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Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!" (John 7:38 CJB)

I always read John 7:38 as "If I believe like the scripture says...", but I lately read this verse differently.

Let us consider for this question that it reads: Whoever believes in me, from his belly will flow rivers of living water, just as the scripture says. As far as I know the Greek allows for both translations. If this is true, where does the scripture say that rivers of living waters will flow from our inner most being?

Edit If Jesus is quoting the OT in general and spirit and not a specific verse, what principals based on which verses would be describing that principle?

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    I'm not sure if this is relevant to point out, or if everyone already knows this, but John 7:37 is a quotation from Isaiah 55:1. Is it possible that "as the Scripture has said" is referring back to that previous quotation? Apr 8, 2013 at 19:49
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    Proverbs 4:23, word used for "heart" means inner most being. The verse then states shortly after "out of it are the issues of life" if you poke around in the Hebrew, it also could've (and in some translations does) been translated "out of it flow springs/rivers of life" leaving as a comment because I'm new to this site. Feb 15, 2016 at 13:04

7 Answers 7

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A few points to make here.

As you noted, the Greek here is a bit slightly ambiguous and could go either way. For the purpose of your question, we are assuming a particular reading, so I will avoid that discussion here.

But let's back up a bit, and see the whole quote:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38 ESV)

Consider that ancient Greek has no punctuation, and take this quote as a whole. Parsing it differently, you can see this rendered

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

That is, "whoever" is referring to him who thirsts ("if anyone thirsts, let him come"), and the water is coming from Jesus ("let him come to me and drink"). Then the Scripture is not saying water will come from the believer but instead from Jesus.

And, indeed this seems more plausible. Several passages teach similarly, but before looking at them more closely, it's necessary to take a step back further yet.

Verse 37 refers to a feast, but one has to go all the way back to verse 2 to see that this is referring to the Feast of Booths (a.k.a Feast of Tabernacles). Though this feast was instituted in Leviticus, it was more often than not honored in the breach. One instance when it was celebrated, however, was during the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.

Beginning in Nehemiah 8:13 and continuing through Nehemiah 9, we see the Feast of Booths celebration taking place, and those present honored God by remembering what he had done for them. Several times in this prayer, the priests remembered God's provision for them from the rock that Moses struck to brought forth water (see Exodus 17:6):

You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them. (Nehemiah 9:15 ESV)

So then, flowing water has been connected to the Feast of Booths before; and this is not the last word that Scripture says about this rock from which water sprang either--in 1 Cor. 10:4, Paul explains it always was from Christ that the water sprung:

For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

So then, Christ to be the source of water flowing for the thirsty is no new thing at all--he was the source for Israelites in the Exodus as he is for all who believe in him.

This theme of water flows throughout the Bible, including those passages mentioned by @Richard. He has already dealt with those, so I will not rehash that specifically, except to note that (as Richard did) these verses refer to the source of living water as God, which is more consistent with understanding the source in John 7:38 to be Christ rather than the believer.

Additionally, as @JackDouglas has pointed out, Ezekiel 47 refers to water flowing from within the temple, which would be at least awkward if the source of water is the believer. Again, consider Jesus. If the temple is the meeting place between God and man, Jesus is the ultimate meeting place between God and man--the temple par excellence. It is natural for him to be equated with the temple, and the source of water in Ezekiel 47.

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  • About Ezekiel 47: Paul tells us that we are the temple of God, so it could well be possible again that the source is the believer, couldn't it? Oct 18, 2011 at 15:58
  • This might be out of scope for this question/answer, but would be a good follow-up. Briefly, however, I would argue that Paul is arguing that the church as a body is a temple, not that individual believers are temples.
    – Ray
    Oct 18, 2011 at 16:01
  • I agree that this is out of scope as a discussion, yet not as a clarification of part of your string of thoughts here. Paul in 1Co 16:19 talks of the body being the temple, contemplating on 1Co 16:18, where he talks of the sinner's own body. Oct 18, 2011 at 16:07
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    Indeed; I was thinking of 1 Cor. 3, where the "you" being labelled as "a temple" is referring to the whole church. Still, allowing that the individual being called a temple is plausible, it is rather far removed from the believer directly being labelled a source of living water. Christ, on the other hand, is referred to as such both directly and indirectly, and the phrase "let him come to me and drink" strongly suggests that he is the source of water in mind in this verse.
    – Ray
    Oct 18, 2011 at 16:11
  • @Ray Very well done. Jun 4, 2013 at 22:53
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There is no Old Testament verse that speaks of living water flowing from within a person. However, we can see this imagery throughout the Old Testament.

Imagery

This passage is a prophecy of Zechariah, which is talking about God destroying the enemies of Israel:

Zechariah 14:8 (NASB)
And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter.

Jeremiah also refers to God as the source of Living Waters:

Jeremiah 2:13 (NASB)
For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

Jeremiah 17:13 (NASB)
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You will be put to shame.
Those who turn away on earth will be written down,
Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD

Furthermore, Psalms reflects uses water as an imagery regarding the our thirst for God and him fulfilling that thirst.

Psalms 63:1 (NASB)
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Summary

There is no Old Testament verse that speaks of living water flowing from within a person. However, the idea of God as water is present throughout the Old Testament. This quotation seems to be Jesus not quoting a specific verse as much as it is quoting a set of images that are found throughout the Old Testament.

See also this page at biblegateway.com.

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Short Answer: I believe Jesus is referring to Isaiah 58:11b, and here is why:

The prophecy of Isaiah 58

Isaiah 58 opens as follows:

Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins. (v.1)

The people of God are in a terrible state spiritually. The prophecy goes on to elaborate:

Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
. . . Is it a fast like this which I choose
. . . Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? (v.4-5)

The people are performing great wickedness, even in their fasting. Their behavior is totally contrary to God's desire -- which He goes on to explain:

Is this not the fast which I choose,
. . . to let the oppressed go free
. . . Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him; (v.6-7)


Then, all of the sudden there is a break in the tone of the passage! Suddenly, the prophecy shifts (as so many do) from the miserable, wicked state of the people (totally contrary to God's ways and desires) to an assumption of restoration! The very next verse opens as follows:

Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ (v.8-9)

Where did that come from?! This definitely has the tone of your typical eschatological / messianic prophecy of the reconciliation of God's people. The prophecy then lists the "ifs," which are all totally out of grasp for these desperately wicked people:

If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted (v.9-10)

But how are they to transform from such a selfish people to such a loving people? There is a need being presented here -- a need, which Christ would one day come to fill. The prophecy goes on:

Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail (v.10-11)

Now we are dealing with some heavy-duty restoration language! The predictions continue:

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. (v.12)

Yes, when this happens, the city of God will be established once more! Then the prophecy continues, but suddenly shifts to "if you will repent and embrace the 'sabbath'":

If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (v.13-14)

Relation of Isaiah 58 to Jesus

From a Christian perspective, Isaiah 58 is incredibly Messianic in nature. Essentially, verses 1-7 present the hopeless state of natural Israel, and there is an implicit "Messiah" present between verses 7 and 8 who totally turns things upside down for the better of His people. The people are redeemed, and boy is it good! All they have to do is start loving people... which is only possible in Christ. All they have to do is repent... and turn to Christ. All they have to do is repent because of the "Sabbath" -- who is Christ -- and then they will delight in the Lord. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins. Then their light will rise in darkness. Then they will be like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

Jesus' use of Isaiah 58

It is worth noting that there were no quotation marks in the Greek, and quotations in their day did not work like they do today. They quoted meaning more often than they quoted words. Jesus is saying "Whoever puts his trust in Me will be like a spring that gushes forth rivers of living water from his innermost being -- just like the Scripture says!" Amen!

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Pslam 23:5 ..."My cup overflows".

David's cup has been filled and it overflows.

The cup is filled with wine representing grace. He has been forgiven to overflowing. He also forgives his enemies as we have been instructed to do as evidenced by his enemy sitting down at the table to dine with him.

Water is the word of God made up of law and grace. When you remove the axe (judgement) from the stream as Elisha did, what remains is grace/wine.

The living water is water without judgement. It is wine.

Before Jesus turned water into wine, he was not ready for ministry saying to Mary that it was not yet his time. After he turned water into wine, he began his ministry in earnest.

This act showed that Jesus, the righteous judge, had removed the axe from his own water. Though he could judge the leaders of Israel for not being prepared for the wedding of the Lamb, instead he chose to make up for their want. He chose to give grace instead. Once that was made up in his mind, having turned water into wine, he could begin his ministry.

This grace/forgiveness flows from us as we forgive others. It is why we give what was stolen to the thief, and more. By giving to him, we have made it so that he has not sinned against us. Our love has 'covered many sins'. We didn't just forgive his sin, we have made it so that there is no sin on his part against us.

When we turn the other cheek. It does not show defiance, but love. It says that we have considered his act of aggression as though it were an accident. Where there is no offense taken, there is no sin to forgive.

We become well springs of living water whose source is Christ. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We love because we were first loved.

Side note: cup 'koce', heart 'soke' It is a type of Hebrew pun where the phonemes are reversed. When we forgive 'from our innermost being' it is not just an act of the will, but an act of true gratitude for having been forgiven.

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I believe the scripture Jesus references in John 7:38 is Isaiah 43:19.

God said through Isaiah:

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (NLT)

God said through the prophet Jeremiah that He is "the spring of living water" (2:13). The apostle John wrote that the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev 22:1).

Consider that a spring is a source, and living water is life. Therefore, God said through Jeremiah that He (God) is the source of life! And a wasteland then is a place that is void of life.

So, I understand that God said through Isaiah: I will create life where there is no life, and He does! He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ as the pathway to Him through the wilderness of our world. And, as Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (Jn 7:38)

God created (and creates) rivers of LIFE that flow through His children in the dry wasteland of our world just as he said he would through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ!

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  • How would you see Jesus' own words fitting in with your view, that God is the source of life - "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn. 14:6 & 11:25?
    – Anne
    Jan 11, 2022 at 16:44
  • John 1:18, 6:44, 6:57 are applicable however, John 10:30 states: "I and the Father are one".
    – Ray
    Jun 8, 2022 at 23:44
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I would suggest he is referring to Jeremiah 2:13 & 17:13 and that by doing so, he is making two points:

  1. He is indeed the same as the God of the Scriptures (as he has amply pointed out in previous chapters).

  2. By the new covenant, those who believe in him will have him dwelling not just around but in them.

By the way, it is common for New Testament writers to quote the essence of an Old Testament text rather than quoting it verbatim.

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    Welcome to Hermeneutics SE! I think you've got a good start on an answer her and I agree with your conclusion, but I think you're missing part of the point of this site. We're not so interested in just the conclusion of questions but in the process of getting here. You jump straight for the question to "I suggest the answer is X". Can you edit your answer to show, working from the text up, on what basis you think those verses are the correct reference here?
    – Caleb
    Apr 11, 2013 at 10:27
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    Whatever doctrinal points the author might have been trying to make are kind of beside the point, the take away value from a question like this on this site should be how to make the connection in the first place based on whatever clues exist in the original text. Does that make sense?
    – Caleb
    Apr 11, 2013 at 10:28
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Jesus could well have been referring to Joel 2:28

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Also Luke records this in Acts 2:15-18

15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

If we look at what Jesus said, it directly relates to His statement, in regard to "Rivers of living water" and more importantly "As the Scripture has said".....it doesn't mean that what He has said means just one scripture, but all Scripture that points to Him being "The Christ" The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" "The suffering Servant", Scripture "Plural".

The fact He makes the main point in His statement "The Spirit" (Holy) makes sense that He is speaking of those that would be obedient to what had been prophesied previously, and through that obedience, the Filling of the Prophesied Holy Spirit. Luke 3:16

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

The disciples obediently, with the other believers, went to Jerusalem into an upper room praying ... although going up to pray as disciples they came down "Apostles" with the other 109 believers never to be the same, surely "Rivers Of Living Waters" flowed.

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