John 4 Study Notes


4:1-42 Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman took place by divine necessity (v. 4). Unlike Nicodemus, the woman progressed in her understanding. She viewed him first as a Jew (v. 9), then as someone who could make her life easier (v. 15), then as a prophet (v. 19), and then possibly as Messiah (v. 29). The woman’s fellow townspeople concluded that Jesus was the Savior of the world (v. 42).

4:1 The Pharisees had investigated John the Baptist’s credentials (1:19,24); now they were looking into those of Jesus.

4:2 John the Evangelist, author of this Gospel, here clarified the earlier statement in 3:26.

4:3 On Jesus going from Judea to Galilee, see note at 3:22.

4:4 Had to travel may indicate that Jesus’s itinerary was set by the sovereign plan of God (9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9). Through Samaria was the most direct route from Judea to Galilee, but strict Jews, wishing to avoid defilement, bypassed Samaria by taking a longer, less direct route. This involved crossing the Jordan River and traveling across from Samaria on the eastern side of the river.

4:5 Sychar was located just east of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The reference to the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph reflects the customary inference from Gn 48:21-22 and Jos 24:32 that Jacob gave his son Joseph the land at Shechem that he had bought from the sons of Hamor (Gn 33:18-19) and that later served as Joseph’s burial place (Ex 13:19; Jos 24:32).

4:6 Jesus was worn out from his journey. This underscores his genuine, full humanity.

4:7 The first sentence would have raised the question: What will Jesus do? Those who knew the Samaritans would have been shocked by Jesus’s request.

4:8 Jesus and his disciples usually carried little or nothing to eat on their journeys. Rather, they brought money to buy provisions along the way (12:6; 13:29). Purchasing food was a common assignment given to disciples. Jesus did not fear being defiled by food bought in a Samaritan village.

4:9 The author’s aside that Jews do not associate with Samaritans explained to his Diaspora readership that rabbis considered Samaritans to be in a continual state of uncleanness.

4:10-15 The references to Jesus as the giver of living water involve double meaning (see notes at 3:3-8,14-15). Literally, the phrase refers to fresh spring water (Gn 26:19; Lv 14:6). God was known as the source of life (Gn 1:11-12,20-31; 2:7) and “the fountain of living water” (Jr 2:13; see Is 12:3). In Nm 20:8-11, water gushed out of the rock, a much-needed provision for the Israelites.

4:11 Jacob’s well may have been the deepest well in Palestine. It is more than a hundred feet deep today and was probably deeper in Jesus’s day.

4:12 The woman’s account of Jacob giving the Samaritans the well and drinking from it himself was based on tradition, not Scripture. The book of Genesis does not record Jacob digging a well, drinking from it, and giving it to his sons.

4:14 The phrase will become a well of water springing up in him is reminiscent of Is 12:3 (cp. Is 44:3; 55:1-3).

4:16 Jesus’s instructions gave the woman the opportunity to admit that she was living with a man who was not her husband.

4:17 While technically truthful, the woman’s statement was potentially misleading because it could be taken to imply that she was unattached. Jesus knew the full truth.

4:18 The woman had had five husbands—or five “men” (the Gk aner can mean “husband” or “man”)—having engaged in a series of illicit relationships, and she was not married to her current lover. Sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden in both Testaments.

4:19 The woman recognized that Jesus knew her life circumstances without apparently having been told by anyone—hence he must be a prophet (cp. Lk 7:39).

4:20-21 The fathers who worshiped on this mountain—a reference to Mount Gerizim (Dt 11:29; 27:12), the OT setting for the pronouncement of blessings for keeping the covenant, and the mountain on which Moses commanded an altar to be built (Dt 27:4-6)—included Abraham (Gn 12:7) and Jacob (Gn 33:20), who built altars in this region.

4:22 True worship must be based on true knowledge of God, and the Samaritans limited themselves to just the Pentateuch. Salvation is from the Jews means that in salvation history the Jews are the conduit through which salvation comes to the world.

4:23-24 Because God is spirit, the Israelites were not to make idols “in the shape of anything” as the surrounding nations did (Ex 20:4). Jesus’s point was that since God is spirit, proper worship of him is also a matter of spirit rather than physical location.

4:25-26 On Christ as a title of Jesus, see note at 1:38.

4:27 The disciples’ amazement that Jesus was talking with a woman stemmed from the common Jewish teaching that talking too much to a woman, even one’s wife, was a waste of time, diverting one’s attention from the study of Scripture and reflection on God.

4:28 The woman’s water jar was probably a large earthenware pitcher carried on the shoulder or hip. She abandoned her original purpose for coming to the well in order to tell her townspeople about Jesus.

4:29 Who told me everything I ever did was an exaggeration—but understandable in light of her excitement. See note at v. 39.

4:30 It is interesting that the woman had such credibility that people left their work to see the man she spoke of.

4:31 Rabbi, eat something reflected the disciples’ customary concern for their Master’s well-being. Jesus had been worn out from his journey before his conversation with the Samaritan woman (see note at v. 6). He still had not had anything to eat.

4:32-34 The accomplishment of Jesus’s mission was more important to him than physical food (Mt 6:25; Mk 3:20-21). His statement may echo Dt 8:3 (cp. Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4). On Jesus’s work, see note at 17:4.

4:35 In agriculture there is always a considerable separation in time between sowing and harvesting. The disciples needed to realize that with the coming of Jesus, sowing (preaching) and reaping (conversions) coincided. The immediate reference may be to the approaching Samaritans (vv. 39-42).

4:36 This saying is reminiscent of Am 9:13, which depicted the prosperity of the new age. Hence Jesus claimed that he was ushering in the messianic age, a time of swift, abundant harvest.

4:37-38 This saying may allude to Mc 6:15, “You will sow but not reap.” Yet Jesus’s adaptation left judgment unmentioned. The others who had labored were Jesus and his predecessors, most recently John the Baptist, the final prophet associated with the OT era. Jesus’s followers were the beneficiaries of their work and would bring in the harvest.

4:39 That town refers to Sychar (see note at v. 5). Though people would naturally be skeptical about religious pronouncements made by an immoral woman such as this Samaritan, her sincerity (and perhaps a noticeable change in her morality) convinced her townspeople to take her seriously as she spoke about Jesus.

4:40 Jesus obviously did not share in the Jewish bias against Samaritans since he spent two days with them (see notes at vv. 4,9).

4:41-42 As others had done (1:40-41,45), the woman brought people to Jesus so they could see for themselves. Ultimately, it was on the basis of a personal encounter with Jesus that they believed. His large harvest among the Samaritans marked the first sign of the universal scope of his saving mission (10:16; 11:51-52). The early church also undertook a Samaritan mission (Ac 8:4-25; cp. Ac 1:8). In fact, the pattern of Jesus’s mission from Judea (Nicodemus, Jn 3), to Samaria (Jn 4), to the Gentiles (vv. 46-54; cp. 12:20-33), anticipated the post-Pentecost mission of the early church (Ac 1:8).

4:43-54 The healing of the royal official’s son completes the “Cana cycle” in John’s Gospel, which spans from 2:1 to 4:54 and begins and ends with a “sign” performed by Jesus in Cana of Galilee (2:11; 4:54; see note at 2:11). The present sign is a rare instance of a long-distance healing performed by Jesus. The story resembles that of the Gentile centurion in Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:2-10, but this is not the same incident. All three signs featured in the Cana cycle (the turning of water into wine, the temple clearing, and the healing of the royal official’s son) set forth Jesus as the Messiah, who showed convincing proofs of his divine commission.

4:43 Jesus left there (Sychar) and entered Galilee. From Sychar to Cana was about forty miles, a trip of two or three days.

4:44 On a prophet’s lack of honor in his own country, compare Mt 13:57; Lk 4:24.

4:45 Jesus’s Galilean welcome must be understood in light of vv. 44 and 48 (cp. 2:23-25).

4:46 The royal official was probably a Gentile centurion, possibly in service to Herod Antipas (Mk 6:14). His son’s illness involved fever (Jn 4:52) and appears to have been terminal (vv. 47,49).

4:47 The distance from Capernaum to Cana was about fifteen miles. The journey was mostly uphill (see note at 2:12). Conversely, from Cana Jesus would come down to Capernaum.

4:48 The expression signs and wonders probably harks back to the series of miracles performed by Moses at the exodus. Jesus rebuked people for their dependence on the miraculous; for John, miracles were “signs” pointing to Jesus’s messianic identity (see note at 2:11).

4:49-50 This is a rare instance of a long-distance miracle. A similar incident is described in Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:2-10. The words your son will live may recall Elijah’s statement in 1Kg 17:23. If so, Jesus’s messianic activity is compared with the healing ministry of Elijah (Lk 4:23-27).

4:54 The second sign refers to signs done in Cana (see note at 2:11); in the interim, Jesus had performed signs in Jerusalem (2:23; 3:2; 4:45). Thus John closed the cycle of Jesus’s first ministry circuit, starting and ending in Cana of Galilee (see note at vv. 43-54).