Saturday, July 13, 2013

John 4: The Woman At the Well

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well can be found in John 4:7-45. Generally, a particular part of this story is rendered by many, if not most, preachers and teachers thus: Jesus recognized the five men the woman at the well had been married to as legitimate marriages. The man she was with now, living in common-law, was not her husband. Ergo, regardless of what any law might say, Jesus did not recognize common-law relationships as legitimate marriages.

There is a problem with this interpretation, however. It is not biblical. It is not in keeping with the context of the passage. What is the problem, you ask? Let us examine it.
He said to her, "Go, call your husband and come here." The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have correctly said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly." John 4:16-18
Notice her response: "I have no husband." In other words, "I'm not married. I've never been married." Where am I getting that from, you ask? Let me use a rendering that should help you to understand: "For you have had five husbands, and [the husband] you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly."

The Greek word used for have in "the one whom you now have" is echo (εχω), and it infers possession. This same word is used for have had in "you have had five husbands." She had five husbands in the past and she has one now. Furthermore, we have the word "and," which carries on the same subject of the topic—another husband—which she possesses. She has had five husbands through sexual intimacy and the man she is now being sexually intimate with is her sixth husband.

Let us look at another passage dealing with marriage that illustrates the possession of the word have (echo, εχω) well: "For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.'" (Mark 6:17-18). The law John referred to for marriage was not civil or religious, but the law of God in the sexual intimacy of a male and female: "Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, 'THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.'" (1 Corinthians 6:16). Sexual intimacy is not just a physical encounter. It is a permanent marital consequence. It could have been said to Herod, "She whom you have (your present wife you are married to) is not your wife." Herodias was Philip's wife. Herod and Herodias were living in a fornicated marriage.

Let us simplify our understanding of Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman by exchanging the word "husband" for the word "apple," making it more revealing: "For you have had five apples, and the one you now have is not your apple." What do you possess? Right, an apple! A husband! Yet, not yours! The apple, or husband, belonged to someone else. She was in an adulterous affair with a legitimately married man, making him her husband. He was another woman's husband. Before this adulterous affair, the man was a legitimately married man. Her affair was defiling another woman's legitimate husband, and this is precisely what we see illustrated from Jesus' words in regard to divorce. The Bible informs us that re-marriage after divorce is actually adultery. Let me prove it:
Everyone who divorces his wife . . . makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32

Whoever divorces his wife . . . and marries another woman commits adultery. Matt. 19:9

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery. Mark 10:11-12

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18
You have A married to B. Then A divorces B. According to Matthew 5:32, A causes B to commit adultery because A has divorced B. If C marries B, C commits adultery. According to Matthew 19:9, if A marries D, A commits adultery. D would also be committing adultery for the same reason that C would be, even though D and C could be said to be “innocent.” According to Mark 10:11-12, if A divorces B and marries D, A commits adultery against B; and if B divorces A and marries C, B commits adultery against A. According to Luke 16:18, if A marries D, A commits adultery, and if C marries B, C commits adultery. The only person not directly said to be committing adultery in these passages is D. But if C is held to commit adultery for marrying the “innocent” divorced party, then D must be held to commit adultery for marrying the guilty divorcing party. All four individuals who could potentially be in this scenario are said to be committing adultery. Unless your spouse had died (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39), re-marriage results in fornicated marriage.

Let us look at another statement made by the Samaritan woman:
"Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?" John 4:29
Note that she says, "all the things that I have done," and not "everything that has befallen me." In other words, it is a statement of past deeds revealed. Not unfortunate circumstances, such as her past husbands dying or divorcing her. Jesus revealed not only the secrets of her life, but also the life of the man she was presently giving herself to sexually (marrying).

The problem with the typical interpretation of this passage made by many, if not most, preachers is that they make co-habitation, or common-law relationships, out to be of no importance and/or little value. Jesus did recognize common-law relationships, but it was of a graver magnitude. The law of marriage states that if you have sexual intimacy with a person, you are now married to them in the eyes of God. 1 Corinthians 6:16 is pretty clear; you cannot get any clearer than what it says. This is why abstinence before marriage is so important. In the movie Vanilla Sky, with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, Cameron’s character, Julie Gianni, asks, “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not?” That is putting Paul in contemporary lingo. Once a relationship becomes a unit, God intends it to remain that way. In her excellent book Wait For Me, Rebecca St. James uses this illustration to demonstrate the seriousness of sexual union:
If you take one piece of paper and glue it to another piece of paper, both pieces tear when you pull them apart. It is impossible to wind up with two papers that are as flawless as when you started. Because of the glue, each piece of paper is forever left with some parts from the other paper.
Rebecca St. James, Wait For Me, p.59.
This is precisely how God designed sex, and He designed it for within marriage. He intended two people to become a marital unit through sexual intimacy, which is why sex is supposed to be reserved for marriage. I believe the interpretation of John 4 has been diluted by such preachers for the sole purpose of not feeling convicted and condemned for not being obedient to God and His Word. Once you learn the true interpretation of this passage, it is very sobering, very humbling. It shows you the gravity and majesty of sexual purity and the bond of marriage, and how desperately our churches need to reach our young people and protect them from the devastating effects sown and gleaned from having sexual intimacy outside the boundaries of marriage.