Jesus returns from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. First, however, he passes through Samaria and has a dialogue with a woman. He also heals a royal official’s son, by long distance.
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The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
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Links are provided for further study.
Jesus and a Woman of Samaria (John 4:1-42)
1 When therefore Jesus learned that that Pharisees heard that Jesus was baptizing and making more disciples than John, 2 (though Jesus himself was not baptizing but his disciples were) 3 he left Judea and went back to Galilee. 4 It was necessary that he pass through Samaria. 5 So he went into a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the area which Jacob gave his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Then Jesus, who became tired from the journey, simply sat down at the well. It was the sixth hour.
7 A woman came from Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me something to drink.” 8 (For his disciples went into the town to buy food.) 9 Then the Samaritan woman said to him, “How is that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, being a Samaritan woman? (For the Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 In reply, Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who he was who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Mister, you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where then do you get the living water from? 12 You are not, are you, greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and himself drank from it, along with his sons and animals?” 13 In reply, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks from this water will thirst again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water which I will give will not thirst forever, but the water which I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I do not thirst and nor pass by here to draw.”
16 He said to her, “Go and call your husband and come here.” 17 In reply, the woman said to him, “I don’t have a husband.”” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband.’ 18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not you husband. You have spoken truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
20 “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain. And you say that the place is in Jerusalem where one must worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain neither in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these who worship him. 24 God is Spirit, and the ones who worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth. 25 The woman said to him, I know that the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ.) When he comes, he will proclaim everything to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking to you.”
27 His disciples came at that moment and marveled that he was talking with a woman. However, no one said, “What are you looking for, and why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman left her water jar and left for the town and said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Isn’t this one perhaps the Christ?” 30 They left the town and went to him.
31 In the meantime, his disciples began to ask him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat about which you know nothing.” 33 Then his disciples began to say to each other, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and complete his work. 35 Don’t you say, ‘There are yet four months, and the harvest is coming?’ Look, I say to you. Lift up your eyes and observe the fields that they are white for harvest. Even now 36 the harvester receives his wage and gathers the produce for eternal life, so that the harvester and sower celebrate together. 37 The word is true in this matter: Someone sows and another one harvests. 38 I have sent you to harvest for that which you have not labored. Other have labored and you have entered their labor.”
39 Then many Samaritan people came out of that town and believed in him through the message of the woman who testified, “He told me everything which I have done.” 40 So then the Samaritans came to him, asking him to remain with them. He stayed there for two days. 41 And many more believed because of his message 42 and told the woman, “No longer because of your talk do we believe, for we ourselves have heard and know that he is truly the Savior of the world.”
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. Placing this word study in each chapter is done because this is cyber-space and we don’t need to worry about the cost per printed page.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
This is a very moving and deep conversation between the incarnate Logos of God and a lonely, hurting woman. How will things turn out?
The Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making more disciples and baptizing more people than John the Immerser was. So this prompted Jesus to move on and no longer do the ministry of baptizing. Evidently, he believed that the Pharisees might exploit any differences or competition between John’s disciples and Jesus’s disciples. Both John and Jesus preached national repentance, and the Pharisees must not interfere if they perceived an inroad to cause division between John and Jesus (Mounce, comment on v. 1, Bruce, comment on v. 1). However, Commentator Edward Klink suggests that Jesus did not go north to avoid conflict; rather the Greek word for leave can also be translated as “abandon” (see v. 28 and the woman leaving her water jug behind). He was temporarily abandoning Judea to minister up north. He will go back down south again (comment on 4:3).
In any case, Jesus returned northward, for Judea was in the south, and Galilee was in the north. He was not ready to cause a permanent state of trouble down south. That would come later. The story is not even close to being over, so let’s not end it prematurely. He needs to ignite a movement down here in his homeland, before he dies, is resurrected and exalted. Plus, he was commissioned to do the will of his Father in his home region, where he had already worked the beginning of his signs. Galilee was also his homeland, where the movement needed to take root. John uses the Greek impersonal verb dei (pronounced day), and it is often translated as “must” or “has to” or “it is necessary.” John uses the verb in an eschatological sense of inaugurating the kingdom by Jesus’s ministry, particularly in the saving work of Jesus (John 3:7, 14, 30; 4:4; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9). In other words, God is directing his Son on a mission, and there is a sense of “divine must” or divine necessity” in the direction, in order to invade the dark world (Klink, comment on 4:4).
Borchert is right:
The use of edei [past tense of dei], however, reminds one of the fact that usually Jesus moved not in response to human pressure but as a result of the Father’s direction and the determined hour for his life. Did the evangelist merely mean that Samaria was on the way? Or is there some overtone here that Samaria was on the divine agenda? Given the significance of this story in the Johannine structure and the importance of the Samaritan confession (4:42), I cannot help wondering if the evangelist saw in this story more than just a geographical reference at 4:4. (p. 199)
Jesus left Judea and went through Samaria on a divine mission.
It is interesting that Jesus was making disciples. What is a disciple? The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
John seems to use the term “disciple” much less officially than the Synoptics do. Right now, these men attached themselves to Jesus, but would they follow him to the end? Would they all become the twelve? John is using the term more loosely than the Synoptics do, but we simply don’t know who deeply their commitment to his new movement went. Some may have firmly committed to him, all the way to his death in Jerusalem. Other will leave him (6:66).
Samaria was in between Judea and Galilee. Jesus could have gone north, following the Jordan River, and then cut across to Galilee, thus avoiding Samaria. Many Jews of the extra-ceremonially pure variety did exactly that. They would rather not associate with Samaritans, so they went the long route.
Centuries ago, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722, the victors deported the best and brightest Israelites and imported pagans, Gentiles. They intermarried and developed their own religion of Judaism. They honored Mt. Gerizim, where Moses announced the blessing on Israel (Deut. 11:29; 27:12). So it is easy to believe that the mountain was a special place. You can go online and google it. It may be worth a quick look. And you can also look up Sychar and Jacob’s well, though there are many wells in the area. (My website is not equipped to put maps together, particularly when so many maps are already online.)
You may read more about the Samaritans at this link:
Jacob gave the land to Joseph and Jacob’s other sons.
21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22 And to you I give one more ridge of land than to your brothers … (Gen. 48:221-2, NIV)
Many years later Joseph’s bones were buried there (Josh. 24:32). So the entire area had sacred associations.
The Greek noun for well means a spring or fountain, not a dug-out cistern, while the noun used in vv. 11 and 12 does indicate a dug-out well or cistern. Both words suit Jacob’s will. It was fug and fed by an underground stream (Bruce, comments on vv. 4-6.)
Finally, why did John tell us that it was the sixth hour? It was about noon, when the day was getting hotter, so it was only natural that the Lord would be tired. He was God incarnate, true, but he was true man as well. He did get tired.
The scene is now set for a powerful and unusual meeting.
In v. 8, John narrates that the disciples had gone into town to buy food. Now we are about to see a one-on-one confrontation. So the scene is set, as the lone woman comes out of the town, around noon. Usually women got the water in a company and a cooler time of the day (Bruce, comment on v. 7-8). She is alone probably because the other women and people generally did not wish to be seen with her. But Jesus is not ashamed of her.
Jesus was God-in-the-flesh, but he was also human, true God and true human (let’s avoid the term one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human; just say true God and true human). I like what Klink says: “His identity is Jewish, and his appearance is one of a thirsty and helpless traveler; yet the truth is that he is the unique Son, the very expression of the love of God” (comment on v. 10). Excellent.
Jewish rabbis wanted women to stay “in their place.” … We can imagine what the rabbinic view would be of a “questionable,” half-breed Samaritan woman! But Jesus was different. He spoke to her as God spoke to Hagar and as Abraham’s servant spoke to Rebekah in ancient times. This woman was really being treated like a person. Jesus even wanted a drink from her (John 4:7). What would the disciples have said if they had been around? Fortunately they were conveniently out of the way looking for kosher food in Samaria (4:8). The woman did not know what to make of such an overture. Jesus did not fit the stereotype of kosher-concerned Jewish men. Her first response, therefore, was to question him about his unexpected freedom in conversation (4:9). (p. 203)
And so it came to pass that Jesus meets this woman from Samaria. John is speaking generically of the region, just to elicit from his informed readers that Jesus is in hostile territory. So tension is in the air. How will Jesus handle it? He goes full-scale spiritual and symbolic, to find out how spiritually hungry she is. Then she will draw from his metaphor truths she needs for living, like drawing a special water from the well that offer eternal life.
The use of metaphors to test people’s spiritual acuity reminds me of these verses in Matthew’s Gospel, on the deeper purpose of parables, another kind of illustrative or symbolic meaning:
For this reason I speak to them in parables, because even though they ‘see,’ they do not see, and even though they ‘hear,’ they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Then this prophecy of Isaiah shall be fulfilled about them, saying:
You shall ‘hear’ with the act of ‘hearing,’ and you shall not understand,
And even though you ‘see’ carefully, you shall ‘see’ and not perceive.
15 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And the ears have become hard of hearing,
And their eyes have shut,
In case they might hear with their ears,
And with their hearts they might understand and might turn
And I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10] (Matt. 13:13-15)
People have to dig for spiritual truths. Jesus’s goal was to draw out of them hunger and desperation, for them to push through the dull mental barriers.
“eternal life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. The next age has broken into this age and given us new life. It is eternal life right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
Now let’s get back to the dialogue.
Jesus plays on the word water, and additionally living water. Does this mean running water or springing water? Or is something deeper going on? To be clear, here’s our uncomplicated diagram, to be read from the bottom up:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Let’s fill it in:
2.. Holy Spirit’s filling, surging, and cleansing of our inner being
1.. Living water
Jesus will reveal in John 7:37-39 at the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles or Sukkoth) that whoever thirsts should come to him and drink, because whoever believes in him will experience flowing rivers of living waters. He spoke of the Spirit, and those who believe in Jesus were about to receive the Spirit, after Jesus was glorified.
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus was standing up and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 The one believing in me, just as the Scripture says: Out of his inner most being rivers of living water will flow. 39 But he said this about the Spirit whom those believing in him were about to receive, for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39).
Here are some verses:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost. (Is. 55:1, NIV)
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. (Is. 58:11, NIV)
“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. (Zech. 13:1)
6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. 8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem … (Zech. 14:6-8)
Other verses about water and the (implied) Spirit
My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer. 2:13, NIV)
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek. 36:25-27, NIV)
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23, NIV)
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
Now let’s shift to the NT, the Book of the Revelation, clearly (to me at least) written by the same man who wrote the Fourth Gospel (John).
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev. 7:16-17, NIV)
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Rev. 21:6, NIV)
However, the woman expresses surprise that a Jew would ask her, a woman, for a drink—and a Samaritan woman, besides. John’s parenthetical reference in v. 8 says that Jews have no associations with Samaritans, indicating the Samaritans were ceremonially unclean. Bruce translate the verse as “Jews do not use the same vessels as Samaritans.” In this case, the Samaritan was surprised that he asked for water when he had no vessel to use on his own. He was risking ceremonial pollution, so his request for a drink startled the woman.
Jesus ignores the social niceties or her concern and goes right to the spirit of the matter. The gift of God, he offers her, is the Spirit, symbolized by the water—the living water. If she could only think more deeply, she would ask him for a drink and he would give her this living water. Yet she cannot rise above her limited vision flowing from her limited experience. The words and Jesus’s Jewishness and the water image, when the well is right next to them, keeps her locked down inside her own culture. Is it possible to rise above our own culture which feeds our worldview—our earth-bound world view, our culture bound world view? We are about to find out.
For right now, however, she thinks in natural terms. Jesus has no bucket or water jar with which to draw the water, and the well is deep. How can he do this? So she sizes him up with skepticism, “Oh, come one, mister! Stop! You ain’t greater than our ancestor Jacob. His work is evident right here with this well! Climb down off your high perch!” I settled on the translation “mister” because it has some sass in it. I believe she had been rejected and wounded many times, so she does not now trust men. “Mister, you better think again. You ain’t no Jacob! His sons and their animals drank from here centuries ago, at the founding of Samaria!”
Jesus keeps the conversation spiritual. He needs to lift her aim, her sights. It’s not about her illustrious origins, but about something and Someone much higher. Everyone who drinks water from this natural well (he says), associated as it is with a founding patriarch, an illustrious ancestor, will never be satisfied. He or she will thirst again. In contrast, whoever—an open call to everyone and anyone—drinks from the water that Jesus gives will in no way thirst again and from now on and into eternity. In fact, the spring of water will spring up into eternal life. This water will become eternal life, always bubbling over and flowing out, just as John 7:37-39 says. It will be a strong wellspring; it will become rivers of living water. In the sign at Cana (John 2:6) and in the conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:5) water was figured in a symbolic sense. Here at Jacob’s well, it symbolized that the old order and conflict between the Jews and Samaritans were passing away and yielding to the gift of the Spirit and life eternal (Bruce, comment on v. 10).
Can she see it? Can she lower her guard and receive this truth? What will happen next? She does lower her guard just enough because she does want to drink from this new and unusual life source. So in v. 15, should I translate the same Greek noun (kurios, pronounced koo-ree-oss) as “mister” or “sir” or “Lord”? I believe her heart is softening, so I went with “sir.” But if the reader would like to translate it as “sir” and not “mister” in every case, then he should feel free.
He had no water jar or bucket, and the well was 100 feet deep (30.48m)
In v. 15, since she asked for this living water which will always quench her thirst, she needs a little nudge to get her to accept the Messiah. So Jesus gets appropriately personal. “Go call your husband.” Her guard is down. She does not walk away, ashamed. The word Jesus had been preaching water leading to eternal life has had an effect. She must have sensed something different in Jesus that caused her to stay. She answered: “I have no husband.” Did she look down or away? Did she stare at him in a kind of mild defiance, thinking that he could in no way look into her past life? “The conscience must be awakened in order to create a desire for spiritual renewal” (Mounce, comments on vv. 15-16).
People who belong to Renewal Movements have either received tidbits or knowledge like this or have been on the receiving end of them. They are real. They are amazing. We call them words of knowledge.
Did Jesus get this knowledge from the anointing of the Spirit or by his divine nature? Mounce says his divine nature (comment on vv. 17-18). Others teach that he got this power and knowledge from the Spirit. … “Jesus of Nazareth—how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power, who went around doing good deeds and healing everyone under the dominion of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). I favor the second view—by the power of the Spirit. This truth opens the door to followers of Jesus, after Pentecost, to receive the same kind of information, by the Father’s will. True, Jesus has the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), but he grants us a share in his anointing, in part. And at his Father’s distribution of the gift of the word of knowledge, we too can have knowledge that can break down walls and lead people to himself, as it happened with this needy and lonely and confused woman—but a woman who is full of convictions.
In any case, Jesus told her she has well said she has no husband, because she is not married to the man she is living with. And she had five husbands before this current relationship. Ouch. Evidently, his voice or his appearance did not betray one hint of condemnation or sneering condescension. He did not reject her as he exposed her past and her heart. She was needy; he perceived it; and he ministered to her need. She was lonely and hurting. It is not too difficult to imagine his heart revealed love. But she may be uncomfortable, so she changes the subject.
She was not a prostitute. Rather, in an easy-divorce culture, she really did have five husbands. I like Klink here: “The exact sin of the woman must be extracted carefully. The verse says nothing about her being a prostitute, as is commonly assumed. If anything, the opposite is implied; she is a victim of an abusive system where husbands can freely divorce their wives, leaving a woman used and helpless so that even her most recent ‘man’ will not marry her.” … “The sin of the woman is an essential comparison in the dialogue, serving to describe the tension and separation between the two historical parties (Jews and Samaritans) and the cosmological parties (God and humanity) (comments on v. 18).
She responded with “sir.” It’s the same Greek word, kurios, but as I said before, her heart is softening and she is showing respect. She correctly perceived that he was a prophet, but later on, after hearing him teach, both she and her fellow townspeople will reach the correct and full conclusion that he is indeed or truly the Savior of the world. But she is not there yet. She needs to settle an historic argument, which, apparently, was important to her.
She has to get historical because she cannot believe that a non-Samaritan would offer her anything worthwhile. She has to get her mind clear of a confusing issue. Which mountaintop is better? Gerizim or Jerusalem. Moses blessed the people of Israel on Gerizim long before David conquered Jebus, soon to be called Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:6-10; 1 Chron. 11:4-9). Who was greatest and original? Was David or Moses? Moses was a great general, for he sustained his people during war (Exod. 17:8-16; Num. 21:1-3, 21-31). And of course David’s victories were “legendary” (using the term loosely or in its popular sense of super-heroic) (2 Sam. 5:17-25; 21:15-22; 1 Chr. 14:8-17; 2 Sam. 10:1-19; 1 Chr. 19:1-19; 2 Sam 8:1-14; 1 Chr. 18:1-13; 2 Sam. 21:1-14). Yet Moses delivered the law, but David did not. In fact, he broke a few laws, which we do not need to go into here. Moses pronounced blessings and curses in the vicinity of Gerizim, on Mt. Ebal (Deut. 27:2-7).
The unnamed Samaritan woman would of course believe that Gerizim is the more sacred and special mountain. Moses was there. Moses never visited the Jebusite town. So why would she listen to a prophet who did not give her what she wanted to hear—Gerizim is the holier place? Also, the Samaritans built a temple there in 400 B.C. Then the Jewish high priest, John Hyrcanus, torched in 128 B.C. Tension in her defense of the Samaritan’s worship center.
Once again, Jesus lifts her vision and her heart to something higher. Calling her “woman,” which as we learned in 2:4, was not a putdown, he was reminding her that she was a human who needed instruction.
In any case, he tells her that the issue of mountaintops is irrelevant to the higher purposes of God. Neither Jerusalem nor Gerizim will be relevant when the Spirit comes in fulness. People will no longer sacrifice animals or go through rituals, prescribed in the law of Moses in the tabernacle, later replaced by the temple. When and where they worship, they will do so in Spirit and truth. I say that “Spirit” here should be capitalized, because of the context of water = the Spirit (cf. John 7:37-39). However, if it means our own spirit, then that is valid because we take our own spirit with us wherever we go, even far away from Jerusalem or Gerizim, if necessary.
Some teach that Zech. 14 and the nations gather for the Jewish festival of Booths or Tabernacles or Sukkoth will happen literally (Zech. 14:16-19).
However, Jesus says here that the Spirit is going global. We don’t need to hold to Sukkoth. We need to celebrate our exodus from our person Egypt by his salvation for us in Christ. (Egypt speaks of our old, worldly past, from which God delivered us.) To fulfill Zech. 14 literally would be a logistical nightmare. How many people will there be in the new millennium (assuming you believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ)? A billion? Two or three billion? 500 million? How many of them can realistically gather around Jerusalem? How many port-a-potties will be needed? Showers? Baths? How much food will have to be transferred there? How many tents or frames covered in palm fronds? God was speaking to Zechariah in his own limited culture and tropes and images—Sukkoth. These Bible interpreters seem to take Zechariah’s prophecies in hand and jump them over the New Covenant Scriptures and bring them to us today, 2500 years later. No. We are instead supposed to filter the entire OT through the NT. And here in John 4:21-24, Jesus takes us beyond Jerusalem. He is now going global. His Spirit lives in every redeemed person on the planet. Zech. 14 has been fulfilled. No more geo-politics.
The reason our spirit, empowered and filled by the Holy Spirit, resonates with God is that he too is Spirit. this idea goes much more deeply that just a nonphysical form, though this is important. Rather, God is not limited to Gerizim or Jerusalem, but his being spirit goes with our own spirit, wherever we go. We don’t need prescribed rituals and the belief that God is limited to a temple, though his presence was there. Now he and we are going global. His Spirit will dwell among his own people, in their spirits. Thus, the Father is seeking everyone who will worship him in spirit and in truth, beyond the two mountaintops. God transcends the old thoughts and beliefs and localization of worshippers.
The Father seeks worshipers in Spirit and truth. The Spirit and truth go together—not just the Spirit, but also the truth. Not just the truth, but also the Spirit. This is balanced worship. The hour is coming—God is intruding into the historical first introduced in the prologue, and now the hour is here—through the Son. God seeks true worshippers by the Son (Klink, comments on v. 23). The hour involves his death, resurrection, and exaltation. He is the true temple (2:19-22) (Carson, comments on 23-24). We worship in Spirit-and-truth in union with him. “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).
It should be noted that some teach that “spirit and truth” is an inner, spiritual worship, before the Spirit was given at Pentecost. They say the hour is coming and now is when they will worship in spirit and truth, so this “now is” happened before Pentecost. However, I believe Jesus is referring to the post-ascension and post-Pentecost because he says “the hour is coming,” and in 12:23 he says the hour has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified, six days before Passover. And at Passover, John reports that Jesus’s hour arrived (13:1). In 17:2 during the Passover meal, Jesus says the same thing: his hour to be glorified has now come. Therefore, as for the “now is” in 4:23, Jesus is in progress towards his death and ascension and Pentecost. He is ushering it in. It is in the near future that people will worship in Spirt and truth, and the near future refers to post-ascension and Post-Pentecost. However, the “now is” in 4:23 can be interpreted as right now, during his conversation with the woman, so they can worship deep in their own spirit before the Holy Spirit was given (7:39). Therefore, this interpretation also is valid.
“truth”: Let’s focus on the Greek noun. It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine literature: 45 times.
BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the lexicon defines the noun in these ways:
(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”
(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”
(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”
So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable, or upright. Everything else flows from him.
For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger Greek world. The noun alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.
Jesus uses the word worship seven times in vv. 21-24. Seven is usually a significant number in the Bible (Klink, comment on v. 24).
Salvation is from the Jews indicates that the promised deliverer of all Israel was to come from the tribe of Judah, and Jews were descendants of Judah (Bruce, comment on vv. 21-24).
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his. (Gen. 49:10)
Now, finally in vv. 25-26, she understands deeply enough to recognize that she may be speaking to the Messiah, the Christ. In Samaritan belief he was called the Taheb or Restorer (see Deut. 18:18), who will declare or proclaim all things to them. Jesus must have spoken with enough authority in his voice and demeaner that it sparked the higher truth in her. An expanded look into her soul: “I perceive you are a prophet. And now you rose above the two mountains and announced or proclaimed things I have never heard before. No sage or scribe or Pharisee or any of our leaders ever told us that the two mountains did not matter. If anything, the kept the rivalry alive. You have indeed lifted my vision and my heart beyond this “trigger issue.” A commentator said that we should not offer a psychological reading, and I take his caution, but this conversation and narrative circumstances (her five husbands and her live-in boyfriend and her concern to honor Jacob and Gerizim) can permit us to open the door to her mind, if only a little. I believe I have exercised caution.
What does the term Christ or Messiah really mean? The term means the Anointed One. In Hebrew it is Messiah, and in Greek it is Christ. It means that the Father through the Spirit equipped Jesus with his special calling and the fulness of power to preach and minister to people, healing their diseases and expelling demons (though demon expulsion is not mentioned in John’s Gospel). The Messiah / Christ ushered in the kingdom of God by kingdom preaching and kingdom works.
Well, Jesus reveals himself to a woman whose heart and past were exposed. He answered her directly, egō eimi (pronounced eh-goh ay-mee), who is speaking to you. This refers to Exod. 3:14, in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent), the third-to-first century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which also says egō eimi for the name of God. I AM WHO I AM. This Christology is extremely high. Evidently, Jesus believed the woman could handle the term, the allusion to the sacred name.
Now there are two paths that cross, going in opposite directions. The disciples arrive, and the woman leaves her water jar of bucket there, maybe to allow Jesus to drink, as he originally requested, or because she did not want to be slowed down as she rushed back into town. The disciples, right now, must be Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and the anonymous disciple. They too were stunned that Jesus was speaking to a woman and—oh, the horror!—a Samaritan woman! No, it is not an awful thing in God’s kingdom to speak to a woman, but it was in this culture.
“Christ”: see v. 25 for more comments.
Borchert nicely sums the reaction of the disciples, in their cultural context:
The disciples were astonished that Jesus was “talking with a woman” (4:27). Many commentators following Billerbeck have noted the impropriety of Jewish men talking with a woman in a public place like a street. This opinion included the questionable nature of speaking with one’s own wife in public (ʾAbot 1:4–5). Indeed, the rabbis frowned on discussing any theological issues with women, likening the process of such intellectual discussion to liberating them or opening them to a life of immorality (m. Sota 3, 4 and t. ʿErub. 53). The disciples were thus men of their times, probably more concerned that Jesus was “talking with a woman” than that she was a Samaritan. She really had three strikes against her: (1) she was a woman, (2) she was a Samaritan, and (3) she had a questionable reputation. (comment on vv. 27-30)
On another ministry visit, to another town or village, the disciples encountered opposition James and John, sons of Zebedee, reacted badly.
51 It so happened that while the days of his being taken up were to be accomplished, he was firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. They went and entered a village of Samaritans, to prepare for him. 53 They did not welcome him, because he was firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem. 54 On seeing this, the disciples James and John said, “Lord, you want us to speak to fire to come down from heaven and destroy them?” 55 He wheeled on them and rebuked them. 56 They went to a different village. (Luke 9:51-56).
Now the disciples arrive and are startled that Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman; evidently, they had prejudice tucked away in their hearts. A Samaritan! And a woman! But she did not stay around to parry their challenges, and wisely they did not speak or pry. She arrived in town and spread the news. “Imagine! I talked to a man—” “So what else is new. You’re always talking to strange men!” But he told me everything I have done! He knows me in my soul and accepts me. Amazing!” But she is still a little doubtful, because she says this may be the Messiah / Christ. Professional grammarians teach us that the negation in Greek may express some doubts. Fair enough, but more is caught than taught, and her enthusiasm must have been contagious, because the whole town, seemingly, emptied out to hear the stranger who knew all about her.
“people”: it is the noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and in the plural it can be translated as “people’ However, Borchert points out: “I think we have here a woman who probably knew where to find the men of the town, and her story also may well have been their story!” (comment on vv. 27-30). That is, maybe the noun should be translated as “men,” since the woman knew where to find the men of Sychar. Excellent point.
Between the time that the unnamed woman left and the townspeople came out, the disciples asked Jesus to eat. In light of the evangelistic campaign he was igniting, he instantly turns physical food into a symbol or illustration for deeper teaching.
Once again, here is the diagram, to be read from the bottom up:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Let’s fill it in:
2.. Doing will of my sender and complete his work
Nicodemus misunderstood physical birth-spiritual rebirth (3:4); the Samaritan woman misunderstands living water-Holy Spirit; now the disciples misunderstand food and crops.
So what is the food, in application? He explains that it is sowing the word and the harvest. In four months (closer to six), and the harvest or reaping comes. But look! Lift up your eyes! The fields are overloaded with full heads of grain, so that they have a white hue to them! The word grows up so fast that the sower and the harvester / reaper celebrate the crops together.
So what are the crops and produce?
2.. Eternal life
The seed is so powerful that it grows and results in eternal life. Jesus talks about the power of the word that grows up so powerfully that it is like a mustard bush which can provide branches for bird nests.
31 He presented to them another parable, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man takes and sows in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but which grows up bigger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31-32)
Then Jesus told his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers:
36 And seeing the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep not having a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, so that he would propel workers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:36-38)
Then, here in John, Jesus told the disciples that they are entering into the harvesting of the seeds and quick-growing crop that Jesus sowed in Sychar. “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3, ESV).
The Feast of Tabernacles is an agricultural feast that follows harvest and is to be a time of joy and celebration (Deut. 16:13-15). Sower and reaper can celebrate the spiritual harvest of men’s souls, because the seeds grow up super-fast into a crop of eternal life and the reaping happens around the same time. The sower and reaper bump into each other in the same field.
13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills,
14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. (Amos 9:13-14)
Carson: “The colourful image betokens the blessing of miraculous and unceasing fertility and prosperity. Jesus may therefore be saying that the eschatological age has dawned in his ministry, in which sowing and reaping are coming together in the harvesting of the crop, the messianic community” (comments on v. 36).
Who are the “others” in v. 38? Morris says John the Baptist and his team. Other scholars say it could mean that Jesus ministering to the woman, and then the woman telling her co-Samaritans about him. Either one may be right. But I see v. 38 as more proverbial and general than specific. Whichever view is right, it speaks of God backing efforts towards evangelism which honors his Son.
In v. 36 the phrase “eternal life” is used. See comments under for v. 14.
And so it came to pass (I like the OT phrasing) that the town emptied out and came to meet Jesus. At first they believed in Jesus because of the message of the woman. And again John repeats what so (understandably impressed the woman—Jesus told her everything which she did. And after meeting him, they must have been so impressed with him that they asked him to stay with them. So he did for two days. Then, after listening to him for those two days they believed in him not because of the woman’s message but because of Jesus’s own message. They seemed to rub it in and tell the woman that they no longer believe because of her word, but because they themselves have heard and seen him. They can testify by their own experience of listening to him and no doubt by seeing his working signs and observing his demeanor. “But for the woman’s witness, her fellow-townsfolk would never have come to know Jesus; but they could not rely on her witness alone: they must know him for themselves. Second-hand acquaintance with Christ or hearsay belief in him cannot be a substitute for personal knowledge and saving faith” (Bruce, comment on vv. 40-42). So maybe they were not rubbing it in.
“testifies”: in v. 39, “The theme of witness … pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position” (Klink, comment on 1:7).
They listened to his message. It is the Greek noun logos. As I do in this entire commentary series, let’s explore this noun more deeply. It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. It is very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
It should be pointed out that Jesus often uses another noun for word: rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah). In John’s Gospel, synonyms are used often, so let’s not make a big thing of the nuanced differences. In any case, I wanted to point out for today’s Bible teacher in my corner of the church world that we must have better teaching or doctrine whether it is the logos or the rhēma.
From their observations and listening, they have come to believe that he is truly the Savior of the world. Also see 1 John 4:14, where the same title is given to Jesus.
Borchert places the phrase in its historical context:
For the early Christians the designation “Savior” was a strategic confession like “Lord.” In the Hellenistic world there were many gods and persons designated as “lords” and “saviors” including the Roman emperors such as Augustus, who was virtually deified in the sixth Eclogue of Virgil. In contrast, however, the early Christians confessed that Jesus was indeed the Christ, God’s only Son, the Savior. This confession was enshrined in the symbol of the fish (ichthys) [Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior] (comment on vv. 39-42)
Recall that “world” is the Greek noun kosmos (pronounced coss-moss). It could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).
So Jesus invaded dark Samaria—or a small region of it, in and around Sychar and brought light and rescued people out of the world.
Let’s compare this campaign with one that took place in the book of Acts.
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria proclaiming to them the Messiah. 6 The crowds listened and responded favorably to what was spoken by Philip and were in one mind and purpose, listening and watching the signs which he was doing. 7 For many having unclean spirits, shrieking with a loud voice, left, and the paralyzed and the lame were being healed. 8 And exceeding joy took place in that city. ….
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. 15 They went down and prayed for them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For he had not yet come upon any one of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17)
Jesus mission here in John 4 must have softened the hearts of certain Samaritans after Pentecost, in Acts 8, though we cannot align John with Acts in an exact way. We don’t know where the two revivals took place. But I am glad they did.
GrowApp for John 4:1-42
A.. Have you received the living water (Holy Spirit) of God?
B.. How do we worship in Spirit and truth? Do you experience this?
C.. Have you ever spoken the gospel with someone who seems socially unacceptable?
D.. Have you ever reaped the lives who surrendered to Jesus?
E.. He is the Savior of the world. How is he your personal Savior?
Jesus Heals the Royal Official’s Son (John 4:43-54)
43 After two days, he left from there for Galilee, 44 for Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own home country. 45 When he came then to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, when they saw everything which he did in Jerusalem at the feast, for they themselves were also at the feast.
46 He came back to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son was sick in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus came from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and kept asking that he would come down and heal his son, for he was about to die. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “If you did not see the signs and wonders, you would certainly not believe.” 49 The royal official said to him, “Lord, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go. Your son lives.” The man believed the word which Jesus said to him and started to go. 51 While he was coming down, his servants met him, saying that his child lives. 52 So he inquired from them as to the hour when he got better. So they told him that the fever left yesterday at the seventh hour. 53 Then the father knew that this was that hour when Jesus told him, “Your son lives.” He himself believed, along with his entire household. 54 Jesus again did this second sign, coming from Judea to Galilee.
Here is another example, found in the prologue, which contains the themes of the rest of the Gospel: 11 “He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who received him, to the ones who believe in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God” (John 1:11-12). So also here.
As for John 1:12, the royal official is about to believe, along with all of his household. They became children of God.
All three synoptic writers quote this proverb (Matt. 13:57 // Mark 6:4 // Luke 4:24) and apply it to his hometown, Nazareth. John expands it to include the Judeans and the Jerusalemites. He cleared out part of the temple because this area too was his “own” place or sacred place, his Father’s house. In contrast, the Galileans temporarily welcome him. At a later time, the Nazarenes, in Galilee, will look down on him.
“come down”: Capernaum was on the Lake of Galilee, which was 695 feet (212m) below sea level.
“testified”: see v. 39 for more comments.
First, let me say that in v. 48, the two verbs are plural, so we could translate it: “If you (people) did not see the signs and wonders, you (people) would certainly not believe.” Or let’s use the wonderful and useful “y’all” (a southern contraction of “you” and “all,” which adds up to a second person plural). “If y’all did not see the signs and wonders, y’all would certainly not believe.” Jesus must have turned towards a crowd when he said those words.
This is a separate event from the centurion’s dying servant (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). The man here in John was a royal official, not a Gentile centurion. The royal official did not speak words of startling faith, as the centurion did. In fact, the royal official seemed desperate or at least did not focus on his lack of faith or presence of faith. Some speculate that he may have been Chuza, who was a manager in Herod Antipas’s household. (Luke 8:3) (Bruce, comment on vv. 46-47). This makes sense and explains why his wife Joanna supported Jesus in his ministry.
As Jesus did for the centurion, so also he does for the royal official. He heals from a distance. He can perform similar miracles for two different men.
“seventh hour”: = 1:00 p.m. or 13:00.
Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.
THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
|1||Turning water into wine||2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign|
|2||Healing an official’s son||4:43-54 “the second sign”|
|3||Healing a disabled man at a pool||5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized|
|4||Feeding 5000||6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)|
|5||Walking on water||6:16-21|
|6||Healing a man born blind||9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)|
|7||Raising Lazarus from dead||11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)|
|8||Rising from the dead||20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)|
|Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited|
And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
The household includes his wife and children and servants. They all believed, because the royal official calculated the time Jesus spoke his word and the time his son recovered. There is no distance in the spirit realm, when Jesus issues a command.
Jesus performed signs in Jerusalem (John 2:23), but they do not figure in to John’s calculation right now. John is thinking of the Galilean signs at this point (Bruce, comment on v. 54).
Recall that in the introduction to this post, I defined “believing” and “faith.” It seems this official and his household had deep faith in the Messiah.
GrowApp for John 4:43-54
A.. Have you even been rejected by your own hometown or family or even one family member? How did you respond? Did you move on with Jesus? Or did you reconcile.
B.. Do you have a testimony of healing? Tell your story.
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.