Father McIntyre’s Commentary on John 4:5-42 for the Third Sunday of Lent
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 20, 2011
Notes in red, if any, are my additions to the commentary.
Joh 4:4. And he was of necessity to pass through Samaria.
And he was of necessity to pass through Samaria. That is, on the supposition that He desired to take the shorter route generally taken by Galileans. The stricter Jews, desirous of avoiding contact with the Samaritans, went round by the east of the Jordan, through Perrea.
Joh 4:5. He cometh therefore to a city of Samaria which is called Sichar; near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
A city of Samaria which is called Sichar (Sychar). The site is marked by two notes: it was “near the land which Jacob gave to Joseph,” and “Jacob’s well was there.” The well is called both a fountain (πηγη, verse 6) and a pit (φρεαρ, verses 11, 12). Now the land bought by Jacob was near Sichem (Shechem, now Nablus = Neapolis) (Gen 33:18, 19; 48:22). Is Sichar, then, identical with Sichem? St. Jerome, who is followed by many, thought so; he suggested that
Sichar was a copyist s error for Sichem. Others have thought that Sichar was either a nickname (drunkard, or liar), or a descriptive appellation (commercial). Both suggestions are quite groundless. As early as the fourth century Eusebius and the Bordeaux Pilgrim mention a Sichar distinct from Sichem. In the Samaritan Chronicle (fourteenth century) it is spelt Ischar; but the Samaritans themselves, in translating their chronicle into Arabic, call Ischar Askar. This name still attaches to a few ruins at the foot of Mount Ebal, about one mile and three quarters east-north-east from Nablus, and little over half a mile north from Jacob s well. The well is nearly two miles from Sichem (Nablus).
But granted that Sichar is either Nablus or Askar, is it likely that any one seeking water should have come past streams in their immediate neighbourhood to the more distant, the deep and scanty well of Jacob? There are eighty springs of water in and around Sichem; there is a copious fountain in Askar.
But the real difficulty is not why the woman should have come to the well, but why a well should have been dug so deep in the neighbourhood of so many springs. Its existence is a proof that the woman would have a reason for using it. Perhaps in those far away summers the surface streams ran dry; perhaps the waters of the well were more suitable. It is not uncommon in the East to send to a great distance for a supply of drinking water. The springs at Nablus are, as the natives express it, very ‘heavy’. They not unjustly attribute many of their complaints to this cause. The fountain at Askar is of particularly ‘heavy’ water. Now, Jacob’s well has a reputation among them of containing good water, free from the deleterious qualities of their other supplies. The woman, therefore, would gladly have come to get a supply. (Dr. Smith, l.c.., 367~375, 676.)
Joh 4:6. Now Jacob s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus (ουτως)
on the well. The ουτως is very obscure. It cannot mean “tired as
He was,” because in that case the ουτως would have been placed before
the verb (Acts 20:11; 27:17). Most probably it means, just as He was, without any preparation.
The sixth hour, i.e., mid-day (see on Jn 1:39).
Joh 4:7 There cometh a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus saith to her: Give me to drink.
A woman of Samaria. One designation = a Samaritaness. She came from Sichar (see verses 9, 28, 39).
Joh 4:8 For his disciples were gone into the city to buy meats.
Into the city, i.e., the only city so far mentioned Sichar. to buy meats (τροφας) = simply food.
Joh 4:9 Then that Samaritan woman saith to him: How dost thou, being a Jew; ask of me to drink, who am a Samaritan woman? For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans.
How dost thou, being a Jew. The disciples themselves would have asked the question if they had been present. The woman would have recognised our Lord’s nationality not only by His speech and appearance, but also by His phylactery and by the white fringes on the border of His garment. The Samaritan fringe is blue.
Joh 4:10 Jesus answered and said to her: If thou didst know the gift of God and who he is that saith to thee: Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
Joh 4:11 The woman saith to him: Sir, thou hast nothing wherein to draw, and the well is deep. From whence then hast thou living water?
If thou didst know the gift of God. Our Lord takes occasion from the woman’s question to speak to her of spiritual things. The gift of God means the opportunity now given of obtaining the means of salvation. (Cf. “If thou hadst known the things that are to thy peace” Luke 19:42.) The words that follow explain what the opportunity is, the και (“and who is is that siath to thee…”) being exegetical. “If thou didst know thy opportunity, and who I am.”
Thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him. Perhaps is not genuine.
Living water. By living water our Lord meant Divine grace, which is so frequently compared in Scripture to living water the water of life; but the Samaritaness took the words literally of spring-water, as contrasted with water accumulated in pools or cisterns. She is therefore surprised. Our Lord had not wherein to draw trom the well: whence then the living water? (verse 11)
Joh 4:12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank thereof, himself and his children and his cattle?
Since our Lord had not wherein (αντλημα = rope and bucket) to draw from Jacob’s well (verse 11), He must be able to provide other living water. She therefore asks, Art thou greater (μη συ μειζων = thou! surely thou art not able to provide better) than our father Jacob? Her tone of respect had deepened (verse 11, “sir”), but still there was a great difference between an unknown Jew and Jacob. We need not inquire whether Jacob was father of the Samaritans.
Who gave us the well. It is nowhere said in Scripture of Jacob that he dug a well; but it is said of Abraham and Isaac, and is possibly true of Jacob also.
And his cattle (θρεμματα, things that are fed). Perhaps better = sheep and goats. The word is sometimes used of slaves and of children.
Joh 4:13 Jesus answered and said to her: Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever.
Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give hitn, shall not thirst for ever. Our Lord implies that He is greater than Jacob, and can bestow a better gift water by which a man is for ever set free from thirst (Jn 6:35). Divine grace is the root of immortality; it makes a man the child of God, and heir of heaven. Hence, as by grace a man obtains the right of citizenship in heaven, it is truly called eternal life. In that life man’s longing for happiness is perfectly satisfied. “They shall not hunger, nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun strike them” (Isa 49:10). Since, then, eternal life is looked upon as an actual possession, and grace is its title; grace is described in language that belongs to eternal life itself. In this lies the force of our Lord’s contrast. On the one side, there is earthly water with its “fleeting bodily refreshment,” and on the other side, grace with its fruit in the perfect and enduring joys of heaven.
Joh 4:14 But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.
The water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. He in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (Jn 3:5, 6) has within himself an overflowing fountain of grace, springing up with full impulsive force until it reaches heaven (cf. Jn 1:16, 6:27). As water seeks its level, so grace, which comes from heaven, tends heavenward.
Joh 4:15 The woman said to him: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.
Sir, give me this water. The woman has not yet guessed the deeper meaning of our Lord’s words. Even the significant phrase “into life everlasting” has suggested no more than a vague length of time (cf. “O king, live for ever,” Neh 2:3).
Joh 4:16 Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
Go, call thy husband, and come (ελθε =come back) hither. The sequel shows that our Lord is now touching the plague-spot of the woman’s life. By thus bringing her suddenly face to face with her sin, He prepares her for repentance, and gives proof of His superhuman knowledge.
Joh 4:17 The woman answered and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well: I have no husband.
I have no husband. She seeks to cover her fault by evading the request.
Thou hast said well (καλως =rightly), I have no husband. There is a marked emphasis in the Greek on husband thou hast said rightly, husband I have not. This emphasis is a warning to the woman that her subterfuge has been detected.
Joh 4:18 For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. This, thou hast said truly.
For thou hast had five husbands. This unexpected revelation of her past now makes clear to the woman that our Lord is possessed of supernatural knowledge.
Joh 4:19 The woman saith to him: Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Not yet Messiah, but still a prophet.
Joh 4:20 Our fathers adored on this mountain: and you say that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore.
Our Fathers adored (i.e., offered public sacrifice) on this mountain (Gerizim). The temple on Gerizim had been destroyed by John Hyrcanus; but the site was held sacred.
The stages in the woman s mental change are clearly marked: (1) flippancy and aloofness (v. 9); (2) dawning respect for our Lord’s impressive seriousness (v. 11); (3) readiness to accept His words, although not understood by her (v. 15); (4) belief in Him as a prophet of God (v. 19); (5) anxiety to learn the truth from Him (v. 20). She, remembering the warning of our Lord, “if thou didst know who it is that speaketh to thee” (verse 10), and now being convinced that He is a prophet, at once desires to know by which worship that of the Jews or that of the Samaritans God is most pleased. A prophet, although a Jew, will faithfully tell her the truth. Her question is the question of one anxious to be guided aright, not the evasion (for how would our Lord have consented to such evasion?) of one desirous of putting off the hour of repentance.
Joh 4:21 Jesus saith to her: Woman, believe me that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father.
Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh (“and now is,” verse 23). The phrase “believe me”, occurs but once; the usual form is, “I say unto thee.” Our Lord’s first reply is that the question between Jerusalem and Gerizim is over; it has now lost all meaning. In the new dispensation both are on the same footing; for the Mosaic law is dead.
You shall . . . adore the Father. This is spoken from the stand point of the new dispensation. This first reply marks the fulfilment of the ancient prophecy, “I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down (i.e., from east to west = over the whole world) my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice (i.e., the sacrifice of the Mass), and there is offered to my name a clean (i.e., unbloody) oblation”
(Mal 1:10, 11).
Joh 4:22 You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know. For salvation is of the Jews.
You adore that which you know not. In this second reply our Lord says that, although the question raised by the woman has lost all significance, yet in a deeper matter the truth belongs to the Jews. Theirs are “the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the promises” (Rom 9:4). “The law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3). With the Jews will be found a true idea of God and of His worship; and the reason is because, by the Divine appointment and promise, “salvation
is of the Jews.”
Joh 4:23 But the hour cometh and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him.
But the hour cometh. Although the true idea of God could not be altogether destroyed from amongst the Jews, nevertheless a fuller knowledge and more perfect worship were at hand.
The true (αληθινοι: see Jn 1:9) adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. The phrase “in spirit and truth” characterises Christian worship as contrasted with Jewish; but since the Jewish was true, the phrase must mean more truly spiritual and real. The knowledge of God shall be deeper and clearer; He shall be known as Father : and in agreement with that knowledge the adoration shall be more perfect (in spirit) and more real (in truth). Christians are the true adorers, because their reverence springs from more abundant grace, and from a clearer revelation. But the perfect excellence of Christian worship is found in the sacrifice of the Mass, wherein God’s own true Son offers Himself as a sacrifice to the Father. What sacrifice so real and perfect as this? What adoration so true? What love so intense and spiritual? But Christ is offered for all ; and in uniting ourselves to Him, we also, in Him and through Him, become true adorers in spirit and in truth.
Joh 4:24 God is a spirit: and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth.
God is a spirit. Therefore [και is illative] the worship He accepts must be spiritual, i.e., from an inward principle of grace and reverence. Outward ceremony is little worth without faith and inward fervour. Both should enter into our worship. “These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone” (Matt 23:23).
Joh 4:25 The woman saith to him: I know that the Messias cometh (who is called Christ): therefore, when he is come, he will tell us all things.
I know that the Messias Cometh. Messiah (without the article here) is used as a proper name by the woman. Cometh either, is at hand, or is sure to come. The Samaritans could not have been ignorant of an expectation which was known, about this time, even to Romans. The Samaritan name for the Messiah was the Returner, or the Restorer. Speaking to a Jew she used the Jewish name.
Joh 4:26 Jesus saith to her: I am he, who am speaking with thee.
I am he. Her expression of unreserved obedience to the Messiah was rewarded by this revelation. Such revelation to the Samaritans was not likely to cause the dangers which would have attended a similar revelation to the Jews generally, and on account of which our Lord s language amongst the Jews was more reserved (see Matt 16:20, 17:9).
Joh 4:27 And immediately his disciples came. And they wondered that he talked with the woman. Yet no man said: What seekest thou? Or: Why talkest thou with her?
And they wondered. It was contrary to all Jewish notions that a Rabbi should talk with a woman, even his own wife, in the street. Hence the disciples wondered that “He was talking with a woman” (Greek), and she, moreover, a Samaritan. Yet, in their reverence, they asked not the reason of Christ’s condescension.
Joh 4:28 The woman therefore left her waterpot and went her way into the city and saith to the men there:
The woman therefore, i.e., because the coming of the disciples interrupted the colloquy. But, with her mind excited, she forgot her errand and hurried to the city.
Joh 4:29 Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?
Who has told me all things. What had been disclosed was sufficient proof that everything in her life could have easily been disclosed.
Is not he the Christ? (μητι ουτος). In form this expects a negative answer Is it possible that he is the Christ? But the apparent doubt comes from mere wonderment at the greatness of the discovery. Greek questions can take a form which indicates that the speaker expects a negative answer; such is the case here. See also the gate-keeper’s question to Peter (Jn 18:17), and Pilate’s question to Jesus (Jn 18:33).
Joh 4:30 They went therefore out of the city and came unto him.
And came unto him (ηρχοντο: imperfect tense = and were coming). It is the language of an eye-witness. While I do not wish to call into question the eye-witness nature of the gospel, I would note that the imperfect tense used here is probably meant to emphasize the fact that the townspeople are making their way to Jesus at the very same time as he begins speaking to his disciples in verses 31 ff.
Joh 4:31 In the mean time, the disciples prayed him, saying: Rabbi, eat.
In the meantime, i.e., after the departure of the woman and before the arrival of the Samaritans (their arrival is noted in verse 40).
Joh 4:32 But he said to them: I have meat to eat which you know not.
Joh 4:33 The disciples therefore said one to another: Hath any man brought him to eat?
Joh 4:34 Jesus saith to them: My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work.
My meat is to do (ινα ποιησω = “to do”). This expression may be simply equivalent to the infinitive, or it may express desire, i.e., my delight is in doing.
Joh 4:35 Do not you say: There are yet four months, and then the harvest cometh? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries. For they are white already to harvest.
There are yet four months and then (then is omitted in Greek and Vulg.) the harvest cometh. Many take this as a proverbial saying; and although the saying has not elsewhere been found, parallels have been found. But in matters of this kind, to argue from parallels is precarious. On the other hand, absence of evidence is not always a proof of non-existence: the saying might have been current, although no extant writing contains it. The simplest explanation sees in the words a plain statement of fact which is adopted as the ground of a spiritual comparison (see Jn 3:8, 29; 4:10): “You say the harvest is yet four months off, but I say that the countries are white for the harvest even now (ηδη, translated above as “For they are white already for harvest”). The Greek ηδη (already, even now) should be seen in relation to the imperfect tense construction of verse 30 noted above; and, also with the opening phrase of verse 31: “In the meantime.” As Jesus spoke with his disciples the townspeople were making their way towards him and are now in the very field he is sitting in (Jn 4:5-6). They are like grain, ripened and ready for harvest.
Harvest began in the middle of Nisan, the month of new corn. The words were, therefore, spoken about the middle of December, when the seed, sown at the beginning of November, was beginning to appear above ground. Consequently our Lord had made a stay of about eight months in Judea (Jn 2:13, 23; 3:22; 4:3, 4). This is the common opinion; but in the second opinion just mentioned the time was near Pentecost.
Joh 4:36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.
He that reapeth receiveth wages (i.e., a reward for himself), and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting (συναγει καρπον εις = stores up as in a granary), i.e., brings souls to heaven.
That both he that soweth (i.e., Christ Himself, who was then sowing
the seed of faith), and he that reapeth (i.e., every apostle of Christ), may
Joh 4:37 For in this is the saying true: That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.
For in this (i.e., in this instance at least) is the saying true (αληθινος = genuine true indeed). The saying follows: “It is one man that soweth”, &c. The saying is verified, but yet so that sower and reaper rejoice together.
Joh 4:38 I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour. Others have laboured: and you have entered into their labours.
I have sent you to reap (απεστειλα = I sent. All the other verbs are in the perfect). I sent you to reap that which you have not laboured. The mission of the Apostles had already been practically determined, and, in an informal way, even begun (3:22, 26; 4:2).
Others have laboured. Moses, the Prophets, and John had been preparing the ground for the seed of Christ s sowing. But chiefly Christ Himself (Jn 1:4, 9).
Joh 4:39 Now of that city many of the Samaritans believed in him, for the word of the woman giving testimony: He told me all things whatsoever I have done.
Joh 4:40 So when the Samaritans were come to him, they desired that he would tarry there. And he abode there two days.
They desired him: ηρωτων =kept beseeching Him.
Joh 4:41 And many more believed in him, because of his own word.
Joh 4:42 And they said to the woman: We now believe, not for thy saying: for we ourselves have heard him and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.
We now believe, not for thy saying (λαλιαν). A Hebraism = not so much for thy saying. λαλιαν = speech, utterance, as distinct from the thought uttered (λογος). In classical Greek used for mere talk, chatter; but this connotation of contempt had disappeared in later Greek, in which it means simply discourse, speech (cf. Jn 8:43).
This is indeed the Saviour of the world (A.V. the Christ, the Saviour: but the words the Christ are not genuine). Therefore our Lord must have revealed Himself as Saviour of the world. This truth underlies verses 21-24.