John 4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. John 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” John 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. John 4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” [English Standard Version of the Bible].
The above conversation is the famous Samaritan “woman at the well” incident. In this conversation, the Samaritan woman had been amazed by Jesus’ (peace be with him) responses to her statements and questions, and particularly with his knowledge of things about her life that one would think he shouldn’t have been able to know. This led her to recognize, as verse 19 records, that Jesus must be a prophet.
Since Jesus (peace to him) was obviously a prophet, it would be interesting to get his take on the major controversy which existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. Which one is really correct: “our fathers” (meaning the Samaritans) or you Jews?
Now one might think that this was a foolish question; ordinarily one could just assume that a Jew would say “well of course we Jews are correct!” However Jesus had made it obvious from the very beginning of the conversation that he was no ‘ordinary’ Jew. The very fact that Jesus would even deign to speak to her had amazed this woman, because Jews despised Samaritans and would have no dealings with them. They considered Samaritans to be even worse than those Gentile ‘dogs’! Yet Jesus had politely asked her for a drink of water, and didn’t seem to manifest any discomfort in speaking to her. So maybe he wouldn’t give an ‘ordinary’ Jewish response to her challenging question.
And indeed his answer was not an ‘ordinary’ Jewish answer! Or at least 2/3 of his answer was not. He began (verse 21) by saying essentially: “As a matter of fact, neither one of you is correct. It’s neither ‘this mountain’ nor Jerusalem which is the proper place to worship the Father.” Then verses 23 and 24 state that the correct ‘place’ to worship God is ‘in spirit’ and ‘in truth’. “Truth” here refers to ‘reality’ as opposed to outward symbol – not as opposed to a lie or falsehood. “The Father” is not an object located in a building at some particular location, and ‘He’ is not bound to a particular people or religion. God is “spirit” and anyone anywhere can find and ‘worship’ God within his/her own ‘spirit’. This is ‘true’ worship as opposed to outward symbolical forms of worship. One doesn’t have to be a Jew to worship God properly!
Yet right in the middle of his answer, Jesus is said to have made a statement which would seem to contradict and completely overthrow the rest of his reply. Having said that neither the Samaritans nor the Jews had the right of the matter, verse 22 makes out that Jesus reversed himself and made an ‘ordinary’ Jewish reply: “It’s we Jews who know what we’re talking about and doing, whereas you Samaritans don’t know what you’re doing; after all, salvation comes from the Jews!” Now he sounds like a typical arrogant and bigoted Jew, believing Jews are ‘chosen’ and ‘superior’ to everyone else!
So what’s going on here? Did Jesus really make those plainly contradictory statements? Was he so ignorant and confused that he couldn’t even keep his story straight within one short paragraph?? Well, the Jews – who have always despised Jesus Christ – may be quite happy with that idea; but I totally reject it – I don’t even consider it a ‘theoretical’ possibility.
What then is the answer? I see two possibilities. (1) Jesus never made the statement of verse 22 – that the Jews are in the right, the Samaritans are ignorant, and salvation comes from the Jews. Perhaps John – or some editor – inserted those words into Jesus’ reply in order to ‘soften’ the ‘anti-Judaism’ of his words. It might be pointed out that the reply fits together smoothly and makes perfect sense if verse 22 is left out. “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This would not be unheard of, either. In Psalm 51, the Psalmist (said to be King David following his adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed) pled with God for mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing of heart. But in verses 16 and 17 he repudiated the idea of animal sacrifice. “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. But this repudiation of animal sacrifice was just too much for the scribal editors who put together the Jewish scriptures after the Babylonian captivity. So they added verses 18 and 19: Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. [Quotations of Psalm 51 are from the New Revised Standard Version.]
How do we know that verses 18 and 19 are inserted long after the time of David? The walls of Jerusalem were intact during the time of David and did not need to be rebuilt! The walls of Jerusalem were knocked down by the invading Babylonians and needed to be rebuilt after the exile.
So it would not be totally beyond possibility that someone added this statement of Jewish superiority to Jesus’ reply because he found Jesus’ anti-Judaism embarrassing. Yet with all of the many times that Jesus (and his cousin John ‘the Baptist’) denounced the scribes and Pharisees, and the “traditions of the elders” (which we know today as the Talmud) – and in fact the Jewish nation in general – it would seem strange that such a hypothetical editor of Jesus’ words would only choose this instance to ‘soften’ Jesus’ statements. Jesus called the ‘orthodox’ Jewish leaders and teachers “hypocrites”, “snakes”, “children of the devil”, and “whitewashed sepulchers”. In Matthew 23:15 he is reported to have said that when the scribes and Pharisees managed to make a convert to their Jewish religion, they made him twice the “child of hell” that they were (thus saying that they themselves were “children of hell”) – and it was conversion to the Jewish religion which made him so! And Matthew 21:43 says that the “kingdom of God” would be taken away from the Jews and given to another nation which would bring forth the fruit of the kingdom. In other words, Jesus said God had rejected the Jews!
(2) But it’s actually not necessary to conclude that verse 22 is an interpolation. Jesus may very well have made the statement as a quotation of what the Jews say, in order to contrast it with his teaching. Jesus was not only a good teacher due to the content of his message, but also due to the style of his teaching by which he made what he said interesting. So perhaps he did what many people do today in order to poke fun at beliefs and arguments with which they disagree. Perhaps he lowered the pitch of his voice, and said in a mockingly grave tone: You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. Then he resumed his normal pitch and tone to say: But the hour is coming…
Or perhaps he introduced verse 22 in much the same way he introduced many of his statements in “the sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5, 6, and 7: “You have heard that it was said”). Perhaps he said something like “you have heard the Jews say…”, but for some reason John did not record that phrase. Perhaps John forgot that introductory phrase, but figured that anyone using his reason could figure out that Jesus was quoting the Jews rather than so flagrantly contradicting himself. At any rate, anyone at all familiar with the “gospel records” should realize that it is simply inconceivable that Jesus would himself make such a bigoted statement as part of his own teaching.
At the time of Jesus Christ, there was no such thing as quotation marks to indicate when someone else is being quoted. One either had to state the fact, or the reader would be left to deduce it. Instances of this latter can be illustrated from the letters of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 13 we read this (New Revised Standard Version): “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. ”All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other… In the Greek letters of Paul, there was no indication that Paul was quoting anyone when he made the statements which appear in quotation marks in modern English translations. But most people recognize that Paul was probably quoting objections people tended to make to his teaching, and then responding to the objection. In the same way, if we will think about it a bit, we should realize that in John 4:22 Jesus was quoting arrogant and bigoted Jewish opinion – even if he didn’t indicate it by prefacing it with “you have heard that it was said” – and then contrasting such an idea with his own prophetic teaching (both in verse 21 and 23-24). Such bigotry was simply no part of the teaching of Jesus Christ (peace be with him). He repudiated such ‘Judaism’.