The conversation between the Samaritan woman at the well and Jesus went like this:

Woman: Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Jesus: Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Woman: I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.

(based on John 4:19-25, KJV)

Clearly, the woman lived in expectation of the Messiah. For his part, Jesus feels the need to explain that the Father is spirit, and must be worshiped in spirit.

But Jesus also states plainly: "Ye worship ye know not what." (That "ye" is second-person plural, applying to Samaritans generally.)

What exactly did the Samaritans worship that would have been different from the Jews? What in their concept of God was not correct?

I realize that they may have had other gods from pagan, polytheistic religions--but my interest for the purpose of this question is their particular understanding of the true God.

I understand that Samaritans were a mix of Jews and non-Jews who had intermarried--essentially the remnants of the ten tribes (Northern Kingdom). I'm only focused on what their view of God, the true God, had become by Jesus' time that would have prompted Jesus to tell the woman they didn't know what they were worshiping.

1 Answer 1


Samaritans considered themselves the heirs of the northern tribes of Israel, worshipping the God of Israel. The Judeans considered them illegitimate foreigners because of the intermixing, but they themselves saw themselves as true believers in the God of Israel. The issue was place of worship. God had specified that Jerusalem was the place where his “name dwelt” and only there could he be worshipped. They rejected this to worship God in their own temple at Shechem. That doesn't sound like a major theological issue to us, but it was to them.

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    I agree that the text speaks of places of worship. But Jesus didn't tell the woman that they didn't know where to worship--he said they didn't know what they worship. How does the place of worship affect what is being worshiped?
    – Polyhat
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 5:19
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    The fact that God had chosen Jerusalem and the Jews as his priestly nation is enough of a theological problem for Jesus to say, “You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know.” It's not merely an argument about place, but how God has acted in history. The Judeans were the ones whom God had chosen to bear the Messiah, not the Ephraimites. The Samaritans had a lot of false views of how God was acting in history. They also harassed people who were going to worship the real God of history, which in itself shows they opposed God's purposes and promises. Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 23:51

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