Hebrew Couplet in John 3 and 4: Jesus Evangelizes a Rabbi Section 2

John the Gospel writer wrote chapters 3 and 4 like a poetic couplet written in Hebrew. We miss a great deal of meaning if we read about Nicodemus without considering the woman at the well, and we miss a great deal of meaning if we read about the woman at the well without considering Nicodemus. Each of these narratives is like one line of a single couplet of Hebrew poetry.


This Blog Has Two Sections 

  1. Woman at the Well–Shorter, fewer details, general comments: Link

  2. Nicodemus–Longer, more details, specific comparisons

Hebrew poetry of the Old Testament, especially in Psalms, features couplets. A Hebrew couplet consists of two lines of poetry that are independent, yet connected. The second line commonly repeats the first line by using a slightly different image, by adding a detail or example, by extending the meaning of the first line, or by particularizing the first line in some way. Examples abound.

1. Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,

your salvation according to your promise; (Psalm 119:41)

2. How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

3. My God in his steadfast love will meet me;

God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. (Psalm 59:10)

John 3:16 itself is like two couplets of Hebrew poetry:

1. For this is the way God loved the world:

He gave his one and only Son,

2. so that everyone who believes in him will not perish

but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NET)

In John 3:16 above, Jesus says that God gives “everyone” who believes in the Son eternal life. To illustrate this statement, John gives two examples of “everyone”: first, Nicodemus in John 3, and then the woman at the well in John 4. These are two very different people, yet identical. While the differences are external, the points of identification are essential. The two taken together form a continuum of humanity with Nicodemus at one extreme and the woman at the well at the other. The two examples together are like a Hebrew couplet of poetry that illustrate the couplets in John 3:16 above:

Nicodemus’s great learning and righteousness are not enough to earn him everlasting life;

God’s love, working through faith, grants him life.

The woman at the well’s lack of education and sin are not enough to deny her everlasting life;

God’s love, working through faith, grants her life.

The two sets of couplets just above can be shortened into one couplet, then expanded with another in order to tell the full gospel account of Nicodemus and the woman at the well recorded in John 3 and 4.

Learning and righteousness will not bring you in;

Ignorance and sin will not keep you out.

God’s love, working through faith, are necessary and sufficient for all.

God alone in his love gives eternal life through belief in his Son.


Differences between the two:

Nicodemus–a man, Jewish, a rabbi, well known, well-respected, educated, a teacher, close follower of the law.

Woman at the well–a woman, a Samaritan (pagan), anonymous, not respected, not educated, an adulteress.

Identification of the two:

Nicodemus–unable to enter God’s kingdom without the Spirit of Life (Christ).

Woman at the well–unable to enter God’s kingdom without the Water of Life (Christ).


Nicodemus–welcomed by Christ.

Woman at the Well–welcomed by Christ.


Nicodemus–slow to believe and receive.

Woman at the well–quick to believe, to receive, and to go share with others.

We can see the relationship between the two chapters if we align the verses in a table format:

John 3


John 4

2 “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God,”


19 “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

3 Jesus answered … “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”


23 …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh,

and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.


24 God is spirit,

and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Progress towards Faith Breaks Down


Progress towards Faith Continues

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”


25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”




10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel

and yet you do not understand these things?


26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”






28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,

29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

John the writer devotes great detail to demonstrate his point about Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of God. We can summarize Jesus’ teaching like this:

In order to enter the Kingdom of God…

1. No one is so rich that Jesus is not necessary (Nicodemus);

No one is so poor that Jesus is not sufficient (the woman at the well).

2. Jesus is necessary for everyone to enter the Kingdom of God;

Jesus is sufficient for everyone to enter the Kingdom of God.

3. Jesus is necessary and sufficient for all to enter the Kingdom of God.

John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET)

The Gospel of John shows us that everyone who is born again receives the Spirit of God. Everyone who believes in Christ God’s Son receives the Spirit of God. God is a living God who speaks with everyone who receives his Spirit. The Spirit of God is Christ, God’s Son. If you believe, then God gives his Spirit to you, and God’s Spirit will talk with you.

This is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The cross of Christ wiped out the sin that separates all humankind from Holy God. With sin gone and Christ in its place, there is no longer need for Holy God to maintain his distance from human hearts. Every believer in Jesus Christ God’s Son reunites with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

This is why Scripture is alive to all who believe. This is why as you faithfully and persistently read the Psalms, you will begin to hear God speaking to your heart through them. You will begin to hear the prayers of Christ within the Psalms as the Holy Spirit interprets them to your heart.

All humankind is somewhere on the continuum between Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Everyone needs Christ. Jesus God’s Son makes himself available to all.



Link to next post in this series

Link to prior post in this series

Link to Contents for this series


Outline of Psalms Revisited

I. Introduction

A. Overview: A Second Go Round

B. Expect God to Speak to You—Yes, You!

1. Pursue Your Hunger

2. God Is Willing to Talk to You

3. Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman: Section I

4. Jesus Evangelizes a Rabbi: Section II

5. The Holy Spirit in the Reader



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