Musings From the Gospel of John – Number 7

John chapter 5 starts out with the introduction of the Pool of Bethesda. Interestingly enough, archeologists have discovered this pool and you can read about it and view a photo of it at this link: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/the-bethesda-pool-site-of-one-of-jesus-miracles/

What struck me about the Pool of Bethesda is that John records that an angel of the Lord went down into the pool at appointed seasons and stirred up the water, the first one to go in after the water was stirred was healed of his disease (John 5:4).

It’s also interesting to note that this visitation of an angel of the Lord took place during the intertestamental period which is a term for the gap of time between the period covered by the Hebrew Bible and the period covered by the Christian New Testament. Traditionally, it is considered to cover roughly four hundred years, spanning the ministry of Malachi (c. 420 BC) to the appearance of John the Baptist in the early 1st century AD, almost the same period as the Second Temple Period (530 BC to 70 AD).

When Jesus addresses the man who had been ill for 38 years by asking him if he wanted to get well (John 5:6) the man answers that he has no one to put him in the pool when the water is stirred up (John 5:7). Notice that Jesus does not question the validity of this happening. So here we see an instance of God’s mercy being demonstrated to the Jews in Jerusalem during this seemingly silent period of time between the Old and New testaments. The fact that Jesus dos not question the validity of this happening adds additional credibility to this recorded occurrence.

Update: Mandy from https://bluecollartheologian.blog/ (Thank you Mandy ! ) brought it to my attention that there is some controversy with regard to the authenticity of John 5:4. I did some research and came up with the following link that explains the controversy: http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/bible-study-magazine-blog/2014/04/who-took-verse-4-out-of-my-bible

So, with that in mind, it does explain the oddity of this particular verse.

Jesus of course instructs the man to “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). The man is immediately healed, recovers his strength, picks up his pallet and walks and John tells us that this took place on the Sabbath (John 5:9).

There were Jews there who observed that he had been healed but notice where their concern is focused, not on the miracle of his healing that had just taken place, but rather on the fact that the man who was healed was breaking the Law which forbids picking up the pallet on the Sabbath (John 5:10).

When they question the healed man, his response in John 5:11 is pointed, to say the least. “The man who healed me and gave me back my strength was the One who said to me, “pickup your pallet and walk!”

John 5:12 shows that these Jews who were questioning the healed man about picking up his pallet had not personally witnessed Jesus healing the man because they ask the healed man “Who is the man who told you “Pick up your pallet and walk?” John 5:13 shows that the man did not initially know that it was Jesus who had healed him and that Jesus had basically slipped away in the crowd that was there.

It is important to note that the Law of Moses taught that the Sabbath must be different from other days. On it, neither people or animals could work. The prophet Jeremiah had prohibited carrying burdens or working on the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:21-22). Over the years, the Jewish leaders had amassed hundreds of rules and regulations concerning the Sabbath. By Jesus’ day they had 39 different classifications of work. According to them, carrying furniture and even providing medical treatment on the Sabbath were forbidden. Jesus did not break the law, He violated the traditions of the Pharisees which had grown up around the Law.

But above and beyond that, the real clincher to Jesus healing on the Sabbath is the statement that Jesus makes in John 5:17 NASB “But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”

The purpose of the Sabbath is to learn to trust or rest in God and Jesus let those who objected to Him healing on the Sabbath know that God the Father worked on the Sabbath and I, because I am the Son of God, also work on the Sabbath. Where Jesus states “My Father”, He claims not only a unique relationship with God the Father but also equality with God in nature. Since God continually does good works without allowing Himself to stop on the Sabbath, the Son does likewise, since He is equal with God.

In John 5:18, which records that this statement of Jesus made the Jews more determined than ever to kill Him, for not only was He breaking the Sabbath but He was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. This statement shows that the Jewish leaders thoroughly understood the implications of Jesus’ claims.

To infer that Jesus never called Himself God or equal with God is ludicrous. This is just one of many scripture verses within the Gospels where Jesus clearly indicates that He is divine and equal with God. It is precisely because Jesus made these statements that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him because He claimed authority over the Jewish leaders themselves and that authority could not be tolerated.

Bear in mind that in this instance it was Jesus who sought out the man who was ill. The man did not initially even know who had healed him. It was Jesus who deliberately healed on the Sabbath, at the Pool of Bethesda, in Jerusalem, in the presence of the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen next. This was not a challenge on Jesus’ part, this was a declaration, hence the fierce opposition.

More to follow.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!

18 comments

  1. As usual. Bruce, another strong “musing” on the Book of John. Regarding the validity of the Angel of the Lord stirring the pool waters, though Jesus doesn’t refute it, doesn’t make it true. He just may have chosen not to get caught up in it.

    The reason I have doubts is that the way healing was supposedly delved out seems very un-God-like. In other words, I can’t believe that God would send an angel who would say: “Okay all of you in desperate need of physical healing, here comes your one shot for a while. If you are the one who makes it, great, but if not, oh well, better luck next time.”

    Therefore, I believe this to be just a legend or myth the Jews concocted, and Jesus used it to display the real thing.

    Just my take on it. Thanks, Bruce.

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    • Hi David, I hear what you are saying and I thought about that, it strikes me that John would not have stated it like he does, if it was a legend or myth. I do however, agree with you that the logic of the demonstration of God’s mercy does seem to be out of step with how He normally provides mercy. It definitely does stand out as an oddity. Conversely, if we indicate that God’s Holy Spirit, who inspired John’s Gospel, allows for a legend or myth to be recorded as a fact, which it appears to do, then it subsequently leaves the door open for doubt with regard to the recorded word being inspired elsewhere. And it also strikes me that if this was a legend or myth, Jesus knowing full well the ramifications of His not correcting this legend or myth, and how it might throw a negative connotation on other things that He said, would not have let that go by. I’m thinking this could be one of those “definite maybe” situations. You could possibly be right but I would lean towards an oddity but still true. It’s on my list of questions! Thanks David.

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    • Hi David, turns out that your suspicions were correct. See the added Update note in this post. There’s a link I provided that explains it well. Our mutual friend Mandy drew my attention to it. Blessings!

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  2. Hey, Bruce! I always thought that John 5:3b-4 were not part of the original Greek texts. Scholars seem to think this was added by an early copyist who believed in the mythical manifestations. Also/or it was added to help explain what the man means by why the pool of water was “stirred” in v 7. I really appreciate the time and attention you are giving each passage in John’s gospel. I can’t help but wonder if you have created any new highlighter colors with all your markings and notes?! I am so thankful for your heart for God and His Word! Blessings to you and yours!!

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    • Thanks for the info Mandy. I added an update note in this post after doing a little research and you even got an honourable mention! I’m really glad you pointed that out because David and I were discussing it and the noted controversy definitely clears up the oddity of that particular verse. Thank you so much. I’m still using the same highlighter colors ! I owe you one! Blessings!

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  3. Hi Bruce. Thanks for including Mandy’s addition. I always knew about this because the first Bible I purchases when getting saved almost 33 years was an NIV. Verse 4 makes no sense!

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    • Hi Jim, me neither so we both learned something! I’m glad that I was made aware of this because it did indeed seem like an oddity, which now has been explained. Have a blessed day my brother.

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      • How would you respond to such a commentary? I got some on my hands today.

        Comment:
        “The original Douay Rheims translation of the Vulgate into English was done in the late 1500’s (NT) and early 1600’s (OT). I do not know if that translation included the verses in question. Perhaps someone else knows.”

        Response:
        Yes it does (spelling as in the original):

        AFTER these things there vvas a festual day of the Ievves, and IESVS vvent up to Hierusalem. + And there is at Hierusalem vpon Probatica a pond vvhich in hebrevv is surnamed ‘Bethsaida’, hauing fiue porches. In there lay a great multitude of sicke persons, of blinde, lame, vvithered, expecting the stirring of the water. + And an Angel of our Lord descended at a certaine time into the pond: and the vvater vvas stirred. And he that had gone dovvne first into the pond after the stirring of the vvater, vvas made vvhole of vvhatsoeuer infirmitie he vvas holden.

        This is how the Clementine Vulgate shows the passage:

        1: Post hæc erat dies festus Judæorum, et ascendit Jesus Jerosolymam. 2: Est autem Jerosolymis probatica piscina, quæ cognominatur hebraice Bethsaida, quinque porticus habens. 3: In his jacebat multitudo magna languentium, cæcorum, claudorum, aridorum, exspectantium aquæ motum. 4: Angelus autem Domini descendebat secundum tempus in piscinam, et movebatur aqua. Et qui prior descendisset in piscinam post motionem aquæ, sanus fiebat a quacumque detinebatur infirmitate.

        This reading could not be too late, since Tertullian (ca. 160 – ca. 220 AD) was already familiar with this reading and refers to this (On Baptism):

        If it seems a novelty for an angel to be present in waters, an example of what was to come to pass has forerun. An angel, by his intervention, was wont to stir the pool at Bethsaida. They who were complaining of ill-health used to watch for him; for whoever had been the first to descend into them, after his washing, ceased to complain. This figure of corporeal healing sang of a spiritual healing, according to the rule by which things carnal are always antecedent as figurative of things spiritual. And thus, when the grace of God advanced to higher degrees among men, an accession of efficacy was granted to the waters and to the angel. They who were wont to remedy bodily defects, now heal the spirit; they who used to work temporal salvation now renew eternal; they who did set free but once in the year, now save peoples in a body daily, death being done away through ablution of sins. The guilt being removed, of course the penalty is removed too. Thus man will be restored for God to His “likeness,” who in days bygone had been conformed to “the image” of God; (the “image” is counted (to be) in his form: the “likeness” in his eternity: ) for he receives again that Spirit of God which he had then first received from His afflatus, but had afterward lost through sin.

        A book written in 1848 also addresses this:

        The whole of the doubtful passage is omitted in the Vatican manuscript, in the Ephrem, as first written, in two others of less note, in manuscripts of the Coptic version, and in some one or more of the Sahidic; and Nonnus, who, about the beginning of the fifth century, wrote a metrical paraphrase of the Gospel of John, says nothing of the descent of an angel, but speaks of the water as rushing forth in spontaneous jets.

        The fourth verse, beginning For an angel, &c., is omitted in the Cambridge manuscript and one other; and is marked as doubtful in more than fifteen others. It is wanting in the manuscripts of the Armenian version generally, and in several of the old Latin versions. On the other hand, this verse being retained, the last clause of the third, waiting for the moving of the waters, is wanting in the Alexandrine manuscript, as first written, the Codex Stephani η, and one other.

        I find no historical remarks respecting the omission or insertion of the story of the descent of an angel. It is referred to by Tertullian, but it is not noticed in the extant works of any other Christian writer before Ambrose and Chrysostom in the fourth century…

        Curious on your thoughts?

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      • Interesting Stephen but way above my pay grade. I did do some research and there are a number of sources that validate the exclusion of the verse, indicating that this is the strong opinion of most current scholars. These links refer: http://mattdabbs.com/2008/03/20/the-case-of-the-missing-verse-john-54/ And https://marcminter.com/2017/06/01/a-simple-introduction-to-textual-criticism-john-53-4/ refer. There are others that do argue for its inclusion but I’m thinking that the important thing to be aware of is that it’s authenticity is contested and with considerable scholarly reasoning. It’s not like a particular doctrine hangs in the balance, it’s just noteworthy to be aware of the controversy. Or at least, that is my take on it.

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