“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 from whatever disease he had” (John 5:4).
A friend sent me Dr. Michael Heiser’s LogosTalk article “Who Took John 5:4 Out of My Bible?” You can read it here. According to Heiser, no one took it out. It was never in the Bible in the first place.
Here is the evidence Heiser cites that John 5:4 should not be in our Bibles:
- It “is not found in any of the earliest and most accurate manuscripts of the Gospel of John.”
- “In roughly two dozen manuscripts scribes put asterisk marks at the verse to warn the next scribe who would copy the manuscript that the verse was likely not original.”
- “Four of the last five Greek words of what would be John 5:4 aren’t found anywhere else in John’s writings.”
As someone who believes the Majority Text is the correct text, I’d like to briefly explain why I think that the evidence strongly favors inclusion, not exclusion.
Let me begin by saying that Heiser is expressing the view of most New Testament scholars today. In fact, Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament says that the omission of John 5:4 is certain. That is, the committee gave omission an “A” rating, which “signifies that the text is certain” (p. 14*). For that reason, I am responding. I have nothing against Dr. Heiser. Indeed, I do not know him. And I’m glad he wrote this article since it gives us all a chance to consider the issue, which I believe is important.
First, the argument that “the earliest and most accurate manuscripts” surely contain the correct readings is weak. Over 3,000 times the three so-called earliest and best manuscripts, aleph, A, and B, disagree with each other.
That is actually the case in John 5:4. Manuscript A includes this verse. Aleph and B do not include.
Second, only eight manuscripts omit (aleph, B, C corrected, D, W, 1025, 0141, 33). But there are hundreds of manuscripts which include John 5:4. The external evidence strongly supports inclusion.
Third, the argument on word usage is weak. The last five words in the Majority Text of John 5:4 are egineto hō dēpote kateicheto nosēmati. Of those words, only the last three are rare in John’s writings. Two of those words, dēpote and nosēmati, only occurs here (= hapax legomena) in the entire New Testament. However, there are about 700 hapax legomena in the New Testament. We cannot exclude verses because they contain one or more hapaxes.
The second to last word, kateicheto, only appears here in John. Ah, but it only appears once in Acts too. But no one suggests Acts 27:40 should be omitted.
Consider the opening line in Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The words [it was] the best of times, the worst of times, the age of wisdom, and the age of foolishness are not found again in the book. But no one suggests they should be omitted.
Fourth, as Heiser points out, the notion of the stirring of the water is found in John 5:7, “I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up…” The fact it is found in verse 7 lends support for verse 4 being original. Indeed, if verse 4 is not original, then verse 7 doesn’t make much sense. From an internal evidence standpoint, inclusion is strongly suggested.
Finally, I much agree with Heiser’s third application, “we need to be sure the content of our preaching and teaching has a secure footing in the text. God moved people to spend their lives transmitting the biblical text; the least we can do is pay close attention.” That statement is not dependent on the Critical Text. Whatever words are original, those we should accept and teach.
John 5:4 is in my Bible. If it isn’t in yours, then you should do as Heiser says in his second application: “it pays to compare Bible versions.” Amen.