Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 4:5-42
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 21, 2011
Notes in red (if any) represent my additions. Notes marked “footnote” are from Nolan and Brown.
Joh 4:4 And he was of necessity to pass through Samaria.
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.
Not choosing to cross to the east of the Jordan, and go up through Peraea, as someof the stricter Jews did, who wished to avoid all possible contact with the Samaritans. He was obliged to pass through Samaria. Of the three provinces of Palestine west of the Jordan, Samaria was in the centre, with Judea to the south, and Galilee to the north. “St. John is thus careful to note that this was no mission to the Samaritans which the Lord undertook. On the contrary, the law which He imposed on His disciples: And into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not (Matt 10:5), this, during the days of His flesh, He imposed also on Himself. He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 15:24; Acts 13:46); and if any grace reached Samaritan or heathen, it was, so to speak, but by accident, a crumb falling from the children s table” (Trench, Studies in the Gospel, p. 84). Samaria had been the portion ot the tribe of Ephraim, and of half the tribe of Manasses. The province derived its name from its chief city, Samaria, which, in turn, got its name from Mount Somer (or Semer), on which it was built (1 Kings 16:24). See Cornelius a Lapide. Sichar, the city here mentioned, is probably identical with the present “Askar,” and according to modern geographers, who agree in this with the Bordeaux pilgrim (A.D. 333) and Eusebius, is to be distinguished from Sychem (the modern Nabulus), from which it is about a mile distant. (Footnote in the text: The name Sichar is derived by some from shikkor, a drunkard; by others from sheqquer, a liar; the city of liars, perhaps of false worship).
Near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. See
Gen 33:18, 19; Josh 24:32.
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.
Jacob’s well, which he had dug or bought, was there; and Jesus, weary because of His journey, sat thus (sic., “hoc est, fatigatus ut erat,” Beel.) by
It was about the sixth hour. 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.
There cometh a woman of Samaria, not of the city of Samaria, for that was six miles distant, but of the country of Samaria, a Samaritan woman, to draw water.
Joh 4:8 For his disciples were gone into the city to buy meats.
Because He had no one else to give Him to drink, He asks her to do so, and thus leads up naturally to the following discourse.
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.
The Samaritans, with whom, as here stated, the Jews avoided all intercourse, were either pure Assyrians or a mixture of Jews and Assyrians. Very probably some Jews were left behind in Samaria at the time of the Assyrian captivity, under Salmanassar, 721 B.C.; andfrom these intermarrying with the imported Easterns sprang the Samaritans. The Jews regarded the Samaritans with special aversion for many reasons. They were the descendants of the Assyrian conquerors; they held what was the rightful inheritance of the jews; they corrupted Jewish worship; they endeavoured to
prevent the rebuilding of the Temple under Zorobabel (Ezra 4:2, 7, 8), and were always prepared to harbour the false friends or open enemies of the Jews. Hence this woman, recognising in Christ’s dress and accent His Jewish origin, wonders that He would speak to, much less drink from, a Samaritan. The last clause: For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans, is added by the Evangelist as an explanation of the woman’s question for Gentile readers.
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.
The gift of God is not the Holy Ghost, nor Christ Himself, nor the opportunity now offered her, but most probably the gift of grace, the “living water” spoken of in the end of the verse. Hence Christ’s words mean: If you knew that there is a spiritual water which slakes the thirst of man in the desert of this world, and that He who can bestow it speaks to you, thou perhaps
wouldst have asked, &c. Perhaps (forsitan) is not represented in the Greek, in which we have an ordinary conditional sentence; and certainly Christ knew without doubt what would have been the result. The Vulgate translator, probably added “forsitan” to indicate that she would still be free to reject the grace offered. (More likely the forsitan, “perhaps,” was intended to communicate the fact that the mission to the Samaritans and non-Jews had not yet begun).
Living water. There is the same diversity of opinion here as in regard to the “gift of God,” with the addition that some have held the reference here to be to the waters of baptism. We take it that the reference again is to grace. Living water properly signifies running water, in opposition to the stagnant water of pools or cisterns. Here, however, the words seem to be used in their highest sense, of waters which come from God and bestow life upon all who drink
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?
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?
11, 12. She understands Him to speak of natural water, which He seemed to think superior to that of Jacob’s well; and, concluding that He must refer to the water of some other well, since indeed He had no bucket, no means of drawing from the deep well at which she stood, she asks Him: Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, so as to be able to provide a better water than he provided for us in this well? That its waters were good enough for him and his sons, is a proof of their excellence; that they sufficed for all his household and cattle, is evidence of their abundance. There is a tinge of resentment in the words of verse 12, for the Samaritans claimed descent from Jacob (our father, Jacob), through Joseph and Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasses, whose tribal territory they possessed, and this Jewish Stranger seemed to the woman to set Himself above the great Patriarch of her race.
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.
Without replying explicitly that He was indeed greater than Jacob, Christ implies this by declaring that the water which He will give is superior to that of Jacob s well. For, while the latter only satisfies present wants, that which He will give will quench present and prevent future thirst. What is said in Sirach 24:29: “They that drink Me shall yet thirst,” (according to the LXX) is not opposed to our Lord’s words here; for in Sirach there is question of desire springing from love, here of a craving arising from want. These words of our Lord show, then, that sanctifying grace is of its own nature perennial in the soul. Time does not wear it away; use does not consume it; unless it be expelled, it never departs “He that drinks . . . shall not thirst for ever.”
Joh 4:14 But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.
But so far from thirsting, he shall have that within him, that is, the Holy Ghost
and His graces, which will conduct him to eternal life. In this beautiful metaphor, the spiritual water of grace is represented as finding its own level; coming from heaven, it will return thither in those whom it has saved. The mention of eternal life ought to have made it clear that Christ spoke of supernatural and spiritual water.
Joh 4:15 The woman said to him: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.
Yet she probably still understands Him of merely natural water, “Adhuc carnalis est mulier” (Maldonado): and anticipates only relief from having to come to Jacob’s well in future.
Joh 4:16 Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
Christ, of course, knew she had no husband; but He knew also what answer she would give, and He wished to get a natural opportunity of disclosing to her the secrets of her wicked life, that He might manifest His supernatural 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.
Joh 4:18 For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. This, thou hast said truly.
17,18. Thou hast well said, I have no husband, or rather, “husband I have not,” with an emphasis on husband, which is marked in the Greek by its
position in the sentence, as reproduced by Christ.
Thou hast had five husbands. Though St. Chrys. and Maldonado, think that there is question, not of husbands, but of paramours, the common opinion, and certainly the obvious one, is that husbands are spoken of. It is not necessary to suppose that the husbands made room for one another by death, for she may have been divorced by several of them. See Deut 24:1, 2;
Joh 4:19 The woman saith to him: Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
A prophet; i.e., here, as elsewhere frequently, one who has supernatural knowledge, who knows things which are naturally hidden from him. In these words the poor woman confesses her own guilt and the exalted character of Christ, whom, however, she does not yet recognise as “The Prophet,”
the Messias, but only as a prophet.
Joh 4:20 Our fathers adored on this mountain: and you say that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore.
Not so much for the purpose ot turning the conversation from the unpleasant
subject of her own character, as in order to have the opinion of a prophet upon an important question, she adds: Our fathers, &c.
She says that her Samaritan ancestors had worshipped on that mountain. She evidently refers to public worship, public ceremonies appointed by God, especially the worship of sacrifice; for the Jews never held that private worship, as of prayer, should be restricted to Jerusalem. The mountain to
which she refers, and beneath the shadow of which Christ and she were standing, is Mount Garizim, which over hangs the town of Sichar. In the time of Alexander the Great, Manasses, a Jewish priest, was excluded from the
exercise of his ministry for marrying the daughter of the king of Sichem. The king accordingly built for Manasses a temple on Mount Garizim, where he offered sacrifice to the true God. This temple was built about 330 B.C., and stood for two hundred years. After it was destroyed, about 130 B.C., the Samaritans erected an altar upon Garizim, and continued to offer sacrifice there; so that from the time of Manasses the true God was worshipped, though imperfectly, among them. There still remain a few families of Samaritans, under the shadow of Mount Garizim, in the modern city of
Nablus, the ancient Neapolis.
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.
Christ declares with all solemnity that the time is at hand nay, already come (see verse 23), when true worship shall be restricted neither to Jerusalem nor to Garizim; and hence her question is practically unimportant.
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 (Greek ὅ = ho) you know not. As the woman’s inquiry regarded not the object, but the place of worship, some have understood these words of our Lord in reference to the place, as if He said: You adore in a
place for worshipping in which you have no Divine sanction, we in a place pointed out by the finger ofGod. But it is difficult to reconcile this view with
our Lord’s words: “You adore that which you know not.” Hence it is more probable, that in replying to her inquiry, He takes occasion to refer to the imperfect knowledge of God, possessed by the Samari tans. The neuter (ὅ = ho) seems to be used in the first instance, to show the want of personality and definiteness in the Samaritan idea of God (see footnote), and in the second instance merely for the sake of correspondence between the two members of
the sentence. We adore. That Christ numbers Himself among those who adore, merely proves that He had a human nature.
(Footnote: Compare Acts 17:23, where tne true reading is ο ουν, agreeing with the Vulgate).
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.
Still, though this is so, not even to Jerusalem, shall worship be restricted in the future; but the hour cometh, &c.
Joh 4:24 God is a spirit: and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth.
What is the adoration in spirit and in truth, here foretold? Evidently the worship of the new dispensation, as contrasted with that of the old; this is plain from the whole context. What, then, is meant by saying that the worship of the new dispensation is to be in spirit and in truth? Various interpretations of the words have been given.
(1) “In spirit” is opposed to the worship of the Jews; “in truth” to that of the
Samaritans. Hence the worship of the new dispensation is to be, not merely external, as was the Jewish (unless it was accompanied by faith in the Redeemer to come, in which case it was not merely Jewish, but Christian), nor false, as was the Samaritan. (Toletus.)
(2) “In spirit” is opposed to all merely external and local worship, whether of Jews or Samaritans; “in truth” to the typical and imperfect worship
of the Jews. For the Jewish sacrifices and ceremonies were only shadows and types of the realities in the New Law. “For the law having a shadow of
the good things to come, not the very image (reality) of the things: by the selfsame sacrifices which they offer continually every year, can never make the comers thereunto perfect” (Heb 10:1), Maldonado,who favours the next opinion also.
(3) “In spirit” and “in truth” are synonymous, and signify true supernatural worship, springing from faith and grace, and hence opposed to all imperfect or false worship. This opinion, considered equally probable with the preceding by Maldonatus,and held by Beelen and Corluy, we prefer; for in verse 24, the fact that God is a Spirit (it is not stated that He is also Truth) is given as the reason why He should be worshipped in both spirit and truth.
The distinguishing features of true Christian worship, indicated in verses 21, 23, are that it is to be universal, not restricted, like the Jewish or Samaritan, to Jerusalem or Garizim; and spiritual, offered with hearts animated by faith and grace, and not consisting merely in external rites.
In the end of verse 23 and in this verse Christ goes on to give the reasons why this worship, which is primarily spiritual, is to exist in the new and more perfect dispensation (1) It i s the Father’s will. (2) It is meet that such should be the worship paid to Him who is Himself a Spirit. It is hardly necessary to point out that Calvin’s interpretation of adoration by faith alone cannot be admitted. Were that sufficient, the devils themselves would be true
adorers, for “the devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). Neither does Christ here imply that all external worship, external rites and ceremonies,
were to cease, but only that they were to cease to be merely external; else (1) His acts would contradict His words, Luke 22:41; 24:50; (2) His Apostles would distinctly disobey Him: see Acts 16:25; 9:40 ; Eph 3:14; (3) His Church in every age has misunderstood Him.
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.
The poor woman, apparently bewildered by what Christ had just said, is satisfied to wait in confidence till Messias (here without the article, used as a proper name) shall come, who, she believes, will make known all that it is necessary to know regarding the place and character of the worship of the true God. As the Samaritans admitted only the Pentateuch, where the term Messias is not used (though His coming is foretold, Deut 18:18); as, moreover, she could not have gathered from the Pentateuch the time of His coming, she must have learned by rumour that the Jews were at this time expecting the Messias; her words, “He will tell us all things,” showed that she hoped for His coming in her own day.
It is difficult to say whether the words explanatory of Messias, who is called Christ, are the woman s or our Evangelist’s. That the Evangelist explained the term before (Jn 1:41), is not a proof that he does not do so again, for see John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2.
Joh 4:26 Jesus saith to her: I am he, who am speaking with thee.
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?
26, 27. At length Christ reveals Himself; and now that He has excited her interest and awakened her faith, the disciples return from Sichar, and are
astonished to find Him speaking publicly with a woman a thing not usually done by Jewish doctors.
Joh 4:28 The woman therefore left her waterpot and went her way into the city and saith to the men there:
Joh 4:29 Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?
Joh 4:30 They went therefore out of the city and came unto him.
28-30. The discourse being interrupted by the arrival of the disciples,the woman, forgetful or indifferent regarding the errand which had brought her to thewell, went her way into the city, and soon returned with a number of her fellow-citizens.
Joh 4:31 In the mean time, the disciples prayed him, saying: Rabbi, eat.
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.
31-34. Meanwhile the disciples invite Jesus to eat, to whom He replies that He has meat to eat which they know not, that meat being, as He explains in verse 34, to do the will of Him that sent Him. It was no time for attending to the wants of His human nature; He had more serious work in hands in the conversion of the Samaritans.
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 the harvest cometh. Maldonatus, followed by Father Coleridge, takes this to be a proverb meaning that there is no need of hurry that the matter in question is still far off. As, however, there is no evidence that such a proverb was current among the Jews, it is much better to understand the verse thus: You say what is true, that it is still four months till the harvest of nature; but lift up your eyes, and behold the harvest of grace in the men of Sichar who are approaching.
As the barley harvest in Palestine came in about the middle of April, this time, four months earlier, was the middle of December, the end of the first year of our Lord’s public life.
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 encourages His disciples to the work; in saving others they save themselves.
Joh 4:37 For in this is the saying true: That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.
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.
37-38. The Prophets and Doctors of the Old Law had prepared the way for the
Apostles and disciples of Christ; had ploughed and sown where they were now to reap. I have sent you. Maldonado, who holds that this is not the same journey with that referred to in Matt 4:12, Mark 1:14, and that the Apostles were already formally called by Christ, understands “I have sent” of an action already completed by Christ. As, however, it is more probable that the Apostles were not yet formally called (see Matt 4:12, 18; 10:1), it is better to understand this, with Lapide, of the Divine decree to send the Apostles on
their mission afterwards.
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.
Joh 4:41 And many more believed in him, because of his own word.
39-41. Many believed in Him on account of what the woman told them, and, after He had remained two days in Sichar, many more on account of His discourses.
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.
This is the Hebrew way of expressing that it was not so much on account of the woman’s saying, as because they had heard Him themselves.