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).

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

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

  1. Well spotted, Kevin. At least NIV avoids wording like “If a man”, which it uses in Matthew 15:5, John 15:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Timothy 2:21, James 2:14, 1 Peter 2:19 – all completely gender generic situations where the Greek is simply an indefinite pronoun, “if anyone”.

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  2. Yes, the TNIV has made good changes of gender-neutral pronouns. I was just checking other versions and noticed that even the NKJV (an ignored translation which I use to read) has made changes to “if anyone”, which kind of makes the NIV seem outdated.

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  3. Kevin, that is a beautiful painting that accompanies this particular blog. Do you know the name of it or the artist who did it? Thanks.

    Joanie D. (I have a blog at blogspot but the comment area is telling me my password is wrong.)

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  4. Joanie, I couldn’t tell you who did the painting of the woman at the well. I probably did a google search and found it somewhere on the web.

    Thanks for the link. There are a lot of translations there. Did you forget your password? Or did you remove your blog domain?

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  5. Thanks for finding a link to the info on this print. I’ve added the name of the artist and the title of it so they have credit for it and is made available for purchase.

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