In Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus identifies himself with his disciples and lays some expectations for how he expects them to be treated. I'm curious, though, about the the significance of his "cup of cold water." What is the significance of this act? I'm looking for a socio-historical (or perhaps grammatical/linguistic) information.

Matthew 10:40-42

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

  • You might be interested to know that the word “water” is not in the original Greek text (the KJV puts it in italics, meaning that it was supplied by the translators). The text says simply ποτηριον ψυχρου “a drinking-cup of (something) cold”; it could be anything: water, wine, milk. On the whole, people in the ancient world did not drink water; it was not considered wholesome.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 21:37
  • I do not know about what socio-historical means. Yet the cold cup of water its of a correction from the word without the heat of yelling. For the arguing ones yell at each other putting themselves into the lake of fire.
    – Decrypted
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 1:27
  • With respect, this sounds like an over-spiritualisation.. Would you be able to offer a textual argument as to why it means more than simply a kind act?
    – user36337
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 1:30
  • @AshleyRoberts thank you for your feedback. it's not an attempt at over-spiritualization, but rather an attempt to determine if it was a specific hospitality custom, a commentary on the value of specific types of resources, or "simply a kind act."
    – swasheck
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 23:38
  • @swasheck Gosh sorry ‘bout that, no your question was bang on and I fully agree on the need to unpack the socio-historical implications. I think I wrote my comment in the wrong place! 🥸 I offered an answer based on a lovely old book which I have mislaid, it was yellow and black and called something like “Customs and Practices of the Ancient Biblical lands.” Had a few cringeworthy antiquated statements in it about “the Jew” and “the Arab” - these people all acting with one unified voice of course! 🤦🏻 But in general it was a brilliant little book..
    – user36337
    Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 1:29

8 Answers 8


Short answer. I think the significance is to be understood in the often hot climate of the region as well as the low amount of technology in that society. As it was hot and people had to use water wells to obtain fresh water, giving a cup of water to someone would have been a very common thing. It would be like holding open the elevator for someone today. In other words it is a sample of the smallest act of charity commonly practiced at the time.

The only reference I could dig up is the social atmosphere at 'watering place' where 'singers' would congregate:

“You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider  the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the victories of the LORD, the victories of his villagers in Israel. (NIV, Judges 5:10-11)

Jesus also speaking to a women at a well shows that it was a social place where people might pass common courtesies to each other by sharing a cup.


I have this to add to Mike's fine answer. In context, Jesus is talking prophetically about the persecution his disciples can expect to encounter in the near future. He addresses as well the necessity for his disciples to die to themselves in their service of their master, Jesus, as He sends the twelve out on a preaching mission.

Then Jesus gives His disciples some practical advice concerning their reception by the people to whom they are being sent; namely, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As commentators have suggested, there is a descending climax in Jesus' words. At the very head of the list is the Father; next is the Son; followed by a prophet; then comes a righteous man; and last but not least a little one.

I suggest the phrase "one of these little ones" refers to all those disciples of Jesus who by dying to themselves find themselves serving others. Each act of service, Jesus assures the twelve, is unto God and has its reward. Just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Ma 20:28; Mk 10:45), so too are His disciple to serve and even to endure persecution on His account.

In the sense of serving, then, we all are servants of the most High God and Father: whether Jesus (but only for a time!), or a disciple, or a prophet, or a righteous man, or even a little one. All of God's servants will be rewarded, even a person who in the name of a disciple gives a drink of cold water to one of God's "little ones" (i.e., His servants)--a cup of cold water being the smallest act of courtesy possible, especially when it is given with a smile (rhetorician's translation!).

In conclusion, the "hierarchy" in God's kingdom turns the normal human hierarchy in society upside down, except for the king. Under the King in the kingdom of heaven, however, come not viceroys and presidents and governors and mayors and advisors and lesser bureaucrats, but "little ones" who recognize their littleness before the King, who gladly take their place as mere servants of their King and who distinguish themselves through acts of service to others and thus to God, the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (He 11:6).


The point of Jesus using a cup of water as an illustration was, in the view of the Church Fathers at least, not because of any cultural significance, but rather because it illustrated that even someone who is poor is capable of giving alms. Cyprian of Carthage, for example, wrote:

Break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the houseless poor into thy dwelling. If thou seest the naked, clothe him; and despise not them of thy own seed in thy house. Then shall thy seasonable light break forth, and thy garments shall quickly arise; and righteousness shall go before thee: and the glory of God shall surround thee. Then thou shalt cry out, and God shall hear thee [Isaiah 58:7-9 LXX] ... That even a small work is of advantage: “And whoever shall give to drink to one of the least of these a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, His reward shall not perish.”

Treatise XII.III.1

Similar interpretations can be found in the writings of Cyril of Alexandria (Sermon CVIII of Commentary on Luke), Chrysostom (Homily XXXI on Hebrews), and Ambrose (On the Duties of the Clergy II.XXI). Leo the Great wrote:

Therefore those who do the things which are good must have no manner of fear lest the power of doing should fail them; since in the gospel the widow’s devotion is extolled in the case of her two mites, and voluntary bounty gets its reward for a cup of cold water. For the measure of our charitableness is fixed by the sincerity of our feelings, and he that shows mercy on others will never want for mercy himself. The holy widow of Sarepta discovered this, who offered the blessed Elias in the time of famine one day’s food, which was all she had, and putting the prophet’s hunger before her own needs, ungrudgingly gave up a handful of corn and a little oil [1 Kings 17:11ff]. But she did not lose what she gave in all faith, and in the vessels emptied by her godly bounty a source of new plenty arose, that the fulness of her substance might not be diminished by the holy purpose to which she had put it, because she had never dreaded being brought to want.

On Lent, Sermon XLII.II


My 2c worth: cold drinks were considerably harder to come by than they are today. So to offer someone “something cold” would mean taking them to your home, which would have a damp muslin cloth ‘setup’ to keep things cool, or a pit refrigerator in the ground.

Now taking them home in this way would activate the Ancient Near Eastern customs around hospitality. There was no such thing as “wait at the door while I bring you a drink / there we go / bye now, have a nice day”! They would have been invited in by the time the drink was offered. As a guest in your home, you would now offer a bath, perfume, a meal, a place to stay for the night, your children might go and sleep with the stranger so they didn’t feel lonely (I know, right?!). This could all be followed the next day by an elaborate process of persuasion to stretch out the stay.

It’s kinda like offering someone two of your tickets to a game. It’s just two tickets on the surface - but it could easily imply picking them up, buying them a boerie roll and a beer, laughing and socialising with them in the company of your family, being the designated driver, taking them home afterwards.


We learn from Matthew 25 and Acts 9 that at His return Jesus will reward everything done to His disciples as if these things had been done to Him.

Thus, even the smallest of favors done to us will have their reward.

  • “EvilSnack”??? 🤪💥😆
    – user36337
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 2:03

To me the act of offering someone water or refreshment goes beyond societal or historical significance. It is universal symbol for humanity no matter where or when you lived. In the physical world water is "life" - but you could say the region in which Jesus lived - the middle east - this was even more pronounced due to the arid and harsh climate of much of the region.

The bible and scripture emphasise this and use water as a parallel and metaphor for God in the spiritual. Just as Water is essential for life in the physical so to is God essential for life in the spiritual.

There are so many references to this its difficult to really chose specific verses

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

John 7:34 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

But actually in the context of this parable I think the most relevant scripture is Proverbs 11:25.

The Generous soul will be made prosperous. He that waters others - will himself be watered

What we come to realize is Jesus sending his 70 disciples out into the towns with "no purse, traveling bag or shoes" (Luke 22:35) he did so partially so the towns who accepted them would have to support them and in doing so would be greatly blessed. By offering them hospitality - food, refreshment, lodging etc - they would themselves would be greatly rewarded. He who welcomes a prophet - receives a prophets reward.

The giving of "water" or "refreshment" is used to symbolize that the physical gifts given to help his disciples will be rewarded with equivalent "spiritual" ones from God.


What is the socio-historical significance of the "cup of cold water" in Matthew 10:42?

The article "Getting Better Acquainted with the Bible Lands" in the Watchtower February 1, 1974 issue makes this reference:

The hot, dry climate now gave added meaning in their minds to Jesus’ commendation of those who would give “only a cup of cold water” to his disciples. (Matt. 10:42) And in these surroundings one could not help but recall that ancient hospitality here involved washing the feet of one’s guests​—how good it would feel! Jesus performed such a loving service for his apostles.​—John 13:3-5.

But Jesus' words have a deeper meaning than social or historical. The subheading "Appreciation for Little Things" from the article "Jehovah, an Appreciative God" in the Watchtower December 1, 1975 issue provides the following insight:

The Creator appreciates even the smallest things. This is evident from what Jesus Christ told his followers: “He that receives you receives me also, and he that receives me receives him also that sent me forth. He that receives a prophet because he is a prophet will get a prophet’s reward, and he that receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will get a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, I tell you truly, he will by no means lose his reward.”​—Matt. 10:40-42.

The giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ truly is a small thing. Yet, when such an act is done in recognition of a person’s being a disciple of Christ, Jehovah God appreciates this very much. Along with his Son, he views it as being done to him. The rightly motivated individual will, therefore, be richly rewarded spiritually. Though seemingly insignificant, the act of kindness rendered to a disciple of Jesus Christ may be a step leading to the person’s gaining an approved relationship before Jehovah God.

So the offering of a "cup of cold water" is more than a social or historic norm, but as Marshall mentions more about our humanity. This humanity comes from Jehovah God and he appreciates what we do for others especially those who are disciples of Jesus Christ and follow his commandments.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]


This is a riddle about receiving Jesus. As such, there is word-play concerning the cross.

Jesus uses illustrations which build in stature: the Prophet teaches the word, the righteous man lives it, and the least of these is the greatest, it is Christ himself.

In the language of riddle, the many things are one thing. We are not concerned with the use of 'children' vs. a singular child.

Eating is a metaphor for learning by teaching. Drinking is learning by experience.

'Cup' is כוס 'finished work ס of the Son כ' or כס seat of honor

'Cool' קר or קור is also 'calm', 'dig for water [word]'

Paraphrase of the riddle:
And whoever gives the seat of honor to Christ in his finished work as you dig in the word...

This is a parallel teaching to the rule concerning sensus plenior that it should be Christocentric.

"He who digs (searches for) for Christ and the cross in the scriptures will not lose his reward. "

*For alphabet references see: Understanding the Scripture

  • "finished work ס of the Son כ' or כס seat of honor" Please link to a source that gives the specific details of this derivation.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 22:32
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    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 3:21

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