Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chap. John 4:1-42. The Work among Samaritans
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,1. When therefore the Lord knew] The ‘therefore’ refers us back to John 3:26. Of the many who came to Christ some told the Pharisees of His doings, just as others told John.
the Pharisees] See on John 1:24.
made and baptized] Literally, is making and baptizing, the very words of the report are given. This is important as shewing the meaning of the next verse, which is a correction not of the Evangelist’s own statement but of the report. In the Authorised Version S. John seems to be correcting himself: he is really correcting the report carried to the Pharisees.
than John] They did not object so much to John’s making disciples. He disclaimed being the Messiah, and he took his stand on the Law. Moreover, he ‘did no miracle.’ They could understand his position much better than that of Jesus, and feared it less. See on John 6:15.
(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)2. Jesus himself baptized not] Because baptizing is the work of a minister, not of the Lord. Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).
He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.3. He left Judæa] The stronghold of the Pharisees and of the party opposed to Christ. We are to infer, therefore, that this report made them commence operations against Him.
departed again into Galilee] ‘Again’ is somewhat wanting in authority. It points to the period from John 1:43 to John 2:12. Christ had come up from Capernaum to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13): He now returns to Galilee. It is sometimes assumed that this visit to Galilee marks the beginning of the Galilean ministry recorded by the Synoptists (comp. Matthew 4:12). This may be correct, but it is not quite certain. See note on Mark 1:14-15.
And he must needs go through Samaria.4. he must needs go through Samaria] There was no other way, unless he crossed the Jordan and went round by Perea, as Jews sometimes did to avoid annoyance from the Samaritans (on the Samaritans, see note on Matthew 10:5). As Christ was on his way from Jerusalem, and escaping from the ruling party there, He had less reason to fear molestation. Comp. Luke 9:53.
Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.5. Then cometh he] Better, He cometh therefore; because that was His route.
a city of Samaria] City is used loosely, and must not be supposed to imply anything large. Capernaum, which Josephus calls a village, the Evangelists call a city. ‘Town’ would be better as a translation. Samaria is the insignificant province of Samaria into which the old kingdom of Jeroboam had dwindled. Omit ‘which is’ before ‘called.’
called Sychar] ‘Called’ may be another indication that this Gospel was written outside Palestine or it may mean that Sychar was a nickname (‘liar’ or ‘drunkard’). In the one case Sychar is a different place from Sychem or Shechem, though close to it, viz. the modern Askar: in the other it is another name for Sychem, the Neapolis of S. John’s day, and the modern Naplûs. The former view is preferable, though certainty is impossible. Would S. John have written ‘Neapolis’ if Sychem were meant? He writes Tiberias (John 6:1; John 6:23, John 21:1): but Tiberias was probably a new town as well as a new name, whereas Neapolis was a new name for an old town; so the analogy is not perfect. Eusebius and Jerome distinguish Sychar from Sychem. Naplûs has many wells close at hand.
that Jacob gave to his son Joseph] Genesis 33:19; Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32. Abraham bought the ground, Jacob gave it to Joseph, and Joseph was buried there.
5–42. Doubt has been thrown on this narrative in three different ways. (1) On a priori grounds. How could the Samaritans, who rejected the prophetical books, and were such bitter enemies of the Jews, be expecting a Messiah? The narrative is based on a fundamental mistake. But it is notorious that the Samaritans did look for a Messiah, and are looking for one to the present day. Though they rejected the Prophets, they accepted the Pentateuch, with all its Messianic prophecies. (2) On account of Acts 8:5. How could Philip go and convert the Samaritans, if Christ had already done so? But is it to be supposed that in two days Christ perfected Christianity in Samaria (even allowing, what is not certain, that Christ and Philip went to the same town), so as to leave nothing for a preacher to do afterwards? Many acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah who afterwards, on finding Him to be very different from the Messiah they expected, fell away. This would be likely enough at Samaria. The seed had fallen on rocky ground. (3) On the supposition that the narrative is an allegory, of which the whole point lies in the words ‘thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.’ The five husbands are the five religions from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, brought to Samaria by the colonists from Assyria (2 Kings 17:24.); and the sixth is the adulterated worship of Jehovah. If our interpreting Scripture depends upon our guessing such riddles as this, we may well despair of the task. But the allegory is a pure fiction. 1. When S. John gives us an allegory, he leaves no doubt that it is an allegory. There is not the faintest hint here. 2. It would be extraordinary that in a narrative of 38 verses the whole allegory should be contained in less than one verse, the rest being mere setting. This is like a frame a yard wide round a miniature. 3. There is a singular impropriety in making the five heathen religions ‘husbands,’ while the worship of Jehovah is represented by a paramour.
The narrative is true to what we know of Jews and Samaritans at this time. The topography is well preserved. ‘The gradual development of the woman’s belief is psychologically true.’ These and other points to be noticed as they occur may convince us that this narrative cannot be a fiction. Far the easiest supposition is that it is a faithful record of actual facts.
Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.6. Jacob’s well] Or, spring (John 4:11). It still exists, but without spring-water; one of the few sites about which there is no dispute, in the entrance to the valley between Ebal and Gerizim.
sat thus on the well] Or, was sitting thus (just as He was) by the spring. All these details mark the report as of one who had full information.
about the sixth hour] See on John 1:39. This case again is not decisive as to S. John’s mode of reckoning the hours. On the one hand, noon was an unusual hour for drawing water. On the other, a woman whose life was under a cloud (John 4:18) might select an unusual hour; and at 6 p.m. numbers would probably have been coming to draw, and the conversation would have been disturbed. Again, after 6 p.m. there would be rather short time for all that follows. These two instances (John 1:39 and this) lend no strong support to the antecedently improbable theory that S. John’s method of counting the hours is different from the Synoptists.
There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.7. a woman of Samaria] i.e. of the province; not of the city of Samaria, at that time called Sebaste, in honour of Augustus, who had given it to Herod the Great. Herod’s name for it survives in the modern Sebustieh. A woman of the city of Samaria would not have come all that distance to fetch water. In legends this woman is called Photina.
Give me to drink] Quite literal, as the next verse shews. He asked her for refreshment because His disciples had gone away. ‘Give me the spiritual refreshment of thy conversion’ is a meaning read into the words and not found in them.
(For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)8. to buy meat] i.e. food, not necessarily flesh. The meat-offering was fine flour and oil without any flesh. Leviticus 2:1. The Greek word here means ‘nourishment.’
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.9. woman of Samaria] In both places in this verse we should rather have Samaritan woman: the Greek is not the same as in John 4:7. The adjective lays stress on the national and religious characteristics. For ‘then’ read therefore, as in John 4:5.
How is it] Feminine pertness. She is half-amused and half-triumphant.
being a Jew] She knew Him to be such by His dress and by His language.
for the Jews, &c.] Omit the articles; for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. This is a remark, not of the woman, but of S. John, to explain the woman’s question. As He was on his way from Jerusalem she probably thought He was a Judaean. The Galileans seem to have been less strict; and hence His disciples went to buy food of Samaritans. Some important authorities omit the remark.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.10. the gift of God] What He is ready to give thee, what is now held out to thee, thy salvation. For ‘knewest’ read hadst known. Comp. John 11:21; John 11:32, John 14:28, where we have the same construction; and contrast John 5:46 and John 8:19, where the A. V. makes the converse mistake of translating imperfects as if they were aorists.
thou wouldest have asked of him] instead of His asking of thee: ‘thou’ is emphatic. ‘Spiritually our positions are reversed. It is thou who art weary, and foot-sore, and parched, close to the well, yet unable to drink; it is I who can give thee the water from the well, and quench thy thirst for ever.’ There is a scarcely doubtful reference to this passage in the Ignatian Epistles, Romans VII. See on John 6:33, to which there is a clear reference in this same chapter. The passage with these references to the Fourth Gospel is found in the Syriac as well as in the shorter Greek versions of Ignatius; so that we have almost certain evidence of this Gospel being known as early as a.d. 115. See on John 3:3.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?11. Sir] A decided change from the pert ‘How is it?’ in John 4:9. His words and manner already begin to impress her.
the well is deep] Not the same word for ‘well’ as in John 4:6. There the spring in the well is the chief feature: here it is rather the deep hole in which the spring was. Earlier travellers have called it over a 100 feet deep: at the present time it is about 75 feet deep.
that living water] Better, the living water, of which Thou speakest. She thinks He means spring-water as distinct from cistern-water. Comp. Jeremiah 2:13, where the two are strongly contrasted. In Genesis 26:19, as the margin shews, ‘springing water’ is literally ‘living water,’ viva aqua. What did Christ mean by the ‘living water?’ Among the various answers we may at once set aside any reference to baptism. Faith, God’s grace and truth, Christ Himself, are other answers. The difference between them is at bottom not so great as appears on the surface. Christ here uses the figure of water, as elsewhere of bread (6) and light (John 8:12), the three most necessary things for life. But He does not here identify Himself with the living water, as He does with the Bread, and the Light: therefore it seems better to understand the living water as the ‘grace and truth’ of which He is full (John 1:14). Comp. Sir 15:3; Bar 3:12.
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?12. Art thou greater] ‘Thou’ is very emphatic; Surely Thou art not greater. Comp. John 8:53. The loquacity of the woman as contrasted with the sententiousness of Nicodemus is very natural, while on the other hand she shews a similar perverseness in misunderstanding spiritual metaphors.
our father Jacob] The Samaritans claimed to be descended from Joseph; with how much justice is a question very much debated. Some maintain that they were of purely heathen origin, although they were driven by calamity to unite the worship of Jehovah with their own idolatries: and this view seems to be in strict accordance with 2 Kings 17:23-41. Renegade Jews took refuge among them from time to time; but such immigrants would not affect the texture of the nation more than the French refugees among ourselves. Others hold that the Samaritans were from the first a mongrel nation, a mixture of heathen colonists with Jewish inhabitants, left behind by Shalmaneser. But there is nothing to shew that he did leave any behind (2 Kings 18:11); Josephus says (Ant. ix. xiv. 1) that ‘he transplanted all the people.’ When the Samaritans asked Alexander the Great to excuse them from tribute in the Sabbatical year, because as true sons of Joseph they did not till their land in the seventh year, he pronounced their claim an imposture, and destroyed Samaria. Our Lord calls a Samaritan a ‘stranger’ (Luke 17:18), literally ‘one of a different race.’
which gave us the well] This has no foundation in Scripture, but no doubt was a Samaritan tradition. She means, the well was good enough for him, and is good enough for us; hast Thou a better?
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:13, 14. Christ leaves her question unanswered, like that of Nicodemus (John 3:4-5), and passes on to develop the metaphor rather than explain it, contrasting the literal with the figurative sense. Comp. John 3:6.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.14. shall never thirst] Literally, will certainly not thirst for ever, for the craving is satisfied as soon as ever it recurs. See on John 8:51.
springing up into everlasting life] Not that eternal life is some future result to be realised hereafter; it is the immediate result. The soul in which the living water flows has eternal life. See on John 4:36 and John 3:16.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.15. She still does not understand, but does not wilfully misunderstand. This wonderful water will at any rate be worth having, and she asks quite sincerely (not ironically) for it. Had she been a Jew, she could scarcely have thus misunderstood, this metaphor of ‘water’ and ‘living water’ is so frequent in the Prophets. Comp. Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8. But the Samaritans rejected all but the Pentateuch.
to draw] Same word as in John 2:8-9; peculiar to this Gospel.
Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.16. Go, call thy husband] Not that the man was wanted, either as a concession to Jewish propriety, which forbad a Rabbi to talk with a woman alone, or for any other reason. By a seemingly casual request Christ lays hold of her inner life, convinces her of sin, and leads her to repentance, without which her request, ‘Give me this water,’ could not be granted. The husband who was no husband was the plague-spot where her healing must begin.
The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:17. hast well said] i.e. saidst rightly. Comp. John 8:48; Matthew 15:7; Luke 20:39. There is perhaps a touch of irony in the ‘well.’
For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.18. five husbands] To be understood quite literally. They were either dead or divorced, and she was now living with a man without being married to him.
in that saidst thou truly] Better, this (one thing) thou hast said truly. Christ exposes the falsehood which lurks in the literal truth of her statement.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.19. a prophet] One divinely inspired with supernatural knowledge, 1 Samuel 9:9. Note the gradual change in her attitude of mind towards Him. First, off-hand pertness (John 4:9); then, respect to His gravity of manner and serious words (John 4:11); next, a misunderstanding belief in what He says (John 4:15); and now, reverence for Him as a ‘man of God.’ Comp. the parallel development of faith in the man born blind (see on John 9:11) and in Martha (see on John 11:21).
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.20. Convinced that He can read her life she shrinks from inspection and hastily turns the conversation from herself. In seeking a new subject she naturally catches at one of absorbing interest to every Samaritan. Mount Gerizim shorn of its temple suggests the great national religious question ever in dispute between them and the Jews. Here was One who could give an authoritative answer about it; she will ask Him. To urge that such a woman would care nothing about the matter is unsound reasoning. Are irreligious people never keen about religious questions now-a-days? Does an immoral life destroy all interest in Romanism, Ritualism, and the like?
in this mountain] Gerizim; her not naming it is very lifelike. The Samaritans contended that here Abraham offered up Isaac, and afterwards met Melchisedek. The former is more credible than the latter. A certain Manasseh, a man of priestly family, married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 13:28), and was thereupon expelled from Jerusalem. He fled to Samaria and helped Sanballat to set up a rival worship on Gerizim. It is uncertain whether the temple on Gerizim was built then (about b. c. 410) or a century later; but it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus b. c. 130, after it had stood 200 years or more. Yet the Samaritans in no way receded from their claims, but continue their worship on Gerizim to the present day.
ye say] Unconsciously she admits that One, whom she has just confessed to be a Prophet, is against her in the controversy. Comp. Deuteronomy 12:13.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.21. believe me] This formula occurs here only; the usual one is ‘I say unto you.’
the hour cometh] No article in the Greek; there cometh an hour. Christ decides neither for nor against either place. The utter ruin on Gerizim and the glorious building at Jerusalem will soon be on an equality. Those who would worship the Father must rise above such distinctions of place. A time is coming when all limitations of worship will disappear.
21–24. “We shall surely be justified in attributing the wonderful words of John 4:21; John 4:23-24, to One greater even than S. John. They seem to breathe the spirit of other worlds than ours—‘of worlds whose course is equable and pure;’ where media and vehicles of grace are unneeded, and the soul knows even as it is known. There is nothing so like them in their sublime infinitude of comprehension, and intense penetration to the deepest roots of things, as some of the sayings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:6). It is words like these that strike home to the hearts of men, as in the most literal sense Divine.” S. p. 95.
Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.22. ye know not what] Or, that which ye know not. The Samaritan religion, even after being purified from the original mixture with idolatry (2 Kings 17:33; 2 Kings 17:41), remained a mutilated religion; the obscurity of the Pentateuch (and of that a garbled text) unenlightened by the clearer revelations in the Prophets and other books of O.T. Such a religion when contrasted with that of the Jews might well be called ignorance.
we know what we worship] Or, we worship that which we know. The first person plural here is not similar to that in John 3:11 (see note there), though some would take it so. Christ here speaks as a Jew, and in such a passage there is nothing surprising in His so doing. As a rule Christ gives no countenance to the view that He belongs to the Jewish nation in any special way, though the Jewish nation specially belongs to Him (John 1:11): He is the Saviour of the world, not of the Jews only. But here, where it is a question whether Jew or Samaritan has the larger share of religious truth, He ranks Himself both by birth and by religion among the Jews. ‘We,’ therefore, means ‘we Jews.’
salvation is of the Jews] Literally, the salvation, the expected salvation, is of the Jews; i.e. proceeds from them (not belongs to them), in virtue of the promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18) and Isaac Genesis 26:4). This verse is absolutely fatal to the theory that this Gospel is the work of a Gnostic Greek in the second century (see on John 19:35). That salvation proceeded from the Jews contradicts the fundamental principle of Gnosticism, that salvation was to be sought in the higher knowledge of which Gnostics had the key. Hence those who uphold such a theory of authorship assume, in defiance of all evidence, that this verse is a later interpolation. The verse is found in all MSS. and versions.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.23. the hour cometh] As before, there cometh an hour. What follows, and it is now here, could not be added in John 4:21. The local worship on Gerizim and Zion must still continue for a while; but there are already a few who are rising above these externals to the spirit of true worship, in which the opposition between Jew and Samaritan disappears.
the true worshippers] The same word for ‘true’ as in John 1:9 (see note there); ‘true’ as opposed to what is ‘spurious’ and ‘unreal.’ Worship to be genuine, real, and perfect must be offered in spirit and truth.
in spirit] This is opposed to all that is carnal, material, and of the earth earthy;—‘this mountain,’ the Temple, limitations of time and place. Not that such limitations are wrong; but they are not of the essence of religion, and become wrong when they are mistaken for the essence of religion.
in truth] (Omit ‘in’) i.e. in harmony with the Nature and Will of God. In the sphere of intellect, this means recognition of His Presence and Omniscience; in the sphere of action, conformity with His absolute Holiness. ‘Worship in spirit and truth,’ therefore, implies prostration of the inmost soul before the Divine Perfection, submission of every thought and feeling to the Divine Will.
for the Father seeketh, &c.] Better, for such the Father also seeketh for His worshippers. ‘Such’ is very emphatic; ‘this is the character which He also desires in His worshippers.’ The ‘also’ must not be lost. That worship should be ‘in spirit and truth’ is required by the fitness of things: moreover God Himself desires to have it so, and works for this end. Note how three times in succession Christ speaks of God as the Father (John 4:21; John 4:23): perhaps it was quite a new aspect of Him to the woman.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.24. God is spirit, and must be approached in that part of us which is spirit, in the true temple of God, ‘which temple ye are.’ Even to the chosen three Christ imparts no truths more profound than these. He admits this poor schismatic to the very fountain-head of religion.
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.25. Messias] See note on John 1:41. There is nothing at all improbable in her knowing the Jewish name and using it to a Jew. The word being so rare in N.T. we are perhaps to understand that it was the very word used; but it may be S. John’s equivalent for what she said. Comp. John 4:29. Throughout this discourse it is impossible to say how much of it is a translation of the very words used, how much merely the substance of what was said. S. John would obtain his information from Christ, and possibly from the woman also during their two days’ stay. The idea that S. John was left behind by the disciples, and heard the conversation, is against the whole tenour of the narrative and is contradicted by John 4:8; John 4:27.
which is called Christ] Probably a parenthetic explanation of the Evangelist’s (but contrast John 1:41), not the woman’s. The Samaritan name for the expected Saviour was ‘the Returning One,’ or (according to a less probable derivation) ‘the Converter.’ ‘The Returner’ points to the belief that Moses was to appear again.
when he is come] Or, when He comes. ‘He’ is in emphatic contrast to other teachers.
all things] In a vague colloquial sense.
Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.26. am he] This is correct, although ‘He’ is not expressed in the Greek. It is the ordinary Greek affirmative (comp. Luke 22:70); there is no reference to the Divine name ‘I AM,’ Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 32:39. This open declaration of His Messiahship is startling when we remember Matthew 16:20; Matthew 17:9; Mark 8:30. But one great reason for reserve on this subject, lest the people should ‘take him by force to make him a king’ (John 6:15), is entirely wanting here. There was no fear of the Samaritans making political capital out of Him. Moreover it was one thing for Christ to avow Himself when He saw that hearts were ready for the announcement; quite another for disciples and others to make Him known promiscuously.
And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?27. talked with the woman] Rather, was talking with a woman, contrary to the precepts of the Rabbis. ‘Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife.’ The woman’s being a Samaritan would increase their astonishment.
What seekest thou?] Probably both questions are addressed (hypothetically) to Christ; not one to the woman, and the other to Him.
The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,28. The woman then] Better, The woman therefore; because of the interruption.
left her waterpot] Same word for ‘waterpot’ as in the miracle at Cana, and used nowhere else. Her leaving it shews that her errand is forgotten, or neglected as of no moment compared with what now lies before her. This graphic touch comes from one who was there, and saw, and remembered.
Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?29. all things that ever I did] How natural is this exaggeration! In her excitement she states not what He had really told her, but what she is convinced He could have told her. Comp. ‘all men’ in John 3:26, and ‘no man’ in John 3:32. This strong language is in all three cases thoroughly in keeping with the circumstances.
is not this the Christ?] Rather, Is this, can this be, the Christ? A similar error occurs John 18:17; John 18:25. Although she believes it she thinks it almost too good to be true. Moreover she does not wish to seem too positive and dogmatic to those who do not yet know the evidence. The form of question is similar to that in John 4:33 : both are put in a form that anticipates a negative answer; num not nonne.
Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.30. went out … and came] Literally, went out … and were coming. The change of tense from aorist to imperfect gives vividness. We are to see them coming along across the fields as we listen to the conversation that follows, 31–38.
In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.31. In the mean while] Between the departure of the women and the arrival of her fellow-townsmen.
Master, eat] Better, Rabbi, eat. Here and in John 9:2 and John 11:8 our translators have rather regrettably turned ‘Rabbi’ into ‘Master,’ (comp. Matthew 26:25; Matthew 26:49; Mark 9:5; Mark 11:21; Mark 14:45); while ‘Rabbi’ is retained John 1:38; John 1:49, John 3:2; John 3:26, John 6:25 (comp. Matthew 23:7-8). Apparently their principle was that wherever a disciple addresses Christ, ‘Rabbi’ is to be translated ‘Master;’ in other cases ‘Rabbi’ is to be retained; thus obscuring the view which the disciples took of their own relation to Jesus. He was their Rabbi.
But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.32. I have meat, &c.] The pronouns ‘I’ and ‘ye’ are emphatically opposed. His joy at the woman’s conversion prompts Him to refuse food: not of course that His human frame could do without it, but that in His delight He feels for the moment no want of food.
Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat?33. Hath any man brought him] The emphasis is on ‘brought.’ ‘Surely no one hath brought Him any thing to eat.’ Another instance of dulness as to spiritual meaning. In John 2:20 it was the Jews; in John 3:4 Nicodemus; in John 4:11 the Samaritan woman; and now the disciples. Comp. John 11:12, John 14:5. These candid reports of what tells against the disciples add to the trust which we place in the narratives of the Evangelists.
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.34. My meat is to do the will, &c.] Literally, My food is that I may do the will of Him that sent Me and thus finish His work. It is Christ’s aim and purpose that is His food. Comp. John 5:36, John 8:56. These words recall the reply to the tempter ‘man doth not live by bread alone,’ and the reply to His parents ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business.’ Luke 4:4; Luke 2:49.
Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.35. Say not ye] The pronoun is again emphatic.
There are yet four months, &c.] This cannot be a proverb. No such proverb is known; and a proverb on the subject would have to be differently shaped; e.g. ‘From seedtime to harvest is four months,’ or something of the kind. So that we may regard this saying as a mark of time. Harvest began in the middle of Nisan or April. Four months from that would place this event in the middle of December: or, if (as some suppose) this was a year in which an extra month was inserted, in the middle of January.
are white already to harvest] In the green blades just shewing through the soil the faith of the sower sees the white ears that will soon be there. So also in the flocking of these ignorant Samaritans to Him for instruction Christ sees the abundant harvest of souls that is to follow. ‘Already’ is the last word in the Greek sentence; and from very ancient times there has been a doubt whether it belongs to this sentence or the next. Some of the best MSS. give ‘already’ to the next sentence; ‘already he that reapeth receiveth wages.’ But MS. authority in punctuation is not of much weight. The received punctuation is perhaps better; ‘already’ at the end of John 4:35 being in emphatic contrast to ‘yet’ at the beginning of it.
And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.36. unto life eternal] Another small change without reason (comp. John 12:25, John 17:3). Our translators vary between ‘eternal life,’ ‘life eternal,’ ‘everlasting life,’ and ‘life everlasting’ (John 12:50). The Greek is in all cases the same, and should in all cases be translated ‘eternal life.’ See on John 3:16. Here ‘into eternal life’ would perhaps be better: ‘eternal life’ is represented as the granary into which the fruit is gathered, not the future result of the gathering. See on John 4:14. Comp. for similar imagery, ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few, &c.’ Matthew 9:37-38.
that both] i.e. In order that both: shewing that this was God’s purpose and intention.
he that soweth] Christ, not the Prophets. The Gospel is not the fruit of which the O.T. is the seed; rather the Gospel is the seed for which the O.T. prepared the ground.
he that reapeth] Christ’s ministers.
And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.37. And herein is that saying true] Rather, For herein is the saying (proved) true, i.e. is shewn to be the genuine proverb capable of realisation, not a mere empty phrase. ‘True’ is opposed to ‘unreal’ not to ‘lying.’ See on John 4:23, John 1:9 and John 7:28. ‘Herein’ refers to what precedes: comp. John 15:8 and ‘by this’ which represents the same Greek in John 16:30.
I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.38. I sent you, &c.] The pronouns are again emphatically opposed, as in John 4:32.
other men] Christ, the Sower; but put in the plural to balance ‘ye’ in the next clause. In John 4:37 both are put in the singular for the sake of harmony; ‘One soweth’ (Christ), ‘another reapeth’ (the disciples). All the verbs in this verse are perfects excepting ‘sent;’ have not laboured, have laboured, have entered.
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.39. many of the Samaritans] Strong proof of the truth of John 4:35. These Samaritans outstrip the Jews, and even the Apostles, in their readiness to believe. The Jews rejected the testimony of their own Scriptures, of the Baptist, of Christ’s miracles and teaching. The Samaritans accept the testimony of the woman, who had suddenly become an Apostle to her countrymen.
So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.40. besought him] Or, kept beseeching Him. How different from His own people at Nazareth; Matthew 13:58; Luke 4:29. Comp. the thankful Samaritan leper, Luke 17:16-17.
tarry with them] Better, abide with them. See on John 1:33. They perhaps mean, take up His abode permanently with them, or at any rate for some time.
And many more believed because of his own word;
And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.42. thy saying] Not the same word as in John 4:39, the Greek for which is the same as that translated ‘word’ in John 4:41. John 4:39; John 4:41 should be alike, viz. ‘word,’ meaning ‘statement’ in John 4:39 and ‘teaching’ in John 4:41. Here we should have ‘speech’ or ‘talk.’ In classical Greek lalia has a slightly uncomplimentary turn, ‘gossip, chatter.’ But this shade of meaning is lost in later Greek, though there is perhaps a slight trace of it here; ‘not because of thy talk;’ but this being doubtful, ‘speech’ will be the safer translation. The whole should run, no longer is it because of thy speech that we believe. In John 8:43 lalia is used by Christ of His own words; see note there.
we Have heard him ourselves] Better, we have heard for ourselves. There is no ‘Him’ in the Greek. ‘The Christ’ is also to be omitted. It is wanting in the best MSS.
the Saviour of the world] It is not improbable that such ready hearers would arrive at this great truth before the end of those two days. It is therefore unnecessary to suppose that S. John is here unconsciously giving one of his own expressions (1 John 4:14) for theirs.
Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee.43–54. The Work among Galileans
43. after two days] Literally, after the two days mentioned in John 4:40.
and went] These words are wanting in the best MSS.
For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country.44. For Jesus himself testified] This is a well-known difficulty. As in John 20:17, we have a reason assigned which seems to be the very opposite of what we should expect. This witness of Jesus would account for His not going into Galilee: how does it account for His going thither? It seems best to fall back on the old explanation of Origen, that by ‘his own country’ is meant Judaea, ‘the home of the Prophets.’ Moreover, Judaea fits in with the circumstances. He had not only met with little honour in Judaea; He had been forced to retreat from it. No Apostle had been found there. The appeal to Judaea had in the main been a failure.
Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast.45. all the things that he did] Of these we have a passing notice John 2:23. ‘The Feast’ means the Passover, but there is no need to name it, because it has already been named, John 2:23.
So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.46. where he made the water wine] and therefore would be likely to find a favourable hearing. For ‘So Jesus came’ read He came therefore. See on John 6:14.
nobleman] Literally, king’s man, i.e. officer in the service of the king, Herod Antipas; but whether in a civil or military office, there is nothing to shew. ‘Nobleman’ is, therefore, not at all accurate: the word has nothing to do with birth. It has been conjectured that this official was Chuza (Luke 8:3), or Manaen (Acts 13:1).
When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.47. that he would come down] Literally, in order that he might come down; comp. John 4:34, John 5:7; John 5:36, John 6:29; John 6:50.
at Capernaum] 20 miles or more from Cana.
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.48. signs and wonders] Christ’s miracles are never mere ‘wonders’ to excite astonishment; they are ‘signs’ of heavenly truths as well, and this is their primary characteristic. Where these two words are joined together ‘signs’ always precedes, excepting four passages in the Acts, where we nave ‘wonders and signs.’ This is the only passage in which S. John uses ‘wonders’ at all. In John 2:11 the word translated ‘miracles’ is the same as the one here translated ‘signs.’ See below, John 4:54.
ye will not believe] In marked contrast to the ready belief of the Samaritans. The form of negation in the Greek is of the strong kind; ye will in no wise believe. See note on 1 Corinthians 1:22. Faith based on miracles is of a low type comparatively, but Christ does not reject it. Comp. John 10:38, John 14:11, John 20:29. This man’s faith is strengthened by being put to test. The words are evidently addressed to him and those about him, and they imply that those addressed are Jews.
The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die.49. ere my child die] This shews both the man’s faith and its weakness. He believes that Christ’s presence can save the child; he does not believe that He can save him without being present.
Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.50. the man believed] The father’s faith is healed at the same time as the son’s body.
had spoken] Better, spake; aorist, not pluperfect.
And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth.
Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.52. began to amend] Or, was somewhat better; a colloquial expression. The father fancies that the cure will be gradual. The fever will depart at Christ’s word, but will depart in the ordinary way. He has not yet fully realised Christ’s power. The reply of the servants shews that the cure was instantaneous.
Yesterday at the seventh hour] Once more we have to discuss S. John’s method of counting the hours of the day. (See on John 1:39 and John 4:6.) Obviously the father set out as soon after Jesus said ‘thy son liveth’ as possible; he had 20 or 25 miles to go to reach home, and he would not be likely to loiter on the way. 7 a.m. is incredible; he would have been home long before nightfall, and the servants met him some distance from home. 7 p.m. is improbable; the servants would meet him before midnight. Thus the modern method of reckoning from midnight to midnight does not suit. Adopting the Jewish method from sunset to sunset, the seventh hour is 1 p.m. He would scarcely start at once in the mid-day heat; nor would the servants. Supposing they met him after sunset, they might speak of 1 p.m. as ‘yesterday.’ (But see on John 20:19, where S. John speaks of the late hours of the evening as belonging to the day before sunset.) Still, 7 p.m. is not impossible, and this third instance must be regarded as not decisive. But the balance here seems to incline to what is antecedently more probable, that S. John reckons the hours, like the rest of the Evangelists, according to the Jewish method.
So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.53. himself believed] This is the last stage in the growth of the man’s faith, a growth which S. John sketches for us here as in the case of the Samaritan woman. In both cases the spiritual development is thoroughly natural, as also is the incidental way in which S. John places it before us.
and his whole house] The first converted family.
This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.54. This is again the second, &c.] Rather, This again as a second miracle (or sign) did Jesus, after He had come out of Judaea into Galilee. Both first and second had similar results: the first confirmed the faith of the disciples, the second that of this official.
The question whether this foregoing narrative is a discordant account of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:2) has been discussed from very early times, for Origen and Chrysostom contend against it. Irenaeus seems to be in favour of the identification, but we cannot be sure that he is. He says, ‘He healed the son of the centurion though absent with a word, saying, Go, thy son liveth.’ Irenaeus may have supposed that this official was a centurion, or ‘centurion’ may be a slip. Eight very marked points of difference between the two narratives have been noted. Together they amount to something like proof that the two narratives cannot refer to one and the same fact, unless we are to attribute an astonishing amount of carelessness or misinformation either to the Synoptists or to S. John.
(1) Here a ‘king’s man’ pleads for his son; there a centurion for his servant.
(2) Here he pleads in person; there the Jewish elders plead for him.
(3) Here the father is probably a Jew; there the centurion is certainly a Gentile.
(4) Here the healing words are spoken at Cana; there at Capernaum.
(5) Here the malady is fever; there paralysis.
(6) Here the father wishes Jesus to come; there the centurion begs him not to come.
(7) Here Christ does not go; there apparently he does.
(8) Here the father has weak faith and is blamed (John 4:48); there the centurion has strong faith and is commended.
And what difficulty is there in supposing two somewhat similar miracles? Christ’s miracles were ‘signs;’ they were vehicles for conveying the spiritual truths which Christ came to teach. If, as is almost certain, He often repeated the same instructive sayings, may He not sometimes have repeated the same instructive acts? Here, therefore, as in the case of the cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-17), it seems wisest to believe that S. John and the Synoptists record different events.