How do you understand John 7:38?


"If any man is thirsty , let him come to me .
Let the man come and drink who believes in me .
As scripture says:“From his breast shall flow fountains of living water.” " (Jerusalem Bible , 1966 edition)

The footnotes to my Jerusalem Bible say that “according to the oldest tradition the living waters flow from Jesus himself . But another tradition has joined “the man who believes in me” with what follows , making the streams flow from the believer .”

The footnote to the USCCB website for this verse reads “From within him: either Jesus or the believer; if Jesus, it continues the Jesus-Moses motif (water from the rock, [Ex 17:6] as well as Jesus as the new temple Grammatically, it goes better with the believer.”


I can’t help but think of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and (or through) the Son as described in revelations

Revelation 22: 1
“Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb”

Where the “life-giving water” is supposed to be a heavy nod towards the decent of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps these are related?


John chapter 7 describes the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the functions of the feast of tabernacles (or ‘booths’) was to give thanks for the gift of rain, which brings a bountiful harvest.

Part of the ceremonies of the week-long feast was that the priests would go down to the Pool of Siloam, get a huge jug of water, and then each day, they would (with solemn ceremony) pour an offering of wine and water onto the altar of sacrifice in the temple. (In this action, they were both performing a sacrifice and giving thanks for God’s gifts to them.)

So Jesus – responding to the ‘water’ / ‘thirst’ imagery in the celebrations of the feast – tells the people who the true source of living water is. He’s using this opportunity to tie together prescriptions of the Law of Moses with the new Covenant which He will initiate.

BTW: it’s no coincidence that, in the Gospel of John, we see blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus, once he has died on the cross: the sacrifice is complete… the living water which gives eternal life now flows from Jesus, through His blood.

(Also note that the priest at Mass mingles water with the wine at the offertory. No coincidence there, either…)


It’s both.

It refers to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Son, being given to believers by Him as the very next verse says:

John 7:39 Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It also refers to the fruits of the Holy Spirit, flowing forth from the believer, as St. Augustine notes:

  1. The Lord, therefore, cries aloud to us to come and drink, if we thirst within; and He says that when we have drunk, rivers of living water shall flow from our belly. The belly of the inner man is the conscience of the heart. Having drunk that water then, the conscience being purged begins to live; and drinking in, it will have a fountain, will be itself a fountain. What is the fountain, and what the river that flows from the belly of the inner man? Benevolence, whereby a man will consult the interest of his neighbor. For if he imagines that what he drinks ought to be only for his own satisfying, there is no flowing of living water from his belly; but if he is quick to consult for the good of his neighbor, then he becomes not dry, because there is a flowing. We will now see what it is that they drink who believe in the Lord; because we surely are Christians, and if we believe, we drink. And it is every man’s duty to know in himself whether or not he drinks, and whether he lives by what he drinks; for the fountain does not forsake us if we forsake not the fountain.

  2. The evangelist explained, as I have said, whereof the Lord had cried out, to what kind of drink He had invited, what He had procured for them that drink, saying, But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe in Him should receive: for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. What spirit does He speak of, if not the Holy Spirit?


“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

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