Today our Sunday School class addressed John 4:1-15, the first half of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman that commenced at Jacob's well.
After the class, several of us lingered and discussed the question of whether Jesus spoke Greek (and, by extension, whether John the Apostle spoke and perhaps wrote in Greek). This was important because I had during the class noted that there were two Greek forms of the word “well” (as in Jacob’s well) in the first 15 verses in Chapter 4 of John. (I’m using the 1984 NIV version here, as I do in the class.)
I observed that the Greek word for “fountain” or “spring” is used each time that the word translated “well” in English appears in verse 6. In verse 6, John, the author, is setting the stage for the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
The Greek word for “fountain” or “spring” is used again in verse 14. In that verse we have a direct quotation of Jesus.
On the other hand, the Greek word for “cistern” is translated “well” in verses 11 and 12. Here the word appears when John quotes the woman.
The Scholars that I read in preparation for the lesson note that this distinction is very important. Water from a fountain or spring is healthy, life-giving, and continuous, like the Spirit, like the river of water in Psalm 1. That is what Jesus offers. It is “living water.” It is water that doesn't run out.
Water drawn from a cistern, a closed container where water is collected from another source, rain for example, is often dirty, scummy, unhealthy, unsatisfying. It is dead water.It is also a limited source of water. It will run out, especially in a time when you might need it most, a drought for example.
During our discussion after the class, one of us expressed the view that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and not Greek. He suggested that this distinction may not have been in the original conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well. It might have been introduced by whoever may have translated this into Greek. His source for the idea that Jesus spoke Aramaic was the film, The Passion of the Christ. I replied that I had read that Mel Gibson’s film had been criticized by scholars for having Jesus speak in Aramaic and that it was my understanding that the characters in the NT spoke “market-place Greek” or Koine.
This afternoon I went over my notes and I found the source that discussed Mel Gibson’s film. Craig L. Blomberg, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Second Edition) (IVP 2007) writes as follows on page 16:
"In 2004, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Cross, enthralled viewers around the world. The film was based on some serious research but it, too, contained some glaring errors, most notably the exclusive use of either Aramaic or Latin on the lips of Jewish and Roman characters who would have communicated with each other almost entirely in Greek! [italics and exclamation point are Blomberg’s]"
The quote from Blomberg has a footnote: “For a thorough analysis, see Corley and Webb, Passion of the Christ.