Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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JOHN - Chapter 4

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John 4

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS  1, 19 -- 12, 50 (continued)

1.  Christ Reveals His Mission and Divinity  1, 19 -- 4, 54 (continued)

4, 1-45:  The Samaritan Woman.    1-8:  The meeting at Jacob's well.    1.  The Pharisees, having questioned John the Baptist (cf. 1, 24 ff), would be even keener to investigate Christ's activities.  If we are now in the fall of the year, the Baptist has been imprisoned, and the Pharisees would be still more watchful of Christ because of His growing influence with the people.    V.2 implies that baptizing in particular was scrutinized.  This is the first indication of a group opposed to Christ; the tendency will grow.    3-5.  Cf. Matt. 4, 12; Mark 1, 14; Luke 4, 14.  The usual road from Judea to Galilee passed through Samaria.  This would bring Jesus to Sichar, the present Askar, or Askaroth, both close to Sichem (Nablus).  On Jacob's field see Gen. 33, 19; 48, 22; Jos. 24, 32.  The word for field may denote a small tract or a large territory.  In rabbinical tradition the gift to Joseph included all of Sichem, the land between Mts. Ebal and Garizim.    6.  The sixth hour was about noon.  Jesus and His disciples, on the road probably from early morning, might well be weary.  In their absence Jesus rests on the coping of the well.  This picture of His human susceptibility, though deftly drawn, is perhaps not unstudied.    7 f.  On the Samaritans see 8, 48 and Luke 9, 52 f.

9-15:  Jesus the source of life.  The woman's attention is first caught by the fact that a Jew (perhaps known by His dress and accent) should ask a favor of her.  For the enmity between Jews and Samaritans see Ecclus. 50, 27 f.  Her next surprise comes with our Lord's offer to give her living water--the common phrase for "running water," but here symbolizing grace (4, 14; 7, 38 f).  Thus Jesus leads her from temporal to spiritual concerns.  The misunderstanding expressed in her doubt leads to clearer revelation: the water of which He speaks is spiritual life leading to eternal life.  (For the figure see Ecclus. 24, 29, where thirst means increasing desire.)  "To drink water" given by another is to become his pupil or disciple.  Abundance of water was expected in the Messianic era.  Though not perceiving these Messianic allusions, the woman is led to seek the offered gift.  This is the first stage of her education.

16-26:  Jesus the Messias.    16-18.  The woman evinces a sincere desire.  Proceeding to her further instruction, Jesus humiliates her, as He did Nicodemus (3, 10), and at the same time manifests His superior knowledge.  Conscience lends force to this woman's perception of our Lord's knowledge.    19-24.  Perhaps to justify herself or to support a doubt about Him, she raises the moot question of the central place of worship.  This mountain was Garizim, the site of the Samaritan temple destroyed in 129 B.C. by John Hyrcanus.  Will you worship includes all sincere worshippers.    V.22 is parenthetic:  the Jews had the true knowledge from fuller revelation and because of their place in the redemptive plan of God (Rom. 3, 1 f; 9, 4 f).    23 f.  Returning to His theme, Jesus defines true worship as that which is offered in spirit, i.e., with internal devotion, and in truth, i.e., with a sincere disposition.  Those who thus worship are sought by the Father, whom only sincere devotion can please.    25 f.  The Messianic hope was current in Samaria.  Far advanced from her first attitude, the woman expresses in this hope of the Messias an implicit act of obedience, which merits the revelation I am he.  This is our Lord's first open declaration of His Messianic character; it was possible here in Samaria.

27-38:  Instruction of the disciples.    27.  They wondered, because rabbis seldom spoke with women, especially in public, since women were considered incapable of instruction in the Law; but reverence and confidence withheld the disciples from questioning.  Christ now unfolds His plan for the Samaritans, and draws from it a lesson for the disciples.    31-34.  Christ prepares the disciples for a lesson by refusing the food they had bought.  Away so short a time, they doubted if anyone could have provided food in their absence.  He teaches them that His nourishment is the accomplishment of His mission, the will of the Father.    35.  The circumstances further permit the applying of this lesson to their part in His work.  From where they stood they could look out over fertile fields, and see the people issuing from the city.  The scene suggested a harvest of souls.  There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest.  Some, taking the time to be May or June, and the harvest already ripe, suppose our Lord to quote a popular proverb, merely meaning by it, "You will soon see the reaping of the spiritual harvest."  Such a proverb, however, is not otherwise known, though the calendar discovered at Gezer allows four months between sowing and reaping.  If, on the other hand, the words express a present fact, the time will be December to January.  This is more probable, and in this case, the Judean ministry lasted from the Passover (2, 1) until the winter.    36-38.  The disciples are enlightened about their own future office.  The harvest of souls brings joy alike to the sower, who sees the fruition of his labors, and to the reaper, who receives his reward.  Christ is the sower, as often in the Synoptics; cf. Matt. 13 passim and parallels.  A proverb known to the Greeks, and reflected in Job 31, 8; Isa. 65, 22; Mich. 6, 15, points out that two agencies combine to produce the fruits of harvest.  This is eminently true in the case of the Apostles; the spiritual harvest they are to reap was sown by others.  These were the prophets, John the Baptist and, above all, Christ Himself.

39-42:  Jesus among the Samaritans.  The success of our Lord's mission among the Samaritans is impressive.  Contrast this with what is said of the Jews in 2, 23-25.  The difference is the more striking since the Samaritans received Him as the Savior of the world, a Messianic title.

43-45:  The return to Galilee.  Our Lord was well received by the Galileans, particularly because they had seen His miracles at the feast in Jerusalem (2, 23; 3, 2).  Hence 44 can imply no censure here, and yet the same proverb is turned against Galilee in Matt. 13, 57; Mark 6, 4; Luke 4, 24.  The apparent discrepancy is variously explained.  St. Augustine takes his own country to mean "His own people," and concludes that John here contrasts the attitude of the Samaritans with that of the Jews.  Others think the proverb to be differently applied, our Lord's country in John being Judea, in the Synoptics Galilee.  Still others think that John merely recalls what Christ said of Galilee on another occasion, though now He was well received.  In any case the passage introduces one of the few events of the Galilean ministry recorded by John, an illustration of our Lord's methods and of the effect of His miracles.  Faith is again the central theme.

4, 46-54:  The Official's Son.  There is no reason to identify this event with that of Matt. 8, 5-13 and Luke 7, 1-10.    46.  Cana of Galilee: cf. 2, 1.  This royal official was a Jew, probably in the service of Herod Antipas.  From Cana, in the hills of Lower Galilee, to Capharnaum, on the shore of Lake Genesareth, was about sixteen miles.  Some think the official to have been Chuza (Luke 8, 3), others Manahen (Acts 13, 1), but neither identification is at all certain.    48.  The criticism, unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe, is aimed as the plural shows, at the Jews as a class.  The official had some faith in Christ, but so limited as to demand His presence at the bed of the sick boy.  We may note that, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, the official is humbled by the criticism.  Wonders, a frequent term in the Synoptics and the Acts, is nowhere else applied by John to Christ's miracles.    49.  In the official's repeated petition there is perhaps some impatience, but also willingness to believe.    50.  Jesus puts his faith to the final test of accepting His word without proof, and the test is endured.  Thy son lives means that the boy is out of danger.

51-53.  The event confirms the official's faith.  Seventh hour: about 1 o'clock (see similar expressions in 1, 39; 4, 6; 19, 14).  If the official started at once for Capharnaum he would have met his servants the same day; hence yesterday seems difficult.  But if the meeting with the servants was after sunset, as it may well have been, 1 o'clock of the same afternoon could be called "yesterday," as the Jewish day ended with sunset.  A better explanation, however, would be that the official delayed his departure from Cana till the next day; and departed (50) does not exclude this.  He believed: when he finally realized the miracle, his faith lost all reserve, and in this he was joined by the members of his household.    54.  Second sign recalls the first at Cana, 2, 1 ff.  It marks the inception of the Galilean ministry, to which John will refer again only at its conclusion (6, 1 ff).

Confraternity Bible:

The Samaritan Woman  1 When, therefore, Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John--- 2 although Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples--- 3 he left Judea and went again into Galilee.  4 Now he had to pass through Samaria.

5 He came, accordingly, to a town of Samaria called Sichar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  6 Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, wearied as he was from the journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  7 There came a Samaritan woman to draw water.

Jesus said to her, "Give me to drink"; 8 for his disciples had gone away into the town to buy food.  9 The Samaritan woman therefore said to him, "How is it that thou, although thou art a Jew, dost ask drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who it is who says to thee, 'Give me to drink,' thou, perhaps, wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."  11 The woman said to him, "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Whence then hast thou living water?  12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well, and drank from it, himself, and his sons, and his flocks?"  13 In answer Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.  He, however, who drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; 14 but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life everlasting."  15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, or come here to draw."

16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call thy husband and come here."  17 The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "Thou hast said well, 'I have no husband,' 18 for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.  In this thou hast spoken truly."

19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that thou art a prophet.  20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23* But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  For the Father also seeks such to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messias is coming (who is called Christ), and when he comes he will tell us all things."  26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak with thee am he."

27* And at this point his disciples came; and they wondered that he was speaking with a woman.  Yet no one said, "What dost thou seek?" or, "Why dost thou speak with her?"  28 The woman therefore left her water-jar and went away into the town, and said to the people, 29 "Come and see a man who has told me all that I have ever done.  Can he be the Christ?"  30 They went forth from the town and came to meet him.  31 Meanwhile, his disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  33 The disciples therefore said to one another, "Has someone brought him something to eat?"

34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, to accomplish his work.  35 Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'?  Well, I say to you, lift up your eyes and behold that the fields are already white for the harvest.  36* And he who reaps receives a wage, and gathers fruit unto life everlasting, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together.  37* For herein is the proverb true, 'One sows, another reaps.'  38* I have sent you to reap that on which you have not labored.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

39 Now many of the Samaritans of that town believed in him because of the word of the woman who bore witness, "He told me all that I have ever done."  40 When therefore the Samaritans had come to him, they besought him to stay there; and he stayed two days.  41 And far more believed because of his word.  42 And they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of what thou hast said, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is in truth the Savior of the world."

43 Now after two days he departed from that place and went into Galilee, 44 for Jesus himself bore witness that a prophet receives no honor in his own country.  45 When, therefore, he had come into Galilee, the Galileans received him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem during the feast, for they also had gone to the feast.

The Official's Son  46 He came again therefore to Cana of Galilee, where he had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official whose son was lying sick at Capharnaum.  47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to him and besought him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

48 Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe."  49 The royal official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."  50 Jesus said to him, "Go thy way, thy son lives."

The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and departed.  51 But even as he was now going down, his servants met him and brought word saying that his son lived.  52 He asked of them therefore the hour in which he had got better.  And they told him, "Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him."  53 The father knew then that it was at that very hour in which Jesus had said to him, "Thy son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.

54 This was a second sign that Jesus worked when coming from Judea into Galilee.


23: In spirit and in truth: not merely with the external observances of Jews and Samaritans, but internally and according to God's will.  Such to worship him: God desires as His worshippers those who have this internal disposition.

27: The Jewish doctors of the Law would seldom speak to women, even to their wives, in public.

36-38: Under this agricultural figure Christ illustrates the whole plan of His mission.  The sowers were God's earlier messengers, as Moses and the prophets.  The one who sows for this harvest is Christ.  The reapers are the Apostles.  In this spiritual harvest both sowers and reapers will rejoice together.