The Bible’s Most Misunderstood Woman
For years I have heard preachers and teachers declare that the Samarian woman at the well in John 4 was an obviously a seriously immoral woman. One day I sat down and read the account in John 4. What brings preachers, scholars, and teachers to this conclusion? Basically it appears that they are reading into the text (eisegesis) either their opinion or the popular opinion of most other Bible teachers.
It is very typical of Bible scholars to follow in a popular path of previous interpreters. That is the first reason for this common interpretation. Because preachers and others look down on divorce, they assume that because this woman was divorced five times that she was seriously immoral. That could be true, but there is no evidence in the text for this conclusion.
The second reason is that she was now living with a man without formal marriage.
The third reason is that preachers believe that she was evasive to Jesus’ questions.
17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband…. John 4:17 (KJV)
Apparently, Jesus intentionally took the route through Samaria. Jesus’s reason may have been providential. Most of the Jews of that day tried to avoid traveling through Samaria. Why? This was because the ten tribes of Israel had separated ( apostatized ) from the southern tribes (Judah & ½ the tribe of Benjamin) after the death of Solomon. These ten tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam set up a separate place of worship in the area of the tribe of Dan.
6 Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, is risen up, and hath rebelled against his lord. 2 chronicles 13:6
There was only one official place to worship the God of Israel (Ordained by God) and that was at the Temple in Jerusalem in the southern Kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam appointed his own priests and began worshiping idols. Israel (Judah – the southern kingdom) had already suffered the consequences of the Babylonian captivity (586, 597, & 586 B.C.) as a result of their idolatry and violation of God’s Mosaic covenant with them.
A fourth reason is that the woman was going to draw water in the middle of the day (sixth hour). The conclusion from this was that she was ostracized and stigmatized by the other villagers because of her poor moral values. Although this could have been true, the Scripture text does not seem to give any clear evidence of this.
The author of this article will try to give reasonable answers for the Samaritan woman’s behavior.
There is a fifth other reason why people conclude the worst about the woman of Samaria. That is because of her apparent shifting of the conversation from a moral topic to a religious one. This is indeed an unconscious response from unbelievers that do not want to answer clear questions presented to them.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. John 4:20 (KJV)
A sixth reason may be that the woman was Samaritan.
Possible reasons for Samaritan Woman’s behavior.
1. From study the author of this article has concluded this to be a typical trend. Most students accept the interpretations of their Bible college professors and other preachers without researching for themselves.
2. This second conclusion is very common. Almost all people at one time were against what are called Common Law marriages. Shaking-up is not the same as a Common Law marriage. The state of Missouri allows Common Law marriage. There are certain legal requirements for a Common Law marriage. A couple of the legal requirements in Missouri are:
1. The couple had to have lived together for 7 years (and held themselves out as being married).
2. The couple had to have children together.
3. Also, marriages were not officially registered with the State until after 1856. The date of marriage was recorded in the front of the Family Bible.
4. It appears that many of the Old Testament marriages were Common Law marriages, especially prior to the Mosaic Covenant – approx.. 1550 B.C.
5. The woman had already had five failed marriages and may not have considered another formal marriage necessary. I ran into this type thing in my work with the State of Illinois welfare Dept. (My answer to the third reason and expansion on the total situation will more full answer this question.)
3. This third reason may be that she was embarrassed over five failed marriages, not over the moral aspect of having five. Most people would be embarrassed over five failed marriages regardless of the circumstances. They would just be embarrassed over failure.
4. The fourth reason is total assumption. The woman might have been excessively busy earlier in the day. This is the same type reason that preachers and bible teachers give for Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night. The reason that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night was not necessarily because he didn’t want other Rabbis and Jewish leaders knowing that he was talking with Jesus.
Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews so he was a very busy person. Like all busy people they typically meet with others after their regular work was completed. That was more than likely in the case of Nicodemus.
1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:1-3 (KJV)
5. The fifth reason is not necessarily correct. The Samaritan Woman truly had an interest in religious matters and since she recognized Jesus as a prophet she wanted to ask him serious questions. She was not just changing the subject from moral issues to religious issues. In fact as far as I know she is the only person that Jesus Christ clearly revealed himself as the Messiah.
25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. John 4:25-26 (KJV)
6. A sixth reason may be that the woman was Samaritan
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. John 4:9
More than likely the Samaritan woman was barren and all five men divorced her for that reason. In the Samaritan culture at that time the marital law was like the Jewish marital law. A woman had no right of divorce. Only men had the right of divorce. This means five men divorced her. Also I asked my Jewish friend what would happen if a woman was married to an absolutely horrible man. He said that the town people would get together and go to that man and ask him to divorce her and thus set her free. They would beat him up until he agreed to free her.
Apparently the town people responded very favorably to her presentation of Jesus as Messiah because a large group of town people came out and were saved.
Also, she must have been an attractive woman to have that many men marry her. The man she was living with was just a sign of her despair over being barren. She probably thought there is no use to getting formally married because the man will just divorce me when he discovers I am barren. There is no evidence in the story of her having any children.
Rev. Thomas L. Clark