Lecture 30: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 30: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 2)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 2)


A. John 5:3b-4 – Troubled Waters 

In this second part of these famous textual problems, the three remaining textual problems include: John 5:3b-4 and 1st Timothy 3:16 and John 1:18. These three really don’t belong together; John 5 is one textual problem that is very different from 1st Timothy 3:16 and John 1:18. These last two are very similar and relate to each other. In this lecture, we will look at only John 5:3b-4. This has to do with the angels stirring up the waters so that whoever could get into the Pool of Bethesda first was healed. I will read from the King James to begin with and then in a modern translation. So, the KJV Bible - in these lay a great multitude of important folk of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time, he saith unto him, wilt thou be made whole? The important man answered him, sir; I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

The waiting for the moving of the water is only found in the King James Version of the Bible and the word for put me into the pool is typical translated throw me. So, in modern translations we have, a great number of sick, blind, lame and paralyze people were lying in these walkways. Verse 7 is the same in the modern translations and the KJV in terms of the textual basis. So, does this passage speak about an angel who stirs up the waters so that the first person who got into the pool was the one who was healed? That is the issue.

1. Transcriptional Probability 

Is it possible that there is an unintentional error here; there is a possibility of that but we are going to discuss that later. There is only one possibility as far as I can tell. What about an intentional change? Some explanation within the text seems to be called for. I will show you the passage again without these verses. Why is the man at the pool; what is he actually doing there? John 5:3-5 in modern translations such as the NET Bible: A great number of sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people were lying in these walkways. Now a man was there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years and then he says in verse 7, sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. So, Jesus asks the question: do you wish to become healed and the man said, sure I do. I have been sitting here for a long time, but nobody is here to help me get into the water. This just begs for an explanation. So, what is the deal about getting into the water? It looks like that we are expecting some kind of explanation which we have in a number of manuscripts. It is also a harder reading not to have this explained. So the question is: is this something that we sometimes have with Biblical authors? Do they sometimes tend to be ambiguous and we try to fill in the gaps with what they are saying? The shorter reading also omits the verse; so the harder reading doesn’t give us an explanation for why he says what he does in verse 7. The shorter reading, what we find in modern translations confirms the canon of both the harder and shorter reading. It does this in a significant way.

2. Intrinsic Probability 

So what would an author be likely to do; a couple of stylistic matters? This passage doesn’t fit John’s syntax. There are some key elements that just don’t look like John. And there is another stylistic issue; angels are the least prominent in John of all four Gospels. Would he be one to mention an angel? He only mentions angels three at a time: 1:51, 12:29 and 20:12. Matthew mentions angels twenty times with five times in Mark and twenty-five times in Luke. It looks like an interpolation; something that somebody else would add. So, when you look at the transcriptional evidence, this seems solid but the stylistic evidence would be given an A-minus. In the external evidence in terms of date and character, John 5:3b-4; those verses are absent in P66, our oldest manuscript for this passage. Codex Sinaiticus or Aleph which is one of two most important manuscripts for the New Testament and B the other two most important manuscripts of the New Testament; Codex C, D, and many others; these are some of the most New Testament manuscripts we have of the Gospels and they don’t have these verses. Why would they omit these verses? It is found in Codex A, Alexandrinus which we said was Byzantine in the Gospels but Alexandrian elsewhere. Codex L an 8th-century Alexandrian manuscript but it has some Byzantine readings. The old Latin manuscripts which goes way back, perhaps even to the 2nd century and then the Byzantine manuscripts. The earliest and best manuscripts lack these verses. In the NET Bible where they actually discuss manuscripts; you don’t have to know any Greek as the NET Bible has notes on all of this. An Asterisk after a manuscript number or letter indicates that manuscript has been marked on or corrected. Corrected is a loose term where the correction might be of an actual mistake. So, we have the original scribe writing something and in this instant the original scribe didn’t put these two verses in. Either a later scribe or the same scribe comes back and adds this material. Codex C is so extraordinary difficult to read since the original manuscript was erased and then written over it. It is a Palimpsest manuscript; that was the one the Tischendorf deciphered in Paris.

So, it is difficult to tell which corrector it is; was it done at the same time or at a later time. What we have apart from that are some extraordinary important witnesses that don’t have these verses. I think about genealogical solidarity; it is absent in the Alexandrian and the best Western manuscripts. It is present in the Byzantine and some Western and a couple of late Alexandrian manuscripts. This tells us that the archetype of the Byzantine text almost surely had these verses. Did the Western text have these verses? It is hard to tell; probably not but it might have. The Alexandrian certainly did not. My guess is that the Alexandrian and Western lacked it, but the Byzantine had it. That tells us that we have a 2nd century reading for the omission; clearly we have that. We may have a 2nd century reading for the addition if we are going switch our view of the Western text. That is the genealogical solidarity. Now, in regards to geographical distribution, it is absent in the Alexandrian and the best Western manuscripts. We have a reading that is widespread earlier on. You have manuscripts throughout the Mediterranean region that don’t have these verses. That is not something that could have happened by accident. Consequently, this shows that they go back to an earlier source, but it is in the Byzantine and some Western manuscripts. So it is kind widespread only later on. I would give the external grade a solid A for the omission.

Now, in putting all of this together with other considerations; we have some writers around the 6th century who actually say that they had been to Jerusalem and to the Pool of Bethesda and there the angel would stir up the water from time to time and people would get healed. If this is really true and if it really happened, then perhaps that is what John wrote. But if this is what these patristic writers, not the best ones; if they are speaking about and these are not the most reliable witnesses, so perhaps it isn’t true historically. We will get to that when we look at the archaeological evidence. I suggest an accidental change; that there may have been a marginal note in some manuscripts that actually speak about this angel stirring up the waters and another scribe comes along later and saw in his manuscript places where that first scribe forgot to put in the verse and so he puts it in the margin. Well, did he forget to enter the verse; he isn’t sure, but what is the scribal principle? If in doubt, don’t leave it out. So, he would put it into his text and that was how it got into it. In 1896, the White fathers, a Roman Catholic group did a serious archaeological dig of the Pool of Bethesda. What they discovered is fascinating. It is one of the pools that Herod the Great built and the size of about two Olympic sized swimming pools; it is huge. In the Dead Sea Scrolls it refers to the pools of Bethesda. There are porticos which are covered walkways. So, you have a sidewalk around the four sides of the pool that is covered and then one splitting the pool. So, is it two pools are one pool? So, they dug down further and what they noticed was an underground spring that was bubbling up and on occasion you would get these minerals that would have a somewhat therapeutic effect on people.

So, was this an angel stirring up the waters? No, I don’t think so; it was an underground spring that was causing it. That shows that you have these patristic writers that are assuming that it is an angel but John didn’t assume that. John didn’t put that in there. If these verses are authentic, then this would be the only place in the Bible that says that God helps those who help themselves. (God really doesn’t say that here but it is implied) Here is the poor man, he has been lame for thirty eight years; Jesus saw that he had been there for a long time and so what happens? He asks the man whether he wishes to become well and of course he replies that he does. He had been trying to get into the water for he believed that an angel would stir up the water. But this is not what John says. This person had been trying to get in the pool for years and somebody always got there first. God helps them that help themselves; I don’t think this is a Biblical principle. So, I am glad that these verses are almost surely not authentic.

My conclusion is that they are not authentic; they don’t show up in your modern translations except in a marginal note. I would give this a grade of an A. One of comment: these verse numbers that we have, they were invented in 1551 by Stephanus Aucamp based on the Textus Receptus that Erasmus had
produced. Consequently, there is going to be more verses in our King James Bible than in other modern translations because those were based on later manuscripts. So, when it looks to some people like we are cutting out portions of the Bible, the reality is that those verses were later added to the Bible. It isn’t as if we have just 90% of the Word of God in our modern translations; the KJV Bible has 110 percent of the Word of God if you will. This is how I would deal with this passage and there is about two dozen places where you have one or two verses that are in the KJV Bible but not found in the oldest manuscripts. There are two places and only two that longer than the two verses which is Mark 16:9-20, the long ending of Mark’s Gospel. Then there is the story of the woman caught in adultery: John 7:53-8:11.

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