Lectionary Year A
March 3, 2002
John 4:5-42

Step IV: Context


A. Primitive Christianity

(CB)In looking to the outer margins of the Nestle-Aland text, there are seven references to the synoptic gospels, three of which denote an emphasis on a common theme or expression.

Luke 9:52 parallels John 4:4 in referencing Samaria. In John 4, he [Jesus] "had to pass through Samaria," whereas in Luke 9:52, Jesus sent messengers ahead of him "who went and entered a village of the Samaritans." Matthew 9:37 parallels John 4:35 in the usage of "harvest" language. In the Matthew passage, Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." In John 4:35, Jesus poses the question to his disciples: "Do you not say, "There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest." Finally, Luke 9:52 again corresponds to John 4:40 in referencing Samaritans. However, unlike the Lukan passage whereby the people of Samaria would not receive Jesus' messengers, the Samaritans in John 4:40 invite Jesus to stay with them.

Of the three synoptic parallels, the reference to the "harvest" is intriguing as a reference as it refers to those Jesus is wanting to about of God's Kingdom. The use of leukai in conjunction with John's harvest language refers to the "whitening color of ripening grain" (Thayer, 377). Both Matthew and John indicate the time is right for the harvesting of people!

The Nestle-Aland text also makes reference to two other Johannine texts: that of Revelation 21:6 in comparison to John 4:10, and to 1 John 4:14 in relation to John 4:42. In the first case, the author of Revelation indicates the "one who sits upon the throne" says, "To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment." In John 4:10, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would given you living water." The latter reference, I John 4:14, is one of a confessional nature: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world." The Samaritans in the John 4:42 text declare, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." In these examples, Jesus is shown to be the source of living water, ready, willing and able to provide relinquishment to those who thirst. In this way, Jesus is more than a quick fix to those in need. Jesus is confessed to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world sent by God the Father.

(GG)
According to Bart D. Ehrman, the Book of John was written at a time when Christian thought was being reshaped. The belief of who Jesus was was growing from the belief of Him being a man (with special gifts) to that of being God. Ehrman points to the pericope 1:35 - 42 in making his case. In this opening chapter (overlooking the prolog) Jesus is identified in human terms - verse 36, the lamb of God, His death will bring salvation; verse 38, rabbi, a Jewish Teacher; and verse 41, Messiah, a future deliver of the people. Therefore, Ehrman invites us to consider, that the images of Jesus "the man" mixed with the later images explicit images, in the book of John, of "Jesus being God" is based upon the shift that is occurring in Christian convictions in the latter part of the first century

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(CB)Again, in looking to the outer margins of the Nestle-Aland text, one notices references to Old Testament parallels. Ezra 4:1-3 is noted beside John 4:9 and serves as an explanation to why Jesus would have anything to do with a Samaritan. In the Ezra text, Zerubabbel and the heads of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel will not let their adversaries, who claim to worship the same God, re-build the Temple with them. Ezra 4:3 they say, "You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israelů". In John 4:9, the Samaritan woman questions Jesus' request of water by asking, " 'How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?' For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans."

In John 4:10, there are two references to water given. In the first example, Jer. 2:13a, God is casting judgment on Israel's apostasy: "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters." In the second citing, Zech. 14:8, we hear, "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. In John 4:10, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." God has revealed God's self to be the source of living water and the Israelites have ignored this gift. As living water, God promises nourishment in good times and in bad, flowing out of those expressly chosen for God's good intentions to and for all nations. In a similar manner, God has revealed in the person of Jesus, the living water necessary for living into the abundant life.

Finally, there are Old Testament parallels to John 4:36-37 which speaks to reaping and sowing, using, once again, the language of harvest. Though Is. 9:2 is cited as a parallel, it is Is. 9:3 which best matches the John 4:36-37 text. In the Isaiah passage, the harvest language is manifested in this way: "Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil." In Micah 6:15, the parallel is, "You shall sow, but not reapů". In Job 31:8, the harvest imagery is, "Let me sow, and another eat; and let what grows for me be rooted out." By comparison, John 4:36-37 reads: "He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.'" In John's gospel, barriers are being broken and good news is being revealed beyond Hebraic boundaries. All are included in the gift of eternal life.

Another Judaic source, the Midrash Rabbah, comments on the book of Ruth. One interpretation of "Thy God shall be my God," includes "to pay me the reward of my labour."

(GG)
The connection between the Gospel of John and the Old Testament is a distant one. The Anchor Bible tells us "John has fewer direct OT citations than have the other Gospels." (LIX) However, the OT, in 2 Kings 17, does support our text in a number of ways. Here we are told of foreigners being brought into the Jewish borders. This explains the separation between the foreign or mixed people of Samaria and the Jews in our text. Also, Jacob's well can be seen as a historical reality. Although this specific well is not mentioned in the OT, the actual well still exist today. Adding this reality to the account in Genesis 33 of Jacob buying land and pitching a tent plus the ancient custom of well digging moves this account of John in the direction of historical reality.

C. Hellenistic World

(CB)In looking to the possible Hellenistic literary influences on John's gospel, Josephus (37-100 CE) offers an apologetic explanation of the failure to during a dispute during a dispute between the Jews and Samaritans. He notes that a hatred exists between the two groups. It was the custom for those traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem for festivals to pass through Samaria, as it was the quickest route. On one such occasion, the inhabitants of Ginae, a village on the border between Samaria and the Great Plain, joined battle with the Galileans (Boring, 262). Josephus, as a general of the Hebrews, also notes that he asked for safe passage through Samaria in order to get to Jerusalem. Samaria had come under Roman rule and was necessary for rapid travel. This meant that Jerusalem could be reached in three days time.

(GG)
The fact that our text (John's Gospel) was influenced by the Hellenistic World is evident by certain words having to be translated. Referring to Bart Ehrman once more, he helps us to see the mixed culture when, for example, the Aramaic word Cephas, in 1:42 has to be translated into Greek.

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