6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
As was discussed in the previous section, the pool of Bethesda was most likely one of the Greek healing sites in Jerusalem and was believed to be under the patronage of the Greek deity Asclepius – the god of health and medicine. (Make sure to read the previous section commentary here.) As we saw from the previous study Bethesda pool was not a water ceremonial pool associated with the Jewish temple as was the pool of Siloam where Jesus commanded people to go and wash themselves after his healings.
The sick who were often seen on the porches of the pool of Bethesda were two types of people. They were those who a) came to try their luck as part of their quest for healing and as one of many options they were exploring, and b) those who had given up all hope for any kind of healing. In response to Jesus’ question about whether or not he wished to get well, we read an answer that was anything but hopeful. In the words of the sick man “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (vs.7)
There is a number of plausible explanations for the stirring up of the waters mentioned in the text. It was likely happening when the attendants, perhaps, even priests of the Asclepius cult, would open the connecting pipe between the higher and lower portions of the pool of Bethesda. The water in the upper reservoir would then flow into the lower one creating the stir. Other natural explanations are also possible: the reservoirs may have been fed by a water spring that at certain point had a stronger current than at other times. Among possible explanations would be one of the hot water springs that are prolific in that area. Romans built their famous bathhouses around such hot water springs.
Verse 7 is the very verse that caused Christian scribes/copyists of the sacred texts to add explanatory words to verse 4, words that were not in original text “waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.” Contrary to popular opinion, ancient scribes were not always accurate and careful to preserve every jot and tittle of the text they were copying. They did not embellish things, but they were certainly not afraid to clarify issues, when they thought something was missing. Because of this fact, we must not be afraid to make use of what is called textual and tradition criticism method of Bible Interpretation. If, used properly, it will only sure up our conviction that the texts we are reading and following are indeed trustworthy.
The oldest and most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not have this verse. This means that this verse was most likely added later as an attempt to clarify the text for the reader. The new character, the angel of Israel’s god, was introduced by a well-meaning, but unfortunately misguided copyist. You see the copyist, unlike the author of John’s Gospel, was not aware of the Greek religious identity of Bethesda. Quite simply, the scribe was mistaken.
However, this must not discourage anyone. Once we get back to the original text, thanks to the science of textual and tradition criticism that is used in most modern versions of the Bible, we are on the right path again.
This is indeed a powerful story. Sickness – the symbol of human chaos, was called into order by the power of Jesus’ word; just like pre-creation chaos was once called into the order of creation by Israel’s Heavenly King in exactly the same way. Now the Royal Son of Israel’s god has come to the pagan abode (Asclepius’ pool) and healed a Jewish man who had lost all hope. (Incidentally, Asclepius himself was a son of another powerful Greek god – an Olympic deity known as Apollo.)
Notice that Jesus healed him simply by telling him to get up and walk! In other words, the Gospel recasts Jesus’ action connecting it to the way Israel’s God once created the world – simply by the power of His spoken word.
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