Textual Variants of John 5:3-7


Textual variants are defined as the differences in manuscripts that give rise to textual criticism of the New Testament cannon of scriptures. In John 5:3–7, there are observable textual variants. Verses that have been omitted from the original manuscript, do question the reliability, the accuracy, and the credibility of the scriptures; therefore, it is expedient that such variants be researched to find out the reason of omission.


In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt,withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me (John 5:3–7 KJV).

Εν ταυταις κατεκειτο πληθος πολυτων ασθενουντων τυφλωνχωλωνξηρωνεκδεχομενωντηντουυδατοςκινησιν ¨ αγγελος γαρ κατα καιρον κατεβαινενεν τη κολυμβηθρα και εταρασσεντουδωρ ο ουν πρωτος εμβας μετα την ταραχην του υδατο ςυγιηςεγινετο ω δηποτε κατειχετο νοσηματι ¨ ηνδετις ανθρωπος εκειτριακοντα και οκτωε τη εχωνεν τη ασθενεια (John 5:3–5 KJV).

External Evidence

In the above passages, the underlined words are omitted from the text; therefore, in verse 4, there is no elucidation indicating the rationale for the impotent man to have gone into the pool when the water was troubled by the angelic being or why the impotent man did not go in right after another individual had stepped in? There is external evidence regarding the omission of the underlined words in the passage as stated in the following quotation,

The disputed words appear in the Byzantine Majority Text.  The earliest Greek manuscript in which these words appear in their entirety is 078 from the 6th century.  The earliest Latin manuscript with all of the words is the Old Latin from the 4th century.  The earliest Greek manuscript with verse 4 without verse 3 is Alexandrinus from the 5th century.  In contrast, the earliest manuscripts to omit the words in their entirety are P66 and P75 from the 3rd century.[1]

Despite of the words omitted from the passage, there are other external evidences to substantiate the reliability, the accuracy, and the credibility of the scriptures. In the 3rd century, Tertullian confirms, “An angel used to do things when he moved the Pool of Bethsaida. Those who complained of ill-health used to watch out for him, for anyone who got down there before the others, after washing had no further reason to complain” (On Baptism, Chapter 5).[2]

In the 4th century, Ambrose attests,

Therefore it is said: “An angel of the Lord went down according to the season into the pool, and the water was troubled; and he who first after the troubling of the water went down into the pool was healed of whatsoever disease he was holding.” This pool was at Jerusalem, in which one was healed every year, but no one was healed before the angel had descended (On the Mysteries, Chapter 4, 22).[3]

In the 4th century, Chrysostom concludes in the following sentences concerning angelic healing,

And “an Angel came down and troubled the water,” and endued it with ahealing power, that the Jews might learn that much more could the Lord of Angels heal the diseases of the soul. Yet as here it was not simply the nature of the water that healed, (for then this would have always taken place,) but water joined to the operation of the Angel; so in our case, it is not merely the water that works, but when it has received the grace of the Spirit, then it puts away all our sins. Around this pool “lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water”; but then infirmity was a hindrance to him who desired to be healed, now each has power to approach, for now it is not an Angel that troubles, it is the Lord of Angels who works all. (Homilies 36 on the Gospel of John, John 5:2–3).[4]

Explanation Of The Variants

According to textual criticism, there are groups of witnesses who have omitted the words in both verse 3 and 4. In similar manner, another group omits the words in verse 3 and another group omits it in verse 4 respectively followed by the last group who had omitted both verses 3 and 4. In this junction, variant 1 omits verse 3 and 4, variant 2 includes verse 3, but omits verse 4, variant 3 omits both verse 3 and 4, and variant 4 omits verse 3, but includes verse 4.[5] After textual criticism and analysis, it is suggestive that the authenticity of all the words could be accepted and the data could be interpreted considering variant 1 to be the original text that has been transmitted by the Byzantine and Western Church until the present date.[6]

Theological Arguments


According to the theological argument concerning healing water, it is believed by critics that healing water is based on ancient superstition rather that biblical concept of healing.[7] The critics ignored or did not recognize the incidences where the Bible indicates physical substances or objects to have healing properties. For example, in John 9:6, Jesus healed a blind man by the utilization of clay created using his saliva to produce the mud. A brass serpent was given a healing property (Num 21:8–9). Handkerchiefs and aprons carry healing properties (Acts 19:12).[8] These objects carrying healing properties do not indicate that the Holy Spirit can be manipulated, but in my opinion, I believe they are symbolic analogies to make humans understand that God is not far from them. They are mysteries; therefore, God uses symbolic analogies to reveal his truth to depraved man whose understanding is unfruitful (1 Cor 2:14–16).


The second criticism leveled against this passage is the method of healing that goes against God’s moral character of goodness.[9] According to the passage, the person who stepped into the water first, got healed. This indicates that sickest persons did not get healed as the result of their inability to get into the pool. Such concept does not decimate God’s goodness neither His sovereignty. The Critics’ ideology and proposition concerning this method of healing to question God’s moral attributes has not biblical base for argumentation as long as God’s providence and sovereignty remain unquestionable in this life and the life to come.


Another textual criticism leveled against the passage in John 5:3–4 is the utilization of multiple non-Johannine words and construction.[10] According to the construction used in the passage,”εκδεχομενων την του υδατος κινησιν” indicates the passage is not a complete or unique divine revelation revealed through John, but a retelling of an oral tradition in Jerusalem and the individual who narrated the story is not John based on the vocabulary used in verses 3 and 4.[11] Verse 3 is the direct narration of John; unfortunately, verse 4 is the retelling of an existing oral tale. If John were the one who cited the oral tale; then, the existence of non-Johannine vocabulary and style would not have been possible. The use of the word “κινησιν” signifying the “moving” of the water in the portion disputed in verse 3 of the passage is not consistent with the uses of forms of ταρασσω in verses 4 and 7. The use of κινησιν is obvious because in Revelation, John uses κινησω at Rev 2:5 and εκινηθησαν at Rev 6:14.[12] Κινησις is used throughout the New Testament to signify outward movement whereas ταρασσω is utilized to indicate the internal agitation associated with the emotion of the disable that lied at the pool.[13] The disable were waiting for the troubling of the water as indicated in verse 4 and 7, is not a visible condition, but it is an internal condition of the water.[14] The angel troubled the water that changed the properties of the water. It is the outward “moving” (κινησιν) of the water that indicated the inside “troubling” (ταραχην) of the water.[15] Another criticism leveled against the passage is the use of vocabularies in the passage as indicated below:


The Moving Of The Water (Την ΤουΥδατοςΚινησιν)

This is an enclosed genitive construction that is foreign to the Johannine style; however, Majority Text scholar Maurice Robinson states,

Yet a simple electronic scan of the Johannine writings reveals that the embedded genitive construction not only appears three times elsewhere in John (Jn 6:51; 14:30; 18:10), but with one exception (Mt 13:55, ο του τεκτονοςυιος) this construction is otherwise exclusive to John among the gospels. The embedded genitive in Jn 5:3b actually is more characteristic of Johannine style than of any other gospel, and its presence in Jn 5:3b argues more for Johannine authenticity rather than in authenticity.” (New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case for Byzantine Priority, 102).[16]

Αγγελος Κυριου (Angel Of The Lord)

This is the phrase characteristic to the Byzantine text, but it does not appear in 078 of the Byzantine reading and should not be treated distinctly as Byzantine reading.[17]

Εμβας (Stepped In)

The criticism leveled is that this word is not for getting into water. In John 5:4, κατεβαινεν and εμβας are used by the identical individual; therefore, it is reasonable to think that the intended words indicate some distinction in the passage.[18]

Ω Δηποτε (Of Whatsoever)

This construction does not appear in the New Testament; therefore, John may have simply adopted this idiom from oral tale.[19]

Κατειχετο (Had)

This word is used to indicate to be held by disease that appears in Romans 7:6. It is used in the sense that the law had once “held” (κατειχομεθα) us in bondage. It is appropriate because the physically sick were “held” under the bondage of sickness. Similarly, the Pharisees who appear in John 5:16 are “held” under the bondage of the law of the Sabbath.[20]

Νοσηματι (Disease)

This word does not appear in the New Testament; therefore, it may have been adopted by John.[21]


The omission of verses in John 5:3–7 would have stood up to be questionable concerning its accuracy, reliability, and credibility if its reasons of omission had not been researched and verified for their authenticity. During its research, it has been determined that the verses omitted from the text were in the original manuscript of the disputed words that these words appear in their entirety in 078 of the manuscript from the 6th century. Not only has this manuscript indicated the existence of the omitted verses, but there are also external evidences that indicate the existence of the omitted verses prior to its omission. The external evidences are portrayed by the testimonies made by Tertullian, Ambrose, and Chrysostom, the Church fathers. The Church fathers’ narrations concerning the appearance of the miracle angel on the seasonal basis are explained in their own words like oral tradition making direct reference to the scriptural text of the John’s gospel. Based on its theological arguments adopted by critics through textual criticism with respect to superstition, methodology of healing, word construction in the text, and vocabulary, it is determined by the critics based on textual criticism that there existed no healing activities associated with angel and water; rather, it was a superstition as opposed to biblical miracle, the method of healing carried out did not permit the sickest persons to be healed as the result of their disabilities that tend to go against God’s moral attributes of goodness, the construction of the words in the text are non-Johannine word-construction, and the vocabularies used in the scriptural text, 75% of the words are not found in the New Testament; therefore, it is believed by critics that John may have adopted these words. These words in Greek that do not appear in the New Testament, but may have been adopted include the ‘moving of the water,’ not characteristic of the New Testament, ‘angel of the Lord’ characteristic of the Byzantine text, ‘of whatsoever,’ absent from the New Testament and believed to have been adopted by john, and ‘disease,’ also absent from the New Testament, and it is believed to have been adopted by John also. Beside these deficiencies contributing to textual criticism of the text, verse 4 in the John’s gospel is the retelling of an existing oral tale based on the vocabulary used and style. If John were the one who cited the oral tale; then, the existence of non-Johannine vocabularies and styles would not have been possible. The word ‘had’ as used in the passage is characteristic of the New Testament. It gives reference to the disease the sick carried. The word ‘moving’ (κινησιν) is used by John in John’s gospel and in Rev 2:5 and Rev 6:14. The words Κατειχετο (had) is used by John that is characteristic of the New Testament.

Hypothesis And Evaluation

There are few things to observe with respect to the omission of the verses in the passage that tends to question its accuracy, reliability, and credibility. According to the research, the appearance of angels was perceived by the people of the time to have been associated with demonic presence; therefore, the scribes might not desire to have seen the word‘angel.’ In this light, the scribes who handled the manuscripts might have intentionally deleted verse 4 in the passage that contains the word ‘angel.’ Secondly, since the healing water was believed to have been associated with superstition, the scribes who handled the manuscript might have deleted the verses based on their belief system that is opposed to biblical miracles. The third observation with relative to the use of vocabularies and non-Johannine word-construction in the passage that are not characteristic of the New Testament but adopted according to study, is that the reestablishment of the words back into the passage might have undergone evolutionary morphological episode thereby infusing words in the passage that are not characteristic of the New Testament. In this light, the probability of oral tradition or tale existence in the passage is possible. This is the reason words used in the passage according to study were not used by John, but it was passed through oral tradition by another person. The fourth reason is centered on the multiple groups of scribes who added and omitted verses into and out of the manuscript; therefore, the probability of the construction of the non-Johannine words coupled with the use of the enclosed genitive, “moving of the water” (Την του υδατος κινησιν) that is foreign to the Johannine style is obvious. The enclosure of the genitive in the passage might have been done by those who added and omitted from the biblical text of John. Based on the nature of these probable happenings, it is probable that 75% of these assumptions are true. Dismissing these probabilities, it has been researched and found that the omitted verses are found in the original manuscript coupled with the external evidences from the Church Fathers as testified in their narratives. Based on these assumptions and evaluations, I believe 100% that the story recorded in the John’s gospel concerning the angelic miracle is divine, accurate, credible or reliable.


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[1] “Angel at the Pool (John 5:3–4 ),” n.p. [Cited 27 March 2017]. Online: http://www.kjvtoday.com/home/should-john-54-angel-at-the-pool-be-in-the-bible.

[2] Ibid.,n.p.

[3] Ibid.,n.p.

[4] Ibid.,n.p.

[5] Ibid.,n.p.

[6] Ibid.,n.p.

[7] Ibid.,n.p.

[8] Ibid.,n.p.

[9] Ibid.,n.p.

[10] Ibid.,n.p.

[11] Ibid.,n.p.

[12] Ibid.,n.p.

[13] Ibid.,n.p.

[14] Ibid.,n.p.

[15] Ibid.,n.p.

[16] Ibid.,n.p.

[17] Ibid.,n.p.

[18] Ibid.,n.p.

[19] Ibid.,n.p.


[21] Ibid.,n.p.