Finding Faith in Samaria

John 4:4–42 records Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Although the woman had come to the well for water (John 4:7, 15), after her conversation with Jesus, she leaves her water jar, returns to the town, and tells the people there to “come see a person who told me all the things that I have done. This one is not the Messiah, is he?” (John 4:29; δεῦτε ἴδετε ἄνθρωπον ὃς εἶπέν μοι πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα, μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός;).1 Others from the town then come, presumably following the woman, to see Jesus (John 4:30, 39–40). Even before the group reaches Jesus, however, many in it have believed in him based on the woman’s report (John 4:39–40a). At the group’s request, Jesus stays with them two additional days, and upon hearing his own teaching, the group believes all the more (John 4:41–42a).2

Earlier, the woman had expressed the expectation that, when he arrived, the Messiah would teach the Samaritans (John 4:25).3 Although the woman expresses uncertainty about how far Jesus’ messiahship will seem viable to the other townsfolk, her perception of his behavior at least seems to make this claim not unreasonable for her (John 4:26, 28–29).4 Still more striking is the townsfolk’s reaction when Jesus teaches them directly: “we ourselves have heard, and we believe that this one is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42b; αὐτοὶ . . . ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθῶς ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου).5 In so doing, these Samaritans recognize the particular shape in which the salvation that originates with the Jews has come,6 even when notable figures among the Jewish leadership themselves have difficulty with Jesus in this respect (cf. John 3:1–21; 4:21–24; 9:110:19).7

1. Cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:117).

2. See also Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 627.

3. Cf. John 4:17b–18, 29a; Augustine, Serm., 51.2 (NPNF1, 6:422–23); Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2 (NPNF1, 14:115); Origen, Comm. Jo., 1.6 (ANF, 9:300).

4. Cf. BDF, §427.2; cf. NASB95 and NET, sub. loc.; Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2, 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:116, 118).

5. Cf. Ephraim Syrus, Hymns on the Nativity, 3 (NPNF2, 13:230).

6. Keener, John, 627.

7. The phrase “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ) may include a hendiadys (Keener, John, 615–18). Or, the two objects of the preposition “in” (ἐν) may be “separate . . . but epexegetically related” (Andreas J. Köstenberger, John [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], 156n50). In either case, because of the close connection that John 4:23–24 proposes between “spirit” and “truth,” “truly” (John 4:42; ἀληθῶς) in the mouths of the Samaritans may well situate them as or among the “true worshipers” (John 4:23; ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταί) of the Father in that “hour [that] is coming and now is” (John 4:23; ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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