John 4 – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well is a favorite story for preachers.  Here Jesus meets with a woman of ill-repute and crosses cultural and social boundaries to share the gospel with her.  As a result, she returns to her village and many people in her village believe in Jesus. There are some obvious preachable points in the story which make for a rousing missionary conference sermon, encouraging evangelism and reaching out beyond one’s normal social circle.

The Woman at the WellThat is all very good, but that is not why John has placed this story in his gospel. John tells us that his purpose in writing his Gospel is so that the reader might know Jesus is the Messiah and have life in his name.  This story contributes to that purpose.

Jesus has revealed who he is with a private sign at the wedding at Cana (2:11-12) and again publicly when he cleared the Temple (John 2:13-25).  After these two signs, he encounters three people who illustrate three ways in which people reacted to Jesus. Nicodemus is a representative of the Jews, the woman at the well represents the Samaritans, and the official in John 4:43-54 is a Gentile, albeit a God-fearer. These three responses relate to the initial question of the book from Jesus: “what do you want with me?” Nicodemus wanted a Jewish scholar, the woman looked for “living water” and the official needed healing for his child.

These three categories of people appear elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts 1:8 Jesus commands his disciples to be witnesses of the gospel “in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  In John 3-4, Jesus has presented himself as the Messiah in Judea to Nicodemus, in Samaria to the woman at the well, and to the “ends of the earth” by healing the Gentile official’s son. Each of these people misunderstand who Jesus is, to Nicodemus he is a teacher, to the woman he is a prophet, and to the official he is a healer. Each becomes a witness in the Gospel of John, and each “believes” and influences others to believe.

While Nicodemus fades from the story, the Samaritan woman slowly understands Jesus, first questioning his motives, then accepting his offer of water, then believing he is a prophet, and finally that he is the messiah. Like Nicodemus, we are left wondering if she becomes a believer. Like Nicodemus, she is never identified as a believer in John 4. Yet her village does in fact come to faith in Jesus as a result of her imperfect testimony.

Jesus makes several important theological statements to the woman at the well and she responds with questions (John 4:7-25). First, Jesus asks for water, and offers the woman living water which brings eternal life (4:7-18). This question seems literal; Jesus is thirsty, so he asks the woman to give him some water since he does not have anything with which to draw water. His request makes perfect sense on the literal level.

But Jesus quickly turns the conversation to “living water” which results in true spiritual life (vs. 10). As with Nicodemus and being “born again,” this “living water” is likely an allusion to the Hebrew Bible. In this case, Jesus may have in mind God’s provision of water in Numbers 20:8-11. In that case, God saved the lives of the people of Israel in the wilderness by providing them with drinkable water “gushing out of the rock.”

The prophets use the image of water in the wilderness to describe the coming age of peace and prosperity. Jeremiah 2:13 and Isaiah 12:3, for example, use the image of provided water in different ways. In Jeremiah, God provided water, but the people of Israel preferred their substitute water (false gods). But Isaiah sees a time coming when Israel will be in her land again drinking the water provided by God. Jesus is therefore telling this woman that he can provide her with the same life-giving water that will mark the eschatological age. The woman misunderstands, thinking “living water” means that Jesus has a source of fresh water that could help her to avoid coming to the well (vss. 11-15).

Second, Jesus offers some extraordinary knowledge which shows he is a prophet. It is possible that the woman’s response “I see you are a prophet” is sarcastic, since obviously a woman getting water alone at noon has some social problem which separates her from other women. The woman’s response is accurate, although deceptive. She has no husband, and may never have had an actual, legal husband. The noun (ἀνήρ) can refer to a husband or more generally a man.

Third, Jesus clearly states that he is in fact the Messiah (4:26). This is the main theme of the gospel of John. The writer tells us that he wrote so that the reader could know that Jesus is the Messiah; he is the one to whom the prophecies looked forward.

As with Nicodemus, Jesus confronts the woman with the truth and demands she decide what she will believe about Jesus. He tells her he is the fulfillment of the prophecy, therefore she must decide if she believes he is the Messiah or not.

How can the story of the woman at the well provide a model for evangelism? Does Jesus’s discussion with the woman provide analogies to modern evangelism and apologetics (as some claim)?

19 thoughts on “John 4 – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

  1. In response to the literalness of this passage, it is important to note that back then “living water” could have been translated into clean water, or water that was good for drinking. It is possible because of the fact that they did not keep their water clean, and had no method of purification that the woman was confused at first when Jesus asked her about the living water. If we observe in verses 11-12 we can clearly see she is pondering what Jesus just said to her. After Jesus explains what he is talking about, she understands. For me this translates over to modern day evangelism because it is bringing the truth to people where they are. This woman was drawing water from a well, going through over five marriages, and being with someone who is not her husband. Which by the way, would be extremely looked down upon in their culture, but she was struggling and Jesus could see that. Jesus approached her, in her own mess, and told her something simple, relating to what she was already doing. Jesus knew what was key to reaching this woman, because Jesus knew what mess she was in. The reason this would work for modern day evangelism is because we are meeting people right where they are. We understand their pain and their struggles, and we offer our love regardless of what that looks like. Modern day evangelism would just need to be more love focused. Christ went up to a Samaritan woman, something that he would not have done, and he spoke to her. To us we need to be willing to do the uncomfortable thing and witness to people that maybe we wouldn’t feel we need to.

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    • Jordan, I liked your opening point on how living water could be taken and understood as clean fresh water. I never thought about that and now am able to think of this story in a different way understanding what true living water will look like in Jesus.

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  2. I think that it is interesting to note that it is stated above that each of these three people misunderstood who Jesus was; and yet they still brought others to believe in Him. Jesus goes by many names and some mean more to others based on life circumstances such as these three people. So, why is it that this is called a misunderstanding on their part? None of us are able to fully comprehend who Jesus really is, the fact that He is fully God and fully man alone is incomprehensible. As for Jesus and His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, here He is starting out with something that is relatable to the human body and mind, tiredness and thirst, and then making it a spiritual conversation of eternal life which is meant to reveal who He truly is (Köstenberger, 73.) This story goes into the theme of John’s book quite well. If John is trying to tell of who Jesus really is and give the Gospel message, then this interaction portrays that well. Jesus is telling of His power to grant eternal life, and He is doing so to a Samaritan woman showing that He is not just here for the Jews, but for everyone.

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    • I agree that Jesus goes by different names. Something I think is interesting is that although the reader believes each of the three people Jesus reveals who he is misunderstand at first. Jesus is in fact a teacher, he is in fact a prophet, and he is a healer of man in one way or another. Each of the three think in the most human way at first. If any of us were put in each situation, without the background we have, we would probably think the same way as they did. Nicodemus thought Jesus was simply a teacher and because he was a Pharisee, he did what he knew as normal, talk about biblical teachings at night. The Samaritan woman thought Jesus was a prophet because he told her things that she had never mentioned once. The soldier believed he was a healer because he may have heard of the one who came to save lives because he may not have had a good understanding of the Old Testament prophesies like Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman.

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  3. As I think about the evangelism that Jesus provided for the woman at the well, I think it is a very good model for current day evangelists. Jesus knew her sin yet saw her for more than that. It is easy as a follower of Christ to see unfollowers and only see a sinner. In reality, we need to see all people as children of God even if they are currently lost.

    Jesus was so indifferent about what the people who saw Him interacting with this woman would think and was rather focused on His mission. He did not sugar coat the gospel and did not ignore her sin. He made sure to let the woman know that her sin was recognized, but did not have to be the end of the story (John 4:16-26). That is a message that changes lives and should still be apart of evangelism today.

    I am so glad that Jesus is not the Messiah people were expecting. I am grateful that He did not come to enforce religion, but to provide a love that surpasses religion. I think the Messiah people were expecting would not have sat with this woman and given her the same ability to choose living water as the true Messiah did.

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  4. The woman the well is such an eye opening story. It also reveals something about who Jesus is. He chooses the times when he wants to reveals aspects about himself. one of these aspects correlates with John’s “word became flesh” phrase. This is because Jesus is fully man, but is also fully God. As Kostenberger says, “John highlights the amazing divine condescension that caused the preexistent Word to become flesh and take up residence among his people,” (Kostenberger, 73). John shows us that Jesus reveals himself as the Word through the story of the woman at the well. He came to well the thirsty as is said in John 4:7, so it shows that he has flesh nature because a deity would never have to be thirsty, but Jesus is because he is also human. So through this, I believe that the woman at the well does believe that Jesus is the Messiah because she sees that even though Jesus is God, he is also flesh and lives among men and drinks with them just as they crave for water. Through this story, it models how we can evangelize because we should learn how to spread the Gospel by word of mouth. by using the story of the woman at the well, I think that people can use this example to show the Gospel and that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God.

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  5. The story of the woman at the well is started as a simple interaction. Jesus is thirsty and tired, resting by the well when the woman approaches. Then he takes a common, everyday task and turns it into an example of new life through the Messiah. This can be seen as a model for an evangelism method as everyday actions in our current lives can be used to show an example of how God gives salvation. What may start as a general conversation during the workday could turn into a conversation that points your unbelieving co-worker towards God by applying the environment around you, or something that they understand, in relation to the gospel. Kostenberger says in his book, “Thus, the primary topic of this narrative is clear: mission.” (Kostenberger, 73). Not only did Jesus declare himself as the Messiah to the woman, but then took it to the next level and explained to the disciples that the mission work that they are doing is for everyone and not just the Jews. This reflects Galatians 3:28 saying that everyone is one in Christ, which means that salvation is for whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Therefore, he was continuing to teach his disciples through his interaction with the Samaritan woman. Kostenberger states, “This creates a window of opportunity for Jesus, which he promptly uses to instruct his disciples.” (Kostenberger, 74). They already understood him as the Messiah, and now they had to understand how to spread the message to others than just those who were like them. This also is an example of how in the workplace, a fellow Christian can learn from your actions on how to share what you believe and why you believe it. In doing this you give a firm example of Romans 1:16 that they can learn by.

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  6. I find it interesting how despite the fact that Jesus talks to all different kinds of people about himself, they all generally follow the same path to understanding who he is. As in the post, when they first meet Jesus, they think He is someone else, or rather, something else. Whether that is a teacher, prophet, or healer, they are right, but wrong. They only see him in part, not whole. He will often also say something, speaking on a spiritual level, that the person will not understand, because they are thinking on a physical level. This can be seen with Nicodemus and being born again and the Samaritan and living water. And towards the end of when Jesus is speaking with them, He will often allude to how He is the Messiah and/or His death on the cross. There are several conversations that Jesus has that go like this, and it is interesting to read how people react after. With Nicodemus, we don’t see how he responds to Jesus’ foreshadowing of His death because John goes into his exposition of Jesus’ words. With the Samaritan woman, she runs to tell others what happened, and wonders whether he could actually be the Messiah, but we don’t learn if she does believe. And then the people who Jesus did not even talk to, but that the woman talked to, “believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). People either believe, wonder if He is telling the truth, or turn away from Him.

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  7. One thing that I had not thought of before was why John placed this story in his Gospel to begin with. We are told that John’s purpose for his Gospel is “so that the reader might know Jesus is the Messiah and have life in his name” (Long) I wonder if the story of the woman at the well is placed within John’s gospel to show that no matter how messed up or how many times you have been pushed back down, the Messiah will still be there and talk with you. No matter what, the Messiah is available to you. Jesus asks for water as a way to talk to the woman about the living water he can offer her. Jesus is the living water. However, the woman does not understand and takes it literally than he can offer her a water that will make her not become thirsty anymore. Additionally, Jesus shares his knowledge with her, and she calls him a prophet; still unaware of who this man truly is. Finally, Jesus shares with her, after she mentions the coming of a Messiah, that he is in fact the true Messiah. After the woman finds out that He is the Messiah, she goes back to her village and tells everyone, and they believe. A question I have here is: If she was seen as such an outcast that she had to go out for water in the heat of the day, why and how did the village women believe her?? This is another thing that I had not thought of prior.

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  8. While I think that John did indeed intend the woman at the well to be used to showcase another view Jesus as the Messiah.It is interesting how many aspects we can get from these three people. It goes in order of people who has the least amount of faith to the person who has the most amount of faith. Nicodemus is first, he should see Jesus as the Messiah instantly, yet he didn’t and actually didn’t understand much of what Jesus said. The woman at the well questioned Jesus and tried to understand what Jesus was saying and in the end she and her whole village believed. Lastly, the gentile a person who has no business knowing who Jesus was and didn’t understand why Jesus came to earth and really that Jesus was the savior of the world. Yet, the gentile expressed the most faith by not questioning anything about Jesus and really believing that Jesus could heal without even going to his house. It is interesting because I feel like if Jesus came back today we might have similar reactions.

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  9. Throughout his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus speaks life to her the whole time. Often, I think, Christians don’t feel as if they can evangelize to people who are “actively living in sin”. This story shows us that this is not true! Yes, obviously, Jesus points out to the woman that she is with a man who is not her husband but he was doing this for a higher purpose of showing her that he is the Son of God. Jesus speaks in love and life to this woman, he doesn’t degrade her. He builds a relationship with her and invites her into holiness – and I think this is a technique we should use in modern evangelism as well.

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  10. It is a well known fact, as Kostenberger elucidated in his reflection of this section of Scripture, that Jesus had to lower His status in order to converse with the Samaritan woman at the well. Typically, Jews had absolutely no dealings with the Samaritans because they were a cross-breed, so to speak, of different cultures, and they disagreed about where true worship ought to take place. When I read the story, however, what comes to my mind is not the particular methodology Jesus used to evangelize to the women, but the fact that He chose to minister to her at all. Consequently, I realized that Jesus really has no business ministering to anyone–whether they be a Jew or Gentile or Samaritan. I extrapolated this thought in my mind, and I applied it to my generation. Frankly, just as Jesus was gracious to minister to the Samaritan women, considering that she was an outcast from her society and living in sin, He is just as gracious to minister to us. In other words, we should be just as astounded that God would choose to work in our current society–saving individuals, spreading the Good News through them. While the story of the Samaritan women is a good example of evangelizing out of our comfort zone, I think it has more theological substance than that. I think the interaction He had with her was a little microcosm of His incarnation–the fact that Jesus would humble Himself to become like one of us (John 4:26).

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    • Great post Paul, you bring up an important point of what Jesus does in the passage. Jews were not suppose to associate with Samaritans, yet Jesus was evangelizing to one. Kostenberger p73 says that “using a drinking vessel handled by a Samaritan would inevitable defile him”. I believe there are many Samaritan comparisons in today’s society, and we should not stay away from them, but we need to find a way to connect with them. I think something that is different in today’s world is that as you said, the Samaritan women was considered to be an outcast of her society, while from a worldly perspective her doings would not be as crippling to her status. I wonder if Jesus was in a similar situation, assuming that He would not be meeting a women at a well in today’s society, would his conversation be similar? I think that His approach would be similar with how He opens up the opportunity to talk to her but lowering himself and asking her for something. Kostenberger also touches on how Jesus shows how critical it is that we look for any opportunity that we can to speak about the Word. Jesus knew that she would be going to the well for water, and found a way to connect it to His mission. We all have a mission in this life, and it may seem small, but just planting a seed in someones life can have a big impact on their future.

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  11. There are a few things that I notice about the story of the women at the well that could serve as a model for evangelism. First is that Jesus started by asking the Samaritan women for water. This may seem like such a simple unimportant part of the comparison for a evangelism model, but it holds value. How often has the thought crossed our mind of how we will start talking to someone about the Lord, Jesus shows us right here that it can start with something as simple as asking them for something. Jesus then uses this to open the door to telling her about the living water that can save her. The Samaritan women was intrigued and began to ask question to Jesus of how she can receive this water, although she did not fully understand the concept that Jesus was alluding too. She then went to town and began to tell other people about what she had experienced, and she did not necessarily even have all the answers. In verse 29 she asks, “could this be the Messiah?”. I think this is another key point we need to remember. The first time we talk to someone about God, we cannot expect them to know everything immediately and get saved right away. We need to remember 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 when Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow”. Jesus set the spark in the Samaritan women’s mind, and God did the rest.

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  12. The story of the woman at the well can actually be a really good story of evangelism. Since each of these accounts where people have an encounter with Jesus, He offers the lady at the well some water. Then proceeds to teach her in a way that explains who He is. This can be a good analogy of modern-day discipleship/evangelism. If we are teaching the word, we offer something out, such as our time, taking someone to dinner or coffee and then when they get into a vulnerable position it is easier to spread the word. Since the woman at the well was already in a vulnerable position and Jesus knew of her sins, Jesus knew this was great timing.
    I think that this is a great story to relate to, when I was at first deciding to follow Jesus I felt like I had to question it all. How can Jesus do this, or that? Now I don’t hesitate one bit when it comes to The Word. The woman questioned Him at first, then spread the word to her village. This is huge in the world of evangelism.

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  13. I love how both of these stories correlate with each other, with both not totally able to grasp the idea of what Jesus is trying to explain. Personally I think both of the stories are great examples of evangelism, but the women at the well stands out a bit more than Nicodemus. The women at the well doesn’t comprehend at all what Jesus is saying let alone believe that he is the Messiah but slowly starts to accept Jesus piece by piece. When she finally understands and believes in Him she is overwhelmed with emotions, then goes on to tell her village bout Him. This is how evangelism is supposed to work, it says in the Bible we are to go and tell people about His kingdom. “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’.” Acts 13:47 (ESV) The story told in John reflects the steps of what preaching to an unbeliever looks like, but by the end she goes on to tell her whole village thus what the ending result should look like in evangelism. As we read further on past the Gospels it is reflected until the end of the Bible, on how we must go and spread the Word of God.

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  14. In this article I like how is able to split the points into 3 different areas of the story along with that being able to be one of the most impactful stories to use in a conference and as a missionary. The first point, Jesus asks for water, and offers the woman living water. I take this as Jesus was kind of asking about her faith and what she believes. I take this story with a lot of symbols and analogies as much of a lot of people do. Jesus asks for living water asking about eternal life. The second part was about, Jesus offers some extraordinary knowledge. At this time the article says that he poses to the women that he may be a prophet. I like the part about how it says that this woman was cast out and not “excepted” with the other women as she has no husband. And Jesus was able to tell her about herself. The final part, Jesus clearly states that he is in fact the Messiah. The article states this, “he is the one to whom the prophecies looked forward.” I like how Jesus was able to talk to this lady and that she is able to understand what he was saying and as they walked their separate ways, she knew that Jesus was the Messiah. This story has a lot of interesting knowledge in here to investigate and understand how much faith this Samaritan women had in Jesus at their talk at the well.

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  15. I truly do love the story of the woman at the well. It is such a good story to tell people of all ages. I think that we all have had an experience where we have had to get out of our comfort zones, whether young or old this story can apply to all of us in the context of how to do ministry in paces where we may not be comfortable. I do like how you mentioned how Jesus does start out the conversation about reel water, and then how He changes it to mean the living water that is Jesus. As to your question of how we can use this in our evangelism today? I think that there are some things that we can, and some things we cannot. I don’t think that we cannot model the fact that Jesus just knows the woman’s sin and is able to just call it out, especially because going into a different culture we do not know where the people are coming from, however in regards to just waling up to someone and start a conversation with them, I do like this idea. The idea of being able to go talk to anyone no matter what race, or gender, or just anything. I love the idea of being able to go up and just start having a conversation with someone just about life. I believe if we can do this, we will have a better foothold on sharing the gospel with others.

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  16. How can the story of the woman at the well provide a model for evangelism?
    When we read the story of the women at the well, we can use this story as an example of evangelism.
    We see how Jesus crossed boundaries to get to this woman. He went through Samaria, a place where Jews did not like travel through and then He sat and talked with a woman. This was culturally looked down upon on, for women were not valued like they are now. He crossed these boundaries, so that He could revel Himself to her and love her.
    We are to do the same thing.
    We have permission to cross the boundaries lines, for the sake of Love.
    I am reminded of the psalm that says,
    The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
    -Psalm 16:6
    The boundary lines have fallen for us, so that we make His love know to others, just like when the women dropper her jaw and shared her testimony with others for the sake of His glory.

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