Serving an international
Vol. 9 No. 10 October 2007 Page 2
Being merely religious does not obligate God to save a person. In the context of John 4:4-42, Jesus entered into a discussion with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus Christ turned the discussion toward the spiritual and moral inadequacies of the Samaritan woman. She, in turn, redirected the discussion to a longstanding religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus Christ responded, in part, by firmly stating that the religion of the Samaritans lacked any efficiency toward salvation (John 4:22). The commentary, Four Fold Gospel, by McGarvey and Pendleton makes a brilliant observation regarding the statement of our Lord in John 4:22. “Though the Samaritans possessed the Pentateuch, they were without the revelation of God which the prophets of Israel had developed, and their worship was neither authorized nor accredited by God. Moreover, it led toward nothing; for salvation was evolved from the Jewish religion, and not from that of Samaria” (emphasis added). That astute assessment of the Samaritan religion loudly echoes the truth respecting much of contemporary religion.
To set the backdrop for any contemporary application of this principle, we need to discern more clearly comparisons and contrasts between first century Samaritan religion and Judaism. The inception of the Samaritan religion included idolatry along with the worship of the true God (2 Kings 17:26-34). The various foreigners who inhabited the northern kingdom of Israel after its demise worshipped several idol gods. They also worshipped Jehovah, but rather than as the true God, they worshipped God as simply one of the idol gods they also worshipped (cf. Acts 17:23). Consequently, when the Samaritans wanted to help the Jews returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity build the Temple, they were refused (Ezra 4:2-3). Having learned the errors of idolatry through 70 years of captivity, the Jews returning to Jerusalem were not about to absorb the Samaritan religion that had interwoven idolatry and some Judaism.
The Samaritans only worshipped the true God “as the God of that land (2 Kings 17:27,33), as a local deity, like the gods of the nations, whereas God must be served as God, as the universal cause and Lord” (Henry). “[T]he Samaritans worshiped the God of Israel. But they also continued their idolatry, worshiping the pagan gods imported from foreign lands (2 Kings 17:29). So the Samaritans were a “mixed race” contaminated by foreign blood and false worship” (Nelson’s). The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary surmises that worshipping the “god of the land” and the priest sent back from the captivity by the Assyrians equated not to restoration of biblical Judaism but the restoration of the corrupted worship of Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) (1 Kings 17:26-27). “Since the priest who was sent to ‘teach them the custom of the god of the land’ was of the Samaritan captivity, and not from Jerusalem (2 Kings 17:27), their worship must have descended from that of Jeroboam. …His golden calves were designed as images of the God who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt.”
Eventually, the Samaritans discarded idolatry and attempted to worship the one, true God. After the Samaritans built a temple on Mt. Gerizim in 409 B.C. (New Unger’s), there was “the same religious service being performed in the Samaritan temple which was performed in that at Jerusalem” (Clarke). “The final break between the two groups occurred when the Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, claiming Shechem rather than Zion (Jerusalem) as the true Beth-el (house of God), the site traditionally chosen and blessed by the Lord” (Nelson’s).
Further, the knowledge of the Samaritans about God, the Messiah, etc. was limited because the Samaritans only recognize as Scripture the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible, written by Moses). Robertson comments regarding the situation of the Samaritans that Jesus addressed in John 4:22, “‘You know whom to worship, but you do not know him’ (Westcott). The Samaritans rejected the prophets and the Psalms and so cut themselves off from the fuller knowledge of God.” Vincent expands upon the Samaritan condition when he writes: “As the Samaritans received the Pentateuch only, they were ignorant of the later and larger revelation of God, as contained especially in the prophetic writings, and of the Messianic hope, as developed among the Jews. They had preserved only the abstract notion of God.”
Ironically, the Samaritan religion was not divine in origin, but first century Jews had distorted Judaism, which was divine in origin. Albert Barnes summarizes: “Jesus thus affirms that the Jews had the true form of the worship of God. At the same time he was sensible how much they had corrupted it, and on various occasions reproved them for it.” Matthew Henry adds: “Christ elsewhere condemns the corruptions of the Jews’ worship (Matt 15:9), and yet here defends the worship itself…”
Jesus declared as a rejection of the Samaritan religion that “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). “Salvation seems here to mean the Saviour, the Messiah, as it does [in] Luke 2:30; Acts 4:12; and so the woman appears to have understood it, John 4:25” (Clarke). Well did McGarvey and Pendleton remark in their commentary regarding the Samaritan religion and salvation: “it led toward nothing.” There was no efficiency in the Samaritan religion respecting salvation, despite the fact that they purported to be worshipping the same God as the Jews!
Much of what purports to be the Christian religion today is comparable to the Samaritan religion that led to nothing respecting salvation. Every so called Christian religion today that relies even partly on human doctrine leads to nothing respecting salvation (Matthew 15:9, 13). The denominations that populate our communities distinguish themselves from each other and from the one, true church of the Bible by their religious manuals, disciplines, catechisms and humanly devised creeds. You know who they are, and their names, which often are unscriptural, are many. The churches of Christ need to be careful that they do not subscribe to either written or unwritten creeds of human origin. Brethren, denominational religion leads to nothing respecting salvation!
Every so called Christian religion today that in any way modifies the Gospel or New Testament doctrine leads to nothing respecting salvation. The apostle Paul severely rebuked several churches in the Roman province of Galatia for changing the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). Jesus Christ, through the pen of the apostle John, condemned anyone who adds to or takes from the Holy Word of God (Revelation 22:18-19; cf. Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6). The only plausible explanation for the existence of so many diverse denominations today is that these denominations have modified the Gospel as well as added to and taken from the Holy Word of God! Denominational religion leads to nothing respecting salvation!
A note of caution is in order. Biblical balance even among Christians often appears to be an elusive creature. Christians have a tendency, on one hand, to be more restrictive than the Gospel of Christ (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:7-9). Christians, on the other hand, have a tendency to loose where the Gospel of Christ has not loosed (Hebrews 13:9). Dear brethren, even subtle, well-intentioned shifts from a biblically balanced center to the religious right or to the religious left leads to nothing respecting salvation!
Other world religions are comparable to the Samaritan religion that led to nothing respecting salvation. The Samaritan religion persists today and no more leads to salvation than it did in the first century. Contemporary Judaism leads to nothing respecting salvation. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and numerous others lead to nothing respecting salvation.
Only Christianity practiced faithfully according to the Gospel or New Testament leads to genuine salvation! The Samaritan religion “led toward nothing” respecting salvation. Denominationalism leads toward nothing respecting salvation. The Lord’s church needs to cautiously, yet diligently, practice New Testament Christianity, lest our efforts lead toward nothing respecting salvation.Once a person surrenders his will to do the will of Christ, salvation is quite simple (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). The second half of the equation of salvation is keeping the saved saved (1 John 1:7-2:1).
Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. New Modern Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991.
McGarvey, J.W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. The Four-Fold Gospel. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1914. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P, 1988.
Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman, 1985. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.Vincent, Marvin. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.