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John wrote this gospel with a Greek and Roman audience in mind. One of several cases in point is 6:1 where he makes it known that the Sea of Galilee is the same as the Sea of Tiberias. So it makes sense that he would give needed bachground information in 5:4 so someone far removed from Jewish customs would understand why those sick and lame persons would want to be the first in the pool after the stirring of the water. It is also of major theological significance because if the Pharisees permitted the sick to wait by the pool on the sabbath for an angel to stir the water, and thus someone be healed on the Sabbath, then how could they condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath?

This is a very good short blog that serves to explain the difficulties that exist with the Biblical text. As stated this topic is far too extensive to deal with in a short blog; however, that being said, this is one of the best short articles that I have read on the subject.

That 5% statistic can't be right. Out of the 260 chapters in the NT, the amount of material in question would be almost equal to 13 chapters?

I blogged on this some time back and it created a real firestorm, exactly as you described. Over 100 comments between these two posts...See the comments for some real knee slappers as well as some of the most ridiculous and poorly thought out comments ever made (several by me, probably. Well, hopefully not!)

http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/the-case-of-the-missing-verse-john-54/

Here is a list of all the "missing verses" in the New Testament - http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/why-did-the-niv-delete-verses-in-the-new-testament/

I really think this is so we can easily win memory verse competitions. You just say "John 5:4" and then a couple seconds of silence. Then, "Matthew 18:11"...silence. 49 verses of silence later...you win!

Andy,

5% is probably accurate. This is not referring to texts that shouldn't be in the texts, rather the sum total of all textual variants with any serious level of question (noted with a C or D in UBS4). It is a very small % considering just how much data is being considered over thousands of manuscripts. Some of these are things as small as whether or not the definite article should be present and some are as large as John 8:1-11.

Thanks, Matt. The so-called "problem" is not due to insufficient evidence, but rather due to the embarrassment of riches we have in terms of ancient manuscripts.

The true problem is when people like Bart Ehrman throw this issue out without context or nuance. For example, Ehrman notes the fact that the NT manuscripts contain around 400,000 textual variants, and implies that we can have no confidence in the text of the NT. However, does this mean that 400,000 of the words in the NT are in doubt? Not on your life. Given the thousands of extant manuscripts, each of those variants will only be found in a certain (generally small) percentage (sometimes one). Many of the differences are so inconsequential (i.e., variant spellings) as to fail to impact the English (or other) translation at all - the variant Greek readings would look the same in English anyway. And those that are reflected in the translated text are usually pretty minor.

So even if the percentage is as high as 5%, the NT we have today is essentially the one Luke, Paul, John, etc. penned.

If the UBS4 is not the exact replica of the autographs, then the marginal variants are sure to have it.

Thanks, Bill. I recommend as a good explanation for layfolk: Philip Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Versions. His New Testament Text and Translation Commentary is also excellent for showing layfolk the variants and the basics of textual criticism.

If 5:4 was not in the original Latin Vulgate, when was it added to the Vulgate? Do Eastern Orthodox text critics accept 5:4?

Thanks for all the feedback. Good to see the discussion, and people helping people. Here is a similar answer I wrote to someone.

The answer is that there are many good reasons for a rock solid confidence that 99% (not 95%) is the same as the original, and those few places where we are not sure never impinge on any issue of relative significance. Doubts are on how to spell a few names, or whether the article is present. One thing that is interesting is that this confidence in the text is shared by people of many theological positions; our confidence cuts across conservative/liberal lines, across denominational lines, etc. But we know that we can't use the doctrine of inspiration for the copies of the manuscripts because we can physically see where they are different.

This discussion is a blessing. After more study, I've changed my mind about 5:4 and see the possibility that it may have been added to the text. I'm currently exploring New Testament Text and Translation Commentary. Also I can honestly recommend Greek for the Rest of Us by Dr. Mounce, as an excellent study aid for the beginning greek student. He explains the subject of textual criticism, as well as the basics of biblical greek.


The Church needs one and only one scripture text. The Lord can give that to us. It is extremely easy for Him to do. After the one true text is accepted by the Church, we then must all interpret the text rightly. God can grant us these blessings! To God be the glory!

If verse four was added then how do you explain the answer given in verse seven?

Mick,

5:4 could have been added in anticipation of the question raised in 5:7. Someone reading might ask, "What is he talking about the water being stirred here?" But the text, we assume, didn't give that answer. So someone later added in that bit of tradition to provide an answer for the questions the reader might have based on 5:7. Make sense?

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