John 5:4 is a "later insertion"



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  • John 5:4 is a "later insertion"

    I first would like to say that I too, believe that the Bible is without error and inspired by the Holy Spirit. But when a majority of respected commentators with strong manuscript backgrounds state that John 5:4 was added later, it makes me think that maybe the copyists that were removed from the age of the Apostles by a few hundred years may have been irresponsible in it's handling.

    What could otherwise be the explanation of things that were inserted later that were not part of the original account written by John?
    May the Holy Spirit always move within you!

  • #2
    Where Is Verse 4 in John 5?

    Hello Christopher! This is a great comment to bring to this category.

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ID:	1620The passage in discussion, “...for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” John 5:4. Some have read closely in the NIV and noticed that verse 4 is missing! Start at verse one and count out loud: 1, 2, 3 … 5?

    This can be a lengthy discussion, and a simple forum post can’t do it justice. The debate over this passage has historically degenerated into a contentious discussion. We don't have legs to stand on if we lack a solid understanding of the Koine Greek, where it is pivotal in this issue, to define and recognize the style and contextual variance. This is the basic question of the Greek text, and the technical name for it is “textual criticism.” (I am going to focus on the Greek Testament, not the Hebrew.) Here is the basic reconstruction.

    1. The writers wrote their gospels and epistles and sent them to their churches.
    2. These documents were copied so they could be shared. In the process of copying, changes were introduced. (By the way, this is not academic conjecture; we have these different manuscripts and can view the differences for themselves.) Some changes were accidental but others appeared to be intentional, but not always for nefarious reasons. It is often to add an explanation, or substitute an easier word to understand, or to harmonize the gospels, etc. In John 5:4, most believe that a scribe (the person doing the copying) thought it was puzzling why the man would lie there for 38 years. Perhaps he knew a tradition that said the angel periodically came down to stir up the waters and the first person in was healed, and so he added in the verse. (Others would argue that for some reason the verse was dropped off.)
    3. As time progressed (and as we can tell from archaeology), biblical manuscripts were collected in five different geographical areas. Since the center of the church was in Rome, this area had the greatest number of copies.
    4. Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) was one of the most important men in Europe during one of the most important periods in all of European history, the time of the Protestant Reformation. He created a Greek text based on two manuscripts from the 12th century (Matthew through Jude) and another 12th century manuscript for all but the last 6 verses of Revelation. He went from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek to get those lost.
    5. His work became the basis of the King James translation. The Greek text which stands behind the King James Bible is demonstrably inferior in certain places. In addition, Erasmus was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. As a result, the King James Bible has undergone three revisions since its inception in 1611, incorporating more than 100,000 changes.
    6. During the three and one-half centuries since the King James Version was published dozens of manuscripts have been found that were copied many centuries earlier than any manuscript used by Erasmus. The manuscripts he used were copies of copies of copies of copies of copies. When material is copied a number of times by hand, extra words and phrases generally find their way into the text in the course of copying and occasionally the eye of a copyist may jump from one word of a phrase to a similar one, and thus omit something or perhaps copy it twice. Mistakes happen, and this was the historical course of Scripture.
    7. 150 years ago we started digging up even more manuscripts that were in fact much older (by centuries). They came from a different geographical area than the majority of the texts we currently had, and they were different in places. For example, they did not have John 5:4. And so the science of textual criticism was born, which is the science of determining which of the different “readings” is most likely original.

    The general preference is to see scribes as adding verses, not removing them. For that reason, and others, most feel that John 5:4 was added after the fact; there is no good reason why it would have been omitted. But God in his sovereign love made sure that the differences among the manuscripts would not hinder our faith.
    • About 5% of the total Koine Greek text is in question
    • No major doctrine is modified or compromised by that 5%.

    Often a copyist would write an explanation in the margin and some times that explanation would end up in the text. Bruce Metzger (Text of the New Testament, 194) thinks that is exactly what happened in the case of John 5:4. Why? For several reasons (listed in Metzger’s textual commentary 3rd ed, 209):

    1. Because the earliest manuscripts don’t contain it. Why not? Did they omit this verse just like the NIV, NLT, ESV, CEV, NSRV and God’s Word Translation? No. They don’t contain the verse because the manuscripts they were copied from didn’t have it and the ones before them didn’t have it because the original didn’t have it. It doesn’t start appearing in manuscripts until at least 500 CE. When no manuscript before 500 CE has a verse you can be fairly certain that it was added in from a marginal note, from a copying error, or due to the copyist remembering that verse in another gospel and accidentally harmonizing them in his head and copying it wrong (such is the case of a few other “missing verses”). But once it is added it then gets copied over and over and from that point on may appear original to the next copyist
    2. Multiple Greek manuscripts copied after 900 CE have a mark showing that they thought the verse was questionable but they included it because it was in the manuscript they were copying from.
    3. This verse has multiple words that John doesn’t use anywhere else, thus out of character with writer.
    4. This verse has a larger number of textual variants. There are many versions of this text in many different Greek manuscripts which points to it being very questionable as to what was original if it even was original.

    So why would verse four have not been included in the original New Testament? It is not because of the angel in the story. The Bible has no problem with angels; they are mentioned often. But, like today, there was a great deal of folklore and superstition regarding them. The idea that an angel stirred the waters at a given time during the year was one such superstition. John 5:7 mentions the stirring of the water, but does not mention the angel. It's likely that John knew of the belief about the waters of Bethesda, but chose to leave it out the angels participation for a specific reason. Perhaps he does not wish to endorse that an angel was stirring the water. By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus.


    • #3
      By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus.
      That is most certainly what we need to keep our eyes on, without a doubt, thank you Pastor Ray.
      May the Holy Spirit always move within you!


      • #4
        I don't have time for long response right now but the way I reconciled this was a little simpler. You may very well be correct in your assessment but there is one other possibility. What we now have, as the earliest text, is not necessarily the earliest text. That source may have been worn out or destroyed. Since, the Holy Spirit is the author through the hands of man, and if something did get left out that, which was recorded in an earlier text, He through another man's hands corrected it. Since, the Scriptures are God breathed, and God is all powerful, He is able to have a non subjective way to speak with us giving us a Bible we can trust. There might be older Aramaic or Greek text.

        My thoughts presupposes God is sovereign and is able to protect His Word through the ages. We don't have the original text and until the Council of Carthage we did not have an agreed on assembled Canon. But if man through a translation tries to twist the Scripture to fit their agenda or a scribe makes a mistake then God will have it auto corrected. The problem with textual criticism it opens the door for picking and choosing and it can cause arguing over words that can be damaging to the hearer. I am not a KJO (King James Only) person and one of the arguments against the New Translations is 1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. KJV which is missing in the modern translations. Now, I also know what is stated in this verse would be in agreement with other texts in the Bible and is in none of the known Greek manuscripts but is it wrong for it to be there?

        I just worry that if an unbeliever thinks the Bible we have can't be trusted in a few verses he will discount the whole. I do Inductive Bible study in which each scripture is interpreted in context and against other scripture. I also believe that the Holy Spirit opens the Scripture to the elect giving them an insight that is closed to the unregenerated. I believe God can talk to the regenerated through any translation. So to be clear, I believe in inerrancy in the original works and that God has protected the precepts contained into the translations.


        • #5
          You're so right Roger, sometimes it's easier to lose focus and forget that the Lord can do above and beyond all things that we could ever hope to imagine.
          May the Holy Spirit always move within you!


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