Pilate took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person’ (Matthew 27:24). (iv.) As a sign of hospitality or respect (see Genesis 24:32; Genesis 43:24). Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee, ‘I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet’ (Luke 7:44). (v.) At the supper in the upper room (John 13:1-7) the water for the feet had not been provided. The disciples had not noticed the omission, or they were each unwilling to undertake the servile duty. Then ‘Jesus riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that, he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet’ (John 13:4-5). The ordered detail of the narrative is an indication of the profound impression which the action of Jesus had made upon the Evangelist. The act was full of significance. It was a symbolic service. It taught the disciples the duty of humility, and the need of daily cleansing from the daily defilement of sin. (vi.) In His conversation with the woman of Samaria, Jesus linked the water which she sought at the well with the living water which He alone could give. He uses it as a symbol of eternal life, the blessings of the gospel in their satisfying and permanent power of good (John 4:11-15). (vii.) On the last day of the feast Jesus stood in the Temple and cried, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living Mater’ (John 7:37 f.). The Evangelist interprets the symbol: ‘This spake he of the Spirit, which they which believed on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7:39). The accuracy of the interpretation has been doubted (Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, vol. i. p. 256 n. [Note: note.] ). (viii.) It is also used as a symbol of the smallest service: ‘Whosoever shall give unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward’ (Matthew 10:42 || Mark 9:41). It is possible to punctuate the sentence so that it reads ‘a cup of cold water only’ or ‘only in the name of a disciple.’ But the first is greatly to be preferred.

Literature.—Conder, Palestine, pp. 25–29; Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] i. 342 f.; Smith, Expositor, 6th ser. vii. [1903] 212 ff.; art. ‘Water’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; Thomson, LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] p. 459; Neil, Figurative Language in the Bible; Expos. Times, vol. iii. [1892] p. 318, vol. vi. [1895] p. 389, vol. xv. [1904] p. 413.

John Reid.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Water (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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