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When the Samaritan woman finally accepts Jesus' offer of living water, he says to her: "Go, call your husband and come here." (John 4:16)

Why doesn't Jesus just give her his living water?

The new focus on her husband and marital status seems abrupt – out of place. It’s raised suddenly with no connection to what precedes it. Nothing in the conversation would seem to suggest that Jesus should be concerned with her marital status. And just as quickly as it's raised it's dropped.

Why does Jesus want the Samaritan woman to go and call her husband?

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The topic of marriage is not a change in subject. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman is all about marriage. Here are four things most interpreters miss or simply don’t want to talk about.

Jesus is a Bridegroom

Jesus encounter with the woman by the well comes immediately after John the Baptist calls Jesus the “bridegroom.” Read John 3:28-30:

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

And this isn’t the first time in John that Jesus has been described as the groom. A chapter earlier, Jesus miraculous supply of wine at the wedding leads the headwaiter to tell the bridegroom that HE has supplied the best wine. There’s nothing wrong with that assumption. The groom was indeed responsible for the supply of wine. So Jesus in suppling the wine has acted as the bridegroom!

Marriage Happens When Men Meet Women by Wells

This isn’t the first time in scripture a man goes to a foreign land, sits down by a well of water, meets a girl and asks for a drink. In fact it happens quite a few times in the Old Testament with the same surprising result.

Genesis 24, Genesis 29 and Exodus 2:15-22 also recount the story of a man meeting a woman at a well. And in each it leads to the two getting married. In Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant finds a bride for Isaac, in Genesis 29 Jacob finds his future wife Rachel and Moses, in Exodus 2, meets his future wife Zaphora.

John 4 parallels these stories on several points. Here’s how Lyle Eslinger breaks it down in his article “The Wooing of the Woman by the Well.”

  • The future bridegroom (or surrogate) journeys to a foreign land (vv. 1-6)
  • There he meets a girl at a well (vv. 6-7)
  • Someone, the man or maiden, draws water from the well (vv. 7-15)
  • The maiden rushes home to bring news of the stranger (vv. 28-30, 39-42)
  • a betrothal is arranged, usually after the prospective groom has been invited to a betrothal meal (vv. 31-38).

Sound familiar? Well of course Jesus encounter with the woman doesn’t overtly parallel all of these items. Numbers 3 and 5 are a little out of sync. Unlike Rebekah, Rachelle and Zaphora, the Samaritan woman never draws water from the well. Or does she? Read 4:15 and 4:28. Likewise, there is no specific mention of an arranged marriage. But there is that invitation for Jesus to stay with the Samaritans.

Lyle Eslinger also finds a unique link to each of these Old Testament stories.

  • Vv. 1, 3, 6 (Exodus 2,14-15): like Moses, Jesus believes that the Pharasees (cf. Pharaoh) have heard about his actions and he leaves his country to avoid them. On his journey in a foreign land he sits down by a well and there meets a girl.
  • V. 6b (Gen 29.7) Both Jacob and Jesus come to the well at noon.
  • Vv. 7, 9 (Gen 24.17-18). Like Eliezer, Jesus says give me a drink. Unlike Rebekah, the Samaritan woman does not immediately comply.

Meeting a woman by a well is a biblical type-scene. In the same way we know that princes who kiss comatose women causes them to wake up, so the ancient reader understood that men who meet woman by wells end up getting married.

This is the same plot of ground where Dinah was raped

This plot of ground (that Jacob gave to his son Joseph) is mentioned three times in the Old Testament (Gen. 33:19, 48:22 and Josh. 24:32). In the later two instances its just mentioned in passing. The first time, however, it’s the backdrop and catalyst to a very heated story. Read Genesis 33:18-34:4:

And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

That’s the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Keep reading.

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”

Hamor rapes Dinah and wants to marry her. But that’s not the end of the story!

When the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.

The son’s of Jacob plot revenge! They promise to intermarry among the people on the condition that they all be circumcised according to there own family custom. The people agree. But on the third day, after all the males have been circumcised, Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, storm the city and kill all the men.

In addition to the geographic reference, note the similarities between this story and Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman.

  • The Samaritan woman goes out (Gen. 34:1, John 4:7)
  • She meets Jesus, a foreign man (Gen. 34:2-4, John 4:6-7)
  • They have an illicit exchange (Gen. 34:2-4, John 4:9)
  • The disciples return and find out about what went down. (Gen. 34:7, John 4:27)

Of course there’s no rape in the story of Jesus encounter. What might John be driving at? By referring to the plot of ground, John wants us to see this scene in light of its sinister history. The story in part shows the bad blood that exists between the Jews and the Samaritans. When the Samaritan woman comes out of town and finds the man sitting by the well, we hold our breath and cross our fingers, hoping that things will turn out differently this time around.

And it does!

But its interesting that the desire to marry is once again at the heart of this story. Once again the allusion suggests that Jesus is looking for a bride.

Does the Samaritan woman know what Jesus is up to? It all depends on what she thinks Jesus means by “water”.

Water could be interpreted as Double-Entendre

You’ve heard of a double-entendre, right? It’s a spoken word or phrase that can be understood in two different ways. The first is simple and safe, the second risqué. For instance, a double-entendre is central to the following sentence. “A nudist beach is place where men and women go to air there differences.”

Could a double-entendre lay at the heart of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman? Might she think that Jesus is asking her for sex?

Now I’m not saying that Jesus is offering her sex. I’m merely suggesting that the woman perceives him to be. Here’s why.

For starers, there’s the repeated allusion to sex and marriage in this scene.

  • Jesus is described as the groom to whom the bride belongs just before he meets the woman.
  • The meeting echoes the pattern of several engagement scenes in the Old Testament.
  • The location where the meeting occurs is specifically connected with a story of rape and marriage.

Secondly, water is a metaphor for sex in the bible.

Read Proverbs 5:15-18.

Drink water from your own cistern and fresh (living) water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone and not for the strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.

Now read Song of Solomon 4:12 and 15:

a garden locked is my sister, my bride, a rock garden locked, a spring sealed up… you are a garden spring, a well of fresh water (i. e. living water).

In other words she’s a virgin.

And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Jesus, a man, is talking with a woman ALONE. Do all these details go unnoticed by the woman? Or Jesus for that matter? It may very well be that the woman is picking up a different vibe from the one Jesus is sending.

Jesus’ request for a “drink” leads the woman to comment on His forwardness. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman”, she reminds him. “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

According to Eslinger, the Greek word for “dealings” can mean, “to associate with.” But it can also mean “to be intimate with,” or “to have sexual intercourse“. Another double-entendre.

Given the facts above, it’s not hard to see how the first part of their conversation could be read in a more sexualized fashion. And it might even be easier.

Jesus: “Give me a drink.” Woman: “How is that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman? For Jews have no dealing with Samaritans.” Jesus: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink, ‘you would have asked Him, and he would have given you living water.” Woman; “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get that living water? you are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Woman: “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way her to draw.” Jesus: “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Woman: “I have no husband.” Jesus: “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

The double-entendres render the sudden, seemingly out of place “Go, call your husband” less jarring. Jesus’ command lays to rest any misunderstanding.

Why all the subtle references to sex and marriage? What might Jesus and John be up to? This fits into a larger marriage motif in the Gospel of John. In fact, every time Jesus engages with a woman there are Old Testament allusions to marriage.

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    Can you provide a reference for συνχράομαι referring to sexual relations? Thanks. – Susan Mar 4 '15 at 4:42
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    @Susan, I found this in the paper "The Wooing of the Woman at the Well: Jesus, the Reader and Reader-Response Criticism" by Lyle Eslinger. It's a while since I made a copy and I don't see in which book or journal it appears. But I do have a note that states it originally appeared in Literature and Theology 1/1 (1987) pp 167-83. My copy goes from page 165-182. The reference you seek occurs on pg 176-177. There's an extensive footnote at the bottom of the page which lays out the case for the sexual overtones in this word. The author cites a number of additional sources. Do you want me to quote? – Matthew Miller Mar 4 '15 at 5:20
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    Thanks, Matthew! I was able to access the article, so no need to quote it. (I'm skeptical about the case made re. συγχράομαι - charting new territory in a footnote it seems - but you're certainly right that it's there. I may make a question about this myself soon.) It looks like that article provides background for a lot of your argument here, though. It might be worthwhile including at least this citation in the body of the answer. – Susan Mar 4 '15 at 7:00
  • I have added the reference. As you can see from my answer I'm most skeptical about this part of my answer as well. I list it only as a possibility. But I do thinks it's an inference which is built on a much stronger foundation. First two points do not derive directly from Eslinger but are found in a number of academic books and journals. The third point (the history of this plot of ground) is a personal discovery but one that I think makes a great deal of sense given the explicit and implicit references to marriage. And as I have said this not only time that allusions to marriage appear in Jo – Matthew Miller Mar 4 '15 at 12:12
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    Thanks for adding that, and my apologies - I think I had missed your reference to the Eslinger article in the original answer. Just FWIW and why I haven't voted: To me, directly citing the other academic sources you mention that back up statements that are not either completely obvious or uncontroversial would strengthen the argument. I'm more comfortable as a reader if it is made explicit what are new postulates and what is published research (and by whom). Because that's how things are written that convince me of things. :-) – Susan Mar 7 '15 at 3:35
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Jesus asks her to call her husband to demonstrate his power. He knows that she will tell him she has no husband, and so it's simply a setup for him to prove that he has divine power because he already knows everything about her life. It just so happened that he chose the subject of her marriage, but he could have just as easily asked about something else because the subject of the question wasn't really the focus.

After he tells her about her marriage situation, she immediately responds "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet." and then moves the conversation to religious because she knows he is someone with divine power who can give answers.

She then says "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." to which he replies “I who speak to you am He.”

She then goes back to the town and tells everyone "Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?". She probably wouldn't have believed him if he didn't prove his power by telling her about her life.

  • +1 Welcome to BH! Spot on with the standard interpretation. I think its missing something though. – Matthew Miller Feb 28 '15 at 3:00
  • @MatthewMiller I'm guessing the piece you consider missing is a direct answer to this question: "Why doesn't Jesus just give her his living water?" Correct? – Mr. Bultitude Mar 1 '15 at 3:56
  • @Mr.Bultitude No. I don't think Jesus is bringing up the woman's marital status to display his power and reveal her sin. He is doing that but that's not his point. As you can see in my answer to the question, I think the issue of marriage is fundamental to the conversation. Jesus is looking for a bride. – Matthew Miller Mar 1 '15 at 4:12
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    @ Matthew Miller. Jesus is figuratively called the "Lamb of God" John 1:29 (NASB) " The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Jesus was not lookong for a human wife, who then is the bride? Revelation 21:9 reads:(NASB) It is a spiritual wife in heaven: "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls [a]full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." – Ozzie Nicolas Jan 16 at 20:57
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    @Mathew Miller:The bride is Jesus spirit annointed followers called New Jerusalem who will share with him, in His heavenly rulership. Rev. 14:1-5. Also Rev. 21:2 (NASB)reads And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband – Ozzie Nicolas Jan 16 at 21:00
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Jesus' instruction to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, "Go, call your husband and come here" was perfectly apropos and was neither "abrupt" nor "out of place," as you suggest in your question.

The ostensible topic of conversation between Jesus and the woman was water. The woman was thinking primarily of physical water, whereas Jesus was on a higher, spiritual plane and spoke of something he called "living water" (v.10). The actual topic to which Jesus steered the conversation, then, was the human quest for personal fulfillment and true satisfaction, neither of which this woman had found.

Like many women today (and men, too) who are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” the Samaritan woman was looking for love, and she had been married and divorced five times by the time she met Jesus in the heat of the midday sun. She was likely drawing water at that time in order to avoid the town gossips who gathered at the well to draw water in the early morning coolness.

Jesus asked her to bring her husband to the well because he knew what her current living situation was. Moreover, Jesus knew she was looking for true satisfaction but would never find it without changing her modus operandi. Jesus’ comment about thirsting again and again for physical water was his way of pinpointing her need for the living water of which he spoke, the only water which would quench the spiritual thirst she felt within her inmost being, and not only in the here and now, but also in eternity (see vv.13-14).

As for the answer you provided to your own question, Jesus was indeed looking for a bride, but not in the way you suggest. In order to find a bride, Jesus first had to lay the groundwork for marrying his bride. He did so by finishing the work his Father gave him to do; namely, to redeem a world of sinners through his death, burial, and resurrection. Only when the sins of the world had been atoned for through the shedding of Jesus' blood would his bride be ready for the wedding. As Paul said in Ephesians 5,

”Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [in death], to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (vv.24-27).

The wedding of Jesus, the bridegroom, to his bride, the church universal, has yet to take place. The apostle John gives us a glimpse, however, of this yet future and joyous event:

”Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him [viz., the Lord our God, Almighty], for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he [viz., the angel] said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God” (Revelation 19:7-9 NASB Updated).

In conclusion, for a lovely and informative summary of the various points of comparison (or analogs) between what and how Jesus went about securing his bride and what and how a Jewish man in Jesus' day went about securing his bride, see the website here.

  • I make no suggestion. I'm pointing out the facts. Fact: Jesus is called the bridegroom immediately before this scene. Fact: Jesus conversation with the women by well is consistent with an OT betrothal type scene. Fact: Jesus encounters the woman at the same plot of ground which led to the rape of Dinah. Fact: Water is a euphemism for sex in the Old Testament. Fact: Jesus raises the issue of the woman's marital status. I'm not suggesting, the facts are suggesting that something regarding marriage is going on. And this is also consistent with a larger marriage motif in John's gospel. – Matthew Miller Mar 3 '15 at 1:04
  • Ephesians 5 suggests that the marriage between Christ and his Church has already taken place. The same is true with the Gospel of John. Every time Jesus engages with a woman there are allusions to marriage. That includes Mary and Martha before the tomb of Lazarus. It includes Mary encounter with Jesus in the Garden and it includes the appearance of the mother of Jesus at the Crucifixion. The piercing of Christ side is in fact an allusion to the creation of Eve. The first birth and marriage to occur in the bible. – Matthew Miller Mar 3 '15 at 1:16
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    @MatthewMiller: Your hermeneutic is certainly, uh, unique! Mine is informed by a middle-of-the-road, mostly conservative Evangelicalism. Accordingly, I look at Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well as the consequence of his being led by the Spirit to this particular woman at this particular time, so that the good news of the kingdom could take root not only in her heart but also in her fellow townspeople. Very possibly, the success of Philip the evangelist among the Samaritans years later was attributable to the seeds Jesus had sowed in the 2 days he spent in Sychar (see Acts 8:5-25). – rhetorician Mar 3 '15 at 1:59
  • For an interesting and informative verse-by-verse exposition of John 4, check out this site: christiancourier.com/articles/282-jesus-and-the-samaritan-woman. Don – rhetorician Mar 3 '15 at 2:00
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    @MatthewMiller: Guess we'll need to agree to disagree agreeably. I cannot honestly see any good in coming from your approach to Scripture. It seems fanciful, highly subjective, highly symbolic--allegorical, even, and is not supported by a commonsense reading of the text. Granted, there is a depth to the Scripture which none of us will ever plumb, and no single method of interpretation can unlock all its treasures. Nevertheless, a spiritualizing hermeneutic can often--and has!--become a "slippery slope" which leads to an erratic and risible, even, approach to interpreting the Bible. – rhetorician Mar 3 '15 at 3:42
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He is not shifting the subject at all, but on the contrary, does exactly what you deny Him to do: starts giving her the "living water", for what is the "living water" but a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, through Whom we understand Jesus' God-ness or Divinity (cf. 1 Cor. 12:23). Here also, Jesus by starting to tell her about all her former husbands and even the fact that the one she calls now a "husband" is not a lawful one, He tells her that His knowledge is not that of an ordinary man, but at least prophetic, which she initially believed. That was already an initiation of her into a mystery of His incarnation, thus the start of giving a "living water" to her. But if one takes just a 'sip' of the Holy Spirit's initiation, then it will become a source of infinite growth in this person, so as to the "rivers of living water (aka Holy Spirit) will flow from his heart" (John 7:38).

And, of course, it would be impossible for her, in the process of her more and more imbibing of the knowledge that came from Jesus during this conversation, to think even that He was merely a prophet or a prophetic Messiah, for He did not say "God will give you living water (aka Spirit)", but "I will give you the living water". This is crucial: the Spirit is equal to God, for He knows all the depths of God (1 Cor. 2-10), and the fulness of the invisible depth of the invisible God-the Father who is Spirit (John 4:24) can be known only by somebody equal to Him, God-the Holy Ghost, who is also likewise Spirit, for in this realm knowledge (epistemology) is inseparable from the essence and activity (ontology), and full knowledge thus implies full coincidence of the essence and activity, the fullness of divinity commonly shared.

But if Jesus Himself vouchsafes by authority God-the Holy Ghost, the "living water" by saying in a sovereign way "I will give you the living water", it means that He is at least equal to the Holy Ghost He is authorised to dispense; but He cannot be greater than the Holy Ghost, for nobody is greater than the one who knows the infinite depth of God-the Father and is equal to the Latter, for there is no more infinite to the infinite, while the Holy Ghost knows infinitely the infinity of God-the Father. Indeed, Jesus also shares in the fullness of this infinity mutually shared by God-the Father and God-the Holy Ghost, for He also encompasses the Holy Ghost without measure, that is to say, infinitely (John 3:34). Thus, Jesus, who is no less than God-the Holy Ghost who is equal to God-the Father, is likewise equal to God-the Father.

Therefore, by taking the very first sip of the Holy Spirit ("the living water") from the words of Jesus, through seeing that He knows all her past, without having been able to have humanly known about it, the woman would have been led, by the necessity of truthful inferences and the Holy Spirit-guided dialectics, to the fullness of cognition of the mystery of the Tri-Une God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Thus, having been educated by the Spirit that proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), the Samaritan woman came to the mystical wedding of the Father's - the King's - only-begotten Son - the heir - (Matthew 22:3), that is to say, to the faith and acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and her true mystical bridegroom, for He is the mystical bridegroom of His believers, the Church (Revelation ch. 21-22). The soul of the Samaritan woman, as soul of every human being regardless gender or race, had a divinely sown principle of insatiable craving towards the Divine and Infinite, the craving not to be satisfied by anything created and limited, by any earthly interest or "husband", but only by the Infinite Himself, who came from the Infinite Father, talked to her at the well and dispensed to her the Infinite Holy Ghost, that she may not thirst henceforth (John 4:14).

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If the woman would have drunk water and crucified her flesh in the evening, instead of drinking wine with men, she wouldn't have had so many of them.

Gal 5:24 (NIV) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

So, yes, like with all the other believers in the crucifixion of the flesh, the woman at the well would also become Jesus' [spiritual] bride; if she only understood the way.

John 12:23,24,27,32 (NIV) Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Gal 3:1 (NIV) Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

Gal 2:19,20 (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

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You find the same structure in the previous and flowing accounts. It is actually quite simple: until people realize they need a savoir they will not need a savior. For Nicodemus, he needed to know that he need a new life: to be born from above. The woman needed to know that Jesus knew all about her and was still willing to give her living water. For the man at the pool, he needed to know that Jesus could do what only Jesus could do: heal him physically and spiritually.

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He knew she needed to repent of her adultery before being counted worthy of the blessing.

Supporting verses:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you who are double-minded. (James 4:8)

Let us draw near with a true heart full of faith, since our hearts have been sprinkled [clean] from an evil conscience and our body washed with pure water. (Heb 10:22)

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