Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 7: Rivers of Living Water—John 7:37-39 -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:543 (Jul 1979)
Article: Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 7: Rivers of Living Water—John 7:37-39
Author: Zane C. Hodges

Problem Passages in the Gospel of John
Part 7:
Rivers of Living Water—John 7:37-39

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

One of the most dramatic statements ever made by the Lord Jesus Christ is the one recorded by the Apostle John in the seventh chapter of his Gospel. Its occasion was the Feast of Tabernacles and, on what is described as the last day of that feast, the Son of God is reported to have declared, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37b–38).

But this utterance has proved a source of perplexity to commentators for a long time and Brown is correct when he says that it has been “the occasion of protracted discussion and an immense literature.”1 The problems which it poses for the expositor can be conveniently subdivided into three categories. These are: (a) the problem of the punctuation, (b) the problem of the source of the living water, and (c) the problem of the scriptural reference. Each of these difficulties will be considered in turn in the discussion which follows.

The Problem of Punctuation

There are few places in the New Testament where so much seems to hinge on a question of punctuation.2 Most English translations

follow the traditional punctuation found in the Authorized Version, but among commentators an alternative reading of the passage has received increasing support.3 This alternative understanding of the text is represented by The New English Bible as follows: “‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me; whoever believes in me, let him drink.’ As Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water shall flow out from within him.’“4

It is often urged by those who favor this reading of the Savior’s words that it discloses a parallelism of structure which appears to be authentic.5 Thus the expression ἐάν τις διψᾷ ἐρχέσθω πρός με (“if anyone thirsts let him come to me”) is seen as paralleled by καὶ πινέτω ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμέ (“and let the one who believes in me drink”). But this parallelism is very rough and inexact. For one thing, the Greek phrases

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