Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, September 21, 2020

Was the Samaritan Woman a Prostitute? (John 4)

If you have seen the new movie, “The Chosen,” you will perhaps have a fresh look look at the character of the “Samaritan woman.” Some people think she was a prostitute, but is there any evidence that this is so?

There is an idea floating around out there that the Samaritan woman in John 4 was a prostitute, and I was recently asked if there is any evidence in the Greek that this is so.

Actually, it is quite the reverse. She is never called a prostitute, and in fact she was apparently quite open to marriage. Even though she was not married to the man she was currently living with, she had been married five times (v 18).

Jesus’ language is not judgmental either. He simply asks, “Will you give me a drink?” (v 7). Her surprise was not that he was talking to a prostitute but simply to a Samaritan woman. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (v 9). She addresses him politely as “Sir” (κύριε, v 11, 15, 19). And she lived in the expectation of the coming of the Messiah (not that a prostitute couldn’t have the same expectation).

Given the evidence, I really doubt she was a prostitute but perhaps had other moral issues. But given the nature of that culture and the difficulty of living as a single woman, I wouldn’t pass judgment on her. We don’t know why the first five marriages ended.

The only thing in Greek I see worth pointing out is the nature of the interrogative in Greek. You can indicate you are asking a question with the inclusion of οὐ or μή, but here it is just the straight imperative. “Will you give me a drink?” (δός μοι πεῖν).

I love how they handle this in the new movie, “The Chosen.” Jesus asks for a drink, the woman responds in surprise and (as might be expected) a little disgust at his possible Jewish bigotry, and Jesus replies (as I recall). “I’m sorry. I should’ve said, ‘Please.’”

If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I encourage you to do so. It is available as an app in iOS. It is free, but they do ask for donations. It certainly takes some artistic liberties, but nothing that strikes me as impossible. It does the best job I have ever seem of presenting the humanity of Christ without diminishing his divinity. And when you see their recounting of the miraculous catch of fish or the wedding at Cana, you will never read the text the same way again.