Samaria: In Jesus’ time, Samaria was the name of the Roman district through which Jesus occasionally traveled. Later, his disciples took the message of Christianity there. Though its exact boundaries are not known today, it lay between Galilee in the N and Judea in the S, and it extended W from the Jordan River to the coastal plains of the Mediterranean Sea. For the most part, the district embraced the territories once belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh (W of the Jordan). Though Jesus occasionally passed through Samaria on his way to and from Jerusalem (Joh 4:3-6; Lu 9:51, 52; 17:11), he told his apostles to avoid preaching in Samaritan cities because their primary assignment was to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that is, the Jews (Mt 10:5, 6). This restriction, however, was for a limited time only. Just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told his disciples that they should carry the good news to “Samaria” as well as “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Ac 1:8, 9) When persecution broke out in Jerusalem, some of the disciples, Philip in particular, declared the good news throughout Samaria. Peter and John were later sent there so that the Samaritans could receive holy spirit.—Ac 8:1-17, 25; 9:31; 15:3.
Sychar: A city of Samaria that has been identified with the village of ʽAskar, near modern-day Nablus, about 1 km (0.6 mi) NE of Shechem and 0.7 km (0.4 mi) NNE of Jacob’s well. (See App. B6 and B10.) Some have identified Sychar with Shechem, based on some early non-Biblical writers and the reading “Sychem” in the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus. However, the best Greek manuscripts support the reading “Sychar,” and archaeologists have shown that the site of Shechem (Tell Balata) was not occupied at the time of this account.
Jacob’s well: The traditional site of this well is Bir Yaʽqub (Beʼer Yaʽaqov), situated about 2.5 km (1.5 mi) SE of modern-day Nablus, not far from Tell Balata, the site of Shechem. This well is deep; its water level never rises to the top. Measurements made in the 19th century indicate that the depth of the well was about 23 m (75 ft) at that time. There is debris at the bottom, so the well might have been even deeper in ancient times. (Joh 4:11) Because the well is usually dry from about the end of May until the autumn rains, some reason that its water is derived from rain and percolation. Others believe that the well is also spring fed. (See study note on well in this verse.) The Bible does not directly state that Jacob dug the well, but it does indicate that Jacob had property in this vicinity. (Ge 33:18-20; Jos 24:32) Jacob likely dug this well or had it dug, perhaps to provide water for his large household and flocks. He could thereby prevent trouble with his neighbors, who doubtless already owned the other water sources in the region. Or he may have needed another water supply when other wells in the area dried up.
tired out as he was: This is the only place in the Scriptures where Jesus is said to be “tired out.” It was about 12:00 noon, and that morning Jesus had likely made the journey from the Jordan Valley in Judea to Sychar in Samaria, a steep ascent of almost 900 m (3,000 ft).—Joh 4:3-5; see App. A7.
well: Or “spring; fountain.” In this context, two different Greek words are used to refer to Jacob’s well at Sychar. The Greek word pe·geʹ, twice rendered “well” in this verse, often denotes a spring, or fountain, which may have been the source of Jacob’s well. At Jas 3:11, the term is used to refer to a literal “spring,” and it is used in a figurative sense at Joh 4:14, where it is also rendered “spring.” At Joh 4:12, Jacob’s well is referred to by the Greek word phreʹar, which can mean a well, a cistern, or a vertical shaft. (1Sa 19:22, Septuagint; Lu 14:5; Re 9:1) Springs were often a source for wells, sometimes being cleared and deepened, which may explain why “spring” and “well” are here used interchangeably for the same water source.—See study note on Jacob’s well in this verse.
about the sixth hour: That is, about 12:00 noon.—See study note on Mt 20:3.
Jews have no dealings with Samaritans: The Samaritans first referred to in the Bible were Jews who lived in the ten-tribe kingdom before it was conquered by the Assyrians. (2Ki 17:29) The Samaritans’ separation from the rest of the Jews began earlier when Jeroboam established idol worship in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (1Ki 12:26-30) After the Assyrian conquest, “Samaritan” came to refer to the descendants of those left in the region of Samaria as well as to the foreigners brought in to populate the land. Though the Samaritans claimed descent from the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim only, some undoubtedly mixed with the foreigners, and the Scriptures indicate that this mixed population further corrupted worship in Samaria. (2Ki 17:24-41) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, the Samaritans claimed devotion to Jehovah, but they opposed the rebuilding of the temple and city walls in Jerusalem. Then, perhaps in the fourth century B.C.E., on Mount Gerizim, they built their own temple, which was destroyed by the Jews in 128 B.C.E. However, the Samaritans continued to worship in that mountain, and in the first century, they populated the Roman district of Samaria that lay between Judea and Galilee. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible, and perhaps the book of Joshua, but they made changes in some verses to support the location of their temple. By Jesus’ day, the name Samaritan had an ethnic and religious connotation, and the Samaritans were treated with scorn by the Jews.—Joh 8:48.
. . . with Samaritans: Although this parenthetical comment is not included in some manuscripts, it has strong support in a number of early, authoritative manuscripts.
living water: This Greek expression is used in a literal sense to refer to flowing water, spring water, or freshwater from a well supplied by springs. This is in contrast with stagnant water from a cistern. At Le 14:5, the Hebrew expression for “running water” is literally “living water.” At Jer 2:13 and 17:13, Jehovah is described as “the source [or, “spring”] of living water,” that is, life-giving symbolic water. When speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus used the term “living water” figuratively, but it appears that she initially took his words literally.—Joh 4:11; see study note on Joh 4:14.
the well is deep: See study note on Joh 4:6.
our forefather Jacob: The Samaritans claimed descent from Jacob through Joseph, a claim that many Jews of the day would likely have refuted. To emphasize the Samaritans’ descent from foreign peoples, some Jews called them by the Hebrew term “Cuthim,” or “Cuthaeans,” that is, people of Cuth (or Cuthah). The names Cuth and Cuthah refer to the same original home of the people who had been moved by the king of Assyria to the cities of Samaria after Israel went into exile in 740 B.C.E. It was probably located about 50 km (30 mi) NE of Babylon.—2Ki 17:23, 24, 30.
the water that I will give: The terms “water” and “spring” are here used figuratively. Earlier in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus referred to “living water.” (See study note on Joh 4:10.) He goes on to explain that the water he provides becomes in those who receive it a spring of water that can impart everlasting life. God’s Word uses water as a symbol of God’s provisions for restoring mankind to perfect life. An important component of this symbolic water is Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. In this context, Jesus focuses on the spiritual benefits that come to those who listen to him and become his disciples. As they are “coming to know” Jehovah God and Jesus Christ and acting on that knowledge with faith, they have the prospect of gaining everlasting life. (Joh 17:3) Jesus said that for a person who accepts this symbolic water, it would become in him a spring bubbling up life-giving benefits. Such a person also feels impelled to share this “water of life” with others.—Re 21:6; 22:1, 17; see study note on Joh 7:38.
this mountain: That is, Mount Gerizim. (See App. B10.) This mountain is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Scriptures. (De 11:29; 27:12; Jos 8:33; Jg 9:7) A Samaritan temple rivaling the one in Jerusalem was constructed on the mountain, perhaps in the fourth century B.C.E., and was destroyed by the Jews in 128 B.C.E. The Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the Bible, and possibly the book of Joshua, but only their revised version, known as the Samaritan Pentateuch. It was written in their own characters, derived from ancient Hebrew. The text differs from the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible in some 6,000 instances. Most variances are minor details, but there are some major differences. For example, at De 27:4, “Mount Gerizim” is substituted for “Mount Ebal” as the place where the Law of Moses was to be written on plastered stones. (De 27:8) The obvious reason for this change was to give credence to the Samaritans’ belief that Gerizim was the holy mountain of God.
salvation begins with the Jews: Or “salvation originates with the Jews.” Jesus’ statement implies that the Jewish people had been entrusted with God’s Word, pure worship, and the truth that could lead to salvation. (Ro 3:1, 2) They were also chosen as the people from whom the Messiah would come, fulfilling God’s promise regarding the “offspring” of Abraham. (Ge 22:18; Ga 3:16) When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, it was only through the Jews that a person could learn the truth about God and what he required as well as details about the Messiah. Israel was still God’s channel, and any who wished to serve Jehovah had to do so in association with his chosen nation.
God is a Spirit: The Greek word pneuʹma is used here in the sense of a spirit person, or being. (See Glossary, “Spirit.”) The Scriptures show that God, the glorified Jesus, and the angels are spirits. (1Co 15:45; 2Co 3:17; Heb 1:14) A spirit has a form of life that differs greatly from that of humans, and it is invisible to human eyes. Spirit beings have a body, “a spiritual one,” that is far superior to “a physical body.” (1Co 15:44; Joh 1:18) Although Bible writers speak of God as having a face, eyes, ears, hands, and so forth, such descriptions are figures of speech to help humans understand what God is like. The Scriptures clearly show that God has a personality. He also exists in a location beyond the physical realm; so Christ could speak of “going to the Father.” (Joh 16:28) At Heb 9:24, Christ is said to enter “into heaven itself, so that he . . . appears before God on our behalf.”
worship with spirit: As shown in the Glossary article “Spirit,” the Greek word pneuʹma can have a number of meanings, among them God’s active force, or holy spirit, as well as the force that impels individuals, that is, their mental disposition. One of the things that the different meanings of the term “spirit” have in common is in reference to things that are invisible to human sight. Jesus explained at Joh 4:21 that worship of the Father would not be centered on a physical location, such as Mount Gerizim in Samaria or the temple in Jerusalem. Because God is not material and cannot be seen or felt, worship of him would no longer need to revolve around a physical temple or a mountain. In other Bible verses, Jesus showed that to worship God acceptably, a person would need to be guided by God’s invisible holy spirit, also called a “helper.” (Joh 14:16, 17; 16:13) Therefore, “worship with spirit” apparently refers to worship that is guided by God’s spirit, which would help an individual to be attuned to God’s thinking through study and application of His Word. So Jesus’ statement about worshipping God “with spirit” involves far more than being sincere and having a spirited, or enthusiastic, mental disposition about serving God.
worship with . . . truth: Worship that is acceptable to God cannot be based on imagination, myths, or lies. It has to be in harmony with facts and consistent with “the truth” that God has revealed in his Word about himself and his purposes. (Joh 17:17) Such worship must conform to the “realities that are not seen” but are revealed in God’s Word.—Heb 9:24; 11:1; see also the study note on worship with spirit in this verse.
I know that Messiah is coming: The Samaritans accepted only the five books of Moses, now known as the Pentateuch. They rejected the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, with the possible exception of the book of Joshua. Nevertheless, because they accepted Moses’ writings, the Samaritans looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, the prophet greater than Moses.—De 18:18, 19.
Messiah: The Greek word Mes·siʹas (a transliteration of the Hebrew word ma·shiʹach) occurs only twice in the Christian Greek Scriptures (here and at Joh 1:41). The Hebrew verb, from which the title ma·shiʹach is derived, is ma·shachʹ, meaning “to smear or spread (with liquid)” and “to anoint.” (Ex 29:2, 7) In Bible times, priests, rulers, and prophets were ceremonially anointed with oil. (Le 4:3; 1Sa 16:3, 12, 13; 1Ki 19:16) The corresponding title Christ (Greek, Khri·stosʹ) occurs more than 500 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and is equivalent to the title “Messiah,” both meaning “Anointed One.”—See study note on Mt 1:1.
I am he: Lit., “I am.” Greek, e·goʹ ei·mi. Some consider this expression to be an allusion to the Septuagint reading of Ex 3:14 and use it to identify Jesus with God. However, Ex 3:14 uses different wording (e·goʹ ei·mi ho on, “I am The Being; I am The Existing One”) from that used at Joh 4:26. Moreover, the expression e·goʹ ei·mi is used in the Septuagint to render words spoken by Abraham, Eliezer, Jacob, David, and others. (Ge 23:4; 24:34; 30:2; 1Ch 21:17) In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the phrase e·goʹ ei·mi is not limited to the rendering of words expressed by Jesus. The same Greek words are used at Joh 9:9 in recording a reply by a man whom Jesus had cured. They simply convey the message: “It is I.” These words are also used by the angel Gabriel as well as by Peter, Paul, and others. (Lu 1:19; Ac 10:21; 22:3) Obviously, these statements are not references to Ex 3:14. A comparison of the parallel accounts in the synoptic Gospels shows that the phrase e·goʹ ei·mi found at Mr 13:6 and Lu 21:8 (“I am he”) is a shorter way of expressing the more complete thought found at Mt 24:5, which is rendered “I am the Christ.”
I am he, the one speaking to you: This is apparently the first time that Jesus openly identifies himself as the Messiah, or the Christ. He does so to a woman who is not even a Jew but a Samaritan. (Joh 4:9, 25) Most Jews had disdain for and refused to greet Samaritans, and many Jewish men looked down on women. Jesus later dignified other women in a similar way, granting them the privilege of being the first witnesses of his resurrection.—Mt 28:9, 10.
speaking with a woman: Contrary to the spirit of the Mosaic Law, Jewish tradition discouraged men from speaking to women in public. It appears that this view was widespread in Jesus’ day. That would explain why even his disciples “were surprised” when they saw Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman. According to the Talmud, ancient rabbis advised that a scholar “should not converse with a woman in the street.” And according to the Mishnah, one rabbi said: “Talk not much with womankind. . . . He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna.”—Aboth 1:5.
there are yet four months before the harvest comes: The barley harvest begins in the Jewish month Nisan (March/April), about Passover time. (See App. B15.) Counting back four months would indicate that Jesus spoke these words in the month of Chislev (November/December). That was the time when rains were becoming heavier and colder weather was ahead. So Jesus’ words about a harvesting that was already taking place apparently refer to a figurative harvest, or ingathering of people, rather than to a literal harvest.—Joh 4:36.
white: That is, ripe. The Greek word leu·kosʹ denotes white and different shades of light color, such as light yellow, indicating that the crop was ripe and was ready to be harvested. Since Jesus here states that there are “four months before the harvest comes,” the surrounding fields were likely green—the color of recently sprouted barley. So when Jesus spoke about the fields’ being ripe for harvesting, he no doubt had a spiritual harvest in mind, not a literal one. Some scholars have suggested that when Jesus encouraged his listeners to view the fields, he may have been referring to a crowd of Samaritans approaching and that his remark about the fields’ being “white” could have been an allusion to the white robes that they may have worn. Or the remark may have been a figure of speech indicating that they were ready to accept the message.—Joh 4:28-30.
Many of the Samaritans . . . put faith in him: The effect of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman was evident. Because of her testimony, many Samaritans began to believe in Jesus. While the initial spiritual harvest took place mainly among the Jews, an even greater harvest that included the Samaritans would soon become a reality, as the inspired record shows. Jesus’ preaching to the Samaritan woman no doubt laid the foundation for many of these Samaritans to respond to Philip’s preaching.—Joh 4:34-36; Ac 1:8; 8:1, 14-17.
savior of the world: This expression, appearing only here and at 1Jo 4:14, indicates that Jesus would save from sin those from “the world” of mankind who demonstrate faith.—See study notes on Joh 1:29; 3:17.
his own homeland: Lit., “his father’s place.” The Greek word rendered “homeland” is translated “home territory” at Mt 13:54; Mr 6:1; and Lu 4:24, where it refers to Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth. In this context, however, it seems to refer to all of Galilee.—Joh 4:43.
Cana of Galilee . . . Capernaum: The distance by road between Cana (Khirbet Qana) and Capernaum is about 40 km (25 mi).—See study note on Joh 2:1.
a royal official: Or “a certain attendant of the king.” The Greek term ba·si·li·kosʹ refers to one connected with the king (ba·si·leusʹ), whether by blood or by office. Here it seems to refer to a royal attendant, or member of the royal court, of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. He was popularly referred to as “king.”—See study notes on Mt 14:9; Mr 6:14.
come down: That is, to Capernaum. In ancient times, a road led past Khirbet Qana (most likely the Biblical Cana; see study note on Joh 2:1) down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and along the shoreline to Capernaum, which lay over 200 m (650 ft) below sea level; hence, the expression “come down” to Capernaum.
the seventh hour: That is, about 1:00 p.m.—See study note on Mt 20:3.
the second sign: The reference here is to the second of two miracles that Jesus performed in Galilee on returning from Judea. The first sign, or miracle, is referred to at Joh 2:11. Jesus did other powerful works in Jerusalem before he performed this second sign in Galilee.—Joh 2:23.