I was participating in a message board on Biblical Contradictions on the defunct Lycos message boards. Cheriklia asked about the strangely worded prophesy in John 7:38 and when was it fulfilled. This is my answer, edited and expanded.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
A good question, so I compared translations for a clearer meaning.
That is the text of both the Douay and King James translations and seems to be a very literal translation of Saint Jerome’s Vulgate. However modern translations seem to make more contextual sense in modern English. The Revised Standard Version has, . . .as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”. The New American Standard Bible has “innermost being”, the Jerusalem Bible has “breast”, and the New International Version has “within him.”
But what is this prophecy about; it is not obvious even with a modern translation. Following the cross-references to Old Testament it seems the Jesus’ was making a conflation/summery/explanation of several Old Testament prophesies.
"But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like grass amid waters, like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, 'I am the LORDs,' another will call himself by the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, 'The LORDs,' and surname himself by the name of Israel." Isaiah 44:1-5, verse 3 highlighted.
"Come, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Isaiah 55:1-5, verse 1 highlighted.
And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong;and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. Isaiah 58:11
Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.Jeremiah 2:12-13
A glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake thee shall be put to shame; those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. Jeremiah 17:12-13
I next looked at the context of Jesus’ statement
The phrase “living water” has a strong meaning in the Holy Land, it is on the edge of a desert.
Jesus is teaching/preaching in Jerusalem at the eighth day Feast of the Tabernacles. Each day the High Priest went to the pool at Siloam filled a golden cup with water, brought it to the temple and sprinkled it on the altar in remembrance of the miracle of the water at Massah and Miribah (Lev 1-7) with prayers for rain.
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?" But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" So Moses cried to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." And the LORD said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.) And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the LORD to the proof by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?" Lev 1-7 verse 6 highlighted.
Among the readings in the temple liturgy for this feast were Zechariah 14:8
On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.
and Ezekiel 47:1-2
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
So “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" 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. (John 7:37-39) Jesus is not talking about an obtuse prophesy in an obscure verse but rather: He is publicly procaliming he is the focus of a major prophetic theme of the Old Testament.
As Jesus had explained to Nicodemus.
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." John 3:3-8. Verse 5 highlighted.
And again to the women at the well:
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." John 4:7-15. Verses 10 and 14 highlighted.
This prophecy is first fulfilled on Calvary:
Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness. John 19:31-35 verse 34 highlighted.
It is fulfilled in the life of the Church:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:1-4
This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. 1 John 5:6-12 Verse 6 highlighted
And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. Revelation 21;6
Finally it is fulfilled for all eternity:
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 Verse 1 highlighted.
As the Church still sings
Water from the side of Christ wash me!
"Dictionary of the Bible" John L. McKenzie S. J., Collier Books.
"Dictionary of Biblical Theology", Xavier Leon Dufour S.J., St Paul Books and Media.
Scripture quoted from the RSVCE
I consulted the KJV, Douay, Old Vulgate, Jerusalem Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, NAB (1970 NT), NASB, and NIV
6 months ago