The Wartburg Project

February 21st, 2024

101. Including the Text of John 5:4

Just curious on why the EHV moved verse 5:4 of John from footnote status, as it is in the NIV, to regular verse status in the EHV.

The verse in the EHV

Within these lay a large number of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—who were waiting for the movement of the water. 4For an angel would go down at certain times into the pool and stir up the water. Whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. d

d5:4 Some witnesses to the text omit words from the text, beginning from verse 3b (who were waiting…) to the end of verse 4.

As you see from the text, the EHV did not move the verse. We left the verse in the text where it has long been placed and recognized as John 5:4. The EHV kept verse 4 in the text of John 5, because it has sufficient ancient and widespread support in the Greek manuscripts.

The NIV, on the other hand, removed John 5:4 from the text and relegated it to a footnote. As a result the NIV has no verse 4 in John 5. The NIV removes verse 4 and other similar verses from the text of their New Testament, if, in their opinion, the verse occurs only in manuscripts that they rate as “not the best.”

The following detailed explanation shows how the EHV reaches its textual decisions in this type of situation. In Appendix 1, “The Biblical Text,” on page xv at the front of the EHV Bible, we explain the EHV approach to the New Testament text (in the study Bible this is Appendix 1 that begins on page 2102). We’ll quote part of it below, with the key part that applies to the case in John 5:4 highlighted in bold:

The EHV approach to the text of the New Testament is balanced in that it avoids a bias toward any one textual tradition or group of manuscripts. An objective approach considers all the witnesses to the text without showing favoritism for one or the other, since each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses as a witness to the biblical text. In the New Testament, the textual evidence should be weighed on a case-by-case basis.

From a set of variants, the EHV adopts the reading that best fits the criteria of having manuscript evidence that is early and that is distributed throughout more than one geographical area of the church. The other readings in a set of variants are dealt with in one of three ways:

In short, a significant number of readings and verses that are omitted from translations based on the United Bible Society/Nestle versions of the New Testament or that are marked as belonging to a second tier in these versions (such as the ending of Mark) are included in the EHV translation if they have manuscript support that is early and widespread. If there are cases in which the evidence for or against inclusion is not clear-cut, our default option is to include the reading in the text with a footnote that not all manuscripts have it. The result is that the EHV New Testament is somewhat longer than many recent translations of the New Testament, since it includes readings that they relegate to the footnotes or omit. This practice is not adding to God’s Word. It is recording the textual evidence that has been preserved for us by the church.

Holy Bible: Evangelical Heritage Version (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2019), xv–xvi. 

Attached is a chart of the NT witnesses which omit or include the portion in John 5:3-4 which is omitted by the NIV. The witnesses that are highlighted with PINK include the reading. The evidence for inclusion is clearly early and widespread. The arrows going up from the heading Byzantine and Lectionaries indicate that the churches in Asia Minor and Syria (Antioch) included these words in their lectionary readings. The entries marked in GREEN are works that omit the verse. There is considerable evidence for omission of the verse.

There are three points that are striking in this list:

1. Those readings that support inclusion go back almost to the time of John, and the church in Ephesus might have had the original copy of the Gospel there. Here is a quotation from bishop Peter from Alexandria that we recently came across:

“And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the third hour,” as the correct books render it, and the copy itself that was written by the hand of the evangelist, which, by the divine grace, has been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful.— Peter of Alexandria, “Fragments from the Writings of Peter,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. James. B. H. Hawkins, vol. 6, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 282.

In the quotation above, Bishop Peter is writing about John 19:14, which is also an interesting textual case, but he is making the claim (very early) that they had the very copy that was written by the hand of John. He said it was preserved in Ephesus. If that is the case (as was expressed in a recent lecture by New Testament scholar Craig Evans), then we should pay some careful attention to what they were using for the text of John in Ephesus (Asia Minor).

2. It seems clear that the apostle John was present in Asia Minor (in Patmos, and later tradition says in Ephesus), so Peter or people whom he knew could have seen the correct copy (or copies) of John which were being preserved in the churches. John lived to about AD 100.

3. Here is a common sense point: If you wanted to know which text a pastor regards as “authoritative,” where might you look? How about looking at the Bible that he reads in worship and uses in Bible Class? It seems to make sense that a pastor would only read from a lectionary that he regards as authoritative. As a pastor, I would not read from a Bible in regular worship that I do not regard as genuine. Well, John had been in that area of Ephesus. His closest followers were in that area. The early lectionaries from these areas would seem to provide early evidence for the text that was regarded as authoritative.

All of that evidence indicates that those early lectionaries should not be dismissed. The arrows indicate that they go back a long ways, perhaps to John or right after they are early evidence for inclusion.

The EHV opted to retain the reading in John 5:4 and to note that some manuscripts do not have it. In simpler terms, if we regard the evidence as a “tie,” we include the disputed reading in the text. It’s kind of like the baseball axiom, “a tie goes to the runner.” This case could be seen as a “tie” or perhaps even leaning in favor of inclusion, based on the chart and the above thoughts.