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In v3, crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches of the pool at Bethzatha and (v7) believed that when the waters were agitated had curing properties.

This is not the first time this question has been asked in Bible study.

From Watchtower:

What could have caused the water of Jerusalem’s pool of Bethzatha to be “stirred up”? Some inhabitants of Jerusalem in Jesus’ [sic] day thought that the pool of Bethzatha had healing powers when its water was “stirred up.” (John 5:1-7) As a result, people seeking a cure congregated at the site.

Note that many translations omit v4. So, I am asking for an answer that does not use that verse as a source.

John 5:1-3, 5-7 (NLT)

1 Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” 7 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

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  • Is it valid to deny the scripts in which 'variants'(5:4) do exist(5th/6th century in this case)? It is basically rigging the question, or at least dismissing other possible answers.
    – user21676
    Aug 3 '21 at 20:37
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jesse Steele
    Jan 13 at 13:51
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There are two possible origins for the idea that the water was "stirred up" in the story of the pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-7:

  1. It was an old myth/tradition/legend
  2. The flow of water (from a spring?) feeding the pool of Bethesda was intermittent giving the impression of being occasionally stirred.

In any case, the idea of magical/divine healing properties associated with the pool had no basis in fact as the story perfectly illustrates. If the legend/myth were true it would mean that the fittest and ablest person would be healed first while leaving the needy and frail to continue to suffer.

The point of Jesus' action here was to reverse this belief by ministering to the most needy of all those seeking healing - one who was an invalid for 38 years and who had no other hope!

APPENDIX - John 5:4 Omitted

I fully agree that John 5:4 has no part in the original text of the Gospel of John and appears (IMHO) to have been added by a scribe as an explanation of what the invalid said in V7. Bruce Metzger in his "Textual Commentary on the GNT" offers four reasons why John 5:4 should be omitted:

  1. It absence from the earliest and best witnesses
  2. the presence of asterisks or obeli to mark the words as spurious in more than 20 Greek witnesses
  3. the presence of non-Johannine words or expressions
  4. the rather wide diversity of variant forms in which the verse was transmitted

To this I would add a fifth theological reason explained above that such an idea is inconsistent with the operation of divine mercy and grace.

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You have stated, "Modern translations omit John 5:4 so please avoid mentioning it". Don't you want to know why modern translation omit it? Has your mind been fully made up about the need to refuse this verse any consideration? Yet you ask this Q in a hermeneutics site, which requires examination of text verses to see if the text itself can provide any clues. Alas! The sometimes-missing verse 4 is the only one in the Bible that offers any explanation! And you have ruled it out of court at the outset! Some Greek texts, like Westcott & Hort's, and Nestle's, don't have the verse, but others do.

This only leaves answerers who agree with such a dismissal to speculate, to surmise, and to guess. That's hardly a sound hermeneutical approach.

Well, let me go along with your request, to demonstrate some ideas about why the waters could have been stirred up periodically, with no reference to angelic miracles. (You do realise, I hope, that that should logically include refusal to acknowledge Jesus as performing his miracle of healing at the pool-side? But those who agree that he did a miracle yet also think that Jesus was first created as the first angel, have some explaining to do.)

John's gospel (the last one to be written) is the only one to mention Jesus' healing at this pool. John deals with Jesus' miracles in Jerusalem, while the others dwell mainly on his miracles in Galilee. Jesus had gone up for the feast, and the city was very full. If verse 4 is ruled inadmissible, we only have verse 7 with the crippled man's own words to Jesus to go on: "...when the water is disturbed" (or, stirred, or troubled, as it is variously translated). There is no clue as to why this occasional movement of the water was observed. Jewish writers make no mention of any healing associated with the pool of Bethesda, though arguments from silence don't amount to any proof. Speculation, then:

"Some conjecture it began when Eliashib the high priest began the building of the wall about Jerusalem, and sanctified it with prayer; and that God testified his acceptance by putting this virtue [of healing powers] into the adjoining pool. Some think it began now lately at Christ's birth; nay, others at his baptism. Dr. Lightfoot, finding in Josephus, Antiq. 15.121-122, mention of a great earthquake in the seventh year of Herod, thirty years before Christ's birth, supposed, since there used to be earthquakes at the descent of angels, that then the angel first descended to stir this water. Some think it ceased with this miracle, others at Christ's death..." [note the earthquake when the angel descended to roll the stone away from the tomb. Woops... I've mentioned angelic activity.] (Matthew Henry's Commentary, p1550)

Such ideas, if held by various Jewish people over the centuries, could account for them attributing miraculous healing events to the waters when they were stirred up. For those who dismiss the very idea of invisible angels occasionally causing the pool to be disturbed, then recourse must be made to supposing the pool nearby Bethesda may have had sluice gates opened now and then, causing a rush of water in, from underneath. It sounds similar to those who dismiss divine purpose in the parting of the Red Sea to let the Israelites through, explaining it away as a great east wind, or that the crossing point was very shallow etc.

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    There are clues. 'Bethesda' has no authenticity in the OT. There is no feast mentioned : it was an 'extra' feast. The event brought many people : an opportunity to provide for them. The idea of disabled people hobbling and rushing to be first to be healed is utterly grotesque. God does not work this way. Against a background which John does not expose or criticise, Jesus is found, and Jesus heals, nevertheless. The whole thing reeks of scam. Someone was making money out of it, without a doubt.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 9 at 15:21
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    @Nigel. All of that is fair comment and noted. No doubt superstitious beliefs had built up over time. Just because many people held those beliefs does not mean they were true! It just seems odd for a biblical hermeneutic question to avoid the one verse in question! Should not the question have enquired as to why it is a disputed verse, from a manuscript point of view? That would have been interesting and worth-while.
    – Anne
    Jan 9 at 15:47
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    Agreed. To censor a manuscript, for the OP is asserting themselves as a peer-reviewed Textual Critic - if so, let us see the qualifications and achievements - and is denying credence to the manuscript(s) which contain the rejected text. But this is how error has flooded in, the gradual erosion of the Deity of Christ and the relationship of Father and Son, since the rejection of the TR and the growing indulgence of the so-called 'academic learning' of thoroughly unspiritual men : the alteration to the Greek text of 7% of its content.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 9 at 16:05
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Here is my view from a supernatural worldview faith perspective.

The implications of John 5:4 being part of the original Biblical text merits a separate question. My response takes it into account as it being a very early explanatory oral tradition connected to the early manuscripts as a scribal note.

The rush of water from a channel in the bottom of the pool, connected to an adjacent reservoir, could explain the disturbing of the pool’s surface.

To follow up on Anne’s comment. The adjacent reservoir could have had gifts of healings in the water (holy water) imparted in the days when Eliashib the high priest began building the wall around the temple.

From time to time an angel would flitter by, perhaps in a nano second of time, and be perceived as entering into the water so as to influence the sluice gate operation. The resulting flow of water would contain healing gifts. In that sense an angel would be involved in stirring up the water for healing miracles to occur.

Yes, the fittest and ablest were often the ones reaching the pool first. But that’s also what happens these days when helicopters drop off relief help amidst disasters. Crowds are often known for trampling each other in reaching emergency supplies. When boots are on the ground, things are done differently. So, it is with the Kingdom that Jesus brings.

God is sovereign. We don’t have all the answers for why he does certain things that seem unfair to us. There is often more to the story. For example it could simply be the sign value of random acts of healing just to confirm Elishib’s prayer. Maybe its analogous to how we spend lots of money to rescue miners trapped in coal mines and not as much as on certain other humanitarian causes?

So, instead of having presuppositions that demythologize the event, my proposal is to remythologize it and put it back into a re-historical context. That involves embracing a worldview in which angels often work behind the scenes, through layered forms of causality, just like God used wind to part the Red Sea. It’s all a matter of timing and faith.

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