Did the Samaritan Woman really believe in Jesus?

Something for us to think, did the Samaritan woman in John 4 really believe what Jesus said? Our usual answer is a "yes," drawing our conclusion based on two facts: that the woman went back to her town and told her fellow villagers about it and that the other Samaritans believed in Jesus because of her testimony. 

However, if one studies the Greek text a bit closer, one may find that the answer needs not necessarily be the case. This is due to the way that Koine Greek phrased their rhetorical question. Without getting into the technical details, there are two ways of framing rhetorical questions in Greek. Method A frames the questions in such a way that the answer required will always be "yes". For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:1, when Paul asked if "am I not an apostle?", the way the Greek was phrased almost always demand a "yes" answer. And we see that in the English translation as well. 

Method B, on the other hand, frames the question in such a way that the answer the questioner expects will always be "no." This is the way that the Samaritan woman framed her questions in John 4:29. Take a look at the translation from NIV and NASB:

29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (NIV)

29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” (NASB)
What is your impression when you read the translation?  This is how the Greek was supposed to look like:

29 Δεῦτε ἴδετε ἄνθρωπον ὃς εἶπέ μοι πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα· μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός; (SBLGNT)

A few comments here for those who are unable to read Greek. Firstly, the ";" you see at the end of the text is the Greek question mark, it is not a semi-colon. Secondly, I have highlighted the part which we are more concerned about. In this portion, the negator, "μή" is being posited with the main verb "ἐστιν" which is in the mood of certainty. Whenever the negator "μή" is posited with a verb in the mood of certainty, it is always a rhetorical question framed in the likes of Method B. This means that the answer that the Samaritan woman was expecting from her question is a "no," which suggests that the woman never believed in what Jesus said.

To some extent, this is possible. The Scripture never explicitly says that the woman really believed in Jesus. Also, we do not know why she chose to go back to the town and tell her folks to take a look at Jesus. Maybe she needed a second opinion on Jesus before she could take him seriously. Moreover, a testimony needs not mean that it is a testimony of belief, but it can merely mean that it is her account and it could very well be the case that although she did not believe, her accounts led others to believe.

This is perhaps one instance when we know that we can better appreciate the Scripture if we are able to know a bit about the original Greek text.


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