Similar question: Where is the citation of John 7:38 taken from?

Is it possible that Jesus paraphrased OT scripture in John 7:38?

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” ‭‭John‬ ‭7:37-39‬

I’m not asking where this citation is from, Q: but is it possible that Jesus was paraphrasing a OT reality/scripture

Is there any suggestion anywhere else in the 4 Gospels that make it clear Jesus used paraphrase type language?

  • 1
    St John Chrysostom writes on this passage that it is found nowhere in the Scriptures extant in his time, because there are books/writings of the Holy Scripture that were known and remembered in Christ's time, but has been lost henceforth. Just for the sake of consideration. May 1, 2022 at 20:30
  • @LevanGigineishvili So it could have been on some apocryphal work? Interesting. Noted.
    – Cork88
    May 1, 2022 at 20:32
  • Yes, but not apocryphal, but considered as inspired by God and of the same standing as the extant Biblical texts, just like Paul's letter to Laodicaeans, is known to be written, but not extant; had it been preserved, it also would have entered the Canon, the same with the Old Testament texts: some of them were lost. May 1, 2022 at 20:44
  • @LevanGigineishvili What if the reason it hadn't actually been preserved (Laodicean letter) was because it never was canonical, just as Paul had written more letters to the Corinthians than what we have? (1 Corinthians 7:1)
    – Cork88
    May 1, 2022 at 20:46
  • Paul himself did not distinguish his letter to Corinthians as canonical while his letter to Laodicaeans as non-canonical, but asked both letters to be read in both Churches. It is to introduce a magic into the notion of canonicity to say that all the lost letters of Paul (which were just lost as so many letters were) were purposefully made lost by Divine Providence because of their lack of canonicity even if their author, say Paul or John, suspected nothing wrong in them (I do not say "nothing uncanonical" for the NT canon did not exist in their time). Such magic doesn't exist. May 1, 2022 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


The situation is succinctly summed up by Ellicott:

The exact words “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” are not found in any part of the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament, and yet Christ Himself utters them with the formula of quotation. This will be a difficulty only to those who value letter and syllable above spirit and substance. It may be that the words which our Lord actually uttered in the current language of Jerusalem were nearer to the very words of some passage in the Old Testament than they seem to be in the Greek form in which St. John has preserved them to us. But it is instructive that the thought is that which our Lord Himself, or St. John as representing Him, considers as the essence of the quotation. The thought meets us again and again in the Old Testament. See the following passages: Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11; Psalm 114:8; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 58:11; Joel 2:23; Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1; Ezekiel 47:12; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8.

This frequent reference to the refreshment and life-giving power of water is the more natural in the East, where drought is a fearful evil ever to be guarded against, and a well of water a blessing always sought for as the first necessity of life.

Thus, it appears that Jesus was quoting a common idea in the OT, and NOT a particular passage. The only places "living water" is mentioned is in places like Zech 14:8, Jer 2:13, 17:13, SS 4:15, etc. However, in none of these is there a mention of living water flowing out of a person. The closest we get is:

Jer 2:13 - “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns—broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

However, in this, the source of God not people. However, the NT teaching is that people were to imitate God and Jesus mentions this in another places as well:

John 4:13, 14 - Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”


It is possible this was paraphrasing an OT reality/scripture …

This phrase “as the scripture hath said” could possibly be referring to Isaiah 58:11 where the Lord promised to make us “like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

This promise, however, was a promised result of a godly type of fast and was not clearly associated with any aspect of the New Covenant. Jesus’ statement would also not be a very close quotation of Isaiah 58:11 or of Jeremiah 31:12, which contains a similar passage.

It is also possible that this phrase would be referring back to believing on Him, and that would render the meaning of this verse to be, “If we believe on Jesus as the scriptures teach that we should believe on Him, then out of our bellies shall flow rivers of living water.”

As for is there any suggestion anywhere else in the 4 Gospels that make it clear Jesus used paraphrase type language? You could fill a book with these. Consider this, the only reference they had was the Old Testament, (Tanakh). As a Rabbi everything had to/was sourced from Tanakh. Everything! So it was referenced right throughout the Gospels. Either by direct quote, or as in your quoted reference, even veiled.

  • What did you mean by: “ This promise, however, was a promised result of a godly type of fast and was not clearly associated with any aspect of the New Covenant.” ????
    – Cork88
    May 1, 2022 at 5:05
  • @Cork88 ‘Fasting’ under the Old Testament was for specific purposes which are meet differently under the new covenant.
    – Dave
    May 1, 2022 at 19:07
  • In what way are they different? Do you mind either explaining a little more? Or referencing a book, article, etc?
    – Cork88
    May 1, 2022 at 19:15
  • 1
    @Cork88 Yes, but that’s another question - and via ‘comments’ would be difficult. There are several current questions with answers relating to fasting on this site which may help.
    – Dave
    May 1, 2022 at 19:20

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