Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Textual Variation: An Angel Stirring the Water (John 5:3b-4)

A textual variant is found among the extant Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel at 5:3b-4, where the NKJV reads: “…waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had” (also ASV, HCSB, ISV, JUB, KJV; bracketed in NASB). But these words are omitted in other versions. Most NT scholars consider this text a gloss (inserted by a later copyist) because (a) it is absent from the earliest and what many regard the better manuscripts; (b) in more than twenty manuscripts the words are marked as spurious by asterisks or obeli; (c) the occurrence of non-Johannine expressions; and (d) the wide variety of variant forms.On the other hand, Zane Hodges observes that the absence of the text is essentially limited to the minority of manuscripts representing the Alexandrian text form (the superiority of which is not universally conceded), while the alleged non-Johannine vocabulary is disputable, v. 7 demands its inclusion, and its excision from some witnesses is due to theological aversion.2

Gordon Fee offers a full assessment of the textual data, as well as intrinsic probability and external evidence.His study concludes that the weight of evidence shows the disputed text was not in John’s original, and its depiction of a clear advantage of the least disabled over those who needed healing the most seems at variance with divine grace affirmed elsewhere in scripture. The text is most likely an explanatory note, whether inserted by John or a later copyist, to clarify the sick man’s superstitious thinking and otherwise obscure statement in v. 7.

--Kevin L. Moore

     See Bruce M. Metzger, Textual Commentary (2nd ed.) 179.
     Zane C. Hodges, “The Angel at Bethesda—John 5.4,” BibSac 136 (1979): 25-39.
     Gordon D. Fee, “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4,” EQ 54:4 (1982): 207-18.

Related articles: Dave Miller, Stirring of the Water

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