§ 7. Jesus in Samaria

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 7. Jesus in Samaria.



1) Reason for the departure from Judea.


When Jesus leaves Judea and goes to Galilee, according to the view of the evangelist, it is always for a special reason; this time it happens because the Pharisees had become aware that through baptism He was making more disciples than the Baptist. Of course, we should add that this attention of the Pharisees was connected with a hostile attitude and that it was in Jesus’ plan to avoid their protests.

This attention of the Pharisees the author treats as known to the reader, since he makes the transition with ουν; nay, when he says, “since therefore Jesus learned,” he also wants to presuppose as known that Jesus had heard of hostile or threatening utterances of the Pharisees. The only thing we heard from the Jewish party was that a Jew had argued with the disciples of John about purification. But nothing was said of this, that Jesus had heard of this dispute, since the disciples of John only addressed their complaint to their Master; then it was expressly said that the dispute proceeded from the disciples of the Baptist. And finally, this Jew, whom the disciples of John brought into controversy, can so little testify to a hostile attention of the Jewish party to the doings of Jesus, that he rather testifies to the opposite, since his utterances are supposed to drive the disciples of the Baptist to the realization that the cause of their Master is threatened with ruin *). Therefore, the transition is not particularly successful, and since it has already unravelled on itself, we do not even need to mention that the whole controversy about the baptism of Jesus is not so firmly established that it could justify Jesus’ journey to Galilee. But let’s leave the transition aside! Let us calmly allow the Lord to arrive where the evangelist wants him to be on his journey to Galilee, in Sychar in Samaria. We also do not want to discuss which of the two explanations for the mocking name Sychar, which are disputed in the commentaries for supremacy, is the most correct, since the pun on the name Sichem, which the evangelist has also engaged in here, is arbitrary and cannot always be followed in its movements. Enough! The Lord is now in Sychar.

We want to let the Lord arrive calmly where the Evangelist wants Him to be on the journey to Galilee, at Shechem in Samaria. Nor do we want to deal with the question which of the two explanations of the nickname Sychar in dispute in the Commentaries is the most correct, since the popular joke which has played with the name Shechem in this way, and in whose game the Evangelist has also got involved here, is arbitrary and cannot always be followed in its movements. Enough! The Lord is now with Shechem.

*) Thus Tholuck (Comm. p. 104) says that the Jew had asserted against the disciples of John: “the lustration of Jesus was more dignified, and therefore the multitudes flocked to him”. So the attention of the Jewish party was friendly to the baptism of Jesus, in general a benevolent one. But how can one describe it mildly enough when Tholuck, in the utmost unconsciousness, justifies this benevolent attitude of the Jew in the fact – one sentence before (ibid.) – that it “annoyed” the Pharisees that Jesus received more disciples than the Baptist!


2) Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.

C 4, 5 – 26.

At Jacob’s well near the city Jesus rested while the disciples had gone into the city to buy food **). They are still absent when a woman comes to the well to draw water. The Lord asks her for a drink of water, but she is surprised that he, a Jew, asks her as a Samaritan woman. Then Jesus answers, if thou knewest what God hath given thee at this moment, and who speaketh with thee, thou wouldst rather have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water *). Jesus naturally supposes that the woman knows not what opportunity is offered her, but if he knew her so well as it afterwards appears, he ought to have presupposed still more that she would not understand him when he pointed out to her the opportunity of living water from afar. For if she did not understand him at all, as she immediately proves, it was empty ostentation when he offered her that opportunity. But even if she had understood him better, it always touched on ostentation when he spoke to her in such a way that he contrasted his gift of living water not with what every well offers, but with a request he had just made. In this contrast between the tiny request and the power to give infinitely more lies the dangerous point that gives the appearance of vanity, which we cannot attribute to the Lord in the least.

**) Lücke I, 514. and Olshausen II, 110. admire the memory of the faithful disciple, who still knows how to say that it was just about the sixth hour. But that the Lord would rest at noon and send the disciples out for food is in the nature of things, and the historian need not take it from his memory, but may just as well conclude it pragmatically. The sixth hour here is noon; the author does not reckon according to the Roman, as above (I:40), but according to the Hebrew way.

*) Whoever wants to see the apologetic servant of the letter playing with his fetters and the Jesuitism of exegesis completed, should read Bengel’s explanation of this chapter. The apologist must be surprised in the same way as the Samaritan woman that the Lord speaks to her so confidentially, since he himself had forbidden his disciples to address the Samaritans. Bengel therefore lets the Lord constantly twist and turn and search for secrets, so that in the secret struggle with his prohibition he might still bring it to safety. Quin etiam, says Bengel, colloquium cum Samaritide ita gubernavit, ut rogatus v. 15 gratiam ei impertiret. To such cunning must the apologist creep! And it does not even help him, for already in v. 10 the Lord entices the woman to desire his heavenly gift, which he shows her from afar.


The woman does not even understand the Lord’s allusion to his higher gift so far as to realise that it contains a reference to a spiritual gift and the contrast to the sensual water. We are not yet surprised at this, although the commentators, as their explanations prove, tell us that we have reason enough to be. *) First of all, we only want to point out that the woman does not even know what she herself is saying. She thinks (v. 11) that the Lord wants to give her water from this well, and she is only surprised that Jesus speaks in this way and yet has no pail. But at the same moment she asks (v. 12): Thou wilt not be greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? So she means that Jesus wants to give her better water than she usually draws from this well. Shall we say that only the evangelist has introduced this contradiction into the woman’s speech by piling misunderstanding upon misunderstanding? The hand of the evangelist, however, will immediately be unmistakably betrayed when we consider the following explanation of the Lord and the answer of the woman. For Jesus, in vv. 13, 14, sets forth the contrast between sensual and spiritual water in a perfectly clear way: of the water there, he says, which one draws from wells, one’s thirst is not permanently quenched; but that which he gives becomes a fountain of water that gushes into eternal life. And yet the woman does not understand him, she still thinks he is talking about sensual water, and only asks for that miraculous water, so that in the future she will be spared the trouble of fetching water (v. 15). But no one who is not stupid will misunderstand such a clear contrast *).

*) The interpreters take just offence at the misunderstanding of the woman, and now seek either to raise it or to mitigate it. According to Paulus, the woman (Comm. on Ev. I. p. 216.) thinks: “You cannot want to speak of a drink of water from this well” and she notices that there is something more secret in Jesus’ speech. But she does not take any notice of such higher suspicions, she only considers this one relation of Jesus’ words to spring water as possible, even if it is contradictory in itself, and therefore she cannot understand it. Lücke (Comm. 1,517.) must himself say that the image of spring water “is used by Christ as a not unusual and, especially in the Orient, very natural image of higher spiritual goods. But then the same commentator (ibid. p. 518.) must not call it “natural” that the woman understood spring water by the living water; but it was unnatural when she misunderstood such a common image of the supernatural, especially when Jesus used it in contrast to well water.

*) The Samaritan woman enjoys the same affection of the apologists that they bestow on Nicodemus. Olshausen wants to save her “noble, called heart” and now says (II, 112.) in her request “both longing for the higher and sensuality are mixed. “But her request is purely sensual. Lücke first says (I, 519) quite correctly: “the woman, if she was attentive, could not escape the spiritual higher relationship.” But the opposite is written! So – Lücke (p. 520) “cannot help finding a certain joking, ironic naivety in the Samaritan woman’s answer. Her request is half joke, half serious.” But she is quite serious, she does not know how to use Jesus’ offer in any other way. And when Lücke (ibid.) himself says: “her lack of understanding and her unaccustomedness to spiritual things prevent her from grasping the true meaning of Jesus’ words,” there can be no question either of “jesting,” or of “naïveté,” for this is only possible when the sensual can be expressed, while the spiritual is sure of itself. Calvin at least is to be praised when he does not want to miss anything of such an unclear half and half, and separates more efficiently, although he also does not want to acknowledge the misunderstanding of the woman as such. He says: “haec mulier Christum initio aspernatur adeoque eum subsannat; satis intelligit, Christum figurate loqui” and counts her answer among the scurrilibus dicteriis. This is also wrong, but it is only the serious application of that playful talk of “half jest and half earnest.”


Immediately after the woman’s unreasonable request, Jesus said to her (v. 16): “Go, call your husband and come here. The woman replied that she had no husband, and Jesus said that she had spoken correctly, for she had had five husbands, but the one she now had was not her husband. The proof of this wonderful knowledge leads the woman to recognise Jesus as a prophet, and she immediately uses this opportunity of having a prophet before her to gain clarification about the point of contention between her people and the Jews.

In context, it seems certain that the Lord revealed his prophetic knowledge only with the intention of continuing a conversation that had actually ended due to the woman’s misunderstanding, and to make her more receptive to his teachings. But this would mean nothing other than that the Lord wanted to bring about, by force and external pressure, what had not come to him in free conversation and through the path of teaching. So the context seems very precarious and threatens great difficulty – but where the difficulty is greatest, help is also closest and this comes to us from the side where it always comes from – from the apologists. They tell us that the Lord had a completely different purpose, which was to be achieved through a detour as a means to that ultimate end. “The Lord wants to arouse the woman’s conscience and instill the feeling of sin in her.” *) But, not to mention that the evangelist knows nothing of this intention – does the woman’s misunderstanding appear as one caused by impure will, sinful inclination, rather than as one simply conditioned by weak comprehension? And could this comprehension be immediately strengthened by the mere surprise into which the sudden revelation of the Lord’s miraculous knowledge must have plunged the woman?

*) Thus Bengel, Tholuck p. 110, Olshausen II, 112.

But if we keep in mind only what we found certain, that the woman’s misunderstanding was an impossible one, the difficulty that lies both in the evangelist’s view and in that of his apologists disappears. We no longer need to ask how the Lord could have hoped to make the woman more receptive to his teachings on divine things by proving his wonderful knowledge even of accidental things, for the cause, the incomprehensible misunderstanding of the woman, disappears.

It could seem as if the evangelist reveals to us another intention that moved the Lord to reveal his wonderful knowledge. For the Lord says to the woman, call your husband and come here – with him, of course. So did he perhaps, as Lücke **) explains, intend to continue the conversation in the presence of the man? Was he hoping for an opportunity for a further and, if the man was more receptive, more fruitful conversation? “But how dangerous it was to rely on chance whether the man, who lived in a troubled relationship with this woman, would be more receptive. And the woman does not even fetch her husband, there is no more talk about him, the invitation to fetch him is completely forgotten, the woman talks to the Lord for a long time as if the invitation had not been made to her, and when she finally goes into the city and brings the message of the Messiah to the people, there is no talk about her husband either. But if it was only a matter of chance whether this man was “receptive”, then Jesus would have had to send the woman away immediately, or we would at least have to find out later what happened to her receptiveness. Or was he also among the mass of the townspeople who became believers – he should have been specially mentioned in front of everyone.

**) Comm. I, 522.


Since the injunction that the wife should fetch her husband does not fit into the context, it is certain that it is only one of those levers which the evangelist makes use of at transitions, and which he ruthlessly leaves lying in his path when they have done their duty. The evangelist only wanted to bring about the revelation of the woman’s marital circumstances *).

*) Lücke (loc. cit.) counts the woman’s answer: “I have no husband” and Jesus’ answer in v. 18 “among the coincidental and unexpected. According to the context, the matter must be reversed: The evangelist has nothing but the revelation of Jesus’ wonderful knowledge in mind when he asks the woman to call her husband. The fact that the woman does not call her husband must make Lücke concerned about Jesus’ intention to test this man’s receptivity and for the “more fruitful conversation” with the woman. So this commentator really assumes that the Lord’s first intention in making this request was only to get the opportunity for a “wider” conversation. So the Lord acted here like people who are at a loss to continue a conversation and draw another thread of speech out of fancy, and that request to the woman was only a formal means of keeping the conversation going. Lücke says that the woman’s wish, v. 15, “contained, however incomprehensibly, a starting point for a further conversation. But then the gentleman did not have to reach so far to find a starting point; he did not even thirst for it, he had to use that first starting point to take away the incomprehensible appearance of the woman’s wish. It is only a pity that this wish was not only incomprehensible, but that it was and should really have put an end to the conversation. Finally, Lücke says that Jesus “used that unexpected turn of the conversation, which we have already examined, to make a special impression on the woman’s mind by a sign of his higher knowledge.” So: Jesus was able 1) to take up the woman’s incomprehensible wish, 2) he asks the woman to call her husband in order a) to continue the conversation in a different way and perhaps b) in a more fruitful way, too, the Lord 3) still has the opportunity to make a special impression on the woman’s mind. One must admit that the apologetic exegesis is in any case comprehensive.


But if it still remains unclear why the Lord shows such wonderful knowledge, the mythical explanation offers us its help. It also seems to be the surest way to explain the matter, since according to it the words of Jesus emerged solely from the evangelist’s perception and his intention must be clear enough from his depiction. Strauss *) says that the evangelist intended a symbolic representation: the Samaritan woman appears as a representative of her people; but it was Hengstenberg *) who proved more precisely how she could appear as this symbol. Just as she had had five husbands and the one she now had was not her husband, so her people had “formerly been in fivefold spiritual marriage with their idols,” but Jehovah, to whom they now adhered, was not the God who belonged to them. To wonder at the unmeasured coincidence of this exact correspondence would be of no help to us in Hengstenberg, for he directs our gaze to “the divine providence by which the higher relations of her people were reflected in the lower relations of the woman.” Instead, therefore, of laying upon us the guilt of a sacrilegious doubt about this strange providence, let us direct the attention of the symbolist to things about which a free and human judgement is permitted with less danger. We ask first of all: did the woman know before she spoke to the Lord what a strange thing her personal destinies were and in what splendid harmony they were with the circumstances of her people? Certainly not. So the Lord must have seen at first sight, when he met this woman at the well, that her circumstances were a perfect symbol of the history of the Samaritans and their present situation. But if Jesus wanted the Samaritan woman to come to the same insight, if he wanted to bring about something, even the slightest thing, in her or in her people through this insight, he would have had to say to the woman: just look at your personal circumstances carefully and recognise in them the image of the religious circumstances of your people. But the evangelist makes it clear enough that Jesus’ only intention in revealing his miraculous knowledge was to awaken faith, and the Lord seems to have achieved everything he wanted when the woman, to her joyful consternation, asks the prophet a question that particularly concerns her as a Samaritan woman. But if the Lord had intended a symbolism here, he would have had to make this woman aware of it, for here, where the empirical circumstances of the woman are so wonderfully revealed, there was a danger that everything would seem to be settled when these circumstances were uncovered and the woman was surprised and brought to a kind of faith. But to a woman who could not understand even the simplest pictures beforehand, the Lord could not leave it to her alone to think about such difficult symbolism, or even to suppose that the elements of such a symbolism were present here, if he had intended this symbolism.

*) Lif. Jesus. First ed. I, 518. 519.

*) Contributions II, 23. 24.


The mythical explanation could take up Hengstenberg’s conception and regard the marital relations of this woman as an imitation of the religious relations of the Samaritan people, freely created from later experience. It seems to contradict this, however, that the evangelist would have had to form this symbolism himself and also state it clearly and definitely. But he, it can no longer be denied, not only knows nothing of such intentional symbolism, but sees the matter quite differently, according to him Jesus had only shown this knowledge in order to bring forth faith.

In no way, therefore, does this proof of miraculous knowledge want to fit into the whole. It does fit into the whole as the evangelist presents it, but we can never regard this account as historically true, since the previous misunderstanding of the woman, which forms the point of departure, is impossible and Jesus could not have produced faith mechanically. If we abandon the evangelist’s account and single out the proof of Jesus’ miraculous knowledge as the core of the story because the author did not know how to include and present it, we are still not enlightened about its original meaning. At least two cases remain possible: either Jesus himself spoke to the woman about her marital situation, but we do not know how and with what intention. Or the evangelist has included in his account a view that had developed in the congregation about the Samaritan people but in a different context. We can decide nothing about this for now.


No sooner has the woman learned from the wonderful knowledge of Jesus that she sees a prophet before her than she brings before him the dispute of her people and the Jews about the rightful place of worship. But how could the woman ask such a question? As a Samaritan, as a member of her people, she could only be convinced that Mount Garizim alone was the rightful place of worship, and according to the whole conversation she by no means appears to be such an outstanding spirit, for whom alone it is possible to step out of the substance of her life and look at it questioningly. The commentators know how to help themselves, of course, when they say that the woman jumped away from the subject to which Jesus had directed the conversation, because it “gave her no pleasure *)”, “she sought to divert the conversation from the oppressive one which the contemplation of her sin had for her **);” for it is a “general experience that a man, when he feels himself struck by any judgment about his inner being, and has not true humility, seeks quickly to break away from the subject ***).” And so say interpreters who only let the Lord develop His wonderful knowledge so that He might awaken “the feeling of sin” in that woman and make her more receptive to His revelations through thorough repentance! Then the Lord would have had to keep her, even if she did not want to, in the contemplation of her sinful misery, and if she suddenly wanted to jump off to something else *), immediately lead her back to the actual subject. The Lord will certainly have been able to direct a conversation in such a way that it does not completely leave the intended direction, and no unbiased person will approve of it if the faithful apologists affirm the opposite. And how was the Samaritan woman to understand the following profound insights of Jesus, if her inner being had not yet been properly worked out, if she had so suddenly fled from the school? But if we are not allowed to assume that the Lord only showed his wonderful knowledge in order to bring the woman to higher understanding through thorough repentance, then we cannot regard her question as one that was off-target. But the Lord also did not show his higher knowledge so that the woman would know that a prophet was standing before her and so that she would use this opportunity to ask questions about things that interested her. So there is no other explanation left than that the question of the woman is only a pragmatic lever to get the following explanations of Jesus going.

*) Lücke I, 523.

**) Olshausen II, 113.

***) Tholuck, Comm. p. III.

*) We must again excite the envy of those commentators by pointing them to a golden stage from the golden age, where Bengel had only to say about the question of the Samaritan woman: non semper reprehendenda est desultoria interrogatio.


Jesus’ saying about worshipping God in spirit and in truth has a close relationship to the presupposed situation, into which he is even more deeply drawn when the Lord at the same time declares that the time will come when the Father will neither be worshipped on this mountain Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. Finally, the saying: you worship what you do not know (i.e. your cult is not based on the corresponding perfected religious consciousness and is therefore afflicted with a barrier and with contradiction), but we worship what we know, because salvation comes from the Jews – this saying has the appearance of having been originally addressed to a member of the Samaritan people.


But in the first place, these sublime explanations seem to be too much wasted, for the Samaritan woman looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would set everything straight for her and her people (v. 25); for the present, therefore, she knows nothing to do with these explanations. It therefore only looks like a necessary excuse for this dissipation when Lücke says *): “without the woman’s question v. 20, Jesus would not have opened this sublime prospect of his spirit to her.” So it was only in response to a question of embarrassment, because the woman did not want to stay on the subject which “gave her no pleasure,” that the Lord allowed these profound explanations to follow, to an idle wandering spirit, which could not stand anywhere, which could not grasp the easiest thing before, that he opened up the deepest mystery? Tholuck even has to accuse the woman of that “natural inertia” which “does not want to engage more closely with that which a deeper religious knowledge brings with it” **) and Olshausen finally says that “the essence of the words escaped her”. ***). This complaint about the inertia and incompetence of the woman, which is entirely in the spirit of the evangelist, need not be well-founded, since it is possible that here too the author followed his maxim, according to which he loves to contrast the wisdom of the Lord with the inability of others. The woman may therefore still have been moved by a lively interest in religion and have heard and understood those words of the Lord. But she did not hear them because the Lord did not speak them.

*) Comm. l, 526.

**) Comm. p. 113.

***) Comm. II, 117.


Just think of the concise and straightforward immediacy of self-awareness with which the Lord exclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and now, seeing abstract reflection here, we must admit that we find ourselves on a fundamentally different standpoint. The formula, “the hour is coming and now is,” as will be shown below (Ch. 5.), belongs to the evangelist, who commonly reflects that truth and decision are not merely future but already manifest in the present. The determination of the “true” worshipers (αληθιωοι) is also unique to the evangelist, who likes to define the positive through reflection on the negative, the appropriate through consideration of the not yet appropriate. But the justification that only those who serve the Father in spirit and in truth are the true worshipers, the justification that lies in the fact that the Father demands such worshipers, for God is spirit, the justification that is completed by these two intermediaries and presents the theme as a proven one – that is unmistakably dogmatic reflection, but not the immediate, self-assured attitude that is characteristic of the Lord’s sayings.

It is also only a reflection on the course of religious history when the dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews is resolved in such a way that the unconsciousness of their cult is attributed to the Samaritans and the mature and complete consciousness of the religious idea to the Jews. He out of whose consciousness this reflection arises, on the one hand, joins the ranks of the contending Jews – we worship what we know – on the other hand, the Messiah and redemption are to him an external object of reflective contemplation – salvation comes from the Jews. One must have a weak ear if one does not hear in this saying one of those later messengers of the faith who preached the Gospel among the Samaritans and thus had the most urgent occasion to clarify the relationship of this people and of the Jews to the Messianic salvation. Only this serious and urgent ‘collision’, which was still foreign to the Lord, in the midst of which at least he was not yet placed, could produce a reflection of this kind. But if these two core sayings belong to a later point of view, then no force can hold back the easy consequence of them: that in the future one will worship the Father neither on Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem, from an earlier point of view.


But the most tragic fate is the way in which the Lord finally reveals Himself to the Samaritan woman as the Messiah. The woman, after she had received the information from the Lord, put off the arrival of the Messiah, who would settle everything. But if Jesus has nothing more urgent to do than to reveal himself to the woman as the Messiah, then this haste has something so hurtful and the appearance of such an obtrusive prematurity that we must be infinitely glad if it is possible for us to break through this turn of the conversation. But it is not only possible, it is necessary, for the Samaritan woman could not put off the coming Messiah, she could not give the Lord occasion for such a premature discovery of His dignity, because her people never expected a Messiah *). The words of the woman: I know that the Messiah is coming, are only the result of the pragmatism of the author; he wants to infer that the woman has experienced the Messiah in Jesus, he makes the experience, because he does not know any other way, into a complete recognition and he derives this from an explicit declaration of Jesus, which then naturally has to be followed by a corresponding expectation of the woman.

*) The proof, which would take up too much space for a note, follows in the appendix.


3) The conversation between Jesus and his disciples.


The Lord has just revealed Himself to the woman as the Messiah, when the disciples come out of the city and the woman goes back to draw the people’s attention to the man who has revealed to her what she has done and who must be the Messiah.

The disciples now offer the food they had fetched from the city to their Master, but he rejects them and says: I have food which you do not know. But why spurn the food of the flesh so harshly, why look upon it with such rejection? **) And if the Lord wanted to call the food of the spirit, which is opposed to the earthly food and consists in the fulfilment of the divine will, his own, as he clearly says in v. 34, he would have had to state this contrast immediately. But in this way he kept the matter in abeyance, not even in the mysterious, which could serve to stimulate thought, but in that vagueness with which people speak who think themselves clever and above others and speak of their higher position with devious secretiveness *[*]).

**) Lücke only elaborates on the sentimentality and false softness of the report when he says (I, 535). “One can imagine” (i.e. one can form the historical picture a priori) that Jesus, thinking about the strange conversation and the expected consequences of it, becomes so engrossed that, fed inwardly as it were, he forgets the sensual food”. Well! but whom “the disciples now lovingly remind him of the earthly-necessities”, did he still have to disdain it so contemptuously? Was the inward nourishment so far-reaching that it was allowed to go on to the contemptuous treatment of the humanly necessity? And can one call this a strange conversation in which the other part distinguished itself so little? Could consequences be expected where the Lord, in order to be acknowledged, had to impose himself? Certainly, the serene alertness and openness of Jesus is contradicted by this sentimental image. Paulus, of course, (Comm. p, 220.) allows the Lord to reach for the food without further ado, but he can only answer for this in the case of the evangelist who lets the Lord revile the bodily food outright.

*) Bengel therefore correctly says in the sense of the context: hoc augbat admirationem et discendi amorem. But the latter point is not good, because the disciples cannot find their way into the Lord’s speech.


But if we assume for a moment the impossible case that the Lord spoke in this way, the disciples should not have spoken among themselves as they did in v. 33: they were not even allowed to doubt whether someone had brought food to the Lord. For this is what the Lord always meant to say, and it is in His words that He has in His possession (εχω), i.e. has personally in His power, a food distinct from the ordinary. The Lord’s statement (v. 32) is not possible, nor is the misunderstanding of the disciples, but the evangelist wanted to place the Lord in a secret sphere, elevated above the ordinary neediness, and to put this elevation in a more contrasting light through the distance from the limited, earthly sense of the disciples.


And what a strange coincidence must have played out if the Lord should bring about two such similar misunderstandings in a few moments. First, that woman is said to have misunderstood him concerning the ever-flowing drink which he was able to give, and now the same thing is said to have happened to the disciples concerning the food which he had in his possession. But if we recognise these misunderstandings as impossible, then the question turns differently and we must ask: should the Lord have spoken first to the woman of the eternal drink and now to the disciples of his food? The parallelism of drink and food could indeed have produced both sayings in one breath, if the Lord addressed them to one subject, although they are always separated by the fact that drink and food have quite different relationships here: the Lord distributes the former, the latter He Himself enjoys. But here the parallelism breaks down still more, so that he cannot have produced the sayings like twins, if each of the two is addressed to different subjects. On the contrary, the conclusion is inevitable that only the appeal of parallelism led the evangelist to link figurative views of the Lord, expressed on quite different occasions, to one and the same situation. The author has therefore worked here in the manner of the Synoptics, who likewise let analogous sayings, or even those which are only connected by an external parallelism, be brought about by one occasion.

After Jesus has spoken of His higher food, there follows a remark which is intended to give an example of how He accomplishes the will of the Father and satisfies Himself in such service. Lift up your eyes, says v. 35, and see how the fields are already white, that is, ripe for harvesting. This is followed by some reflections on the fact that the proverb: one sows, another reaps, proves true here. Obviously Jesus wants to apply this saying to the relationship between Himself and His disciples when He says in v. 38: you reap what you have not put your labour into; but this application is made with a pathos that goes far beyond the situation, when at the same time it is said: you enter into a labour in which others (αλλοι) have put their strength. In the presupposed context, surely only the Lord is to be thought of, that he has worked and the disciples will receive the fruits of his labour. The floating and soaring nature of the expression in this context can only be explained by the fact that the author has confused the literal generality and the definiteness of the application *).

*) According to Olshausen (II, 120.) the αλλοι, even only the prophets of the O.T. But the Samaritans, who are supposed to be the presupposed field, have not been worked by them. And if Jesus here speaks of the Shechemites, the κοπος, into which the apostles are to enter, is even accomplished only by him.


The generally prevailing explanation is that this saying refers to the Samaritans and to the happy successes which the Lord could expect from his conversation with this woman. The fruits of his efforts, however, would only be discovered by the disciples, just as the apostles later preached the Gospel among this people with great success. And if the disciples are to lift up their eyes and see the fields ripe for harvesting, then these fields must be visible and present before them. So indeed – a rare, happy case! – there is but one voice among the commentators that the multitude of believing Shechemites flocked to the Lord just now and were shown to the disciples as that ripe field **). If this were the only question as to how the evangelist views the matter, then we must certainly agree with the interpreters, for not without intention did he order his account in such a way that the gathering of the people of Shechem (v. 30) and their arrival before the Lord (v. 39-40) encloses the conversation between Jesus and his disciples, at least he has accomplished it by his preliminary announcement of the approaching people of Shechem, so that they are already near when Jesus’ conversation with his disciples turns to the ripe field, and can be conveniently seen by the disciples when they are to look upon the ripe fields.


The interpreter, however, has only solved by far the lesser half of his task if he renders the view of an account and its connection in slightly different words. If he does not want to remain in the barren or dark circle of tautology, he must rise higher and examine that connection more closely, whether it is really a solid connection and whether the report gives us a living, historical whole. However, we will have to deny that our author gives us a whole of this solidity if we really – as those interpreters did not do – look at his report. Firstly – to start with the feeling of the highest authority of the apologist – we immediately have the feeling that those words “behold the fields ripe for harvest” are far too general and have a much grander background than they could contain only the limited relationship to the Samaritans. A great, unmanageable spiritual field ripe for harvest must be assumed for those words, for the sensory image is the surging sea of grain fields, and so the counterpart must be no less extensive. *).

*) Yes! when the Lord goes about in the land, and has the crowds following him in view, he can say to the disciples: ο θερισμος πολυς! Matth. 9, 37.


In the words: “you are doing what you have not put your strength into” lies the other assumption that the spiritual field to which they refer has already been worked on many times by the Lord and has already been completely sown. But the Lord has not yet worked on the field of the Samaritans, and as far as the one conversation with the woman of Shechem is concerned, it cannot promise much success, since she has proved to be completely unintelligent and unreceptive. But the Lord cannot call the whole nation of the Samaritans a field ripe for harvesting, when he said shortly before: you Samaritans do not know what you worship, so your cult lacks the consciousness of its essential content. This lack of consciousness is precisely the immature character of this people. Finally, how can a saying (vv. 36-38) that distributes seed and harvest to different times and subjects refer to an occasion where seed and harvest coincide, where Jesus sows and harvests at the same moment? The seed that he is said to have planted in the woman’s soul is said to have already ripened when the woman induced the believing Shechemites to rush out to him and welcome him as the Messiah. Yes, the Lord expressly points out that here the time of sowing and the time of harvest coincide, whereas otherwise, according to Proverbs (v. 35), the two are separated. Otherwise, he says, in life we are put off by the fact that after sowing comes harvest, but here we see the fields already ripe for harvest. Thus two sayings are connected as belonging directly together, which point to quite opposite presuppositions: on the one hand, the one sowing and the one reaping are the same (v. 35), on the other (vv. 36-38) both are different subjects, and yet both are said to be the development of one thought *).

*) Lücke I, 538 has perhaps anticipated something of the difficulty when he cautiously says: “This contrast (namely, how especially seed and harvest diverge, but here coincide) applies only to the present case. Can Lücke show that the evangelist indicates that something quite different follows when he lets the Lord speak of the difference between the sowing and the reaping? The evangelist means with this completely different saying to give a further explanation of the saying v. 35, but does not see that he sets the opposite as identical. Paulus, on the other hand (Comm. p. 221), knows quite well that vv. 36-38 should only be an explanatory application of v. 35, he knows that v. 35 “the joys of sowing and reaping, otherwise separated by several months, fall into the same time”, he also knows that vv. 36-38 presuppose the difference of sowing and reaping – but he misses the point when he nevertheless wants to glue both sayings together and transfer the difference, which is emphasized in the second half, also into the first half. The disciples, he says, are now also to work among the Samaritans. That is, Paulus must now strangle both sayings. “The disciples shall help the Lord to finish the work which he has begun.” But in the second “saying” the work is completed and they enter into this work completed by others as reapers. In the first saying the work is also finished and the harvest beckons to the Lord. The contradiction is irresolvable, at least not in the apologetic sense.


The saying about the ripe harvest, into which the disciples are to be sent as labourers, only regains its true and magnificent meaning when we place it in the context in which it arose. But it cannot have come into being in any other situation than that in which the Synoptics and Matthew 9:37, which also knows how to report a word about the rich harvest, bring the Lord before our eyes. The environment of the people in need of help and salvation is the only field which the Lord could point out to His disciples as the ripe seed field.

The evangelist already understood this in that he related and limited a saying that had a much grander background to the situation he presupposed. He did it all the more because in the same situation the Lord himself was already receiving the reward of his sowing in the recognition of the Shechemites, and even more deeply did he confuse himself when, in order to emphasise even more the marvellous way in which sowing and harvesting followed one another as if one stroke after the other, he added the saying by which one is put off to the harvest which will come late, though in its own time.


The commentators, who do not feel the tearing contradiction of this speech of Jesus, of course also assume and would fight for it as for a sanctuary, that this saying was also brought by the Lord at this moment. Yes, they even know what occasion reminded the Lord of this word: it had just been “sowing time” and we should therefore “think of Jesus as surrounded by germinating seed fields” *). But was not the contrast, that here seed and harvest coincided, reason enough to think of that proverb, and could not the evangelist bring it from his own resources, if that contrast occupied him? So here we can still absolve the evangelist from the accusation – for that apologetic playfulness, if it were allowed to refer to the report, would also make the report itself suspect of a false search for occasions – of this suspicion that he had searched for such occasions. But now we must remember how oppressive and embarrassing it was, what a dangerous, squinting light it threw on the Lord when he made him contrast his gift of living water with a request for a drink of ordinary water and speak of his spiritual food with a contemptuous side glance at the bodily food. This squinting light is immediately dispelled when we have to think of those words spoken on a quite different occasion, on an occasion where the prosaic and dangerous contrast which the evangelist presupposes was not present at all. We must, however, trace them back to other occasions, since it has already been proved to us how, where the evangelist has placed them, they are only brought together by an external parallelism. Here the evangelist has fallen into the manner of his interpreters, who, in the case of living words of the Spirit, which spring from within and have spiritual causes, presuppose a sensual impulse, who, for example, think that the wind was heard just then, when the Lord said that the effects of the Spirit were as free and indefinable as the movements of the wind, or who assume that a herd of passover lambs had just passed by when the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. Thus the evangelist also once looked for mechanical reasons for those sayings of the living water and of the food of the Spirit, and he could easily find such when he put them into the Lord’s mouth at the moment when he was on a journey. On the contrary, from that point of view he believed that the sayings, because they deal figuratively with eating and drinking, must have come into being in a situation where this is really very necessary and seems to be the only business apart from walking: only then the Lord, for the sake of his sublimity, had to speak of the drink and the food of the Spirit with those contemptuous sidelong glances which the Evangelist makes him cast.

*) Lücke I, 538. Olshausen II, 119. Such interpreters will therefore only use the saying: aurora musis amica at the sight of the dawn.


4) The faith of the Samaritans.


At first, when the woman had run into the city, many of the Shechemites came to believe, because they heard that Jesus had proved to the woman that He knew everything about her circumstances. But since Jesus stayed with them for two days at the request of those people, many more came to believe, and no longer by miraculous authority, but because they now saw and heard for themselves that Jesus really was the Saviour of the world. But they also spoke out against the woman.

The author has altogether confused the two intensifications. The first is that through personal contact with Jesus many more were brought to faith than before. The evangelist adds the other one as if those who were added to the multitude said to the woman that they no longer believed in Jesus because of the sign, but because of their personal experience. Actually, this increase could only have taken place with those who had previously been brought to faith by the woman’s report.

But these words of the Shechemites, with which the author wants to give the final punch line to his report, and which he has so hastily confused into the first intensification precisely because they were so important to him, immediately dissolve themselves. It is suspicious that the woman should have known nothing more important to say to her fellow citizens than that Jesus, this foreign man, had proved the most exact knowledge of her circumstances. The Lord had revealed greater and more important things to her. But if we hear how the Shechemites distinguish between the faith which is awakened by the authority of a sign and that which is based on personal experience, if we see how they look contemptuously on the former, and boast of the latter, they appear to be as stilted as the people who speak their wise and noble dogmatic principles at every opportunity. It looks far too deliberate how the Shechemites speak; it seems as if they had nothing more urgent to do than to dismiss from themselves the suspicion that they might believe for the sake of external authority. Real, living people cannot speak like this, they could only say to the woman: we have found your testimony confirmed; but the evangelist could let her speak like this, because he had in mind the principle (2:23-25) that faith is incomplete if there is need for a sign, and here he wanted to describe believers as they must be. But he has put his dogmatic distinction into the mouths of the Shechemites, and he lets these people, who now speak like precocious children, speak theologically.


After the resolution of all the details, the punch line that the evangelist has given to his account has revealed to us the soul of the whole. A simple material – for the author had to have it for his work of reflection – the one simple fact that Jesus once came into friendly contact with Samaritans, he processed in that sense of which we still find traces in the circle of the evangelical view (Luk. 10:30 ff. 17, 11 ff.). The moment when the Gospel was being fought to the death by the priestly power in Jerusalem, when the gates of the Gentiles had not yet been broken down, but when the preaching of the Gospel among the Samaritans seemed to be entitled to special happiness, caused the expectant attention and favour of the young congregation to be directed towards this people. The value and importance of the Samaritans increased in the estimation of the congregation, the more the Jewish people as such declared themselves against the Gospel, and it is from this later interest that the evangelist has now shaped his account.



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Neil Godfrey

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