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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 19: The Woman at the Well (John 4)

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The story we are about to discuss, in my opinion, holds the ultimate power over the entire debate about the role of women in today’s Church. It’s the final word on the subject, because it is birthed straight from the actions of God in human form. Let’s review the Scriptures as a refresher about what occurred that day: “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John… He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria” (John 4:1–4).

Stop right there for a moment. This is the first clue relevant to Christ’s mission regarding the woman at the well. The Samaritans were natural enemies of the Jews. As a result of the Assyrian exile as recorded in the Old Testament, the Samaritans were a group of people with mixed bloodlines and blended beliefs. They had roots in paganism as well as Judaism, so at the time of the exile, their worship was innately syncretic. This was often viewed as being even worse than pagan faith systems, because it merged the monotheistic (only one God) Yahwism religion of the Jews (those who were taught to “know better”) with the polytheistic (many gods) pagan religions. By the time of Christ, the Samaritans were staunchly monotheistic (they had returned to only one God, and in some ways they were even stricter than the Jews in Judea where the Mosaic Law was concerned), but their mixed ancestry (they had pagans in their bloodline—a big “no-no” to the rest of the Jews) and the evolution of their theology and sociocultural norms drastically differed from the Jews of Judea. For instance, they held to the belief that only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) were canonical, rejecting the Psalms, the prophets, and the wisdom texts; their temple was not at Mt. Zion in Jerusalem but at Mt. Gerazim; and they freely spoke the divine name of Yahweh, which the traditional Jew found too sacred to say aloud. As such, the Samaritans were despised as disgraceful blasphemers, as they were seen practicing Yahwism erroneously. To even pass through their land was to taint oneself. Samaritans were “unclean,” so anyone dealing with them risked making himself or herself “unclean” as well. Jews traveling from Judea to Galilee made a substantial effort to go around Samaria by crossing the Jordan River (which was well out of their way). To readers of our day, it’s easy to read straight past what was just said in John 4:4: “he [Christ] must needs go through Samaria.”

Christ wasn’t just passing through. His culture and the leaders of the religion He was raised in taught that He must avoid that area of land at all costs. Yet Scripture tells us He “must needs” (or “had to”) go through Samaria. The Greek word for Christ’s “need” is dei: “the necessity of law and command, of duty, of equity.”[i] Why did Christ “have to” or “need to” go through Samaria? Because He had a divine appointment with a very special woman. He trekked through forbidden lands just to meet her, because He knew what was about to happen:

Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water:

Jesus saith unto her, “Give me to drink.” (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” (John 4:5–9)

Stop once more. Look at the implications of this exchange. First, Christ was a Jew, so He was not supposed to speak to a Samaritan. Second, Christ was a Jewish man, so He really wasn’t supposed to speak to a woman. Third, Samaritans were “unclean,” so accepting a drink of water from a Samaritan would have certainly, by tradition of the Jews, made Him ceremoniously “unclean” as well. The price to be paid for that drink of water, had Christ intended to follow it up with customary “cleansing” rituals and all that entails, would have been huge. Christ was determined at all costs to see this woman’s upcoming ministry carried to full fruition. Let’s continue:

Jesus answered and said unto her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” [Uh-oh… Now Christ is even going as far as to discuss theology with a woman.]

The woman saith unto him, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?”

Jesus answered and said unto her, “Whosoever drinketh of this water [the literal water from Jacob’s well] shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him [spiritual water provided only by Christ] shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The woman saith unto him, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.” [She didn’t understand the spiritual nature of Christ’s words; at that time, “living water” meant water that moved, like from a stream or river.]

Jesus saith unto her, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”

The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said unto her, “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband’: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” (John 4:10–18)


Let’s pause here; this moment is crucial. Most members of the Church today misunderstand this woman who had been married five times. Because of all her marriages and divorces, we assume she was a “loose” woman who has chosen to “shack up” with her sixth man. Remember that, in those days, women were not allowed to divorce their husbands. This woman had been used by five previous husbands who made covenant, marital vows to care for her. Then they either divorced her (we can’t know their reasons why, but might presume they simply became tired of her), or they died, which is even less a reason to blame her as a five-time divorcee whom Jesus saved from a “life of sin.” We find her at the well, living with man number six. Even in today’s culture, two God-fearing “partners” living together is controversial, so at this time, the practice would have been much more of a shock. We assume now, as we have for centuries, that this woman had a choice in the matter of whether man number six was going to be her husband. We paint her in this scene as if she is in resistance to a marriage proposal from the sixth man, even though Scripture doesn’t say a word about the man’s interest in making her his wife. In that culture, women were likely never going to arrange their own marriage regardless of whether they were Jew, Gentile, or Samaritan. But even if she was refusing to marry (and agreeing to “shack up,” as we like to believe), she was probably scared witless that if she agreed to marry him, she would be tossed away or widowed again. Furthermore, why do we find ourselves justified in assuming man number six is a romantic partner anyway? The Bible doesn’t specify that the man she was living with at the time was involved with her romantically, and scholars have repeatedly noted this. It’s true, when all evidence is weighed, that she was visiting the well at a time of day when most other women wouldn’t have been there, likely out of social shame, but we take that to mean more than it does when we suggest the only reason for her shame would be her current living situation. If five men in her past had talked about how undesirable she had been as a wife before they divorced her, that is shame enough to want to avoid the well when the other women (and their whispers) are present. We often assume that man number six is sharing a bed with her, based on the fact that she had five previous husbands, but researchers and scholars have pointed out that this woman may have been living with a kinsman redeemer: a brother, cousin, or uncle, etc. Common thinking within our Church turns her into a flaky, selfish, “easy” woman who went through men like some “husband of the month” club founder. The injustice of this is unfortunate. Let’s see what happened next:

The woman saith unto him, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” [Without being able to hear the vocal fluctuations of this conversation, we can’t be sure whether she was attempting to gain true insight by this, or whether she was testing Christ in the Jew-versus-Samaritan arena to see how He would react. What we do know is that she’s still stuck in the present, corporeal condition; her focus remains upon the Samaritan issue, and not upon the everlasting Gospel truth Jesus is attempting to tell her about.]

Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” [He was telling her that “the time is now” for the New Covenant through the Messiah, which, by her next words, we see she finally begins to understand.]

The woman saith unto him, “I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.”

Jesus saith unto her, “I that speak unto thee am he.” (John 4:19–26)

Stop one last time. Please, I beseech you, readers, do not miss what just took place… Prior to this moment, Christ had not yet revealed that He was the Messiah. This was the first announcement of His identity as the promised Son of God and Savior of the world, and He bestowed the honor of hearing His proclamation not only upon a Samaritan, but upon a woman! The very first time Christ revealed His Messiahship was to this woman at the well. Yet He even goes beyond stating that He was the Messiah. Scholars have analyzed this sentence against the authentic Greek, and the word “he” in the phrase “I that speak unto thee am he” is not present in the original. Translators included it to smooth out what might have been an ambiguity. So what was Christ saying here, exactly? Consider Exodus 3:14, where it’s recorded that God told Moses to tell the Israelites he had been sent by “I AM.” Many scholars take Jesus’ (original Greek) sentence, “I that speak unto thee am,” to be the same Old Testament identifier as the “I AM” the preincarnate Christ gave to Moses. Without the “he,” Christ openly said, “I…am.” Period, end of sentence. If this interpretation of the Greek is correct, then not only is Jesus claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah, He is openly admitting to this woman, this Samaritan female, that He is also God, Himself. What a revelation! And what does she do with this information?

And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman [they, too, were surprised to find Christ talking to a Samaritan female]: yet no man said, “What seekest thou?” or, “Why talkest thou with her?” The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men [did you catch that she was telling the men here?], “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.… And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, “He told me all that ever I did.” So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:27–30, 39–42).

Christ first revealed His position in the Trinity, as God Himself, to a woman in the longest recorded personal conversation that Christ had anywhere in Scripture with another human being. This woman immediately left the well in such haste that she abandoned her waterpot and headed straight for the men in her city, and proclaimed to them all that she had a personal experience with the Messiah. The men of the city listened to her testimony, and went back with her to hear Christ for themselves. After being in His presence and hearing His words, they, too, believed.

What does it mean to “preach/evangelize the Gospel”? To a) have a personal experience with and relationship with Christ, b) proclaim of this experience and relationship, c) lead listeners to Christ, so that, d) they can experience Him personally, and then, e) they, too, will believe.

This Samaritan woman was the first preacher/evangelist of the Messianic Gospel message recorded in the entire Bible and she converted the whole city of Sychar—including the men—to belief in the saving message of God’s love.

Let that sink in for a moment…

The first sermon about Christ—ever—was delivered by a woman. The first Christian revival—ever—was started by a woman. Author Mark Raburn wrote, “In preaching the Gospel, this woman brought about what Jesus had just told her could happen. She received the living water Jesus offered her and then immediately she became a well, gushing the living water of Jesus onto everyone in her reach.… We should all aspire to be preachers like this woman.”[ii] Yet most in our modern-day Church don’t think of her as a preacher, we think of her as “the woman with five husbands.” We remain stuck on that one detail instead of seeing her work for what it was. Reverend Judith VanOsdol of the Latin American Council of Churches agrees: “She lived in brutal solitude; loneliness enforced through guilt, shame, and humiliation. To this day we continue to judge and blame her, rather than recognize her gifts and celebrate her importance and transformation as the first preacher of Jesus, the Christ.”[iii]



Every person who is against women being preachers, teachers, and evangelists eventually has to tackle the Samaritan woman narrative. Reasons for dismissing the manifest evidence of Christianity’s first preacher/evangelist being a woman usually trickle back to something like this: “Jesus didn’t personally commission her to go and preach, so we don’t have it from the mouth of God that this woman was called to be a preacher/evangelist. She merely went running into the city as a witness, and women are allowed to do that, so there’s no discrepancy here. If women feel called to do the same thing the Samaritan woman did, they can go out and witness as well, but they have no place in Church leadership as preachers, teachers, or pastors.” Whereas this statement holds some truth (that Christ did not personally commission the Samaritan woman to do what she did), it ignores the fact that Christ personally inspired her to do what she did—having chosen to travel specifically through the “unclean” route because He “must needs” to inspire her in such a way—then remained in Samaria for two days personally watching her do what she did!

We can’t conclude that Christ was opposed to this woman suddenly feeling called to convert an entire city of the Jews’ greatest enemies through the words of her mouth, or that He was unaware of it. He watched it happen (John 4:40). Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Christ, Himself, went to the “forbidden” territory because He had a divine appointment with an “unclean” woman.
  2. Christ, Himself, inspired her to go preach the Good News of the Messiah.
  3. Christ, Himself, remained in Samaria and observed this woman’s actions.
  4. Christ had every opportunity to chastise her and tell her she was supposed to “leave the teaching to the men,” but He didn’t.
  5. When the Samaritans heard the woman at the well’s message, they sought Christ and asked Him to “tarry with them,” and He agreed to do so. Instead of using His time to refute a woman’s role in stirring up (translation: leading) her city to Him, He used His time to tell them who He really was.

By choosing not to silence her, Christ showed His approval of what the woman was doing when she ran all over the city preaching the message of the Messiah’s arrival—and based on His travel plans in the first place, He knew what was going to happen before it happened and sanctioned the entire event by His attendance. Passages and passages of Scripture show how and when Christ opposed the teaching of those He saw fit to rebuke (Pharisees, Sadducees, holy men in robes, etc.), so we already know He was predisposed to reprimand teaching that wasn’t carried out in a way that would please the Father and coincide with His will. Yet regarding the Samaritan woman, He not only allowed her to preach, He watched it…and then responded to it when the crowds appeared for more.

That sounds like a “personal commissioning” to me. As a Samaritan, she was despised by traditional Jews; as a woman, she was oppressed by men who used her and then discarded her (if her previous husbands had, in fact, divorced her); as a potential multiple divorcee who was currently living with a man who wasn’t her husband, she was shunned by other women.[iv] Then Jesus arrived on the scene as the seventh Man in her life, showed her what a real man looked like, turned her into a preacher, and then watched as the Samarian harvest flocked in. He didn’t run after her and remind her that she was a woman; He commissioned her by inspiring her and supporting her afterward. Why do so many people play the “potayto/potahto” game about whether Christ used the literal words, “Go preach to Samaria”? Is it that hard to believe that Christ would approve of a woman’s preaching if it resulted in leading an entire city to Him? She was a product of His making! (Don’t forget that He even permitted women to participate in His very own ministry [Luke 8:1–3]!)

After the town turns to Christ, the Samaritan woman falls out of the biblical narrative. Have you ever wondered what became of her? Did she remain faithful to Christ? Or did she fall away after the “honeymoon phase” was over? Does any historical data follow her ministry further?


UP NEXT: Photini

[i] Jodi Hooper, “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,” July 19, 2011,, last accessed August 14, 2017,

[ii] Mark Raburn, “The First Gospel Preacher: The Samaritan Woman at the Well,” October 10, 2013, Mark Raburn, last accessed August 14, 2017,

[iii] Judith VanOsdol, “Intimate Encounters…The First Preacher of the Good News of Jesus, the Christ, John 4:1–39,” last accessed August 14, 2017,

[iv] Note that this is the most frequent explanation behind why the Samaritan woman would be found at the well in the middle of the day, since most often the drawing of water happened at dusk. She was there midday, scholars postulate, because she was avoiding the humiliation of the scornful glances from other women who drew water in the evening.

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