Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part V: The Angel at Bethesda—John 5:4 -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:541 (Jan 1979)
Article: Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part V: The Angel at Bethesda—John 5:4
Author: Zane C. Hodges


Problem Passages in the Gospel of John
Part V:
The Angel at Bethesda—John 5:4

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

According to John 5, the Lord Jesus performed an impressive miracle of healing at a pool where many sick people were gathered. The reason for this assemblage of the ailing and infirm is specified in verse 4, which reports that an angel periodically imparted to the waters a limited curative effect. As a result one individual, and one alone, was healed at each angelic visitation.

However, since the rise of modern New Testament textual criticism the authenticity of this information about the angel of Bethesda has been almost universally doubted. Instead, John 5:4 is treated as an ancient gloss which formed no part of the original text of the Fourth Gospel. Accordingly, the verse is omitted by the most widely used critical editions of the Greek text and is relegated to the margin by many modern English translations.1

This expedient, widespread though it is, nevertheless leaves John’s text in a rather puzzling condition. Though the gathering of the sick is noted in verse 3 (most of which is retained by modern editors2 ), with the omission of verse 4 there remains no explanation

for this concourse. Still more perplexing is the comment of the man whom Jesus is about to heal, for according to verse 7 he declares, “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.” This comment could only be described as almost impossibly obscure if no one had ever previously read verse 4. It would seem, therefore, that the statement of verse 7 demands the presence of verse 4 in the narrative’s introduction, and that the conclusions of modern criticism ought to be carefully reexamined. It is the intention of the present study to undertake such a reexamination.

The Critical Consensus

It can only be described as disturbing that, despite the internal difficulties created by the excision of verse 4 from John’s text, modern commenta...

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