The Stirring of the Water and Bible Integrity
Though skeptics have leveled many charges against the integrity of the Bible through the centuries, proof of its divine origin remains self-evident. Nevertheless, some claim that the Bible endorses the common superstitions that characterized the primitive peoples of antiquity. One such case pertains to the sick man who lay beside the pool of Bethesda. The NKJV reads:
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, [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.] Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked (John 5:2-9, emp. added).
Observe that the man (and “a great multitude” of others) believed the popular conception regarding the alleged periodic appearance of an angel to stir the water of the pool. The Bible is not to be blamed as giving sanction to this idea merely on the basis of the personal sentiments held by the people of the day, since the Bible merely reports their beliefs—as indicated by the sick man’s own remarks. Jesus certainly said nothing to give that belief credibility. However, the words indicated above by the bracketed bold type are couched in authorial narration, which would imply that the inspired writer of the book of John also believed the superstition. Does the Bible, in this instance, give credence to an outlandish notion, thereby casting suspicion on its inspiration?
In the first place, granted, the idea of God sending an angel to stir the water of a pool, at which point the water is invested with miraculous healing properties, is a nonsensical notion that would be uncharacteristic of the God of the Bible (in contrast to the “God” of the Quran—see Miller, 2005b, pp. 60-61). Jesus might have helped the man get to the water, but He did not do so. Second, nor would God place poor sick folk in competition with each other, allowing only one individual to benefit from the healing, since He shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). Third, such an occurrence would contradict the Bible’s own explanation for the purpose of miracles—the miracle of healing not being simply to heal or relieve suffering (see Miller, 2003, 23:17-23).
The ultimate answer to this challenge to the Bible’s integrity is found in the fact that the last part of John 5:3 and the entirety of verse four were not a part of the original inspired autograph by John. The oldest, most reliable manuscripts omit the words, and with near unanimity scholars agree that the preponderance of the evidence shows its spurious status to be “virtually certain” (Metzger, 1971, p. 209). Renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson observed: “It is a relief to many to know that the verse is spurious” (1932, 5:79). Most English versions omit the words from the text altogether, relegating them to a footnote, including the ASV, ESV, et al. Among churches of Christ, J.W. McGarvey (n.d., p. 195), Guy N. Woods (1989, p. 95), David Lipscomb (1962, p. 74), George DeHoff (1981, 5:297), Frank Pack (1975, pp. 84-85), Burton Coffman (1974, p. 138), and B.W. Johnson (1886, p. 86) acknowledged the words are not a part of the original. [NOTE: Those who are fearful that the integrity of the text of the Bible is compromised by the reality of textual variants need to be reminded that the world’s foremost textual critics have demonstrated that currently circulating copies of the New Testament do not differ substantially from the original (see Miller, 2005a, “Is Mark…,” 25:89-95; Miller, 2010).]
Coffman, James B. (1974), A Commentary on John (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House).
DeHoff, George (1981), DeHoff’s Commentary (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Christian Bookstore).
Johnson, B.W. (1886), The New Testament Commentary: John (Des Moines, IA: Christian Publishing).
Lipscomb, David (1962 reprint), Commentary on the Gospel of John (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
McGarvey, J.W. (no date), The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
Metzger, Bruce (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Modern-Day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation—EXTENDED VERSION,” Reason & Revelation, 23:17-23, March, [On-line]: URL: https://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2569.
Miller, Dave (2005a), “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Reason & Revelation, 25:89-95, December, [On-line]: URL: https://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2780.
Miller, Dave (2005b), The Quran Unveiled (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Pack, Frank (1975), The Gospel According to John (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Robertson, A.T. (1932), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press).
Woods, Guy N. (1989), A Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
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