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John 5; Mark 2:23-3:6; Matthew 12:1-21; & Luke 6:1-11

10.01.2010

Pool party!  Woot!

Jesus’ agenda today includes healing a paralytic by the pool, gleaning from the fields, healing a man’s withered hand, and defending His actions on the Sabbath by claiming his divinity gives Him special authority and priveleges.  Lah-dee-dah.

Let’s focus on the man at the pool, shall we?  Very well then.

5:4 | What’s that?  You can’t find John 5:4 in your Bible?  What kind of heathen are you?

In fact, most English Bible translations have omitted 5:4 as well as the latter portion of v. 3 because it describes the relationship between the pool and healing.  Basically, the people believed that an angel periodically stirred up the pool, and the first person who made it in would be healed.  When Jesus is asking the parylitic whether he wants to be healed, it’s because the man is not scrambling to get in the pool after the most recent stirring.

Biblical scholars have two issues with this.  First, it’s not terribly credible that God (through the archangel Raphael, traditionally) was running a health spa in downtown Jerusalem.  Secondly, most early manuscripts of John do not contain these 1.5 verses.*

What are we to make of this?  There are other instances (I’m thinking specifically of John 8, which is one of the most famous stories about Jesus and which we’ll cover later) where passages missing from the earliest manuscripts are included in the modern translations.

If the omitted section is divinely inspired, then most English Bibles are incomplete, and therefore errant.  If the omitted section is not divinely inspired, then the scriptures (at least at the time of chapter/verse numbering) contained non-inspired material, and were therefore errant. 

If we say, ‘Well it was wrong but it’s better now,’ then that imposes a stasis on our conception of scripture that biases the current version over all other developmental stages of the canon.  Who’s to say the canon won’t develop further as time goes on, with more decisions about what to include and what to exclude?  Is just one point on this spectrum (now?) divinely inspired?  Or is the whole process divinely inspired, and the canon as it exists at any one time is the word that God wants to authorize for His people. 

Anyone care to square this circle for me?

————

* Which raises the question, when were the chapter and verse numbers assigned to the scriptures?  Clearly the decision to reject John 5:3b-4 was made after that point because our Bibles jump from 5:3 to 5:5.  This is my next great nerd-goose chase.  If anyone can recommend a comprehensive history of how the canon (from the Pentateuch to the Reformation) was assembled, I’d greatly appreciate it (although my wife will probably come after you for enabling my overspending on books and my withdrawal from social life into my nerd pursuits).

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