John 7.38 is one of those passages in Scripture over which scholars go back and forth; for example both Craig Keener and D.A. Carson write that it is “difficult” and end up coming down on different “sides.” Do the waters of life flow from the believer’s “belly” (“heart” in NIV, ESV, etc) or Jesus’ “belly?” Where does the period belong, after “the one who believes in me” or before it? Which OT text(s) is Jesus referring to in verse 38?
I think Keener, A.T. Lincoln, and Joel Marcus are right here (even though Carson in his commentary and Fee in a journal article give some very helpful remarks while disagreeing with Keener, Lincoln, and Marcus). The water of life flows from Jesus’ “belly.” Here are the discussions that convinced me.
Lincoln brings us back to Ezek. 47.1-12, where eschatological rivers of life flow from the new temple. Furthermore, writes Lincoln, Zech. 14 has to do with the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkoth (which is happening during John 7-8) and the water and light of life symbols. Still further back, Lincoln reminds us of Ex. 17 and Ps. 78, the OT recollections of water flowing from the rock during Israel’s wilderness years. Finally, as extra-biblilcal (yet extremely helpful) proof, Lincoln notes that the Rabbinic descriptions of the Feast of Tabernacles associate the water from the rock in the wilderness to the water in the temple — water “rituals” that took place during the Feast of Tabernacles. In summary and in Lincoln’s own words, “Jesus is now the rock, from whose womb come the waters of new life, the waters of the Spirit, the agent of new birth” (A.T. Lincoln, The Gospel of Saint John, [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005], 256-7).
Joel Marcus links John 7.38 to Is. 12.3, discusses the Hebrew, LXX, and Greek text a bit, as well as Rabbinic “midrash,” then concludes, “Do not read, ‘from the wells of salvation,’ but ‘from the belly of Jesus,’ for rivers of living water shall flow from his belly” (see Joel Marcus, “Rivers of Living Water from Jesus’ Belly” Journal of Biblical Literature, 117 : 330).
Finally, Craig Keener: “From this center [Jerusalem/temple] would flow the rivers of life to water the whole world; and in John, where Jesus’ body becomes the new temple (2.19-21), he becomes the shattered cornerstone from which flows the water of the river of life” (Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], 730).
See also G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), who agrees that “the ‘innermost being’ from which ‘flow rivers of living water’ is Jesus himself as the new ‘holy of holies’ and not the one who believes in Jesus” (p. 197).