The Woman at the Well – has she been unfairly maligned?
[November 9, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Was the woman at the well a floozy who just had to have a man at her side to feel okay about herself?
I suspect that Christians tend to make too many assumptions about what brought about the marital history of the Woman at the Well (John 4). Most people make one or more of the following assumptions:
- Each of her marriages had ended in divorce.
- She had caused some if not all of those divorces; she was “just too hard to live with!”
- She was “sexually loose and a serial offender”.
- She was one of those women who “just had to have a man” — that explains why she was prepared to live with a bloke even though he hadn’t married her.
The fingers all point at her. It’s said from the pulpit in euphemisms, because there are children and teenagers in the pews, but it’s clear enough for adult women in the congregation to squirm — especially ones like me who were promiscuous in their past. Nothing wrong with pointing out the sin of promiscuity — I admit to it being one of my major sins before I came to Christ — but to grind women’s noses in the dust over and over again every time the Woman at the Well’s story is preached seems to me somewhat misogynist.
Consider these alternative scenarios for the Woman at the Well:
(1) Several of her marriages might have ended by the death of her husbands. People often died young in those days when there were no antibiotics and other marvels of modern medicine, let alone public health systems like sewers and running water.
(2) If some of her marriages had ended in divorce, the chances are that she had been treacherously divorced by men who were using the liberal “any cause” divorce which was a pretty common divorce method for men to employ in Jesus’ day.
(3) We have no proof that any of her marriages ended because of her sin. And the way the church has assumed this for centuries is just typical of the way the church has denigrated and marginalized women.
(4) The only hint we have of her sin is that when she met Jesus she was living in a de facto relationship. But it’s unwarranted to extrapolate from that and draw negative conclusions about her culpability in all her previous marriages.
[November 9, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 9, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]