A very valuable and sober portion of Scripture in the New Testament is the account of a Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at a well of water in the Gospel of John chapter four.
God’s word rehearses the encounter that this woman experienced with the omniscient Christ, who exposed/revealed her lifestyle of marital or sexually intimate sin and disregard, along with His message of hope for effectively changing her life for the better and receiving the power to keep it that way. I think most everyone would agree with this conclusion.
However, where the disagreement occurs is in the understanding of what is meant in Christ’s comments to her in His description of her marital or sexually intimate lifestyle, both past and present, as well as the degree of sinfulness attributed.
There are mainly two opposing theologies of marriage represented in understanding and explaining the meaning of this Scripture. Each theology, of course, arriving at their conclusion based upon the wordage of Christ’s description of the woman’s life. Howbeit, they both can’t be right.
One of the two theologies represented is that which the present church comprehends and regards marriage to be. This predominant theology encapsulates virtually all Christian commentary, exposition, or opinion of this text and is highly promoted. When examined, though, evidence of speculation and/or unsubstantiated declarations in their explanations is clearly seen. The reason for this is because it is needed. Their theology can’t exist properly just based upon what the Scripture says. They must declare and insert unsubstantiated (wrong) assumptions in order for their theology to offer any merit. However, when one’s theology is correct, the Word will clearly speak for itself, instead of a theology speaking for it.
Even among those who embrace this theology there is considerable variation and disagreement, lending to confusion and contradiction, regarding the reputation of the woman’s historical and present marital relationships. I will present some of them in a moment.
The other theology is yours truly. My theology puts marriage in its proper Biblical perspective by removing all secular/cultural influences, presumed authorities, civil or traditional prescriptions, unbiblical presumptions, and speculations. It puts marriage where it belongs – only between a male and female and the God who made them male and female. And the marriage (joining) that they CREATE between themselves sexually will either be right or it will be wrong, but a marriage nonetheless. Therewith, confusion and contradiction will not exist.
The other theology cites the text in John 4 as proof that my theology is wrong. Of course, this is mostly proclaimed because of them having either a pure ignorance of my theology or a bias against it. However, this text, as does other Scripture, absolutely exemplifies my theology completely, without contradiction. My marriage theology has no problem with this text, like theirs does, and, in fact, provides information within it, which CANNOT ever be discerned by the other theology.
If this is the first article that you have read of mine, my marriage theology is pretty well documented in my previous articles in this blog and/or my book. Reading them will give you much more insight to Biblical marriage as I teach it. It is crucial, decisive, and absolutely vital that this Biblical truth be understood and applied to every Christian’s life.
When I am finished explaining my Biblical marital description of this Scripture text, you will have another understanding and witness of true Biblical marriage being revealed in the Word of God. Be aware, though, as to which version of the Bible you use, because a couple of revisions have changed the wording of the true text to accommodate their theology, which when this occurs, it should be abhorred and condemned by all true Christian believers.
So, let’s get started and gain a better knowledge.
The specific text is found in John 4:16-18 “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” (KJV).
It is here where theological dispute and opposition of marriage is manifested - the explanation of how this woman acquired her previous five husbands and the present relationship she is having with a man.
Allow me to present some explanations, easily found through a search engine, which represent the church’s present marital theology regarding the circumstances of this woman’s past and present male relationships. Afterward, I will present mine.
Observe the disagreeing varied descriptions and explanations portraying the confusion among those that embrace this theology.
1. “Five marriages didn't make her a sinner. Due to warfare, famine, disease, and injury, men in those days dropped like flies. A widow became either a beggar, a prostitute, or another man's wife. Each time, this Samaritan woman had chosen the best option. But sharing her bed with a sixth man who wasn't her husband? That was a sin. Did she fess up? Nope. She changed the subject.” (a) (Do you recognize the blatant unsubstantiated speculative declarations presented?)
2. She is “a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria.” (b) (When did the church consider a prostitute’s lovers as husbands?)
3. “She is not a prostitute. She doesn’t have a shady past. There is nothing in the passage that makes this an obvious interpretation. Jesus at no point invites repentance or, for that matter, speaks of sin at all. She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced (which in the ancient world was pretty much the same thing for a woman). Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible. Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirite marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife). There are a number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.” (c)
4. “If living together made her married, Jesus would have said, ‘The man you are now living with is your sixth husband.’ Instead, He did not recognize them as being married even though they were living together. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he revealed something very important, something we often miss in this passage. The woman had been hiding the fact that the man she was living with was not her husband. According to the New Bible Commentary notes on this passage of Scripture, Common Law Marriage had no religious support in the Jewish faith. Living with a person in sexual union did not constitute a ‘husband and wife’ relationship. Jesus made that plain here. Therefore, the couple is married in the eyes of God when the physical union is consummated through sexual intercourse does not have a foundation in Scripture.” (d) (Whew! Ouch! Ugh!)
5. “Hast had five husbands - Who have either died; or who, on account of your improper conduct, have divorced you; or whom you have left improperly, without legal divorce. Either of these might have been the case.
Is not thy husband - You are not lawfully married to him. Either she might have left a former husband without divorce, and thus her marriage with this man was unlawful, or she was living with him without the form of marriage, in open guilt.” (e)
6. “Thou hast had five husbands - It is not clear that this woman was a prostitute: she might have been legally married to those five, and might have been divorced through some misbehavior of her own, not amounting to adultery; for the adulteress was to be put to death, both by the Jewish and Samaritan law, not divorced: or she might have been cast off through some caprice of her husband…”
Bishop Pearce would translate this clause in the following manner: There is no husband whom thou now hast - or, less literally, Thou hast no husband now: probably the meaning is, Thou art contracted to another, but not yet brought home: therefore he is not yet thy husband. Bishop Pearce contends that our Lord did not speak these words to her by way of reproof:” (f)
7. “For thou hast had five husbands,...Which she either had had lawfully, and had buried one after another; and which was no crime, and might be: the Sadducees propose a case to Christ, in which a woman is said to have had seven husbands successively, in a lawful manner, Matthew 22:25.
Or rather, she had had so many, and had been divorced from everyone of them, for adultery; for no other cause it should seem did the Samaritans divorce; seeing that they only received the law of Moses, and rejected, at least, many of the traditions of the elders…and…as Dr. Lightfoot observes; since these husbands are mentioned, as well as he with whom she lived in an adulterous manner; and which suggests, that she had not lived honestly with them: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband; that is, not thy lawful husband, as the Persic version reads, and Nonnus paraphrases; being not married to him at all, though they cohabited as man and wife, when there was no such relation between them: (g)
Okay, there you have it. Do you see how varied they are in their explanations when describing the circumstances of the woman? Do you see how each one was based upon the present marital concepts of the church? They each have to provide some supposedly relevant scenario in order for their theology to fit in this Scripture. Otherwise, the Scripture is unexplainable. The Word just can’t speak for itself. They must define it (very wantonly, I might add).
However, when one understands true Biblical marriage, the Word speaks and the theology understands, with no insertion of various circumstantial scenarios needed. All that is required is to pay close attention to the words stated in the original text.
For example, though her age is not mentioned, it is clear that the woman’s past was adulterous and secretive, yet not prostitution. Her marriages, which were not fashioned on the practices of our present secular/religious formalities, were sexual intimacies (marital connections) with five different men, regardless of the particulars involved for each occurrence. Her only probable legitimate intimacy could have been with the first husband and then violated. And yet, her first could have been with a married man. We don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that she was joined sexually with him, as well as the others, making him and them her husband.
The reasons why I believe her past relationships were sinful and not a culmination of unfortunate legitimate circumstances is two-fold:
- In verse 18, her past adulterous affairs (husbands) are conjoined with her present affair (husband) by the word “and.” This infers through linkage that all her relationships, past and present, are of the same caliber.
- In verse 29 she says to the men of the city, “Come see a man that told me everything that I have done,” and not “everything that has befallen me.” It is a statement of past deeds revealed and not unfortunate circumstances, where having more than one husband portends adulterous fornicated relationships and not tragic deaths.
Did you notice, I used the word “husband” when referring to her present affair in my first reason? Is that not contrary to what the other theology declares? Allow me to give my rendering of verse 18 and then I will explain more of why I said “husband:”
“For thou hast had five husbands; and the husband (he) whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”
The problem with the other theology is that they view sexual intimacy like the secular world, where it is just a physical encounter, without it being a permanent marital consequence. In doing so, they define the word ‘he,” describing the man she now “has,” to mean, she is living with and being sexually intimate with just a male, yet not married to him. This false unbiblical conception of sexual intimacy blinds them from the truth of marriage by God.
However, in verse 18, we know that Jesus is referring to this man as being her husband by saying “he whom thou now ‘hast.’” This word “hast” (have) infers possession like the words “hast had” when He referred to her past husbands. She had five in the past and she has one now. Not only that, we have that word “and.” This 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 me show you another Scripture where the word “hast” (have) illustrates possession in marriage. Mark 6:17&18 says “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Phillips wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brothers wife.”
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. For Herod was the civil law. So, in parallel with the woman at the well, it can be said to Herod, “she whom thou now ‘hast’ (your present wife you are married to) is not thy wife.” Herodias was Phillips wife. He and Herodias were living in a fornicated marriage, as I teach.
In other words, based on my theology of Biblical marriage, Jesus said to the woman at the well that the man she was now sexually intimate with (married to as her husband), as she was with the last five, is not your husband, because he is another woman’s husband. She was in an adulterous affair with a legitimately married man making him her husband. Do you see why I said my theology “provides information within it, which CANNOT ever be discerned by the other?
Let’s simplify our topical text by exchanging the word husband with the word peach, making it more revealing: “For you have had five peaches and that which you now have is not your peach.” So, what do you possess? Right, a peach! A husband! Yet, not yours!
According to true Biblical marriage, the man was, before this adulterous affair, a legitimately married man. Her affair was defiling another woman’s legitimate husband. What would you ladies call her today: “A home wrecker?” Jesus knows every sexually intimate connection (marriage) made, whether right or wrong. And there is a consequence.
What makes this disclosure by Christ even more profound and exacting to the woman and us also is that Jesus not only revealed the secrets of her life, but also the life of the man she was presently giving herself to sexually (marrying).
I must stop, because of length of message. However, are you able to see how Scripture is able to speak for itself when the theology is accurate?
Which theology governs your life?
(a) Liz Curtis Higgs, Today’s Christian Woman
(b) John Piper, God Seeks People to Worship Him In Spirit and Truth
(c) David Lose, Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well
(d) Mary Fairchild, About.com Christianity (e) Barnes Notes
(f) Clark’s Commentary on the Bible
(g) Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
Attention: Recommended initial article reading order for a Biblical marriage foundation:
The Honor of Biblical Marriage
Fornication: Sinning Against Your Body – Part 1&2
BIBLICAL MARRIAGE? Dear Lord I Messed Up!
Premarital Cohabitation: A Christian Mythology
Biblical Marriage and the Erroneous Marriage Covenant
Putting Biblical Marriage Asunder
BIBLICAL MARRIAGE: A Sacred Law
Divorce: It’s All About Being Married