I believe the modern church has badly maligned this dear woman as it has turned this portion of Scripture into a focus on her bad character, rather than a focus on the Lord Jesus’ grace. Today’s church sermons tell us this woman was a sinner, perhaps even a prostitute, and that she was friendless and ashamed. But let’s look at what SCRIPTURE reveals about this beautiful woman.
At the beginning of the passage we find Jesus at the well and when this woman gets near to him, he speaks to her. She knew that Jews were not supposed to speak to Samaritans. Yet Jesus spoke to her and she responded. (vs. 7-9) While she was focused on the law [reminding him that Jews don’t speak to Samaritans], he was focused on grace. What follows is, I believe, the longest individual conversation between Jesus and another person found in Scripture.
The woman had five husbands, and the one she was with was not her husband. (John 4:18) When Jesus said those words the woman did not disagree. In fact, it was she, in verse 17, who admitted that she had no husband. Note that Jesus didn’t call her an adulterer, nor did he tell her to go and sin no more, as he had with the adulterous woman. Jesus was never shy about pointing out sin throughout the Gospel of John. Since he does not do so here I think it is safe to assume that this is not a story about sin but about salvation.
Jesus said she had had five husbands. Husbands. That means that, by whatever means, each marriage ended correctly according to the law – either by death or divorce. He also said that the man she was with now was not her husband. Number six in a long line, she was clearly in a relationship with someone she did not consider her husband. But why didn’t she? Could it be that her current “husband” had failed to abide by the custom of the day, which required he provide for her a dowry letter. Perhaps he had children or other relatives who balked at the thought of him endowing her with his goods, so no dowry letter was provided. Or perhaps he was a slave and, since slaves were not permitted to marry, they were cohabitating without the benefit of marriage. He could have been a Roman citizen which would have prevented their marriage as she was not. They could still have been living together as husband and wife, considered ‘married’ in their culture.
Another aspect of this woman’s character that is so often missed is the religious knowledge that she displayed. She clearly was someone who knew the religious law and, based on verse 25, I would say she was someone who was actively seeking for and waiting for the coming Messiah. Her reasoning was theologically sound and she took the opportunity of her discourse with Jesus to seek further clarification of the true nature of worship.
So what have we learned thus far: she was not a prostitute, nor a sinner. She was knowledgeable about religious matters and clearly understood who Messiah was. She was culturally aware and politically astute.
As to being friendless and ashamed, many point to the fact that it was the middle of the day when the woman went to the well, and since it was generally the habit for women to go early to the well and fellowship while they drew water, therefore this woman must be an outcast and alone.
There is NOTHING in Scripture to support this view. It does not say she was the only one at the well. It does not say she came to the well alone. As to her being friendless and ashamed, or even an outcast, let’s look at her actions in verses 28-30.
Jesus told her he was the Messiah, and she believed him. Right there, right then, she left her waterpot and went into the city and told the men to come see the man that told her everything she had ever done: Is this not the Christ?
What happens next makes it clear she is neither outcast nor disrespected. In fact, it reveals that the men of the city considered her a reliable witness and an honourable woman. The men immediately went out of the city and came to Jesus. They did not chastise her, they did not belittle her. Rather, they listened to her and went to see him for themselves.
Let’s look back at verse 28 one more time: she left her waterpot and went into the city and told the men. I underline men to draw attention to the fact that a woman was confident enough to go address the men with the news, and also to draw attention to the fact that it specifically says men, not people. [Perhaps because the women who were at the well with her were already scurrying about town, spreading the news to the other women. That is only speculation because Scripture is silent about the women.]
The woman at the well was respected, knowledgeable, and confident. There is nothing to support the modern church view of her as a lazy slut and everything to show that while the disciples of Jesus were off trying to find physical food, she was busy being fed and feeding others with spiritual food.
The woman at the well came to salvation at the well and promptly let others to the same saving grace.
“In Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, her name at the time of the meeting with Jesus is unknown, though she later received the name Photini in baptism. She is celebrated as a saint of renown. As further recounted in John 4:28-30 and John 4:39-42, she was quick to spread the news of her meeting with Jesus, and through this many came to believe in him. Her continuing witness is said to have brought so many to the Christian faith that she is described as “equal to the apostles”. Eventually, having drawn the attention of Emperor Nero, she was brought before him to answer for her faith, suffered many tortures, and died a martyr after being thrown down a dry well. She is remembered on the Sunday four weeks after Pascha (Easter), which is known as “the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman”.´ Source: Wikipedia