Wednesday, October 4, 2023

John 5:3b-4: Original or Not?

            Metzger’s observation that 5:3b contains two “non-Johannine” words is lightweight, considering that John had few other occasions to use either ἐκδέχεσθαι or κίνησις.

            (I commend to readers both the article written by Zane Hodges in 1979 in Bibliotheca Sacra 136, pp. 25-39, and the article by Gordon Fee which appeared in Evangelical Quarterly 54 (pp. 207-218.)              

            Before reaching a conclusion about John 5:3b, let’s investigate 5:4.  Dr. Bill Mounce addressed this variant briefly, but his treatment is extremely oversimplified.  More is required.  First, we must get an idea of how much textual variation there is within this verse.  In A K L Y Δ Π, κυρίου (ΚΥ) appears after αγγελος γαρ (or, in L, αγγελος δε).  And instead of κατέβεινεν, A K Π Ψ 579 have ἐλούετο.  And A (supported by some Bohairic manuscripts) has ουν between δήποτ’ and κατείχετο.  Instead of δήποτε, K and Π have δ’ αν.  In Cc H M U Y Δ Λ Π 078 and at least 17 lectionaries, instead of ἐτάρασσεν, the text reads ἐταράσσετο.  The Ethiopic version also supports ἐταράσσετο.   Swanson erroneously lists Δ as if it reads ἐταράσσετο and ἐτάρασσεν; a check of the manuscript show that it supports ἐταράσσε το (the το being the το before ὕδωρ).  

            Plus, in S Λ Π 047, and 72 minuscules, the passage is marked with asterisks.  The Harklean Syriac also features the verse marked with asterisks.

             The external evidence mostly aligns with the external evidence for 5:3b – but not quite. D Wsupp 33, 2718, and the Armenian and Georgian versions, which include 4:3b, do not imclude 5:4.  5:4 is supported by Tatian’s Diatessaron (as demonstrated by a comment by Ephrem in his commentary ), by Ambrose, by Tertullian, by Chrysostom (who was listed in UBS1 as a witness for both inclusion and non-inclusion), and Cyril.  

            Tertullian, in De Baptismo 5, near the end of the chapter, wrote, “If it seems an unheard-of thing that an angel should interfere with water, there was a precedent for that which was to be. The pool of Bethsaida ‘was stirred’ by the intervention of ‘an angel.’  Those who complained of their health used to watch for him. For anyone who had first descended there ceased to complain after a bath. This picture of bodily cure was prophetic of spiritual cure, according to the practice by which things carnal always precede, being a picture of things spiritual. As, therefore, the grace of God spread among men, greater power was added to the waters and the angel.”

            Tertullian goes on to say, “Those who healed bodily defects now heal the spirit.  Those who worked temporal salvation now restore for us everlasting salvation.  Those who freed one once a year, [this indicates how Tertullian understood κατά καιρόν] now daily save communities, death being destroyed by the washing away of sins.”  Tertullian clearly had no problem reading this verse and applying it to the life of the church.

            Chrysostom commented on 5:3b-4 in detail in his commentary on John, perceiving in the paralytic’s healing a thematic template of baptism and salvation. 

            Tertullian, in Latin, and Chrysostom, in Greek, demonstrate the antiquity of the passage in the text, as early as two papyri from c. 200 and c. 400 would.  Chrysostom also shows that John 5:4 was read in the text of the church in Byzantium during his bishopric.  Amphilochius of Iconium (340-403; bishop after 374) – cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus – does not include 5:4 in the text he used.  Both the non-inclusion and inclusion of 5:4 are very early readings.

            What phenomenon, occurring sometime between 90 (when the Gospel of John was written – unless John Robinson’s redating to pre-70 – in light of (among other things) 5:2 – is adopted) and 200, could elicit one transmission-stream to include John 5:4 (in the case of Tertullian’s text of John), and another transmission-stream to not include John 5:4 (in the case of P75, À, and B)? 

            I am willing to posit that an anomaly in the autograph of the Gospel of John itself elicited different treatments of John 5:3b-4.  Picture John reading chapter 5 to his listeners from the autograph for the very first time – without 5:3b-4.  Inevitably, someone would ask, “John, why were these sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people waiting near the pool instead of swimming in its water?”  And I can imagine that John added an explanatory note in the margin, “waiting for the moving of the waters.”

            And then someone asked, “What agitated the pool’s water?”.  And John, realizing that his listeners in Ephesus were oblivious to the background of the pool at Bethesda, added another note – and thus verse 4 came into existence as a second marginal note.  When John died, the autograph was entrusted to the Christian community at Ephesus – and they treated the annotations in three different ways in the next generation:

            In the ancestor of Byzantine manuscripts, the notes were either blended into the main text (as John 21 has been), or else copies just the way they appeared in the autograph, in the margin with symbols to connect them to John 5:3-5.  In the ancestor of Alexandrian manuscripts, receiving the text of the autograph slightly later (being in Egypt, not Ephesus), the notes were assumed to have originated with someone other than John, and were therefore not considered worthy to be included in either the main text or in the margin. 

            Another consideration might have been in play in the mind of the early Alexandrian scribe who decided not to include verse 4:  a desire to protect John from the charge of promoting superstition.  A scribe who thought he knew that water in the pool of Bethesda was agitated by entirely natural forces could easily persuade himself that the marginal note in his exemplar, stating that an angel of the Lord bathed in the pool of Bethesda, could not have been written by an inspired author; in addition, he did not wish to appear to commend Asklepieions.

            The testimony of P and its relatives which have John 5:4 with asterisks commends family P as an excellent representative of the autograph of the text of the Gospels.  The form of verse 4 that appears in Codex P is the form which should be adopted, instead of the readings found in the majority of manuscripts.

            An addition question is sure to be asked:  what should English Bible editors do with John 5:3-4?  I have no objection to the inclusion of 5:3-4 in the main text, or in the margin, with a note stating that the passage appears in the margin, or not at all, in a few early manuscripts.  But to omit it entirely would guarantee that English readers would perpetually ask, as John’s first listeners did, “Why weren’t they all swimming?” or, “Who or what stirred up the waters?”

            Another question may be on the minds of some readers:  Would an inspired author expand on his own narrative in this way, adding marginalia?  I see no reason why not.  Many a Spirit-led preacher reading from a manuscript he wrote has spontaneously clarified himself mid-sermon.  Even Saint Paul, in First Corinthians 1:16, clarified that he had baptized the household of Stephanas (who, according to tradition, was the jailor in Acts 16), right after saying, “I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”  I Cor. 1:16 may have originally been a note in the margin added by Paul as he proof-read the letter; no one at Corinth, however, would have doubted its veracity.



Demian said...

Hi James, the variant apparatus left out Cyril of Alexandria who had the passage in one of his homilies on the book of John, Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus and Theophylact. The lost of the passage in some early manuscripts could be explained by antisemitic sentiments.

Richard Fellows said...

One tangential point. It is Stephanas, not Stephanus, and I don't think he was equated with the jailor. Are you thinking of Clement of Phil 4:3?

James Snapp Jr said...

Richard Fellows,
No; I'm thinking of Stephanas. Thanks for catching the typo.

Richard Fellows said...

Perhaps I am being forgetful. Who equated Stephanas with the Jailor?

James Snapp Jr said...

Richard Fellows,

As Bruce Metzger observed (in TCGNT p. 448), 614 1799 and 217 identify Stephanas as the jailor who came to faith in Acts 16:27.


Richard Fellows said...

Thanks. I had missed that variant that makes Stephanas the jailor.