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Bible Q

Does John 5:2 “there is a pool” prove that the gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70?

Does John 5:2 “there is a pool” prove that the gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70?

Answer: Yes.

The phrase “there is” (in Greek is ἐστί  esti, present tense) shows that the Sheep Gate of the temple, and therefore the Temple itself, was still standing when John wrote. Yet Josephus records that both the gate and the pool at Bethesda were destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, along with the temple. Therefore a clear sign that the gospel must have been written before the destruction of the temple and not after. This very simple and obvious statement by John has been noted many times through the centuries, most notably the German scholar of the Greek New Testament Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752), and the New Testament grammarian Daniel Wallace.

Why would anyone think John was late?

The question really is why anyone would think that any of the New Testament was written after the New Testament failing to mention the most obvious and damning proof against the end of the Old Covenant – the destruction of Herod’s Temple. The two volumes of Luke and Acts can naturally be dated by the ending of Acts.  Festus was the 5th procurator of Judea from about 59 to 62, succeeding Felix. This makes it likely that Festus dispatched Paul to Rome around AD60, and that Acts was completed at Rome while Paul was under house arrest there. It would make no sense for Luke to omit Paul appearing before Nero (reigned 54-68AD) and being released if Acts was completed after Paul’s hearing. Luke’s comment about other gospels already existing for the Jewish audience (which is the implication of his comment) suggests at least two Jewish eye-witnesses as required by Deuteronomy 19:15 etc. had already written Greek gospels for Diaspora Jewish readers. And the Gentile Theophilus was probably aware of these gospels – such as Matthew and Mark – circulating among Jewish Christians and both proselytes and ‘God-fearer’ Gentiles.

So with at least two Jewish Greek gospels, and a gospel aimed at Gentiles by Luke already approved by Paul, the need for a gospel aimed for strengthening those already baptised becomes more evident. In which case you would not expect John to wait later than the circulation of Luke’s gospel. Of course there is no way of knowing if the occurrence of the similar wording – Logos and arche – in Luke 1:2 and John 1:1 shows that Luke was aware of John’s gospel, or John aware of Luke’s gospel, or simply coincidence.

NET Bible notes on the Healing of a Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda

5:1 After this[a] there was a Jewish feast,[b] and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is[c] in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate[d] a pool called Bethzatha[e] in Aramaic,[f] which has five covered walkways.[g] A great number of sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people were lying in these walkways.[h]


  1. John 5:1 sn The temporal indicator After this is not specific, so it is uncertain how long after the incidents at Cana this occurred.
  2. John 5:1 tc The textual variants ἑορτή or ἡ ἑορτή (heortē or hē heortē, “a feast” or “the feast”) may not appear significant at first, but to read ἑορτή with the article would almost certainly demand a reference to the Jewish Passover. The article is found in א C L Δ Ψ ƒ1 33 892 1424 pm, but is lacking in P66,75 A B D T Ws Θ ƒ13 565 579 700 1241 pm. Overall, the shorter reading has somewhat better support. Internally, the known proclivity of scribes to make the text more explicit argues compellingly for the shorter reading. Thus, the verse refers to a feast other than the Passover. The incidental note in 5:3, that the sick were lying outside in the porticoes of the pool, makes Passover an unlikely time because it fell toward the end of winter and the weather would not have been warm. L. Morris (John [NICNT], 299, n. 6) thinks it impossible to identify the feast with A Jewish feast. Jews were obligated to go up to Jerusalem for 3 major annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. If the first is probably ruled out because of the time of year, the last is not as likely because it forms the central setting for chap. 7 (where there are many indications in the context that Tabernacles is the feast in view.) This leaves the feast of Pentecost, which at some point prior to this time in Jewish tradition (as reflected in Jewish intertestamental literature and later post-Christian rabbinic writings) became identified with the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Such an association might explain Jesus’ reference to Moses in 5:45-46. This is uncertain, however. The only really important fact for the author is that the healing was done on a Sabbath. This is what provoked the controversy with the Jewish authorities recorded in 5:16-47.
  3. John 5:2 tn Regarding the use of the present tense ἐστιν (estin) and its implications for the dating of the Gospel of John, see the article by D. B. Wallace, “John 5, 2 and the Date of the Fourth Gospel,” Bib 71 (1990): 177-205.
  4. John 5:2 tn The site of the miracle is also something of a problem: προβατικῇ (probatikē) is usually taken as a reference to the Sheep Gate near the temple. Some (R. E. Brown and others) would place the word κολυμβήθρα (kolumbēthra) with προβατικῇ to read “in Jerusalem, by the Sheep Pool, there is (another pool) with the Hebrew name.” This would imply that there is reference to two pools in the context rather than only one. This does not seem necessary (although it is a grammatical possibility). The gender of the words does not help since both are feminine (as is the participle ἐπιλεγομένη [epilegomenē]). Note however that Brown’s suggestion would require a feminine word to be supplied (for the participle ἐπιλεγομένη to modify). The traditional understanding of the phrase as a reference to the Sheep Gate near the temple appears more probably correct.
  5. John 5:2 tc Some mss (א [L] 33 it) read Bethzatha, while others read Bethsaida (P[66],75 B T Ws [Ψ] vg); codex D has Belzetha. A lot of controversy has surrounded the name of the pool itself: The reading of the Byzantine (or majority) text (A C Θ 078 ƒ1,13 M), Bethesda, has been virtually discarded by scholars in favor of what is thought to be the more primitive Bethzatha, even though many recent translations continue to employ Bethesda, the traditional reading. The latter is attested by Josephus as the name of a quarter of the city near the northeast corner of the temple area. He reports that the Syrian Legate Cestius burned this suburb in his attack on Jerusalem in October a.d. 68 (J. W. 2.19.4 [2.530]). However, there is some new archaeological evidence for this problem. 3Q15 (Copper Scroll) from Qumran seems to indicate that in the general area of the temple, on the eastern hill of Jerusalem, a treasure was buried in Bet ’Esdatayin, in the pool at the entrance to the smaller basin. The name of the region or pool itself seems then to have been Bet ’Esda, “house of the flowing.” It appears with the dual ending in the scroll because there were two basins. Bethesda seems to be an accurate Greek rendition of the name, while J. T. Milik suggests Bethzatha is a rendition of the Aramaic intensive plural Bet ’Esdata (DJDJ 3, 271). As for the text of John 5:2, a fundamental problem with the Bethesda reading is that it looks motivated (with an edifying Semitic etymology, meaning “House of Mercy” [TCGNT 178]). Also, apart from the Copper Scroll, the evidence for Bethesda is almost entirely shut up to the Byzantine text (C being the most notable exception, but it often has Byzantine encroachments). On the one hand, this argues the Byzantine reading here had ancient, semitic roots; on the other hand, since both readings are attested as historically accurate, a decision has to be based on the better witnesses. The fact that there are multiple readings here suggests that the original was not well understood. Which reading best explains the rise of the others? It seems that Bethzatha is the best On the location of the pool called Bethzatha, the double-pool of St. Anne is the probable site, and has been excavated; the pools were trapezoidal in shape, 165 ft (49.5 m) wide at one end, 220 ft (66 m) wide at the other, and 315 ft (94.5 m) long, divided by a central partition. There were colonnades (rows of columns) on all 4 sides and on the partition, thus forming the five covered walkways mentioned in John 5:2. Stairways at the corners permitted descent to the pool.
  6. John 5:2 tn Grk “in Hebrew.”
  7. John 5:2 tn Or “porticoes,” or “colonnades”; Grk “stoas.”sn The pool had five porticoes. These were covered walkways formed by rows of columns supporting a roof and open on the side facing the pool. People could stand, sit, or walk on these colonnaded porches, protected from the weather and the heat of the sun.
  8. John 5:3 tc The majority of later mss (C3 Θ Ψ 078 ƒ1,13 M) add the following to 5:3: “waiting for the moving of the water. 5:4 For an angel of the Lord went down and stirred up the water at certain times. Whoever first stepped in after the stirring of the water was healed from whatever disease which he suffered.” Other mss include only v. 3b (Ac D 33 lat) or v. 4 (A L it). Few textual scholars today would accept the authenticity of any portion of vv. 3b-4, for they are not found in the earliest and best witnesses (P66,75 א B C* T co), they include un-Johannine vocabulary and syntax, several of the mss that include the verses mark them as spurious (with an asterisk or obelisk), and because there is a great amount of textual diversity among the witnesses that do include the verses. The present translation follows NA28 in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations.


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