Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gordon Fee on John 5:3-4

The following article is now available on-line in PDF:

Gordon D. Fee, "On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4," The Evangelical Quarterly 54.4 (1982): 207-218.

John 5:3-4 reads in the King James Version: "In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down out at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had."

Fee's article gives a rationale as to why this text was not part of the original autograph.

HT: Paul Bradshaw

7 Comments:

Christian Askeland said...

Thanks for this, Michael. The bit after the conclusion where Fee remarked on how this passage fits theologically with a wider biblical theology of grace was something about which I had never thought.

Anonymous said...

Robinson refuted some key points of this paper in his "Case For Byzantine Priority":

'Gordon Fee makes an outstandingly inaccurate claim when opposing the Byzantine inclusion of Jn 5:3b-4. He speaks dogmatically regarding the enclosed (or "embedded") genitive construction, thn tou udatoj kinhsin, which appears at the end of Jn 5:3 in the Byzantine Textform:

"This use of an enclosed genitive presents extraordinarily difficult problems for Johannine authenticity"...

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, o tou tektonoj uioj) 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 inauthenticity.

On the same page, Fee claims inauthenticity in Jn 5:4 because of the phrase aggeloj kuriou, claimed to be in "almost all of the early uncials."...But contra Fee, the "Byzantine" reading is simply aggeloj standing alone, in accord with the minuscule data. Further, the uncial evidence is not as Fee states...Since kuriou is not original to the Byzantine text of Jn 5:4, conclusions regarding inauthenticity cannot be established on this basis.'
http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol06/Robinson2001.html

maurice a robinson said...

Christian Askeland: how this passage fits theologically with a wider biblical theology of grace was something about which I had never thought.

Yet Fee's "grace" explanation -- rejecting Jn 5:3b-4 on the basis of a presumed "unfairness" or "selectivity" regarding the angelic/pool healings -- seems overstated in view of the overall narrative.

While "a great multitude" of afflicted people happened to be at the pool (presumably seeking miraculous healing), Jesus himself is recorded as healing one and only one paralytic.

Even without the angelic narrative present, the situation thus becomes just as "unfair" within a claimed "theology of grace" as would be the inclusion of the passage so strenuously opposed by Fee.

Any appeal to "grace" in this passage needs to be balanced by a recognition of sovereign provision on the one hand versus sovereign selectivity on the other.

In this case, the presence of the angelic narrative thus joins in an exceedingly positive manner with the activity of Jesus. The apparent "randomness" of Christ's own choice in this matter thus overrules limitations within the angelic miracle by extending a further grace to one who otherwise was utterly incapable of appropriating the original grace-based mode of healing. Now there is a theology of grace -- and it fits in best with the inclusion of 5:3b-4!

Christian Askeland said...

MR, I see your point. I think that Fee might argue that Jesus' action was grace-based in that Jesus was healing the one with the least ability to get better. The opposite was true of the angelic-pool system where the least sick was the one who got healed -- thus, this system was works-based. Fee's argument does seem to depend on the variant reading being correct in the data which it supplied. If Jesus' compassion was solely based on him having been there for a long time (which is indeed somewhat random as you say), and not his relative inability to get well, then Fee's point would not be valid.

maurice a robinson said...

CA: The opposite was true of the angelic-pool system where the least sick was the one who got healed -- thus, this system was works-based.

I would see it still as a grace provision, since the alternative would have been to allow no healing whatever. One can see a parallel in the OT case of Naaman, who could have been healed directly, but (for whatever reason) was "required" to dip himself seven times in the Jordan. In light of Naaman's complaint and his servant's response, was that situation one of "faith" or "works"? (That is a loaded question, of course).

CA: Fee's argument does seem to depend on the variant reading being correct in the data which it supplied.

And so also does mine.

CA: If Jesus' compassion was solely based on him having been there for a long time (which is indeed somewhat random as you say), and not his relative inability to get well, then Fee's point would not be valid.

It is possible (though not demonstrable) that perhaps this was the one person who had been there the longest (which may be hinted at by Jn 5:6); this would further explain his selection. But as for "inability to get well" -- I would assume from the description in verse 3 that this would cover nearly everyone there.

Maurice Harting said...

You have to understand Gordon Fee's denominational background and thinking. He is a Pentecostal ordained minister with the Assemblies of God (AG)and as such his focal point would be on Jesus Christ's gracious healings and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

However, God in Christ is under no obligation to heal anyone ... He is sovereign. Clearly Jesus Christ does not heal everyone he encounters. Even the greatest "healing" of them all in salvation (from death to eternal life) does not involve everyone ... as the Bible states: "many are called, but few are chosen" ... and so God is gracious with whomever He wants to be gracious, and that is not everyone.

Peter Malik said...

I do not think that Fee's theological postscript (and its presence or absence) makes any difference in Fee's conclusions. To simply regard his textual work therein as doctrinally motivated and AoG/pneumatologically driven, means to gravely disregard his scholarship. The same can be said of the MT folks who tend to back up their Byzantine priority with a plethora of hypoethetical data (e.g. Recension in Alexandria, God's preservation of the widest, i.e. MT manuscript tradition, etc, etc) that seems to bring all their external evidence to the "right place." As far as I see Fee's evaluation of both external and internal evidence, it seems to explain the origin of the variant better than Hodges' and Robinson's ones.