Original Research

‘[Y]ou have had five husbands’: Interpreting the Samaritan woman’s marital experience (Jn 4:16–18) in the Nigerian context

Solomon O. Ademiluka
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 1 | a8197 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i1.8197 | © 2023 Solomon O. Ademiluka | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 October 2022 | Published: 07 March 2023

About the author(s)

Solomon O. Ademiluka, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, Faculty of Human Resources, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; and Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria

Abstract

The Samaritan woman in John 4 has been generally viewed as morally loose because of her marital experience. Nigerian women with similar experience are also perceived by many as morally deficient. This article examined the woman’s experience in light of divorce and remarriage in Nigeria. Employing the reader-oriented and descriptive methods, the essay found that in his encounter with the Samaritan woman Jesus did not accuse her of any sin. Moreover, the Pentateuchal laws, which were binding also on Samaritans, had provisions by which it was permissible for a woman to be married several times. Therefore, the woman’s marital experience did not necessarily make her morally deficient. The article also found that in Nigeria certain patriarchal factors do force women out of marriage, which also has nothing to do with their moral status. Due to the Christian doctrine that prohibits a woman to marry another man while her husband is still alive, some churches treat women divorcees with contempt and segregation. But this doctrine is based on biblical passages, which if adapted to the Nigerian readers’ context make divorce and remarriage acceptable. This view is in line with Jesus’ open attitude to the Samaritan woman. Therefore, in the Nigerian context the pastoral significance of the Samaritan woman’s story resides not in her morality but in the church recognising that divorce and remarriage do not constitute disobedience to scripture, and that they are not necessarily an indication of moral misconduct on the part of the affected women.

Contribution: Contributing to the scholarly discussion on the Samaritan woman narrative, the article compared her marital experience with those of Nigerian women affected by divorce and remarriage, and postulated that their experiences are not necessarily an indication of moral depravity on their part.


Keywords

the Samaritan woman; Jewish marital laws; divorce and remarriage; women abuse; Nigerian Christian women.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

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