by Al Maxey

Issue #661 ------- May 29, 2015
Things alter for the worse spontaneously,
if they be not altered for the better designedly.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Daring Dialogue with a Dame
Insights from the Interaction of Jesus
with a Woman at a Well in Samaria

Shocking!! That's what it was! Absolutely, unequivocally shocking! Jesus, who was a Jewish man, was sitting there by a well having a conversation with, and even requesting water from, a Samaritan. Not only that, but this person with whom He was conversing was a woman. And furthermore, it appears they might have been alone. And it was high noon (John 4:6 -- if reckoned using Jewish time), not the usual time for women to be out gathering water. Some scholars speculate she may have been coming to the well at this unique time (a location which was typically a social gathering place for the women of a community) because, given her long, and some suggest sordid, history with men, the other women of the village may have been shunning her -- after all, when she later left the well, returning to the city to advise the residents of the person she had met, we are informed that she went to the men (vs. 28). Even worse, this encounter between the woman and Jesus may have occurred during the evening (if reckoned by Roman time), and thus it would soon be dark. What on earth was He thinking?! Wasn't He aware of the cultural norms of His day? Even John felt the need to comment on this rather remarkable incident, pointing out in a parenthetical statement that "Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (vs. 9). His disciples, with whom He had been traveling, weren't around; they had gone into the village to find food (vs. 8). However, when they returned to the well, and took in the scene, "they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman" (vs. 27). The Greek word the apostle John employs in this particular passage is "thaumazo," which means "to be filled with astonishment, wonder, amazement." Behavior such as was being evidenced by the Lord Jesus on this occasion was unheard of. It was radical ... extreme ... scandalous! It could get you "talked about" ... it could get you "written up" ... it could even get you killed in certain circles. Well, welcome to the wonderful, wondrous world of Jesus! He came to seek and to save souls, and no "cultural norm" was going to stand between Him and a sincere seeker. Jesus came to break down barriers between the races, the classes, and the sexes. There was no more rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek ... or even Samaritan. All were equally precious in His sight ... and still are. Oh, that we could learn that lesson today!

The dialogue between Jesus and this nameless woman, which occurred at Jacob's well, located about half a mile outside a city of Samaria known as Sychar (a small village near Shechem), "near a parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (vs. 5-6), is one of the most powerful and insightful accounts to be found in the New Covenant writings (although, interestingly, it is only mentioned by John; the Synoptic Gospels are completely silent with respect to this incident). Modern day disciples of our Lord Jesus refer back to specific statements made in this dialogue almost daily (for a more in-depth analysis of the various issues associated with this encounter, which are beyond the scope of this present study, I would refer the reader to Reflections #252). Not all such appeals to this text are positive or honorable, however. Indeed, "proof texts" are frequently lifted from this ancient exchange to bolster one's ultra-conservative theology in matters ranging from acceptable worship (Reflections #112), to divorce and remarriage, to a "Pre-Pentecost Baptism Rivalry" (Reflections #588), just to name a few. These texts have been either ignorantly misused or maliciously abused for centuries so as to promote certain restrictive religious perspectives. In so doing, the actual beauty and depth of the dialogue is lost, and one is left with little more than beastly dogma!

In this current issue of my weekly Reflections, however, I don't plan to rehash any of those matters in John 4 that I have dealt with in previous studies. Rather, I want to do just a bit more reflecting on the statement found in verse 27. When the disciples returned from the nearby town, "they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, 'What do You seek?' or, 'Why do You speak with her?'" (NASB). It is probably worth noting at this point, before we get too far into other aspects of this statement by John, that there is some difference of opinion as to whom these disciples contemplated posing the first of these two questions. Clearly, the second question indicates it was Jesus to whom they contemplated directing their query (as the word for "her" is used). On the other hand, grammatically speaking, the first question could have been addressed to either Jesus or the woman, and there are scholars on both sides of this debate. If the question was to Jesus, they were curious as to what He could possibly want or need from a Samaritan woman. If they were thinking of addressing this question to the woman, however, it would have almost certainly been in the form of a rebuke: "How dare you speak to this religious leader; you are not worthy!" Either way, one's view can lead to some interesting speculation with regard to the motives of one or both parties in this conversation (which speculation many biblical readers and students have indeed engaged in over the years).

The major point I want to notice, however, is the controversial (at that time especially) choice of Jesus to engage a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, in conversation, and to do so in a somewhat private setting. He was clearly opening Himself up for ridicule and rebuke from those who would have seen this as a significant transgression of custom and decorum. Indeed, His own close disciples were astonished, and they "marveled." The NT Greek scholar, Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, as do other scholars, points out that the tense of this verb is in the imperfect, "marking something continued: they (the disciples) stood and contemplated Him talking with the woman, and all the while were wondering at it" [Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. In other words, when they returned from the town, and when they saw what Jesus was doing, it stopped them in their tracks, and they just stood there for a while observing and wondering. Another noted Greek scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson, also points out: "The imperfect active is describing the astonishment of the disciples as they watched Jesus talking with a woman" [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. How long they stood there gawking at this scene is not indicated by the text, but the tense of the Greek verb indicates that it definitely stretched out for a time. It was not what they expected to see upon their return.

So, what was so shocking, amazing, and astounding about this scene? Men talk to women all the time, don't they? Even in private. Nothing really unusual about that. We must remember, however, that Jesus lived in a vastly different time and place, and what would be considered unnoteworthy today might well be considered appalling and almost anathema then. This was certainly the case with men, and especially men of some distinction, speaking to women in a public setting (or a man speaking to a woman who was not his wife in a more private or secluded setting). "The rabbinical writings taught that it was beneath a man's dignity to converse with women. It was one of the six things which a Rabbi might not do. 'Let no one,' it is written, 'converse with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife.' It was also held in these writings that a woman was incapable of profound religious instruction. 'Rather burn the sayings of the Law than teach them to women'" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. "The disciples held Jesus to be a Rabbi, and thus felt He was acting in a way beneath His dignity" [Dr. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. Jesus was not only violating Jewish custom, He was in violation of well-known "rabbinical precepts" [ibid]. This was akin to touching a dead body or a coffin, which Jesus also did in public, and which, in like fashion, stopped the crowd in their tracks in the city of Nain (Luke 7:14). Some things were just not done back then ... and yet, Jesus did them anyway ... willfully, intentionally, deliberately (often to the great displeasure of the rigid religionists of His day).

The disciples of Jesus "marveled" on this occasion because what Jesus was doing "was contrary to the custom of the eastern countries, and there are many canons, among the rabbins, against it. To the present time, if a man meet even his own wife in the street, he does not speak to her. ... A great man has said, 'Converse sparingly, if at all, with women; and never alone!'" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 542]. In some countries this thinking persists even to our day. It was certainly the custom back in His day (which fact, by the way, must be taken into consideration when dealing with the couple of statements made by Paul with respect to interaction between men and women in the church during that period of time and in that culture). A well-known minister and author in my faith-heritage, the late Guy N. Woods, astutely observed, "It is difficult for us today to conceive of the low estate characteristic of women in that day. The Rabbis had ruled, 'Let no one talk with a woman on the street, no not even with his own wife.' This woman was a Samaritan and she was thus regarded with less respect than a Jewish woman would have been by the average Jew; and general Jewish contempt for women is evidenced in the ease with which a man might divorce his wife over the most trivial of excuses. This disposition toward women was not peculiar to the Jewish world. At one time, Roman law gave the husband total authority over his wife, even to the point of putting her to death; and Socrates, the Greek philosopher, thanked God daily that he was born neither a slave nor a woman!" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 84-85]. I dealt with this "Law of the Husband," which Paul alludes to in Romans 7:1-6, in Reflections #106, to which I would refer those who might like to explore this thought more fully.

Dr. John Gill (1690-1771) wrote, "According to the Jewish canons, it was not judged decent, right, and proper, nor indeed lawful, to enter into a conversation with, or hold any long discourse with, a woman. Their rule is this: 'Do not multiply discourse with a woman, with his wife they say, much less with his neighbor's wife; hence the wise men say, at whatsoever time a man multiplies discourse with a woman, he is the cause of evil to himself, and ceases from the words of the Law, and at last shall go down into Gehenna'" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Therefore, what Jesus did that day, and what so astounded His own disciples, was something He most assuredly knew "the Jewish Rabbis reckoned scandalous for a man of distinction to do" [John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. So, why did He do it?! I firmly believe it was to make (and illustrate) a very important point to His disciples (one which we today would do well to consider and heed as well). Jesus was ushering in a dispensation of GRACE, one in which there would be no such heartless distinctions based on race, age, social status, or even gender. Such walls were to come down, and stay down. In Jesus, Gentiles are welcomed into the Family of God (Spiritual Israel); slaves are no less respected than masters; the poor may sit in the seats of honor with the rich; women may work and worship alongside men. In Him we are ONE!! This event in John 4 "illustrates the state from which woman has been lifted by the Gospel" [B.W. Johnson, The People's NT with Explanatory Notes, p. 340].

"The disciples would soon cease to marvel at Jesus talking with women. What a difference the ministry of Jesus has made in the position of women! What an illumination and example are given by His treatment of them!" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, p. 201]. When it comes to how He relates to women, and how He would have His disciples, both then and now, relate to women, our Lord "is far above the limitations of sex" [ibid, p. 202]. "They now saw, perhaps for the first time, how far the holy independence and divine compassion of Jesus lifted Him above the Oriental and Rabbinic contempt for woman, in which they had been educated" [Dr. Alvah Hovey, Commentary on the Gospel of John, p. 120]. "One of the miracles of the Lord's ministry was to break down the wretched rabbinical prejudice against the spiritual capacities of a woman, and the Oriental folly which supposed that she contaminated their sanctity. He lifted a woman to her true position by the side of man. Women were His most faithful disciples. They ministered unto Him of their substance. They shared His miraculous healing, feeding, and teaching. They anointed His feet, they wept over His agony, they followed Him to the cross, they were early at the sepulcher. They greeted Him as the risen Lord. They received the baptism of the Spirit. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Both are one in Him" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, p. 171].

Although they were stunned by what Jesus did, they had the good sense to marvel in silence! In other words, they dared not challenge the wisdom of the Lord's actions, even though they did not understand them, and even though they were in violation of the customs and norms of their society and religion. If Jesus chose to violate those customs and norms, then He obviously had a good reason. "Their silence was due to reverence. They had already learned that He had reasons for His actions which might not lie on the surface" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 729]. I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Hovey, who opined, "They wondered in silence. Would that some others were as reverent as they!" [Commentary on the Gospel of John, p. 120]. There are professed disciples of Jesus Christ today who are anything but silent in the expressing of their discontent that women are being allowed to actively speak out and serve in the work and worship of the church. Such people still have the spirit of the ancient Jewish religionists: the very people Jesus repeatedly confronted and condemned for their repressive attitudes and actions.

Brothers, Jesus came to lift your sisters-in-Christ above the oppressive restrictions of gender-biased religion, and to place them alongside of you in the freedom of the Father's Family. It is time we began to truly celebrate this gift of grace! I like what David Lipscomb (1831-1917) wrote in response to a question someone posed to him about whether a woman could administer the Lord's Supper. Lipscomb stated, "All the administering the Supper is: is to give thanks for it, partake of it, and pass it to one another. All idea of formality and official authority connected with it is of man, not of God." Although Lipscomb's personal preference, and he stated as much, was for men alone to serve in this capacity, he nevertheless struggled with those feelings of exclusion, writing, "Why should women be deprived of the blessings of service?" [Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell, M.C. Kurfees, editor, p. 736; subtitle: "A Compilation of Queries with Answers by D. Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, covering a period of forty years of their joint editorial labors on the Gospel Advocate"]. Why indeed, we rightfully ask?! I have dealt with this very issue in Reflections #646 ("The Trespass of the Tray Pass: Is Serving Communion Gender Exclusive?"). It is time for the disciples of Jesus Christ to move beyond the rabbinic-like customs and traditions of the past and evidence instead the accepting spirit of our Lord as we embrace the truth that we are ALL equally worthy in His sight, for "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

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Readers' Reflections

SPECIAL NOTE: -- One of my critics, who lives in Indiana and who feels "led by God" to make it his mission in life to "expose and oppose the heretic Al Maxey," has continually over the years accused me of telling LIES when I state that there are those within our faith-heritage who teach and preach that "baptism saves." He insists that NOBODY actually believes that the act itself is what saves (which would be making baptism in water a sacrament). I am simply "making this up" to make the ultra-conservative element "look bad." May I suggest this individual (and those who might think as he does) go and read the new article in the online publication of the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ known as Forthright Magazine. The article is titled "Sinner's Prayer" by Stan Mitchell and is dated May 28, 2015. In this brief article, Stan Mitchell writes, "Ironically, it is often our own brethren who are offended when we say that baptism saves the sinner." He later stated, "The 'Sinner's Prayer' does not save; baptism does. Now, are you offended?" I left a comment following that article on their web site in which I simply provided a link to my study: "The Sinner's Prayer: A Reflective Examination" (Reflections #373). It will be interesting to see if they allow that link to remain on there!

SPECIAL NOTE: -- I have decided to make a very special offer of all my articles over the years, from the very first one back in December, 2002 to the most recent one, on a single CD. Both versions of these hundreds of articles (MS Word and html) will be on the CD, as will both the most up-to-date topical and textual indexes. Many of you have ordered the Reflections CDs each year, but they are now getting to be a rather substantial pile of CDs, so a number of you have wondered if I would ever "rethink" this practice and simply provide the most updated collection on a single CD to those who would like the entire library of these studies, and if I would do so at a very reasonable cost. I have decided to do just that. Ordering information for this CD may be found by Clicking Here. Access to this information page can also be found on my web page and Reflections archives page, for those who may not be able to access it through this link in their email. My thanks to all of you for your support of this ministry over the years! I truly enjoy doing the research and writing, and it is rewarding to see so many turning away from legalism to embrace freedom in Christ through this effort.

From a College Professor in Kentucky:

Al, in your article "Challenging a Corinthian Quotation" (Reflections #592) there is a citation from Mike Sangrey's article "Translating Punctuation When There Is No Punctuation To Translate." I have tried to access this article from the link given in your article, but that link keeps taking me to a "Better Bibles" web site, and I'm unable to locate that article on that site. If you could help me to link to this article so that I can study it I would appreciate it. The same is true for the blog site "Greeking Out."

From a Reader in Singapore:

I have a question, and I think you are one of the best people I can seek help from on this matter. I am confused as to whether spiritual gifts exist, and also whether one can hear God calling us via voices in our head. Please help me to understand. Thank you very much, and God Bless.

From a Missionary to Nicaragua:

I am studying Heaven with our Wednesday Bible class. I remember that in your writings you have talked about Heaven. I've listened to your lesson on Heaven in your two CD set titled "The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny." I looked in your Reflections archives and your Topical Index, but didn't see one for Heaven. Do you have a study you could refer me to for my preparation for this class?

From a Minister in Missouri:

I was a guest speaker at a small, one cup Church of Christ in Sacramento one Sunday morning, and one of the visitors that day kept on raising his hand during the sermon. Being the young preacher that I was, I really wasn't sure how to respond, I finally just asked him to hold his questions until we were done. Not a second after the invitation song was over, he blurted out this attack: "You Church of Christ people think you're the only ones going to Heaven. But in John 21 Jesus' disciples caught 153 large fish, each of which represents a major divide within denominationalism. The fact that they were all in the same net and it didn't break represents the fact that Heaven will comfortably fit all of the denominations." While I agree that the Churches of Christ don't have a monopoly on the New Jerusalem, I'm pretty sure that I will never adopt that man's zany argument to defend my conclusion.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, you always get me to thinking. Maybe the number 153 was the legal limit, and the game warden was watching! (LOL) Hope you had a good holiday!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, you have brought to light the only TRUE fishing story ever retold in the history of mankind. It is confirmation that the Bible is divinely inspired! (LOL) Have a great holiday weekend, my friend. And Thank You for your service to our great country!

From a Reader in California:

"The Mystery of the 153 Fish" (Reflections #660) was another outstanding and thought-provoking study! Could it be that many things we read in the Scriptures, which might seem insignificant, yet were peculiarly recorded with specificity, were recorded simply to confirm an event or miracle or teaching? If it was important enough to write down, it probably happened just as described. A line from the Creed of Nicea and Constantinople reads, "...and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures." While it doesn't specify which Scriptures, obviously men knew it was such an important event that everyone knew it was recorded in the Scriptures, and these Scriptures were definitely something all Christians knew about and referred to often as a source for truth and information. Those "other things" mentioned in John 21:25 were, no doubt, just as marvelous and wondrous (John 20:30). However, quibbling over "this and that" can certainly lead to the very sectarianism you so valiantly warn us against. Thank you for teaching me NOT just how to be a good Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Church of Christer, etc., but, more importantly, how to be a good Christian!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I am a reader with a sense of humor, and I suspect our heavenly Father may have one as well. Perhaps He thought it would be amusing to see how many of His children would try and come up with explanations for the 153 fish, and just how creative they might get in their speculations! I imagine He's having a good laugh over this one!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

This morning I have reread Reflections #515 ("Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38") and tend to agree with your conclusions regarding baptism. However, if this conclusion is the correct one, or seemingly so, why are there no translations of this verse that communicate this message? I raise this question because in a conversation with a brother on Sunday he made this observation: "They can't all be wrong!" I should add here that after a lengthy study on how we got the Bible I realize that there are pressures placed upon translators to keep them from shaking the foundations of the various religious organizations. Thus, they may not be willing to stray from the traditional teaching of these groups, since, as you pointed out, it is a plausible translation. Anyway, if you have any thoughts on this I would certainly appreciate them. Peace and blessings to you and your family.

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