Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

The Samaritan Woman of Sychar - John 4

Watercolour and ink portrait of Photini by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait and of other Bible women can be purchased here.

It seems to me that people have been too quick to cast aspersions on some women of the Bible. Eve, Delilah, and Bathsheba have been unfairly portrayed as seductresses. Mary Magdalene has been wrongly labelled as a prostitute, and the Samaritan woman has been regarded as a loose woman. This article looks at the Samaritan woman from Sychar without negative prejudices.

In the heat of the day, a Samaritan woman of the town of Sychar came to draw water from Jacob’s well.[1] She probably came to the well every day, but today would be different. Jesus was there. What follows is an extraordinary encounter between Jesus and this unnamed woman.

Jesus had felt compelled to travel through Samaria—possibly because of this very encounter—instead of travelling around Samaria, thought by some to be the usual route taken by devout Jews.[2] He was now tired from his journey and sat resting near the well while his disciples went into the village to buy food.[3]

Jews and Samaritans

Jesus ignored the centuries-old hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and he engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. It is the longest conversation between Jesus and another person recorded in the Gospels.

Jesus begins by asking the woman for a drink of water. She is astonished, even shocked by this request, and points out that Jews do not “associate” (CSB, NIV), or “have dealings (NASB), with Samaritans. The Greek word for “associate” here, sugchraomai, is also commonly used to mean “the sharing of eating utensils and dishes.[4] Jesus doesn’t have his own utensil to draw water, and Jacob’s well is thirty metres deep. So he is asking to drink from her vessel—a Samaritan woman’s vessel!

Living Water

Jesus then begins talking about living water (John 4:10, 13-14). Just as Nicodemus had failed to see the spiritual meaning of being “born again” in the previous chapter of John’s Gospel (John 3:3-4), the woman fails to see the spiritual significance of “living water” and only sees what will be a practical advantage for her.[5] Living water, that is, flowing water, was preferable to the still well-water that percolated through the ground.[6] And a never-ending supply meant no more trips to and from the well carrying heavy water jars (John 4:15).

Jesus knows that the woman is “thirsty” and he promises “living water” that will completely quench a person’s spiritual longing. He describes this living water as becoming a spring of gushing water, eternally flowing from within the person who receives his free gift. In John 7:38-39 we are told that living water represents the Holy Spirit.

Five Husbands

Jesus suddenly changes the subject and asks the woman to call her husband. The woman answers candidly saying that she has no husband. Jesus commends her honesty. He knows that she has had five husbands and that the man she is now living with is not her husband. Jesus conveys these facts without the slightest sense of criticism or condemnation. It is important to note that Jesus never tells the Samaritan woman to repent of any sin, nor does he tell her to “sin no more,” a phrase found elsewhere in John’s Gospel (John 5:14; 8:11). Sin is not mentioned at all in John 4.

Lynn Cohick writes that the Samaritan woman’s history fits a pattern we find among first-century women of “marrying in their early to late teens, living with fairly simple marriage traditions, relatively easy divorce laws, and haunted by the threat that death might at any time steal away a husband . . .”[7] The Samaritan woman’s five husbands do not necessarily signify loose living; they may signify a series of tragedies for the woman.[8]

True Worship

It is possible, however, that the five husbands represent the five tribes sent by the Assyrians who had intermarried with the Samaritans, and that the woman is symbolic of Samaria.[9] The man she is with now, who is not her true or genuine husband, may represent the Samaritan religion which was not true or genuine. The woman, possibly perceiving this metaphorical meaning, realises that Jesus is a prophet speaking about true religion. So she asks him a theological question about true worship.

Some have suggested that the woman brought up the subject of worship to change the course of conversation away from an uncomfortable past. I suggest instead, that she had a genuine interest in worship and theology, and was asking an honest question to someone she regarded as a prophet (John 4:19). Jesus gives her a meaningful reply and explains that the Father is looking for true worshippers, and that genuinely spiritual worship is not tied to one location (John 4:20-26). (The Gospels also record other theological conversations between Jesus and women.)

Messiah and Saviour

As Jesus teaches her theology, the woman becomes increasingly aware of his spiritual stature and says, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus responds to this with, “egō eimi” (“I am”), a term thought by some to refer to God himself. A literal translation from the Greek of John 4:26 has Jesus saying, “I am he who is speaking to you.” He identifies himself to her as the Messiah (cf. Peter in Matt. 16:15-17 and Martha in John 11:27).

The woman immediately leaves her water jar and goes into the town (cf. Matt. 4:19-20). She openly testifies in Sychar about Jesus and says, “Could this be the Messiah?”[10] And many people believe in Jesus because of her testimony (John 4:39). A woman’s testimony was generally not regarded as credible at that time. The Samaritans of Sychar were ready to believe, however; and they went on to trust in Jesus even more when they had heard him for themselves. They declared, “Jesus is the Saviour of the world!”

Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman

Using Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman recorded in chapter 4 and Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus recorded in chapter 3, John presents fundamental and profound spiritual truths, and yet the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus could not be more different from each other.

Nicodemus was male, a Jew, and educated. He was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council), and a “teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). His name, which in Greek means “conqueror of the people,” implies strength. It seems clear that Nicodemus held a privileged, prestigious, and powerful position in society. Interestingly, he visited Jesus discreetly at night, possibly under the cover of darkness (John 3:1-2). And he disappears silently from the scene without us knowing if he, at that time, accepted Jesus’ teaching. Nicodemus’ last words to Jesus in John 3 are, “How can this be?” (John 3:9; cf. John 7:50-51; 19:38-40).

In contrast, the woman was female, a Samaritan (despised by the Jews), and her family connections are complicated and obscure. She is nameless and seems vulnerable. She meets Jesus, a man, in the midday sun in what was a potentially scandalous encounter according to the social customs of that time. Nevertheless, she put her growing faith into action and went into town telling the people about the Messiah.

Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were very different individuals. Yet John puts these two people side by side in his Gospel and shows that Jesus treated them with equal regard. Jesus answered their theological questions and taught both of them precious eternal truths.


[1] There is simply no evidence that drawing water from a well in the middle of the day is a sign that a woman has an immoral or shameful life (cf. Gen. 24:11; Exod. 2:15-16; 1 Sam. 9:11). Lynn Cohick writes:

Many expositors focus on the woman’s presence at the well at noon as a signal that she is a social outcast. But this conclusion is not based on any parallel description or implication within the Greco-Roman world that moral women went to the village at certain times and degenerate women visited at other times. . . . From the story’s standpoint, it makes sense that Jesus is thirsty at noon, as opposed to, for example, 7:30 in the morning.
Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 123.

[2] John 4:4 cryptically states, “It was necessary for [Jesus] to go through Samaria.” What was the necessity? I suspect God had prepared the Samaritan’s woman’s heart and that she was ready to be a true worshipper and useful to God. So Jesus was compelled to travel through Samaria to meet with her. God may have prepared the Samaritan woman’s heart, just as he had prepared Lydia’s heart and Rahab‘s heart before they met Paul and the Israelite spies respectively, and that she may well have been an important part of God’s strategy for reaching the town of Sychar.

[3] In the Bible, wells have “proven to be significant meetings grounds, giving relief to emotionally and spiritually parched people” (e.g., Hagar in Genesis 16:7; Jacob in Genesis 29:1-14; Moses in Exodus 2:15-21). Grace Ying May and Hyunhye Junia Pokrifka-Joe, “Wells,” The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans (eds) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), 597.

[4] The etymology of sugchraomai gives the meaning of “to use together”.

[5] John uses a literary device in his Gospel where Jesus makes a statement that is understood first only in natural terms and then explained further in spiritual terms (e.g., “born again” John 3:3-9; “living/running water” 4:10-15; “bread from heaven” 6:32-36).

[6] Flowing water was considered more health-giving than still water. Furthermore, according to the Hebrew Torah (Lev. 14:5-6, 50-52; 15:13; Num. 19:17; Deut. 21:4), the use of flowing water, was required for ritual purification of the more severe forms of uncleanness; and in the Judaism of Jesus’ time flowing water and rivers were associated with repentance and forgiveness. Robert L. Webb “John the Baptist and his Relationship to Jesus,” Studying the Historical Jesus, Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds) (Leiden: Brill, 1988), 188. Still, there is no reason to think the Samaritan woman lived an especially sinful life.

[7] Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 128. Cohick discusses the possibility that the Samaritan woman may have lost her five husbands through divorces and deaths, and that her current partner may have been unable to legally marry her. More on this here.
For a number of reasons, cohabitation was not uncommon in the Roman Empire. Slaves, for instance, could not marry legally, but some had life-partners. Also, it was illegal for a Roman citizen to marry someone from a lower social status, making a legal marriage impossible for some couples.

[8] My friend Bronwen Speedie suggests that the Samaritan woman may have been blamed, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of her husbands, and shunned by her community. This is plausible and it reminds me of a story in the Book of Tobit 3:7-17. According to this story, seven husbands of Sarah (Tobit’s future daughter-in-law) are killed on their respective wedding nights by a demon, and Sarah is blamed and scorned, despite her innocence. While the story is fiction, it does convey how people thought in the ancient world. (The Book of Tobit is a Jewish work written around 200 BCE and included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern and Greek Orthodox canons of scripture.)

[9] The Assyrian king brought people from (1) Babylon, (2) Cuthah, (3) Avva, (4) Hamath and (5) Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria (2 Kings 17:24).

[10] In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Samaritan woman is described as “equal to the apostles” because of her evangelizing work. In his commentary on John, Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253) makes several comments about her evangelism. Here are two examples: “Kindly she ‘began preaching’ (ekērusse) about the Messiah to the townsfolk” (PG 14.449C); “Here indeed, a woman ‘preached the gospel of’ (euaggelizetai) the Messiah to the Samaritans.” (PG 14.449D)
Furthermore, she is regarded as the first person, other than Jesus, to proclaim the gospel of Christ (kerygma). Ephraim of Syria (306 – 373) wrote a hymn about the Samaritan woman which includes this line: “Your voice, O woman, brought forth first fruit before even the apostles, announcing the kerygma.” “Hymn 23,” Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, translated by Kathleen E. McVey (Classics of Western Spirituality; New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 363. (Google Books)
The Samaritan woman is believed by some to have continued her evangelizing work in Carthage, but was later tortured and martyred by Nero. The Eastern Orthodox church claims her baptismal name is Photina, or Photini, meaning “enlightened one”.

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Women and Theology: Jesus said to her . . . 
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I compare the Samaritan woman with Lydia (Acts 16) here.

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49 thoughts on “The Samaritan Woman of Sychar (John 4)

  1. If the Samaritan woman was an outcast, why did all those townspeople follow her back to the well? Great post!

    1. Great point. They seemed very receptive of her message.

  2. Interesting thoughts on the five husbands. I will have to mull this one over.

    1. It’s not an original idea, but there might be something to it.

    2. The standard assumption that having had five husbands, she must have been immoral, probably promiscuous and thus dumped by those five husbands, has annoyed me for a very long time.

      It comes from the default of misogyny and woman-blaming.

      When I researched for my book, I realised that she could easily have lost five because they had died or divorced her and she may not have been at fault for any of those divorces.

      And yes, there were many people in those days who were not allowed to legally marry.

      For example, Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry. Marriage was disallowed for them because they were always potentially on active duty, always liable to be sent to various parts of the Empire at the drop of a hat. Many soldiers entered into long-term cohabitation relationships. Those relationships would have been like marriage in most respects except for the legal formalities. The degree of loyalty of the parties to each other could have been just the same as marriage.

      Thanks so much Marg for this post. It’s terrific!

  3. I love this insight! We see the two side by side (Nic and the Samaritan woman) and can compare their fruit. I want to be like the samaritan woman who produced fruit for His Glory. We know this is the expectation and standard for normal Jesus followers but see little of it today where 85% of believers have never lead another person to Jesus and the majority have not nor share the Gospel.

    1. She certainly had a vocal ministry.

      Nicodemus makes other appearances in John’s narrative, however, in chapters 7 and 19, where he speaks up for Jesus (indirectly) and where he helps Joseph of Arimathea place Jesus’ lifeless body in a tomb.

  4. Although, as you mentioned, many take a different tack on this story (including myself, see http://www.oneforjesus.net/jesus-and-the-ho/ ), at a certain point, her moral background doesn’t matter, because the common ground of the interpretations is inescapable. You said it: whether the powerful male Jewish leader or the unnamed female Samaritan, “Jesus treated them with equal regard.”

    The story remains a powerful lesson in the transformation that can result when we walk up to a stranger in unexpected love and grace and mercy; it is in that context that the message of Messiah can be spoken and heard.

    1. It’s a powerful story. I love how the Samaritans (despised by the Jews) are presented in a positive light in the Gospels.

      “The parable of the Good Samaritan presents the Samaritan in a very favourable light, but we must be mindful that Jesus chose the figure of the Samaritan for effect in his story (Luke 10:25ff). The thankful, healed Samaritan leper is also presented in a favourable light (Luke 17:11-19). The Samaritan woman, and indeed her whole village of Sychar, are presented as people ready to accept that Jesus is the Messiah (John 4:4-42).”
      From https://margmowczko.com/a-brief-history-of-the-samaritans/

      1. Have you thought of the Samaritans living in our society? (Bikers, a different genus group, drop outs from school or clubs, convicts). When I relate to certain “Samaritans”, they always act surprised that a “suit” would talk to them. As Robert commented, when we express Love, Grace and Mercy our message is often acceptable and believable. Thought provoking analysis. Thank you.

        1. Hi Gary, Jesus was in Samaria when he spoke to the Samaritan woman. He was on her turf. Jesus was the outsider, or the odd one out, in this situation.

          And I don’t understand the “suit” analogy. Why would anyone who genuinely wanted to reach out to the people you’ve mentioned choose to wear a suit?

    2. I have a friend struggling with “numbers” of souls he has won or not. I believe your observation, “when we walk up to a stranger in unexpected love and grace and mercy; it is in that context that the message of Messiah can be spoken and heard.”is often missed by many of us. Instead of expressing love, grace and mercy, we are looking at “production”. I will pass this on to him. Thanks.

  5. Excellent treatment of the incident. You mentioned in your footnote about flowing water which, in my opinion, explains why the woman did not understand. Jesus says, “If you knew who you were speaking to you would ask him for flowing [running] water.” “To get that kind of water you’d have to have a very long rope indeed–but you don’t have one, or a bucket…”

    Also, (this is off the top of my head) but there is a problem with the timing–because many assume John is using Roman timing when describing the crucifixion–but in John 4 for the woman to come at mid-day he’d be using hours of the day that were typical of Judaism. I hate to put that out there publicly since it’s just from my memory and I don’t have my references handy…perhaps someone can verify that.

    1. Hi Darryl,

      A few of the conversations that John records have Jesus being deliberately ambiguous at first. (The Greek of “born again” in John 3:3 can also mean “born from above” which is probably the meaning that is meant.) This initial ambiguity seems to be a literary device that John uses to draw people into the discussion.

      You’re right that there is a question about the time of day. Here’s note 13 from the NET Bible about John chapter 4 and the “sixth hour:

      tn Grk “the sixth hour.”
      sn It was about noon. The suggestion has been made by some that time should be reckoned from midnight rather than sunrise. This would make the time 6 a.m. rather than noon. That would fit in this passage but not in John 19:14 which places the time when Jesus is condemned to be crucified at “the sixth hour.”

  6. But the parallel between Nicodemus and the woman is very clear. In fact, I would say it is thematic throughout John. There are very specific one-on-one encounters/conversations that mark John’s account–Nicodemus, the woman, the cripple, (I don’t count the woman taken in adultery, I think that incident belongs in Luke), all the way to Pilate’s conversation.

    Again, thank you for a wonderful treatment of the text.

  7. Even some of the most gracious men and women miss this point…that the Samaritan woman may not have been immoral at all…there are a multitude of ways this could be, and the last one (oh they love this one!) may have been her brother,or her father…Why are they so quick to decide when the Bible is not clear about this?

    Can you imagine if a man was described as having had 5 wives one after another (or even all at the same time ☺) this is never portrayed as immoral…after all Solomon has 300 concubines…now compared to the Samaritan woman…”well?”

    1. Yes, in the first century most women, if they survived childbirth, outlived their husbands, and many remarried.

      I hadn’t thought that the man she “has” now might have been another male relative. That’s interesting, but I’m not sure whether John 4:18a can be interpreted that way. I’ll try and look into this.

      1. Wow. That’s a thought I’d never considered, and I’ve been thinking about her/researching for a while. Her husband or her brother. I kind of doubt it, but I love that kind of thinking!

        I just happened to find your blog while googling the term “how common was the name Herodias” and am delighted to have found you! Keep up the good work!

        Actually, about Herodias. I have been reading a book that says that the gospels state that John called Herod out because he married his brother’s wife, but doesn’t mention that they are related. What I want to know is: is that something the original readers of Mark would have known already? Wouldn’t the name “Herodias” be kind of a giveaway? (Sorry to hijack the thread! Feel free to send me to another post where this discussion is more applicable!)

        1. Hi Sarah,

          Like you , I also doubt that the Samaritan woman’s “man” was a brother or other relative, but was delighted at the thinking behind the idea.

          Herodias was a schemer. She wanted to climb the social ladder. Perhaps Philip wasn’t ambitious enough for her. Anyway, she divorced her first husband Philip in order to marry his half-brother Herod Antipas, the exact scenario, I believe, that is prohibited in Luke 16:18: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” I write about their divorces and subsequent marriage here.

          However, even Antipas was not as ambitious as she liked. Herodias persuaded him to ask Rome for more territory. She wanted to be “first lady” of more than just Galilee and Perea. And she wanted her husband to have the title of “king”, not just “tetrarch”. She wanted to be a “queen”.

          After petitioning Roman emperors on a few occasions, in the end, Gaius Caligula refused his request and banished Antipas to Gaul. Herodias went with him, but Antipas died soon after.

          Josephus gives us information in Antiquities book 18, chapter 5 about how the couple met. In chapter 7, Josephus relates how Antipas’s trip to Rome to see Gaius Caligula, at the urging of Herodias, went horribly wrong. Nevertheless, Herodias demonstrated true love and loyalty to Antipas.

          Sorry for the long answer. I love the women in Herod’s family. Some of them were crazy and dangerous divas. I have an essay about Salome I, Herod the Great’s sister here.

          So to get to the point: I imagine that all the original readers of Mark knew exactly who Herodias was. She was the daughter of Aristobulus IV, the son of Herod the Great and his second wife, Mariamne I. Aristobulus IV was the last descendant of the prestigious Hasmonean dynasty.

          Herod Antipas and Herodias, and their divorces and marriage, were the talk of the town in their day, and I’m sure rumours of their affairs spread far and wide.

          1. Thank you for your response! I am reading a book about her by Florence Morgan Gillman and she says that Mark (who usually clarifies Judaism for his Gentile readers) says nothing about the familial relationship between Herodias and Antipas. (implying that JtB didn’t condemn him for marrying his niece, just for marrying his brother’s wife) None of the Gospels mention that they are related, actually, and so I had to explore a bit whether their familial relationship would have been common knowledge. With a name like Herodias it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be, but one must check these things out!

          2. Many marriages in Herod’s family were with close family members. Salome I’s first marriage was to her uncle. (Later, Berenice, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, married her uncle, Herod V.)

            Herod the Great organised the marriages of his children, mostly, to other members within his family. Only a few Herodians married people outside the family, usually to form alliances with foreign royal families or highly esteemed Roman families.

            Endogamous marriage within families was common among the nobility of antiquity. And it was common among the Israelites (e.g. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, etc.)

  8. Thanks for the historical background and the tie in with the Assyrian Occupation from 2 Kings 17.

    The contrast from the Pharisee Nicodemus to the Samaritan Woman is striking as well. John juxtaposed someone from the inner circle – Nicodemus – with someone marginalized so far out that she would have been virtually invisible, and in this way showed that God’s concern is for everyone no matter who they are or where they’re from.

    1. Thanks Tim. It is a tremendously comforting thought that, from God’s perspective, no one is marginalised in his kingdom. Now to put that reality into practice. I’m glad we are allies in that endeavour.

  9. Compare the stories of women at a well with the Samaritan woman in John. Who was the first woman to be met at a well? Hagar – an Egyptian/Gentile – who was met by the Angel of the Lord (Jesus pre-incarnation). But, the most powerful comparison is when Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife for Isaac and meets Rebekah at a well. Compare Genesis 24 with John 4. Rebekah was a Gentile just like the Samaritan woman in John 4. Genesis 24 is a very powerful typological story of Jesus and his Gentile bride. Finally, with all of that perspective, the Samaritan woman in John 4 had five husbands and was living with a sixth. But, here was this Gentile woman meeting Jesus at a well. The Gentile bride had met her seventh husband, her perfect and complete husband, her husband that would bring her rest.

    1. Interesting thoughts, Steve.

      There does seem to be something about wells. (I mention wells in endnote 4.) And I love how God used Gentile women for important jobs, not to mention that Rahan and Ruth are included in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ genealogy. (See endnote 3.)

      Can we really call Rebekah a Gentile? Isaac and Rebekah were cousins. Isaac’s father and Rebekah’s grandfather, who were both born in Mesopotamia, were brothers. The reason Rebekah became Isaac’s wife was because she wasn’t a Canaanite, but was family. Also, Jacob (AKA “Israel”) had not yet been born when Rebekah married Isaac. So I’m not sure that we can make an Israelite versus Gentile distinction in regards to Rebekah at this stage of the history of God’s people.

      1. You’re right, Rebekah wasn’t distinctly Gentile. She wasn’t an Israelite either. She was sort of a half-breed. As was the women at the well in John 4. That’s what a Samaritan was. Definitely not fully an Israelite.

        1. I don’t think Rebekah was any kind of half-breed. Rather, the distinction of Israelite versus Gentile simply does not apply at this stage of the Israelite’s history.

          Samaritans, on the other hand were a kind of half-breed. And yet Jesus went out of his way to show that they were included as God’s people. Furthermore, the woman refers to her Jewish heritage a few times in John 4. She certainly didn’t see herself as a Gentile.

          1. Amy Jill Levine’s book “The Misunderstood Jew” and Brant Pitre’s “Jesus the Bridegroom” have some really interesting takes on how the setting of the well would imply a certain type of relationship between Jesus and the woman for readers who were familiar with the stories of Rachel and Rebekkah.

          2. Thanks for this, Sarah. They sound very interesting!

  10. This is very interesting, but the one hang-up I have is this: What is she talking about when she says, “He told me everything I ever did”?

    This comment makes sense if she’s talking about a literal five husbands. It doesn’t if it’s just a metaphor. Or do you think that it’s both?

    1. Hi Bethany,

      The part of the conversation about husbands is recorded in just three verses of a long conversation. And I can’t see that these three verses encompass “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” (John 4:29 CEB).

      I think there’s more to verse 29 than the five husbands. I think the woman is referring to the entire conversation which brought about an incremental and gradual realisation that Jesus was quite possibly the Messiah.

      A lot is hanging on what she meant by “done”. The Greek word epoiēsa can be translated differently, but because we don’t know exactly what she referring to “I’ve done” or “I did” are the safest translations.

      1. Certainly it doesn’t encompass everything she’s ever done, but it’s the only time in the conversation that they talk about *anything* she’s done. What else would she be referring to?

        If it were referring to something else in the conversation, why wouldn’t John have recorded that part? Even if he didn’t say the specific things for privacy’s sake, he could have said something to explain what she was referring to.

        1. I’m honestly not sure what the woman was referring to when she said “he has told me everything I’ve done. Could this man be the Messiah?””

          The verses that mention the husbands uses the Greek verb for “have” (echō) four times. This is an entirely different verb with a different range of senses than “do” (poieō). Then again, there may be some overlap in sense.

          Another reason for not being convinced the woman is referring to her husbands is that she begins to realize Jesus is a prophet after he mentions her husbands. But she begins to realize that Jesus is the Messiah after the conversation about worship. Perhaps “everything I’ve done” refers to her manner of worship. But it could be that “everything I did” is not recorded in the conversation.

          I do understand your point, but I’m just not sure what the woman “did”.

          1. Regarding the “ever I did” question, there is an interesting article at
            http://biblestudydata.com/moodle/mod/page/view.php?id=311. In that article, the author notes that “ever I did” is not a correct translation; the Greek word ὁδοποιέω (hodopoieō) actually means “make a path.”’

            So why would the woman say “I made a path!”? The article gives some interesting ideas about this. I’ll add another possibility: It seems likely that at least some of the people in Sychar, including the woman, had heard John the Baptist preach. John instructed people on what to do to “prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight”. By the time she arrived at the town, the woman was probably out of breath, and trying to convey her message to as many people as she could, as quickly as she could, before Jesus and his friends left the well! So what the woman said was “Come see a man who told me all things! [pause for breath] I made a path! [pause for breath]” If the woman and some others in Sychar were followers of John the Baptist, the idea of “making a path” would have special significance, since they would all be seeking ways to “make a path” for the Messiah, and they would have understood the meaning of her words, without her needing to say more.

          2. Hi Kate,

            ὁδοποιέω (hodopoieō) is a real Greek word and it does mean “make a path”, but this word doesn’t occur at all in the Greek New Testament.

            ὁδοποιέω does occur in the Septuagint (LXX), however: in Job 30:12; Psalm 67:5LXX; 77:50LXX; 79:10LXX; and Isaiah 62:10.

            A similar idea, ὁδὸν ποιεῖν, (“to make a path”) occurs in Mark 2:23.

            It seems someone has misread and misconstrued John 4:29. The correct phrase is: πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα.

            There’s no break or pause between πάντα and ὅσα. They are both neuter accusative plural and are grammatically connected; ὅσα qualifies πάντα.

            ~ πάντα (“all things”)
            ~ ὅσα (“as many as”)
            ~ ἐποίησα (“I did”)

            πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησαis (which can be translated into comprehensible English as “everything that I ever did”) is how this phrase appears in most major Greek texts of John 4:29. Westcott and Hort have πάντα ἃ ἐποίησα.

            The language of “prepare the way” is different again (Mark 1:3, etc).

          3. I just had a read of the article you linked. The author makes several strange statements with no valid basis. This was the weirdest:

            “Thus the Samaritan woman at the well had been married to five brothers; up to the third brother, she most certainly would have been a virgin with her marriage unconsummated according to strict Samaritan rules.”

            There’s nothing in the text to indicate anything like this was the case.

            And this: “There can be no doubt, the Samaritan woman was on the fringe of her society.”

            I doubt the woman was on the fringe. There’s no evidence for the woman being marginalised. She may just have run out of water at midday, and that’s why she went to the well at that time.

            And this: “When the Samaritan spoke of the ‘Messias’ she used the Greek/Aramaic form of the Anointed One.”

            I think I know what the author means, but a better way of putting it is that John, who records the encounter between Jesus and Samaritan woman, sometimes uses a Hebraic or Aramaic term (as a loan word) (e.g., “Messiah”), and then provides the Greek translation for his Greek-speaking audience (e.g., “Christ”).

            Anyway, the author is completely mistaken about ὁδοποιέω. The author’s mistake makes for an utterly impossible interpretation. She needs to take much more care in handling the Greek.

          4. Hi Marg,

            Thank you for your prompt reply and detailed explanation about the Greek translation. I had thought perhaps I had found something that explained what the Samaritan woman was saying more understandably, but I guess not. So, I still don’t know what the woman meant about what she “did”. Oh, well… BTW I linked to that article because I thought it was interesting, not because I necessarily agreed with, or even understood, all the author’s conclusions.

            As to why the woman was at the well at midday, do you think it may have been
            because she was a servant? That would explain why she would be at a well some distance from the town at that hour. As a servant, she would have to go where she was told, when she was told to go there. Also, is it possible that the reason Jesus tells her that the one she has now is not her man is because she has been the servant to five men, and now she is the servant of a woman?

          5. Yeah, I don’t know what she “did” either.

            I think if the woman had been a servant or slave, another word, other than γυνή (“woman/wife”), would have been used. Several men and women are identified in the New Testament with Greek words for “servant” or “slave”, without ambiguity (e.g., John 18:17; Acts 12:13; Philem. 1:16).

            γυνή is used consistently in John 4, which may indicate that the woman was an unremarkable, ordinary woman of Samaria (John 4:7, 9 (twice), 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 25, 27, 28, 39, 42). γυνή can even be used as a term of respect, even if a literal English translation doesn’t sound respectful (e.g., John 2:4).

            Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t use a word for “master”, but the common word for “man/husband” (in singular and plural forms) in 4:16, 17 (twice), 18 (twice). So, I would say it’s quite unlikely the Samaritan woman was a servant.

  11. Thanks, I found your insights on the Samaritan woman at the well very interesting. Of Course, it doesn’t matter either way. For all have sinned and need the living water of Christ. There isn’t enough information to determine the reasons for her having 5 previous husbands but Jesus does seem to imply that she is currently living outside of marriage with another man in sin. I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus spoke to this particular woman, she was a good representation of Northern Israel and their plight following the captivity. The 5 husband analogy to the Assyrian plan to integrate the Northern tribes was probably an underlying truthful insight into the entire passage. The woman, however, was impressed by the fact that Jesus told her everything about herself (vs.28) Which leads me to believe that they were not talking in such generalities. I also believe that it was customary for women to gather at the wells in the evening not mid-day but I would have to research that further. Thanks again.

  12. I find this so encouraging. Could it be that she is ‘more than’ rather than ‘less than’ as portrayed time after time from Bible class lessons and the pulpits? And yes, I think it matters, a lot. Thank you.

  13. Hey, Marg. Thought this article on certain points complements your treatment:


    1. Interesting article, Timothy.

      I’m confused by this statement, “The Samaritan woman probably recognized that Jesus was Judean by his distinctive Jewish traditional clothing and his accent.” I have never described Jesus as a Judean, but as a Galilean. Does the author use “Jewish” and “Judean” interchangeably with essentially the same meaning?

  14. What do you think the Samaritan woman in this passage has? Please quote the lines in the conversation between her and Jesus, showing her character

    1. Hi Dust Peter,

      The Gospel writer does not plainly describe her character, but her statements indicate that she is curious about theology and that she is honest.

      What characteristics do you see when you read the conversation between Jesus and the woman in John chapter 4?

      1. Hi Marg,

        I thank you for the answer.
        Actually the question that I ask you, is the question in my final exam. I agree with your view that the Samaritan woman is an honest person, because she dares to acknowledge her past sin. But I want to learn more about her characteristics, so I need your guidance.
        thank you so much!

  15. How comforting it is to read an article like yours on the internet. I am a old christian soldier of 81 years, and find your interpretation of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well one of the best, and most enlightening I have ever heard or read. I think it was a predestined meeting, and God had prepared her heart for the encounter with Jesus. May God bless you for your good work and for the study of Gods word that made it possible.

    1. L.C., Your words are very encouraging on a difficult day. Thank you.

  16. Enjoyed reading as usual… your articles..
    to me it is interesting to notice Jesus becomes/ willing to be a RECEIVER ( Give me a drink)… and the Samaritan Women becomes a GIVER… to begin with … but story unfolds very powerfully..

    1. I think it’s interesting too. And we can still give a drink of water in Jesus’ name if not to Jesus directly (Matt. 25:37-40; Matt. 10:42//Mark 9:41).

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