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Published Date: October 25, 2022

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The Samaritan Woman’s Story: Reconsidering John 4 After #ChurchToo

In The Samaritan Woman’s Story, Caryn A. Reeder takes us back to understand how the story of the Samaritan woman has been interpreted throughout church history. She uncovers how current biblical interpretations are correlated to interpretations in early church history which linked women, sex, and sin. The reductive sexualization of the Samaritan woman, and women in the Bible in general, still impacts women in the church today.  As Reeder states, “The way the church reads, interprets, and teaches the Bible matters. It matters for victims and survivors of sexual violence. It matters for perpetrators of sexual violence…To misrepresent or omit stories about women or traditional feminine imagery limits our understanding of God, God’s people, and God’s kingdom” (p. 15). Reeder skillfully links patriarchal theology based on faulty biblical interpretation to issues of sexism and abuse in the church today.

For readers who love history, The Samaritan Woman’s Story is captivating. Reeder gives a detailed overview of how The Samaritan Woman’s Story was interpreted during the second to fifth centuries by Tertullian, Origen, and John Chrysostom; during Reformation through the nineteenth century by Marie Dentière, John Calvin, Clara Balfour, and Dwight L. Moody; and in the church today, including Liz Curtis Higgs and John Piper. In part two, Reeder examines alternative interpretations of the Samaritan woman’s story by John Chrysostom, Mary Dentière, Virginia Boughton, and Barbara Essex. Reeder additionally looks at length at the lives of women in Jesus’s world in order to understand the context of the Samaritan woman’s story. Reeder concludes by offering an in-depth, nuanced, and fresh perspective on the story of the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan Woman’s Story is an important book since much of the teaching, translation, and interpretation in the church and academy continues to be dominated by white men who perpetuate   second century views on women. Reeder’s book is a case study on how patriarchal views impact biblical interpretation, which impact views and treatment of women in the church and the world directly. As Reeder argues, it’s time to see women in the Bible in a new light through better biblical interpretation as a way forward in our post #metoo world. Reeder’s book is dense and for serious scholars who want to broaden their understanding of church history, biblical interpretation, and its impact on beliefs and practices in the church.

Reeder stops short of fully analyzing how biblical interpretation impacts belief and practice and the real lives of women. Readers may expect the book to go into more detail about the #metoo and #churchtoo movements. While Reeder does give some background information on these current movements, they are not the real focus of the book. The book does not delve into the stories of women but focuses primarily on the issue of biblical interpretation throughout history, especially regarding women in the Bible.  

Overall, The Samaritan Woman’s Story is a fascinating book. Reeder breaks down the centuries-old narrative about the Samaritan woman. Readers will come away with blinders off, eyes wide open, and with a wealth of historical knowledge and even more questions that will lead to further study. Reeder teaches us new ways to see women in Scripture. As a result, we can read, interpret, and teach Scripture such that it will empower and lead to change for women in the church and the world.