Does Jesus have cultural intelligence? Part 2 … Relating to the quintessential deviant

In my last post, I introduced the idea of Jesus having cultural intelligence (CQ) based on his remarkable conversation with a Samaritan woman, “the woman at the well.”

This conversation—along with its impact on the woman, her Samaritan community, and Jesus’ disciples—is recorded in John 4:1–42.

“Woman at the well” by Martin Howard. Used by permission with Creative Commons license.

In this post I’ll begin exploring one aspect of the cultural intelligence of Jesus, based on this “formula” or definition of CQ, which comes from Brooks Peterson: [1]

“Knowledge about Cultures plus Awareness of Self and Others plus Specific Skills equals Cultural Intelligence.”

Let’s look at the first part of this definition: “Knowledge about Cultures”.

What specific knowledge did Jesus have about the Samaritan woman, and her Samaritan culture? What knowledge would Jesus have had, based simply on his living in his society like any other man of his day?

According to the ESV Study Bible the tensions between Jews and Samaritans were intense, and sometimes led to great conflict and bloodshed:

Tensions often ran high between Jews and Samaritans; thus Josephus recounts fighting between Jews and Samaritans during Claudius’s reign in the first century a.d. being so intense that Roman soldiers were called in to pacify (and to crucify) many of the rebels (Jewish War 2.232–246).

For additional insights about the social and cultural distance between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, consider the comments below from Jerome Neyrey, a scholar who has written extensively on the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame in the ancient Mediterranean world. Neyrey writes:

Of what might the Samaritan woman be a “representative”? Looking at 4:6-26, we argue that the narrator has concentrated in this one figure many of the characteristics of marginal persons with whom Jesus regularly deals in the synoptic gospels. She is an amalgam of cultural deviance. In terms of stereotypes, she is a non-Jew, who is ritually unclean; she is a “sinner,” a publicly recognized “shameless” person. … As a shameless woman, she embodies most of the social liabilities which would marginalize her in her society. At a minimum, she represents the gospel axiom that “least is greatest” or “last is first.” Ultimately, she represents inclusivity into the Christian group in a most radical way. The stereotype of gender expectations serves to portray her precisely as the quintessential deviant, the last and least person who would be expected to find favor with God (see 1 Cor 15:8-9). Her status transformation in 4:6-26 is basically that of a person moving from “not in the know” to “in the know” and from outsider to insider.[2]

What are we to conclude about Jesus? From this cultural reading of the passage we learn that Jesus related profoundly to the “quintessential deviant”. Jesus includes the Samaritan woman in his story and mission, despite her social and cultural deviance. It’s a radical kind of inclusivity.

Jesus knew all these things about Samaria and the Samaritan woman. Nevertheless, Jesus was totally intentional in going there. With regards to the verse, “And he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4 ESV), the ESV Study Bible says:

Jesus had to pass this way because of geography (it was the shortest route), but the words may also indicate that Jesus’ itinerary was subject to the sovereign and providential plan of God (“had to” translates Gk. dei, “to be necessary,” which always indicates divine necessity or requirement elsewhere in John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9).

Indeed, “Jesus’ itinerary was subject to the sovereign and providential plan of God.” Concerning this entire episode of his cross-cultural encounter with the Samaritans, Jesus said to the disciples,

…My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34 ESV)

It was the will of the Father who sent him. Jesus considered his cross-cultural encounter with this Samaritan woman—the “quintessential deviant”—as vital to life as eating. What are the lessons for us?

My next post will explore the things that Jesus knew about the Samaritan woman because of his divine knowledge—and what implications this has for understanding the cultural intelligence of Jesus.

1. See Brooks Peterson: Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures (Boston: Intercultural Press, 2004, p13)
2. See Jerome Neyrey: “What’s Wrong With This Picture? John 4, Cultural Stereotypes of Women, and Public and Private Space”, accessed at

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