MUST You be so Specific?

“The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9, ESV)

One of the places in which New Testament study is making leaps and bounds recently is in the area of what the experts call “Discourse Analysis” which is a term used for analyzing language, whether written, vocal, or sign.  In our case of course, it refers to studying written [Greek, Hebrew, Armaic] language.  I won’t bore you with an in-depth explanation here, suffice to say that it does bear on the study of the biblical text and unfolds the text in many unexpected ways.

One thing one sees in analyzing the language of the New Testament is what the experts call “over specification.”  When someone is overly specific, they are trying to draw our attention to something.  In other words they are trying to be specific for a reason.  For instance when I was growing up my mom might yell a couple of things from the bottom of the stairs.  She might yell:

  • Dan, can you come down here? [Dan was my ne’er-do-well older brother who if he wasn’t already in trouble, was headed that way].  If Mom called like this, then she needed Dan for some reason, maybe to take out the trash, or ask him a question, something like that.
  • Daniel Lee Murphy, get down here! – Uh oh, when Mom said this, Dan was DEFINITELY in trouble.  Mom was only overspecific [I’m using your full name, buster, and we both know what that means!] when Dan was in heaps and heaps of trouble [we heard THIS call a lot! Haha…].

The New Testament uses this kind of device all of the time and we have a perfect example in our current study passage (John 4.1-26).  Look at the passage above (John 4.9) and notice the words in bold.  Take them out of the passage and read the verse again: “The woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman?”  It makes perfect sense, right?  The woman could have left out Samaria/Samaritan and Jesus [and we]  would have understood her perfectly.  Why does she need to get so specific?  Why does she include Samaritan/Samaria in her description of herself?

Answer:  Because it is super important!

Samaritans were half-breeds [in the eyes of the pure Jews] and proper Jews would have nothing to do with them.  Samaritans believed that the proper worship of God was done at Mt. Gerizim, Jews believed God was worshiped only in Jerusalem.  Jews ranked Samaritans below Edomites and Philistines [if you know the Bible you know that is a low ranking indeed]:

“Two nations my soul detests, and the third is not even a people: Those who live in Seir, and the Philistines, and the foolish people that live in Shechem.” (Sirach 50:25–26, NRSV)

Shechem is in Samaria.  So yeah, the Jews did NOT like Samaritans and would have nothing to do with them…usually.

How startled then, was this woman when Jesus, knowing full well that she was a Samaritan woman, asks her for a drink.  This fact reshapes the whole story of the woman who comes out to the well and is eternally changed by her interaction with this very strange Jewish man, who does not hate her or any other Samaritans!

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