"Thou Hast Had Five Husbands"

John 4:18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

The above scripture is used as proof that people "live in adultery" while married to a second, third, or, as in the case of this Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob's well, sixth husband. The doctrine assumes that while the Law of Moses did not condemn this woman in her sixth marriage, nonetheless Jesus did.

However, those who promote this idea fail to notice that Jesus never told this woman anything she did not already know. When He asked her to call her husband she said, "I have no husband." She was well aware that the man with whom she was living was not her husband.

When I first wrote about this woman's prior knowledge of her lack of a husband, I received a private e-mail saying, in effect: "Maybe she didn't want to go back home and get her husband so she just said she didn't have one." I can believe that about as easily as I can believe that Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water because Philip had dropped his pocket watch into the water and was fishing for it.

I cannot imagine how this Samaritan woman would have come to recognize her "adulterous marriage," if indeed Jesus was considering it that. She certainly would have read Deuteronomy 24 and known about divorce. She should have rightly determined that if her husband(s) had divorced her then she was free to be married to another man.

Some argue that this woman, considering herself a daughter of Jacob, would have known that in the beginning God created man male and female and that we are not to put asunder what God joined together. Therefore, she would have accepted that, Deuteronomy 24 notwithstanding, not only was her sixth marriage adulterous but also her second through fifth marriages.

The problem with this thought is that even the disciples of Jesus were shocked at His teaching in Matthew 19. They had such a lack of understanding that they questioned Him about it again later. Not only that, but we today struggle with the issue of divorce and remarriage and have not been able to agree on the subject at any time in history.

Yet we are expected to believe that this Samaritan woman, who obviously spent her time doing something other than studying the scriptures, had a perfect understanding of the will of God on the subject of divorce--and even before Jesus spoke a word to her. She supposedly knew that in the beginning God did not speak of divorce at all and therefore she was living in adultery in her sixth marriage. We are told that since the provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24 was given only for the hardness of hearts, it was not God's true will for the Jews and this Samaritan woman knew it, even though Jesus' disciples and the teachers of the Law did not.

Aside from the fact that we would have to believe this woman knew more than the teachers of the Law, we are presented with the dilemma of Jesus' calling the first five men husbands. The only one He did not call a husband was the sixth. Therefore, we would have to believe that five husbands died, since they were all called husbands. Otherwise, Jesus would have said, "Thou hast had one husband and the last five were not thy husbands." He acknowledged the first five husbands equally, giving no special distinction to the first, whom we might safely assume was a true husband. If indeed five husbands had died, then the woman would have been free to marry the sixth and Jesus would not have told her he was not her husband. So this cannot be the meaning of this scripture.

To sum up, we cannot in all good conscience believe that Jesus came preaching a new doctrine, different from the Law of Moses, and a Samaritan woman knew about it even before Jesus told her. She would have had to realize that under the Law her marriage was good but now (even before the cross) her marriage was suddenly no good because of Jesus' new doctrine.

We also cannot believe that this woman thought the Law of Moses was not God's will for Israel or for her. Of course, we all know that in the beginning God had no law at all regarding divorce. But to believe that this woman would look past Moses and back to the beginning is totally unreasonable. The Law of Moses was in effect in her lifetime and she knew it.

Finally, we definitely cannot believe that the woman was living in adultery but was not aware of it until Jesus told her and she was just too lazy, tired, or obstinate to go home to get her husband. (One man even suggested that maybe she said she did not have a husband because she was hoping to make Jesus her seventh.) If ever anyone was reaching down into a bag of tricks for an answer to a thorny problem, this is it.

We have to accept that Jesus simply called the first five men husbands because the woman was married to them and that He agreed with the woman that the sixth was not her husband because she was not married to him. That is the only logical and sensible explanation for this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. After all, He did say as much, did He not? "... thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband...."

Tina Rae Collins