Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Samaritan woman at the well

Then the [Samaritan] woman left her water jar, went back into the town, and said to the people,
“Come, see a person who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
John 4:28–29.

Introduction

I recently read the healing account of the demon-possessed man from Gerasene. Now that’s an interesting story! I hadn’t realised that he sat at Jesus’s feet after being delivered (Luke 8:35 cf. Luke 10:39; Acts 22:3) or that he then preaches (kērussō) about Jesus throughout his whole city (Luke 8:39).

But I noticed something else that I thought was interesting: The Gerasene man “preached throughout the city about how much (osa) Jesus had done (epoiēsen) for him.”

Luke 8:39 contains two Greek words osa and poieō that are also used in the Samaritan woman’s enigmatic statement, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did (osa epoiēsa)” (John 4:29).

What did Jesus tell the Samaritan woman? What did she do that Jesus thought was worth saying to her? Was it that she had had five husbands? Was it something about her spiritual longing? Or something else?

I thought I’d look at all the New Testament verses that contain osa and poieō to see if there is a pattern. But first, a brief explanation of osa and poieō, starting with the verb poieō.

Osa and poieō

Poieō is a common verb in the New Testament, occurring 575 times, and it usually means either “do” or “make.” However, it can have other meanings such as “act” or “cause,” etc. Since we don’t know exactly what the woman was referring to, “I did” is the safest way to understand the verb in John 4:29.[1]

Osa (or, hosa) is a bit more difficult to explain.[2] This word often means “as much as,” or “as many as,” etc, but may be translated into English as “whatever.” It can be used in contexts of importance where it might be translated as “as great as” or simply “great.”

Osa is often used in contexts of abundance where it might be translated as “all things” or “everything” or simply “all.” It is sometimes used with the adjective panta (“all things, everything”), as in John 4:29, where it emphasises the full extent of something.

In the New Testament, the closest parallel of the Samaritan woman’s statement in John 4:29 isn’t the verse about the man from Gerasene but the testimony of the Twelve in Mark 6:30. Both John 4:29 and Mark 6:30 contain the adjective panta (“all things, everything”) + osa + poieō.

Osa + poieō in the New Testament

The following are all the verses in the New Testament that contain osa + poieō. Is there a pattern of usage?

Jesus’s Teaching on the Sheep and the Goats

Matthew 25:40  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did (osa epoiēsate) for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:45: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did (osa epoiēsate) not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Responses to Jesus’s Ministry

Mark 3:8: The large crowd came to him because they heard about how much he was doing (osa epoiei).

John 4:45: … the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen how much he did (osa epoiēsen) in Jerusalem during the festival.

The Testimony of the Healed Demon-Possessed Man

Mark 5:20: So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis about how much (osa) Jesus had done (epoiēsan) for him, and they were all amazed.

Luke 8:39: “Go back to your home, and tell how much (osa) God has done (epoiēsen) for you.” And off he went, proclaiming throughout the town about how much (osa) Jesus had done (epoiēsen) for him.

The Testimony of the Twelve

Mark 6:30: The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him everything they had done (panta osa epoiēsan) and taught.

Luke 9:10: When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus how much they had done (osa epoiēsan).

The Samaritan Woman

John 4:29: “Come, see a person who told me everything I ever did (panta osa epoiēsa). Could this be the Messiah?

In the Acts of the Apostles

Osa with the verb poieō also occurs four times in Acts (in Acts 4:28, 9:39, 14:27, 15:12). The osa + poieō word combination doesn’t appear again after the books of Acts in the New Testament.

“Everything I Ever Did”

Osa + poieō seems to be an expansive and emphatic expression. Perhaps it was an idiom. And the sense of “everything” or “full extent” is further emphasised when the word panta (“everything”) is included.

Also, while there may be no implicit moral tone in the expression, most occurrences of osa + poieō in the Gospels and Acts are in decidedly positive phrases. There’s no reason to assume that Jesus was listing the woman’s sins or failures. The idea of sin is absent in his conversation with the woman: she is not called a sinner or told to repent.

“Everything I ever did” in verse John 4:29 most likely refers to more than the fact that the Samaritan woman had been married five times and now lives under the protection of a man she is not married to.[3] Moreover, the phrase is probably linked to a previous statement where the woman tells Jesus, “I know that the Messiah, who is called the “Christ,” is coming. When he does come, he will tell us everything (apanta)” (John 4:25).

“Everything I ever did” says more about Jesus than it does about the woman.

“Could this be the Messiah?”

Jesus had revealed to her that he knew her, and that he knew her well. She was seen. Jesus’s prophetic insight probably created both astonishment and reassurance. But more than that, it signified to her that Jesus was the Messiah. Throughout the conversation in John 4, Jesus progressively reveals who he is to this theologically curious and spiritually thirsty woman.

It seems the Samaritan woman was among the first to recognise the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Her words in John 4:29b “Could this be the Messiah?” are framed as a tentative question rather than as a bold declaration, but the woman herself may have been convinced of Jesus’s identity, at least in part, because he had told her everything she had ever done (cf. John 4:25).[4]

Footnotes

[1] Poieō (ποιέω) is first person aorist, epoiēsa (ἐποίησα), in John 4:29.

[2] Osa (ὅσα) is a correlative pronoun. It is the accusative neuter plural form of osos (ὅσος). Here is every occurrence of osa in the New Testament.

[3] The conversation recorded in John 4 is the longest recorded in the Gospels between Jesus and another person, but we can assume that only the highlights were written down. John doesn’t record everything Jesus said or everything the woman did.

[4] The wording of her question (in Greek) would normally anticipate a negative response, but it may have been worded that way to be circumspect and, therefore, more culturally appropriate. The fact remains that she does bring up the idea to the townsfolk that Jesus might be the Messiah.

© Margaret Mowczko September 2022
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Image Credit

Excerpt from Heralds of the Resurrection by Nikolai Ghe (1867), Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (Wikimedia)

Explore more

The Samaritan Woman of Sychar (John 4)
Jesus, Women, and Theology: “Jesus said to her …”
The Apostolic Ministry of Gospel Women
Partnering Together: Jesus and Women
“Preaching” Words in the NT and Women who Preached

10 thoughts on “A note on “everything I ever did” (John 4:29)

  1. In the New Testament, the closest parallel of the Samaritan woman’s statement in John 4:29 isn’t the verse about the man from Gerasene but the testimony of the Twelve in Mark 6:30. Both John 4:29 and Mark 6:20 sentences contain the adjective panta (“all things, everything”) + osa + poieō.

    Should the second reference to Mark in this paragraph read 6:30 instead of 6:20?

    1. Thanks, Mike. I’ve now fixed it.

  2. Jesus in their conversation responded to every thought or question she raised to him. But I don’t know that the Greek poieo can be used to express that concept.

    1. It’s a great theological discussion. This is sometimes missed when people focus on the woman’s supposed sinful life.

  3. Great thoughts! I recently reread the story of the Gerasene as well and was struck that he becomes such a huge witness. But interestingly he is not converting people by telling them the oft oversimplified “Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven” bit. The idea of being truly seen and known and loved – that’s a glimpse of heaven right now!

    1. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t speak to the Samaritan woman about sin or eternity. He reveals who he is. Being a Christian, after all, is being a follower of the Messiah.

  4. How did John find out about what was said? Did the woman tell him? Or Jesus?

    1. I think we can imagine that Jesus’s encounter with the woman, and their conversation, was much talked about as soon as it happened. The woman probably told lots of people about it, including perhaps Jesus’s disciples.

      These kinds of stories were circulated, word of mouth, for decades before some of them were written down (cf. John 21:25). Also, the author of John’s Gospel may have adapted the story to make certain theological points.

  5. 17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
    18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
    19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

    I reread the conversation, and have always been taught that the man who was not her husband was her lover. I never would have thought she may be under the protection of a man she is not married to. If the woman was sinning, Jesus would have said something like GO AND SIN NO MORE. What insight lead you to such an observation.

    1. Hi Sonia, Jesus tells a couple of people in John’s Gospel, where sin is involved, “μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε.” The KJV translates this as “sin no more.” See John 5:14 and 8:11.

      Sin is nowhere mentioned, or hinted at, in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And he doesn’t tell her to leave the one “who you now have.” This person might be a male relative. But even if it was a sexual relationship, there were different kinds of conjugal relationships in the first-century world, and many were not legal marriages.

      After being married fives times, it is understandable that it would be difficult for her to marry (more conventionally) again. And being widowed and single was probably not a realistic option for her

      The conversation after the woman says, “I don’t have a husband,” continues in a positive manner (John 4:17ff).

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