John 4:29

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at
Sun Jan 5 03:31:32 EST 2003

> Hi everyone;
> The Samaritan woman in John 4:29 asked the men of the town:MHTI
> hOUTOS ESTIN hO XRISTOS? It is my understanding that a question
> beginning with MH indicates that the one asking the question
> assumes the answer to be negative;"This is not the Christ is it?"
> Context shows that the woman believes him to be the
> Christ.Initially the men believed, based on her testimony. Could
> we not have expected her to ask;"This is the Christ is it not?"
> Is my understanding of the Greek text wrong, or is it my
> interpretation that is wrong?
> Bert de Haan

You may find it worthwhile to search the achieves for discussions on this.
For instance, there was a thread on this topic from July 6, 2001 under the
heading MH MHTI and MH OUK.

Whereas it is correct that MHTI normally expects a negative answer, it is
also used to express doubt and in such cases is very similar to just MH. See
the entry in BAGD under MHTI:
"Also in questions in which the questioner is in doubt concerning the
answer: *perhaps* ... Mt 12:23; J 4:29"

I made the following comment within my posting of July 6, 2001:

"The remaining 14 occurrences of MHTI are all sentence initial and are all
followed by a finite verb in the indicative. They signify a question where a
answer is expected.
In two instances (Matt 12:32, John 4:19) the speaker is actually wondering
if the answer could not be positive, but is hesitant to affirm it, because
the speaker expects the hearers to want to supply a negative answer."

Another difficulty is that a literal translation like the KJV "Is not this
the Christ?" loses the proper nuance of the Greek text like literal
translations tend to do. The element of doubt is best expressed by the
English "could" as in:

REB: "Could this be the Messiah?"
GNB: "Could he be the Messiah?"

Maybe a "not" would be better, even in English: "Could this one not be the

The word order with Messiah in the least "news-worthy" position at the end
indicates that everybody, even the Samaritans, were waiting for the Messiah.
Several people had over time claimed to be or were believed to be Messiahs.
With hOUTOS in the most news-worthy position at the front, the question was
"Could this person (who told me everything I had done) not be the Messiah?"

Iver Larsen

More information about the B-Greek mailing list