By the Pool of Bethesda

John 5:1–47

Jesus spent a lot of time in Galilee. Now, he goes to Jerusalem for a feast in the first year of his ministry (c. 27–31). The Sheep Gate was where sheep came in and were washed in the pool before being taken into the sanctuary. Invalids were also here, so those wishing to be ritually pure would have avoided this area. Yet, Jesus goes to it. Its name may mean “house of mercy,” which was why such folks went here (vv. 1–3). Depending on your translation, there may be an omission of mentioning angels stirring the waters (vv. 3–4).  

All English translations use a specific edition of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament. The very first Greek New Testament to be comprised was by Erasmus in 1516. He used 12th-century manuscripts. At his time, the oldest manuscript was from the 10th century, but he opted for the later ones. As time passed, scholars made revisions that echoed Erasmus’ text. All English translations through 1880 used the same Greek New Testament, called Textus Receptus (“received text”). 

By the 1700s, many more manuscripts had been discovered. Some were six to nine centuries older than what Erasmus had available. These older manuscripts lacked passages such as John 5:3b–4 and fifteen others. The belief was that a scribe may have mistaken an explanatory marginal comment for a correction and copied it into the text. A new Greek New Testament was made and appeared in 1831. Since the manuscripts were older than Erasmus used, they omitted the sixteen passages to construct the most accurate and historical version, which is reflected in many English translations. 

Since 1611, the King James Bible has reigned as the preeminent English translation. However, because of the newer Greek New Testament, a Revised Version was commissioned in England in 1881. The Revised Version would later birth the New Revised Standard Version, which would later birth the English Standard Version. When the Revised Version appeared, there was a considerable uproar since the long-dominant KJV had set the standard. The omission of the verses was seen as blasphemous, and people cited Revelation 22:19 to those who upheld the Revised Version. In reality, Revelation 22:18 is more relevant if you want to argue the point. 

Translations that omit these added verses usually contain a footnote or marginal note explaining that 3b–4 appears in later manuscripts. Modern translations do not leave these verses out per se any more than the older ones added them. They are simply the product of the information that was available at the time. Now that we have better information, the translations that omit them should be more commonly used.

Nevertheless, given the affinity for the New King James, we use it with the caveat that it’s based on later manuscripts. More recent translations utilize a vast amount of sources. The standard for most English translations is the Masoretic text of the Hebrew called Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia; the Greek New Testament used is Novum Testamentum Graece. Translators often consult, alongside these primary sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch (Law of Moses), the Syriac Peshitta (Syriac Bible), the Latin Vulgate, and other sources that may help shed light on texts that may be difficult to translate. 

After Jesus healed the man, linking his condition to sin (v. 14), he took his bed and went on his way while the Pharisees rebuked him for carrying his bed. This act of healing on the Sabbath was the start of persecution for Jesus that would culminate in his death (v. 16). Christ explains  himself to them as equal with God in nature (vv. 17–18), power (vv. 19–21), authority (vv. 22–30). The language of verse 25 may foreshadow the raising of Lazarus. Another possibility is that his intention is akin to Ezekiel speaking to the valley of dry bones to bring them to life (Ezek. 37). Later, Jesus alludes to the resurrection at the judgment (vv. 28–29). 

Jesus, next, shows that he is submissive even to the Law of Moses, which prescribes two or three witnesses to confirm facts (Deut. 19:15). Jesus has the witness of John the Baptist (vv. 31–35), the works he performs (v. 36), the father (vv. 37–38), and Scripture (vv. 39–47). Rabbi Hillel taught, “The more study of the Law the more life…If a man…has gained for himself words of the Law he has gained for himself life in the world to come” (m. ’Abot 2.7). The emphasis on studying the Torah was such that what it taught was overshadowed. We must beware of this kind of biblicism because many brethren can know the Scriptures with exactitude. Yet, being able to quote book, chapter, and verse is meaningless unless our lives conform to what’s written. 

Author: Steven

Minister at Glendale Road Church of Christ (Murray, KY)

%d bloggers like this: