John 4:13-16 Did Jesus tell the woman at the well that living water is mainly for men?

In John 4:13-16, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus tells her that whoever drinks the water he gives will never thirst, and that a spring of water will well up or spring up into eternal life. In this passage, Jesus is clearly including the woman too. However, if the reader took Jesus at his word, one would receive a very different message, depending on the translation.

If we read from the NIV, NASB, HCSB, and ESV, it sounds like Jesus is offering the living water primarily to men (“him”). The woman proceeds to ask Jesus if she could be included in his offering of living water. Then Jesus tells her to fetch her husband and return, which almost sounds like her husband should be the primary receiver of this living water before she gets to have some.

However, if we read from the TNIV, NRSV, and NLT, it sounds quite different. It sounds like Jesus is offering the living water to anyone and he is not making it gender exclusive. Having first tasted or experienced this living water, Jesus then tells her to fetch her husband so that he may also taste this living water that she has already tasted first hand.

For those who do not read the bible and reads it for the first time, one might become a little confused by the repetitive use of the masculine gender pronouns of “him” and “he.” Sure the reader may eventually catch on that “he” and “him” is referring to both men and women; but if I was a new bible reader today, it would be much more understandable to read from a gender-neutral translation. Since we are no longer living in a bible-literate society, people will initially tend to understand the masculine pronouns as referring to men only. Experienced bible-readers may be able to get past the use of masculine gender pronouns in our traditional translations like the NIV, NASB, ESV, and HCSB; but translations like the TNIV or NLT would make it easier for the unseasoned bible-readers to understand.
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but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (NIV)

But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again–ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.” “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.” (HCSB)

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” (NASB)

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman said to him, Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water. Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here. (ESV)

but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (TNIV)

but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” he woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” (NRSV)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. (NLT)

(The print above titled Living Water was done by artist Simon Dewey available at Christ-centered Art).

Life Together: Bonhoeffer on love

Sometimes we get caught up with the human quest for biblical truth in the name of love but fail to practice genuine spiritual love. I would like to share this wonderful excerpt from a real Christian classic called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian.

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Likewise, there is human love of one’s neighbour. Such passion is capable of prodigious sacrifices. Often it far surpasses genuine Christian love in fervent devotion and visible results. It speaks the Christian language with overwhelming and stirring eloquence. But it is what Paul is speaking of when he says: [‘ If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Cor.13.3)]. Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake. Therefore human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible to rule.

Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person. Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving. There are two marks, both of which are one and the same thing, that manifest the difference between spiritual and human love: Human love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a fellowship that has become false for the sake of genuine fellowship, and human love cannot love an enemy, that is, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it. Both spring from the same source: human love is by its very nature desire—desire for human community. So long as it can satisfy this desire in some way, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short—namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calumny.

Right there is the point where spiritual love begins. This is why human love becomes personal hatred when it encounters genuine spiritual love, which does not desire but serves. Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it much subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons.

Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves. I do not know in advance what love of others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires—all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. What love is, only Christ tells in his Word. Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love toward the brethren really is. Therefore, spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ. Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it. Where his truth enjoins me to dissolve a fellowship for love’s sake, there I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my human love. Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and his Word. Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.

Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire direct fellowship with them. As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love. The other person needs to retain his independence of me; to be loved for what he is, as one for whom Christ became man, died, and rose again, for whom Christ bought forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes. This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ. Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.

Therefore, spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ. It will not seek to move others by all too personal, direct influence, by impure interference in the life of another. It will not take pleasure in pious, human fervour and excitement. It will rather meet the other person with the clear Word of God and be ready to leave him alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him again in order that Christ may deal with him. It will respect the line that has been drawn between him and us by Christ, and it will find full fellowship with him in the Christ who alone binds us together. Thus, this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of others is wholly dependent upon the truth in Christ. It is out of this love that John the disciple speaks. [ ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.’ (3 John 4)].

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954), pp. 21-23.
* scriptures taken from TNIV trans.

Luther’s christian faith: as experience, intellect and reason

The Christian faith for some believers today might seem to primarily be one of intellect and reason. For many Catholic and mainline theologians, theology mainly functions in the cerebral. For pietists, evangelicals, and charismatics, one’s faith is generally not as cerebral, at least not to the extent as that of mainline theologians. Faith may be much more of an “experience” for evangelicals, and especially for pentecostals/charismatics. If I may continue to generalize, some mainliners have highbrowed Christians who treat their faith as primarily an experience. On the same token, evangelicals and charismatics have also high looked down upon mainliners whose faith is primarily intellectual. Should both camps continue to pride themselves on how they experience their faith?

To purely intellectualize or to purely spiritualize one’s faith to the exclusion of the other is not helpful to one’s spiritual growth as a Christian. To do so, one isolates oneself from being able to experience what a Christian should experience; that is, both an intellectually- and spiritually-driven experience. It is part of deepening and expanding one’s Christian faith. Spirituality and the intellect should go hand-in-hand.

Martin Luther, was initially trained in the scholasticism of the Augustinian order. He served as a Roman Catholic priest and also earned a doctorate in theology. His students addressed him in seminary as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther when he was alive in the early 16th century. His intellect was extremely sharp (as was Calvin’s). Many may not know that Luther had an enlightening spiritual experience as he was struck with lightening while traveling on a road. He received this experience as a sign that God was calling him into the ministry…and thus, he did enter the ministry. He once said that felt he was born again. He walked close to the heart of God and understood the spiritual experience as the school of Holy Spirit. Luther said:

No one can correctly understand God or His Word unless he has received such understanding immediately from the Holy Spirit. But no one can receive it from the Holy Spirit without experiencing, proving, and feeling it. In such experience the Holy Spirit instructs us as in His own school, outside of which nothing is learned but empty words and prattle.(1)

If Luther could say this as a trained scholastic, then who are we, or anyone else, to put down the spiritual experience of other Christians. One’s spiritual experience of Holy Spirit ought to be valued, cherished, and appreciated; not snubbed as a type of kindergarten faith. If we look at the history of spiritual and theological giants, I am sure that we can trace back their paths and find that they received a deep spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure John Calvin and John Wesley did too.

Holy Spirit, experience and love all work together. Where a real and personal faith exists, experience must follow. “Experience should also be seen as a criterion for faith,” says theologian Walther von Loewenich.(2) We learn to know God through Holy Spirit and he uses one’s experience as his school. Experience must be seen as a legitimate way to know God. If we can begin to appreciate the spiritual experience of pietists, and the intellectual experience of scholastic theologians, perhaps we may be able to come together and finally learn to appreciate a fuller and deeper experience of our Christian faith.

(1) W. VII, 546, 24ff; LW 21, 299.
(2) Walther von Loewenich, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1976), 94.

* above photo: Keble College (Oxford, UK), est. 1870 ou of the Oxford movement, which stressed the Anglo-Catholic history of the Anglican Church.

Penal substitutionary theory on trial

An interesting theological post by Henry Neufeld on Threads from Henry’s Web who argues the other side against Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA), an established atonement theory. He says it has no scriptural basis but many can also show that it does have a strong scriptural basis. Well, PSA was something I’ve always believed in as a basic doctrine and it will be very difficult to disprove it. Personally, I do not think that any of the atonement theories should be exclusive because they all have scriptural basis. Anyways, it’s an interesting post with an argument that makes logical sense, and is fodder for one’s mind.

The next christian apologists in the next christendom

Today, many large cities in North America like New York City, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and some European cities like London have become very multicultural. People arriving from other nations have changed the dynamics of the established Christian heritage through migration. The western world, as we knew it, is no longer truly “western” in the historical sense of the word. People of other races, cultures and ethnicities have brought with them different cultural beliefs, practices and religions. As a result, the Christian heritage that once existed in western civilization has lost dominance and has become blended into the dominant western world. Reflecting upon biblical history, today’s social environment resembles something like the polytheistic society of ancient Israel. In ancient biblical Israel, the monotheistic Hebrew people lived amongst a diversity of cultures and religions. The dominant Israelite religion was eventually overshadowed by its surrounding cultures and religions. Within today’s context of North America and western European nations, the same thing has happened with our monotheistic Christian religion today.

How may this be relevant to Christianity in the 21st century? This century may show itself to be a most important one, especially in terms of the spread of Christianity in the world. This century may produce more Christian apologists than ever before. In the face of a multi-religious and multicultural environment, the role of Christian apologetics will act to distinguish Christianity from other faiths within the religious and cultural marketplace.

It will definitely seem politically-incorrect to even speak about a certain “strain on the Christian faith,” but being who I am, well, I may have a voice that is able to speak to this subject without being accused of being politically-incorrect. North America’s change into a multi-religious and multicultural society has placed a certain level of strain upon the whole dynamics of how one’s Christian faith plays a part in our society.

The role of Christian apologetics is going to be more important in today’s post-modern polytheistic and multicultural society. As Christians, our commitment in keeping Christ’s commandments to love God and one another has faded within the values of younger generations in the secular sphere. God’s Spirit will call men and women to rise to the challenge—to answer the call—to defend the faith within contemporary society. “Defending the faith” as apologists for Christ is not in any way, shape or form even remotely related to extreme Islamic fundamentalism or the early crusaders of the Roman Catholic Church. To do Christian apologistics is to do works of love for Christ and the gospel. Traditional Christian values are no longer the norm in our secular humanistic society today. In this type of shifting social and religious environment, the role of Christian apologetics will be extremely important–no matter what part of the world we are in.

In years ahead, the variety of Christian apologetists and their theologies will be even more diverse than what it has been in modern history. They will come from varied theologies, churches, and varied cultures and ethnicities. Lines that previously divided denominations, churches, cultures, race, and ethnicities will blur and blend together. Today’s church includes the global church. If you did not know, the majority of the Christian church today exists in the global south and is no longer located in the northern hemisphere. (Read: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins). It should not matter which denomination they are from because all denominations are important in eyes of Christ. This is the situation in our post-modern world. It may be difficult for many traditionalists to accept this but that is what I can foresee in the future. But by their works of love, the reign of God or “kingdom of God” in Christ will be distinguished and be visibly witnessed in those whose faith is strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit. This must be the norm if one’s Christian faith is to survive and grow in our shifting global environments. God’s holy and universal church is spreading and will spread across the entire world. It is happening before our own eyes this century, and we are witnesses to this.

If we are to recognize our church as apostolic and universal (catholic), we need to honor our previous generations of Christian apologists for the works of love they have done for the body of Christ—that is the holy Christian church. Throughout the history of the early Christian church, the works of love of Christian apologists were invaluable to the survival of the early church, e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Jerome. In the early Roman Catholic Church, there was Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. The great protestant reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin brought immense freedom in the life of the church, which in turn, introduced great political and social freedoms to society. We also have modern apologists from the 20th century like Francis Schaeffer (Presbyterian), Norman Geisler (evangelical), C.S. Lewis (Anglican), G.K. Chesterton (Roman Catholic), and John W. Montgomery (Lutheran), who have contributed much to the intellectual Christian defense. There were also the Calvinist presuppositionalists apologists like Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark. Today’s leading evangelical apologists might be people like Lee Strobel, R.C. Sproul, and Josh McDowell, and then there are many more in the making. This may be the century for North American Christian apologetics.

Today’s great need for Christian education

I am a great believer in Christian education and have always valued quality Christian teaching in Sunday School. I appreciate the dedication of my previous teachers throughout all the years of being taught by my Christian educators. It is important that we honor them and show appreciation to them because they may be one of the most important spiritual equippers in a Christian’s life and walk in the faith. A blog reader-friend recently emailed me to express appreciation for the “Christian teaching.” This really helped to remind me that Christian education is important in the life of the church—in any church. (Thanks).

The bible study material out there has increased and multiplied since I was a youngster. But there is still a great need today for people to be better equipped with knowledge and a strong understanding of our Christian faith. Why? One of the reasons is so that we can give people a rational defense of why we believe in Jesus Christ. Since I entered the blogging world, I have learned much from my fellow blogging friends throughout the blogosphere (some of whom are on my blogroll). This has contributed and stimulated my intellectual interests but there is still a need for the “average Jane and Joe Christian” for Christian and bible education at the most basic level.

I don’t believe that the average Christian is sufficiently trained and discipled to adequately defend the faith today. “Defenders of the faith” are bred, not born. We need to be trained up in the faith so that we can defend what we believe in a world that needs the love of Christ. In my experience of Sunday School kids these days, I am appalled at the mediocre level of bible knowledge they have. Perhaps I am sounding a little negative and I am generalizing, but I believe much of the broader church has not done enough to raise the level of Christian education. Faith without the work of discipleship and education will fail lead to our generation of young Christians into a life of stong and enduring trust in Christ. This stems from the fact that we are generally a biblically-illiterate society. Only a Christian who has received adequate Christian education can ably give a defense of why Christians believe in Christ, let alone to teach others to “make disciples of all nations” and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). From those who have encouraged me along the way, now let me encourage you to teach and preach with dedication and passion what is most important to us—that is, our faith in the one we serve—Jesus Christ.

Debate on homosexuality: Is is biblical?

Will Lutheran and Anglican churches continue to remain as a single organic communions or will they end up being separate communions? The debate of homosexuality in the church is currently tearing apart many mainline churches in North America, namely the Anglican church in Canada, Episcopalian church in the USA, and Lutheran churches in Canada and the USA. Thanks to Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom for writing this post about the controversial issue, which was sparked by voices in Nigeria’s Anglican church.

5 Kinds of Christians

In the Fall edition of Leadership Journal, it reported on a new national survey that identifies five kinds of Christians. Active Christians (19%), Professing Christians (20%), Liturgical Christians (16%), Private Christians (24%), and Cultural Christians (21%). In this article, Helen Lee draws some conclusions that many of us may already intuitively know but we may not know what to do about it. She says that: 1) the local church is no longer considered the only outlet for spiritual growth; and 2) churches must develop relational- and community-oriented outreach.

Many young people in their 20s to 40s feel that faith is relevant but church is not. They see God as important but they do not find their church experience relevant. We are definitely not seeing professing, private, and cultural Christians busting through the doors of our traditional churches. So where are they? They’re at home…maybe surfing the internet? or walking around with their iPods?… but are they getting spiritually fed through technology? People in this hi-tech age can easily access Christian teaching and music through the Internet or TV just as easily as getting their feed for other personal interests in music. It kind of makes traditional church seem old fashioned and outdated. Is traditional church for everyone? Certainly not. Christians who are used to doing church the traditional way might blame the hi-tech age for privatizing people’s expression of faith and, therefore, they are not going to church. However, I think this copout claim is just an excuse. It is as far away from the truth as it can get. We need to use technology to reach the unreached people in our postmodern society. Technology is here to stay; it will advance even faster so we may as well use it to its highest potential for the sake of seeing the reign of God spread over the entire world.

Sure Christianity is supposed to be relational and not a do-it-yourself kind of religion. Technology is still inadequate to do this. Christians need to interact with other Christians in a loving community. But what if the community disappoints them and seems irrelevant in their day-to-day lives? They are telling us the truth when they say that it’s boring and a waste of their time. Many self-professed cultural and private Christians have decided that church is not relevant to them and so it’s not for them. As a result, they will either stop going to church or they will go on a very irregular basis. Why should people waste a Sunday morning sitting in church when they could be spending their time to relax and wind down after a busy week? What is so good about church that they should attend your church on Sunday mornings? Why do we ignore what they are telling us? Churches ignore this to their own peril. But if your church is only serving the older generation who are “Active Christians” and you’re happy and content about that, then what I’ve said here in this post is irrelevant to you. But if your church wants to reach out to the unchurched who are either Professing, Private, or Cultural Christians, then we need to build relationships with them so that we might have the opportunity to introduce Christ to them.

Many Christians today are saying that we need a new paradigm in missions. What is this new paradigm? This new paradigm is actually an old paradigm. It is a return to the basics. We need to go back to building relationships with the unchurched people so that we can we can reintroduce them to Jesus.

Heb.12:1-2—Do my eyes need fixing?

When I read about “fixing my eyes on Jesus,” I picture myself repairing or getting my eyes fixed through eye surgery. Is the writer of Hebrews telling me that my eyes have problems with sight? I would prefer either focus (God’s Word) or keeping (NLT, HCSB). And to fix (T/NIV, NASB) sounds like I have a medical problem, and it’s a little outdated. Looking (ESV, NRSV) sounds rather weak and inadequate describes the context. But according to the underlying definition in the Greek, all our translations are still inadequate.

The underlying Greek word, aphorao, and it means: “to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something” (used 2 times in NT). The writer didn’t use a similar word, atenizo, which has a slightly different meaning, which is: “to fix the eyes on, gaze upon” (used 14 times in NT). The word

aphorao implies that we look away from all other things that distract or has distracted one from Jesus and to refocus or re-fix our eyes on Jesus. What is implied is that we turn our eyes away from the former things that caused us to be trapped in sin. None of our current translations that use fix, focus, keeping, and looking adequately describes the real meaning of the word aphorao. We need to translate this better.

  • We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith (God’s Word)
  • And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (TNIV)
  • and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (NIV)
  • and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (NASB)
  • And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith (NLT2)
  • and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith (HCSB)
  • and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (ESV)
  • and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (NRSV)