2. The Angel At The Pool (John 5:3 b-4)
The next test passage in which the Traditional reading ought to be examined is John 5:3 b-4, the account of the descent of the angel into the pool of Bethesda. For the benefit of the reader this disputed reading is here given in its context.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 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. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.
The words in italics (John 5:3 b-4) are omitted by Papyri 66 and 75, Aleph B C, a few minuscules, the Curetonian Syriac, the Sahidic, the Bodmer Bohairic, and a few Old Latin manuscripts. This disputed reading, however, has been defended not only by conservatives such as Hengstenberg (AD 1861) but also by radicals such as A. Hilgenfeld (AD 1875) and R. Steck (AD 1893). Hengstenberg contends that "the words are necessarily required by the connection," quoting with approval the remark of von Hofmann (an earlier commentator) that it is highly improbable "that the narrator, who has stated the site of the pool and the number of the porches, should be so sparing of his words precisely with regard to that which it is necessary to know in order to understand the occurrence, and should leave the character of the pool and its healing virtue to be guessed from the complaint of the sick man, which presupposes a knowledge of it." Hilgenfeld and Steck also rightly insist that the account of the descent of the angel into the pool in verse 4 is presupposed in the reply which the impotent man makes to Jesus in verse 7.
Certain of the Church Fathers attached great importance to this reference to the angel's descent into the pool (John 5:3 b-4), attributing to it the highest theological significance. The pool they regarded as a type of baptism and the angel as the precursor of the Holy Spirit. Such was the interpretation which Tertullian (circa AD 200) gave to this passage. "Having been washed," he writes, "in the water by the angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit." Similarly, Didymus (circa AD 379) states that the pool was "confessedly an image of baptism" and the angel troubling the water "a forerunner of the Holy Spirit." And the remarks of Chrysostom (circa AD 390) are to the same effect. These writers, at least, appear firmly convinced that John 5:3 b-4 was a genuine portion of the New Testament text. And the fact that Tatian (circa AD 175) included this reading in his Diatessaron also strengthens the evidence for its genuineness by attesting its antiquity.
Thus both internal and external evidence favor the authenticity of the allusion to the angel's descent into the pool. Hilgenfeld and Steck suggest a very good explanation for the absence of this reading from the documents mentioned above as omitting it. These scholars point out that there was evidently some discussion in the Church during the 2nd century concerning the existence of this miracle working pool. Certain early Christians seem to have been disturbed over the fact that such a pool was no longer to be found at Jerusalem. Tertullian explained the absence of this pool by supposing that God had put an end to its curative powers in order to punish the Jews for their unbelief. However, this answer did not satisfy everyone, and so various attempts were made to remove the difficulty through conjectural emendation. In addition to those documents which omit the whole reading there are others which merely mark it for omission with asterisks and obels. Some scribes, such as those that produced A and L, omitted John 5:3 b, waiting for the moving of the water, but did not have the courage to omit John 5:4, For an angel ... whatever disease he had. Other scribes, like those that copied out D and W omitted John 5:4 but did not see the necessity of omitting John 5:3 b. A and L and about 30 other manuscripts add the genitive of the Lord after angel, and various other small variations were introduced. That the whole passage has been tampered with by rationalistic scribes is shown by the various spellings of the name of the pool, Bethesda, Bethsaida, Bethzatha, etc. In spite of this, however, John 5:3 b-4 has been preserved virtually intact in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts (Traditional Text).
 Commentary on the Gospel of John, (Eng. trans.), Edinburgh, AD 1871, vol. 1, p. 263.
 Historisch-Kritische Einleitung, Leipzig, AD 1875, p. 782.
 Theologische Zeitschrift aus der Schweiz, vol. 4 (AD 1893), p. 97.
 MPL, vol. 1, col. 314. Also, Vienna, Pars I, AD 1890, p. 205.
 MPG, vol. 39, cols. 708, 712.
 MPG, vol. 59, col. 204.
 Tatians Diatessaron, Preuschen, p. 131.
 Einleitung, p. 782.
 T Z aus der Schweiz, vol. 4, p. 97.
 MPL, vol. 2, col. 677.