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Stirring the waters – can you trust your Bible text?

Textus ReceptusMy father-in-law usually reads from the New King James Version and we have had a few discussions over the years about this. Largely I think it is because he grew up using the King James Version rather than a strong commitment to the Received Text. These days I usually avoid returning to the issue because he’s a a godly man, a great father-in-law and he often cuts my grass for me, but I think I’m going to have to pick up the discussion again this week.

Yesterday my father-in-law was leading our church service and gave a children’s talk in which he referred to the angel stirring the waters of the pool of Bethesda. He didn’t read it out but here’s the text from the NKJV:

3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 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. (John 5:3-4)

Realising I hadn’t heard this story since I was small and questioning whether I believed in angels healing people in that sort of way I tried to find the reference by searching the Bibles on my phone for verses with ‘angel’ and ‘water’ in them, but the search came up blank. Checking further in the excellent net.bible.org site, I see that most modern Bible versions omit the verse because it only appears in late manuscripts and often with an asterisk indicating the scribe’s doubts to its originality. The NKJV does have a footnote:

John 5:4 NU-Text omits waiting for the moving of the water at the end of verse 3, and all of verse 4.

But I’m afraid that just isn’t good enough. My guess is that my father-in-law didn’t notice this footnote, but would be very concerned to be teaching children something which has most likely been added to the scripture, so I’m going to stir the waters again. I hope he’ll still cut my grass sometimes!

Let me clarify that I am not suggesting that this throws into question the authority of Scripture. I will defend biblical inspiration of the Scriptures as originally given but am concerned that translations are not always in line with what God inspired. Textual variations are mostly small, but I recommend you compare a few reliable versions and if possible consider the original language text if you really want to study the Bible well.

My friend Eddie Arthur recently pointed out a helpful response to those who advocate the exclusive use of the original 1611 King James Version, which also deals with the question of the Received Text.  I would also want to follow Eddie’s lead in pointing out that while many people spend hours arguing about the merits or problems of our many English versions 200 million people in our world don’t have a single word of Scripture in their language. That’s why Eddie is director of  Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK.

2 comments to Stirring the waters – can you trust your Bible text?

  • zach

    becareful what translation you read but the king james version was a translation of the original text there where a few translations that had alternator motive in the 1st century so where some of our study bibles ect. claim that some manuscripts omit this verse those are the scriptures in wich they are referring too so yes it was in the original scripts tho that is a very controversial piece in its self

  • Paul Shaddick

    Zach, I don’t know how you decide which early manuscripts were written by people with ulterior motives. I also wonder on what basis you say that John 5:4 was in the original manuscripts. Here are some of the reasons why the verse is not included the Greek text on which almost all translations are now based.
    1 – Because the earliest manuscripts don’t contain it. Why not? Did they omit this verse just like the NIV? Of course not. They don’t contain the verse because the manuscripts they were copied from didn’t have it and the ones before them didn’t have it because the original didn’t have it. It doesn’t start appearing in manuscripts for at least 500 years When no manuscript before 500 AD has a verse you can be fairly certain that it was added in from a marginal note, from a copying error, or due to the copyist remembering that verse in another gospel and accidentally harmonizing them in his head and copying it wrong (such is the case of a few other “missing verses”). But once it is added it then gets copied over and over and from that point on may appear original to the next copyist
    2 – Multiple Greek manuscripts copied after 900 AD have a mark showing that they thought the verse was questionable but they included it because it was in the manuscript they were copying from.
    3 – This verse has multiple words that John doesn’t use anywhere else = out of character
    4 – This verse has a larger number of textual variants = there are many versions of this text in many different Greek manuscripts which points to it being very questionable as to what was original if it even was original.
    (From Metzger’s textual commentary ‑ see http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/the-case-of-the-missing-verse-john-54/)

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