[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — see top menu for John 1:1-2].
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many ill, blind, lame, and paralyzed people. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The ill man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Μετὰ ταῦτα ἦν ἑορτὴ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, καὶ ἀνέβη Ἰησοῦς εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα. 2 ἔστιν δὲ ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐπὶ τῇ προβατικῇ κολυμβήθρα ἡ ἐπιλεγομένη Ἑβραϊστὶ Βηθεσδά, πέντε στοὰς ἔχουσα· 3 ἐν ταύταις κατέκειτο πλῆθος τῶν ἀσθενούντων, τυφλῶν, χωλῶν, ξηρῶν. 5 ἦν δέ τις ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖ τριάκοντα ὀκτὼ ἔτη ἔχων ἐν τῇ ἀσθενείᾳ αὐτοῦ· 6 τοῦτον ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς κατακείμενον, καὶ γνοὺς ὅτι πολὺν ἤδη χρόνον ἔχει, λέγει αὐτῷ· Θέλεις ὑγιὴς γενέσθαι; 7 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ ὁ ἀσθενῶν· Κύριε, ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἔχω ἵνα ὅταν ταραχθῇ τὸ ὕδωρ βάλῃ με εἰς τὴν κολυμβήθραν· ἐν ᾧ δὲ ἔρχομαι ἐγὼ ἄλλος πρὸ ἐμοῦ καταβαίνει. 8 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ἔγειρε ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει. 9 καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένετο ὑγιὴς ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἦρε τὸν κράβαττον αὐτοῦ καὶ περιεπάτει.
Answer: 734 angels (know the question?)
It’s clear that New Testament scholars and exegetes have too much time on their hands. Imagine spending literally all of your adult life studying one book — sometimes just a small segment of a book! Even though these literary accountants seem to have no life and are forever lost in some obscure Greek text, I, for one, am thankful for their devotion to the text and illuminating works about it.
I mention this because some scholars going back to two very old church leaders (Tertullian and Chrysostom), suggest this passage may be related to baptism. Right. If you’re like me, I never saw it until Johanine scholar Raymond Brown pointed it out. It is a curious assertion and it goes something like this. There were three accounts in John’s Gospel that were used in the early church to instruct baptism candidates about baptism. Those were the Nicodemus exchange in chapter 3 about needing to be born again of water, the blind man in chapter 9 who was healed when he washed in the pool of Siloam at Jesus’ word, and this passage.
Some theologians in the 20th century argue that the angel in this passage is similar to an angel who gave Moses the law; the five porticoes represent the first five books of Moses (Pentateuch), the Bethsaida “house of mercy” is indeed the place for divine healing and restoration but through Jesus, and the question “Do you want to be healed” similar to the baptism question, “Do you want to follow Jesus?” The pool is not then a representation of baptism but of the Law which cannot heal the man and he is constantly frustrated because of it. But, Jesus can heal him, and the waters believers now get dunked in is the baptism pool of grace and mercy — the alternative to the pool in this passage which cannot heal the man.
Perhaps. Or maybe that’s reading too much into it. But it gives you a window of insight into rigor of textual criticism.
And back to that haunting question of Jesus that can keep you awake at night….”Do you want to be made well?”