The Woman at the Well - Revealed!
We are all familiar with the passage in John 4: 3 - 42 where Jesus, on His way to Galilee, stopped at the village of Sychar. There he sat down on Jacob's well while His disciples went to buy food. That break in their journey prompted an encounter with an unnamed woman that would be recorded in Scripture and memorialised forever as the story of the woman at the well.
This whole passage is full of revelation regarding Jesus, His purpose, and our destiny in relation to Him. If you get the chance check out Brian Simmonds' footnotes in the Passion Translation on these verses and the clip of him sharing at the end of this article; they are full of very interesting insights.
We enter the story at this scene - Jesus sits on the edge of the well waiting while His disciples go to get food and along comes a woman to draw water. Many have speculated as to why she was there at this time of day to draw water, but Scripture doesn’t tell us specifically; it just records Jesus's encounter with her and the effect that had on her. During their conversation Jesus has a word of knowledge concerning her life that is the beginning of a transformative process that leads her into a life she would probably never have dreamed of.
We aren’t told the name of this woman in Scripture, or what happened after she led many in her village to the Lord, so we assume some things – mostly we assume that after this encounter she faded back into a life of obscurity, but nothing could be further from the truth. In historical records of the day we see that this woman who is unnamed in Scripture went on to become one of the most influential apostles of the early church. Her name was as well known by the early church as the names of the original twelve male apostles.
Revealing the rest of her story
While we aren’t told her name before the encounter, after her encounter she was baptised and she took a new name, Photini, meaning ‘enlightened one’ or ‘luminous one’ – from the word ‘light’.
Photini’s encounter with Jesus impacted her to such a degree that she went from being a woman with a somewhat dubious history, to immediately going and telling everyone she could of her encounter with the light of the world, the living water, Jesus. Straight away after her encounter with Jesus she witnessed to her town and many of them became believers in Christ that day, and in the days ahead. The transformation in her was immediate and life-changing, altering the track of Photini’s life forever and leading her to see the lives of thousands of others changed over the years, including her family, government officials, royalty and many more. She led her sisters Anatole, Phota, Photida, Paraskeve, and Kyriake, to the Lord, and also her sons Photeinos and Joseph. They then became her travelling companions in sharing the gospel, going on many missionary journeys with her.
Photini went way outside the norms of society in that era. She was the first recorded Christian missionary/evangelist and was also a woman minister in a time when women were seen as having very little real value. Jesus’s interaction with her thoroughly overturned that valuation, and He did so not only in this instance but in many others too, putting women on an equal footing with men and calling women to play strategic roles in His Father’s Kingdom.
In early Christian literature Photini is noted as being an apostle that was seen by the church as an equal with the original twelve, and she is still regarded this way by the orthodox church who gave her the title “equal to the apostles,” a special title given to some saints whose outstanding service in spreading Christianity is believed to be comparable to that of the Twelve. It has only been given to a small number of saints throughout the centuries, including Mary Magdalene, Thecla, Constantine, and Saint Patrick of Ireland. Many of these saints were women (1). Some early writers and historians say she was the most well-known apostle apart from Peter, James and John in the very early church, even above Paul. (In the western church we know more about Paul because of his writings, which got included in Scripture.)
Photini is also recognised as an evangelist whose missionary journeys took her far and wide, to Africa, Egypt, and finally to Rome to appear before Nero himself. In Rome she testified fearlessly of Jesus to Nero, led Nero’s daughter Domnina to the Lord, as well as all her attendants (about 100 of them). She also led other members of Nero's family and household to the Lord, including his brother. Needless to say this enraged Nero who determined to kill her. He immediately ordered her and her companions to be thrown into a furnace; for 7 days the fire was kept burning and at the end of that time when the furnace door was opened Photini and her companions all emerged unburnt and unscathed.
During her time in Rome, Photini and her companions were beaten for hours at a time with iron rods, thrown in jail, offered riches to deny Christ, and made to drink poison (which had no discernible effect on her and her travelling companions). She was later imprisoned for a time in a dry well and then records begin to differ. Some say she gave up her spirit and died in the well after having a visitation from Jesus, others say she was removed from the well and thrown back into a normal cell where soon after she had a visitation by Jesus, and after that visitation she gave up her spirit and died. Either way, Nero could not kill her, she chose the time of her departure from earth into the arms of Jesus – her last, and forever, bridegroom.
Photini is still remembered in her city and in the Eastern church as being a great apostle and evangelist, a woman whose life radiated the life of Christ and who won many thousands to Him. What a woman and what a legacy she leaves for us!
Maybe your name will never be revealed in a major best selling book, or known by a huge portion of the Church, but your life and impact will be recorded and remembered forever in the Kingdom of Heaven and you will leave a legacy behind you when you leave this life. By following the call of God on your life you make a difference and forge a way for other women to also be brave enough to follow their call wherever that leads. Be you, because you are enough to make a huge difference, just like Photini did!
Some of the sources for this article include -
Here’s a link to Brian Simmonds (Passion Translation) sharing about these verses and Photini on a tour in Israel. There’s lots of rich revelation in this clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQYrLAmvlos