Exegetical Comments on John 4:19-30

Exegetical Comments on John 4:19-30

            The passage at hand falls after the prologue, within the Book of Signs in John’s gospel after the Cana cycle of chapters 2 and 3. Here, Jesus breaks two essential first-century Jewish taboos: he was a man talking with a woman, and the woman was a Samaritan. As the passage unfolds, it is apparent that Jesus is unconcerned with these taboos and has an agenda for the woman.

            Vss. 19-30 contains the rest of the conversation between the woman and Jesus. The woman initially identified him as a prophet because of the revelation she has just received, but then she brings in the different places of worship of Samaritans and Jews (vss. 19-20). Not answering her question right away, Jesus “foreshadowed a new day” where the place of worship will be irrelevant (vss. 21).[1] The Samaritan place of worship might be out of ignorance (vs. 22), but even the Jewish place of worship will eventually be replaced by worship in the Spirit and truth (vs. 23-24). The worshiper “must deal honestly and openly with God.”[2]

            This new revelation leads the woman to wonder who this man was that was speaking to her. Could he be the Messiah (vs. 25)? The Samaritans had a tradition, stemming from Deuteronomy 18:15, that the Messiah would come and “explain the mysteries of life.”[3] Here Jesus reveals for the first time who he actually is – the Messiah (vs. 26).

            The scene shifts with a Markan style of “Just then” when the disciples returned from town and are stunned that Jesus is breaking the social taboos (vs. 27). But the woman, dropping everything, runs back to town and tells the people about her encounter with Jesus (vss. 28-29). She then, evangelistically, brings the townspeople to Jesus so they could have the same sort of encounter (vs. 30). She is the first evangelist. Her evangelism is not to the Jews but to her fellow Samaritans. The mission is now “outside the boundaries of the chosen people, away from Jerusalem itself” to a people who are eager to hear what Jesus has to say.[4]

One has to imagine that this whole scene set the stage for Phillip in Acts 8:4-17. Phillip’s mission, followed up by confirmation from Peter and John, was to speak of Jesus, resurrected. The worship in Spirit, which Jesus spoke of (John 4:23-24), came with Peter and John’s arrival and the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17). The groundwork was laid by Jesus and the Smartian woman. Those in the future could receive the promise of the risen Messiah and God’s presence of the Holy Spirit.


[1] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 135.

[2] Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 56.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 49.

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