The scriptures are endlessly fascinating and instructive.
When we approach them with great questions and open hearts and minds to learn, the scriptures will continuously feed and encourage us.
Let’s take for example the case of John 3 and John 4.
Most of us are familiar with the story in John 3 of Nicodemus coming to Jesus to hear that only those who are born again can see the kingdom of God.
And most of us are familiar with the story in John 4 of Jesus seeking out the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob to teach her and to instruct her.
Why are John 3 and 4 placed back-to-back?
The simple answer is that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2-3) and was heading back home (John 4) to Capernaum in the Galilee region and needed to pass through Samaria. But is that the only reason(s) these chapters are next to each other?
The Gospel of John records these two stories and places them back-to-back. Yet, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do not contain these stories at all.
[Related article: The New Testament Gospels Are Ancient Biographies. Why Does that Matter?]
When two things are next to each other, that invites comparison and contrast
My opinion is that the Gospel of John wants us to compare and contrast these two stories to enhance our learning.
So let’s compare and contrast the two stories (Nicodemus in John 3:1-21; Samaritan Woman in John 4:1-42). How do we answer each of these questions below and what does that teach us, especially about discipleship?
Wanting to encourage you to discover incredible insights for yourself, I’ll leave the questions mostly unanswered. In the comment section below on this blog, share an insight or two you gained from this comparative and contrastative exercise! Make sure to identify the question you are answering and what you learned.
- Who is the main character that interacts with Jesus?
- Is the main character named or unnamed?
- Is the main character male or female?
- Is the main character educated or uneducated?
- Is the main character a Jew or not?
- Is the main character a leader? Or powerless?
- Where does this chapter take place?
- What time of day is it in this chapter?
- Does the main character seek out Jesus or not?
- Does the main character believe Jesus or not?
- Who initiates the conversation?
- How does the main character make use of questions?
- How perceptive is the main character?
- Which character has doubts and further questions?
- What is the main character doing before interacting with Jesus?
- What is the role of light and dark in this chapter?
- How does the main character address Jesus?
- Does the character recognize who the Messiah is?
- How much speaking does Jesus do?
- How much speaking does the main character do?
- What is the nature of the questions that Jesus asks?
- How many questions does Jesus ask?
- How many questions does the main character ask?
- How many questions does Jesus answer?
- How many questions does the main character answer?
- What does the main character do after talking with Jesus?
- Which character would you expect to be talking with Jesus?
- Which character do you believe would most likely follow Jesus?
- What is the role of “water” in this chapter?
- What is the role of the theme “life” in this chapter?
- Which character would you expect to be saved in the light and which one condemned to the darkness?
(Questions from pp. 43-45 of Learning at the Feet of the Savior by David Ridges and Taylor Halverson.)
Learning at the Feet of the Savior
I hope you found these insights valuable and empowering. If so, you may find more such insights in one of my recent books.
Together with my co-author David Ridges, we wrote Learning at the Feet of the Savior: Additional Insights from New Testament Background, Culture, and Setting to encourage people to ask questions and to use the scriptures and the example of Jesus to learn how to learn and to better understand how the scriptures apply to their lives.