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
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
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.
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“.1 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
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.
1 "The Wooing of the Woman at the Well: Jesus, the Reader and Reader-Response Criticism" by Lyle Eslinger. This originally appeared in Literature and Theology 1/1 (1987) pp 167-83. This claim is covered on pg 176-177, with 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.