20 May 2013

Jesus Fails Various Tests

In John 4, we find Jesus talking, apparently alone, with a Samaritan woman at a well. Plenty of preachers and teachers have discussed the way Jesus failed some of the common "tests of faith" of his time:
  • He spoke with a woman,
  • alone,
  • a yucky old Samaritan at that,
  • and he asked her to get him a drink.
This all adds up to a pretty serious ritual impurity. And yet he remained pure.


The thing that struck me today was how he failed a major, modern, evangelical test (and abysmally flunked the equivalent fundamentalist test). What did he do about the fact she had gone through five husbands, and was living with yet another man?

  1. Admonish her to get busy with sacrifices?
  2. Reject her?
  3. Give her a tract?
  4. Wave a sign in her face and scream that she was going to Hell?
  5. Ask what church she was a member of so he could berate her pastor for letting her stay?
  6. Stone her?
  7. Offer her living water, grace, forgiveness, eternal life?
Ha ha ha! Of course, I am just kidding with number seven.

Oh, wait, I'm not. And by the end of the story, because her testimony brought them to Jesus, "many more became believers." This suggests that she had become a believer as well.

As far as we know, he never demanded she "reconcile with" (remarry) her first husband. [1]

He didn't take her through the Roman Road (Paul had yet to write that letter, but do you really think that would stop Jesus?).

No tracts.

Especially no John T. Chick tracts. Thank God.

He didn't make her say a prayer. He didn't even talk directly about repentance, just offered her grace.

We have no record of why she had five husbands. We have no record of who did what. Was she abused? An abuser? Was she cheating on them? Was she frigid? Was she barren? Was she mean? Was she boring? Did someone more enticing come along? Someone richer? Than who, her or her husband?

We have no idea. Jesus didn't go there.

So why do we?

Yes, I know God hates divorce. Yes, we should take marriage seriously. But it's not up to us to judge people or to demand (for instance) that a woman "reconcile" with an abuser and stay with him. You can proof text this one easily, but I guarantee you I can find a proof text to put you in the same boat with a divorcee, no matter how you live. If you consider context, consider Scripture as a whole, consider how Jesus dealt with people...

It turns out Jesus didn't fail the tests. The test givers failed.

Think about that long and hard before you try to beat someone into submission with a Scripture.

And think about another Scripture while you do. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Mt 7/1-2, NIV)

Grace. It's a good way to live.


[1] some people will argue that the words husband here means "gods" because there is a Hebrew variant of Baal that can be translated either "god' or "husband". While I am not technically a Bible scholar I have studied quite a bit and been taught by some of the best. The word that can be translated either way is limited to a very few passages in the Old Testament. It does not appear in the New testament at all. Only one word for Baal appears in the new Testament, in Romans, and it clearly refers to the false god Baal. The word used here for "husband" is a word used for a human husband (it is translated "man", not "god") throughout the NT. I have no idea where the idea came from that Jesus meant gods here; it seems at best poor scholarship.


  1. Wow. Ya think???? Thanks, Hons!

  2. In my humble opinion, trying to backtrack from the Greek that the New Testament was written in to argue about a variant of an old Hebrew word to get to the "real" meaning of Gospel is a bit like saying, well I am a purist - and the minute you say that in regards to the Gospel - it is like saying I have missed the boat to some extent but listen to me anyway? The rabbi I talked to last year says there are not any authentic ancient Hebrew scholars left, the Hebrew scholar who taught me says look to the Greek, so I have to agree with you on this one! My translation takes the Greek word used by Jesus (which looks kind of like "andra" when typed into English) as adult human or bridegroom. So the only false god I see is human - which is another entirely different conversation! Great blog!!!

  3. Miles, overall I agree with you. Through this woman Jesus is starting to reconcile the Samaritans. He offers her grace and he uses her difficult marital state to do so.

    I do disagree with your assessment of the husband/Baal interpretation. I see it as both/and. There is the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman that you wrote of. There is also the allegorical sense coming out of the larger picture of the history of the Samaritans and especially Hosea's prophecy about them (Hosea 2). That is what seeing the 5 husbands as a reference to 5 Baal is concerned with. It doesn't backtrack from the Greek; it comes out of looking at the larger context of salvation history.

    If I might go out on a limb (be careful with that ax, Eugene)...In Acts 8 Phillip goes to preach to the Samaritans. Peter and John also go to see what's happening. The Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. So Peter and John began to lay hands on them and the received the Spirit. Now they were Baptized and Confirmed. This is where instruction in the faith would begin. I can't help but wonder if that woman was one of them.

    Here's a link to a Catholic view of John 4 that discusses the husband/Baal idea: http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/john_gospel/Chapter%204.htm