The exegesis of ‘that’ or ‘a’ in John 4:19
The oft quoted line from Hamlet, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” In William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet is questioning the meaning of life. But what if the question is really to use ‘that’ or ‘a’ in order to have a more perfect exegetical argument? What if the exegete needs to use one or the other aforementioned words in order to point to a “Who?” Does the exegete decide, or does the Biblical text decide? This should be a truly easy question shouldn’t it?
So let us look at John 4:19
The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
The 1550 Stephens Text shows:
λεγει αυτω η γυνη κυριε θεωρω οτι προφητης ει συ
Th 1881 Westcott-Hort Text shows:
λεγει αυτω η γυνη κυριε θεωρω οτι προφητης ει συ
Both Greek texts have the identical wording and so the word in question is that little three letter word, οτι.
Follow the list items and the pictures to find out just how truly beautiful John 4:19 is, especially in the Greek, and if incorrectly translated into English it loses its unique flavor.
This is the Greek text of John 4:19 which shows the word in Greek “Hoti” which is pronounced “Hotty.”
The rough translation of this verse is such:
“The woman said to him, Lord I perceive that prophet you are”
In the Greek language, sometimes a word or words would be thrown to the front of a sentence or at the end for emphasis. Here it has been thrown to the end of the sentence and subsequently the translator can move them to their proper place in the English language. By putting them at the end of this sentence it has the same equivalent as the woman pointing her finger at Jesus and saying “YOU ARE!”
So a more correct rendering of this verse would be:
“The woman said to him, Lord I perceive YOU ARE THAT PROPHET!”
Why does the King James insert an indefinite article? Technically, in this writer’s opinion they should not have because simply there wasn’t any need.
In John 4:17 another usage of Hot-ti is found and here in this verse the KJV has omitted the Greek word due to the fact that it is being used with direct discourse.
Looking at the photo above one notices the entry marked (b.) “after verbs that denote mental or sense perception.” Thus Hot-ti should correctly be translated as ‘that.’ The KJV left it in the same order but positioned “you are” after ‘that’ instead of before ‘that’ which is why they necessitated the use of the indefinite article of ‘a’. But by placing ‘you are’ before ‘that’ it leads into the identification of which prophet the Lord Jesus truly was, is and will always be.
Here is the entry which indicates that Hot-ti was originally the neuter of Hos-tis, whereas we see that Hos-tis is translated as a ‘who’ or ‘what’, but Hot-ti being more neuter in nature merely points to “THAT.”
The Greek word Hot-ti was the neuter of Hos-tis which definitely points to a person or a thing as one can see from the photo which lists Whoever or whatever. This will also show why the Greek word Hot-ti points to Jesus Christ, thus pointing him out as ‘THAT’ prophet and not just ‘A’ prophet as the King James renders it. The Lord Jesus was not just ‘ANY’ prophet, but rather ‘THAT’ prophet.
I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
Here is the Pièce de résistance of this entire study. Why? Because the Samaritans were well aware that Messias was coming. They did not know when or who but they knew that one day He would come. What this writer sees happening in this passage is this: The Samaritan woman had just been told by the Lord Jesus that she had already had five husbands and she was living with the sixth man. She probably had never encountered someone like Jesus who could tell her everything that she had done. So without her own self quite realizing it, she prematurely uttered that HE was the ONE….THAT prophet… that had been prophesied in the book of Deuteronomy which she and her people would have been familiar with since the Samaritans had once been full-blooded Jews before the exile.
In v.25 the woman again utters her knowledge of Messias coming and finally in v.26 the Lord Jesus merely confirms for her that indeed He was THAT Messias and prophet.
Is that not just fantastic? This is why careful exegetical work must be done so that the true content of the Holy Scriptures are not lost. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Rev. Janice J. Robinson
If you would like to study more deeply the Gospel of John 3-4, I have written a book titled above that deals more on the subject of the Samaritans and their encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.
You can go to
and order it for only $10.00