Textual Evidence

Scrivener on
John 5:3b-4 (1889)

Excerpt from: - F.H.A. Scrivener,
Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT,
(4th Ed.,1889 Ed. Miller) Vol. 2,
Ch 12: Examples, pg 321-428

Page Index

Updated: Feb 14, 2010

Scrivener on John 5:3b-4: - A Difficult Variant:
    Textual Evidences: complexity of reading(s)
    Discussion: arguments and considerations
    Original Notes: from Scrivener and Miller
    Modern Footnotes: Courtesy of Nazaroo

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Scrivener on
John 5:3b-4

Taken from:
- F.H.A. Scrivener,
Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT,
(4th Ed.,1889 Ed. Miller) Vol. 2,
Ch 12: Examples, pg 321-428

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Background: The Mutilation of John 5:3-4

Although not a mere accident, this mangling of the text in John is clearly a case of extensive bungling, first on the part of 3rd-4th century editor/correctors, and then again later by their modern counterparts, textual critics.

F.H.A. Scrivener again gives us a good introduction to this complicated mess:

Chapter 12: Examples

F.H.A. Scrivener

"20. John 5:3b-4:

v3. Ἐν ταύταις κατέκειτο πλῆθος πολὺ τῶν ἀσθενούντων, τυφλῶν, χωλῶν, ξηρῶν,
3b [...ἐκδεχομένων τὴν τοῦ ὕδατος κίνησιν. v4. Ἄγγελος γὰρ κατὰ καιρὸν κατέβαινεν ἐν τῇ κολυμβήθρᾳ, καὶ ἐτάρασσεν τὸ ὕδωρ: ὁ οὖν πρῶτος ἐμβὰς μετὰ τὴν ταραχὴν τοῦ ὕδατος, ὑγιὴς ἐγίνετο, ᾧ δήποτε κατείχετο νοσήματι]...

v3. 'In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed,
3b [...waiting for the moving of the water. v4. For an angel went down
at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water;
then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water,
was made well of whatever disease he had.]

Textual Evidences

This passage [bracketed above] is expunged by Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Westcott & Hort; and obelized (=) by Griesbach, but retained by Scholz and Lachmann [!]. 1

The evidence against it is certainly very considerable: 2
[omit whole passage:] א B C*, 157, 314 [omit 3b and 4]; but
[omit only v 4:] D, 33 contain 3b. ἐκδεχομένων...κίνησιν, which
[omit only v 3b:] A* L, 18 omit. [i.e., 3b, while retaining v.4]

It may be observed that in this part of St. John A & L are much together against א, and against B yet more. 3

The words from Ἄγγελος γὰρ...νοσήματι. [v4.] are noted with asterisks or obeli (employed withouth much discrimination) in S Λ, 8, 11?, 14 (where Ἄγγελος .. ὕδωρ is left out), 21 24 32 36 145 161 166 230 262 269 299 348 408 507 512 575 606, and Armenian MSS. The Harkleian margin marks [only] from Ἄγγελος .. ὕδωρ [i.e., v.4a] with asterisk[s], the remainder of the verse with obeli [i.e. separately].

The whole passage is given, although with that extreme variation in the reading 4 which so often indicates grounds for suspicion 2 , in E F G H I K M U V Γ Δ Π (with asterisks throughout), and all known cursives not enumerated above 3 : of these Codex I [6th cent.] is of the greatest weight. Codex A contains the whole passage, but down to κινησιν secunda manu (by another hand); Cod. C also the whole, tertia manu (3rd hand). Of the versions, Cureton's Syriac, the Sahidic, Schwartze's Bohairic 4 , some Armenian MSS, f l q of the Old Latin, san.harl.* and two others of the Vulgate (vid. Griesbach) are for omission; the Roman edition of the Ethiop. leaves out what the Harkleian margin obelizes, but the Peshitto and Jerusalem Syriac, all Latin copies not aforenamed, 5 Wilkins' Bohairic, and Armenian editions are for retaining the disputed words.

Tertullian clearly recognizes them: ('piscinam Bethsaidam angelus interveniens commovebat', de Baptismo, 5), as do Didymus, Chrysostom, Cyril, Ambrose (2x), Theophylact, and Euthymius.
Nonnus [5th cent.] does not touch it in his metrical paraphrase. 6


The first clause (3b) can hardly stand in Dr. Scrivener's opinion [Miller Ed.], in spite of the versions which support it, as D, I are the oldest MS witnesses in its favour, and it bears much of the appearance of a gloss brought in from the margin. 7

The succeeding verse is harder to deal with 5 ; but for the countenance of the versions and the testimony of Tertullian, Codex A would never resist the joint authority of א B C D, illustrated as they are by the marks of suspicion set in so many later copies. 8

Yet if v.4 be indeed but an 'insertion to complete that implied in the narrative with reference to the popular belief' (Alford ad loc.), it is much more in the manner of Codex D and the Curetonian Syriac, than of Codex A and the Latin versions; and since these last two are not very often found in unison, and together with the Peshitto, opposed to the other primary documents, it is not very rash to say that when such a conjunction does occur, it proves that the reading was early, widely diffused, and extensively received. 9

Yet after all, if the passage as it stands in our common text can be maintained as genuine at all, it must be, we apprehend, on the principle suggested above, Vol. I Chap. I. Para 11, p. 18. 10

The chief difficulty, of course, consists in the fact that so many copies are still without the addition, if assumed to be made by the Evangelist himself: nor will this supposition very well account for the wide variations subsisting between the MSS which do contain the supplement, both here and in John 7:53-8:11. 6 11

Original Footnotes:

2. To give but a very small part of the variations in v4.:
(subst. δε for γαρ) L, a b c ff, Vulg.
(om. - γαρ ) Evst. 51, Boh.
(+ Κυριου post γαρ) AKLΔ, 12 13 69 507 509 511 512 570 + 15 MSS
(+ Κυριου at του θεου) 152 Evst. 53 54
(- κατα καιρον) a b ff
(ελουετο pro κατεβαινεν) A (K) 42 507 Eth
(- εν τη κολυμβηθρα) a b ff.
(εταρασσετο το υδωρ) C3 GHIMUVΛ* 440 509 510 512 513 515 543 570 575 Evst 150 257 +
(+ in piscinam) c, Clementine Vulg.
(εγενετο) FL 69 + 15 mss

3. Either Dean Burgon or I have recently found the passage in Codd. 518 524 541 560 561 573 582 594 598 599 600 604 622.

4. Of Lightfoot's list of MSS, the passage is omitted in 2 4 5 7 8 16 17 18 19 21 23 25 26. It stands in the text of 3, 9, 14 and in the margin only of 1, 20.


'Both elements, the clause ...and the scholium or explanatory note respecting the angel, are unquestionabley very ancient: but no good Greek document contains both, while each of them separately is condemned by decisive evidence' (Hort, Introd., p. 301).

6. Dean Burgon has left a long vindication of the whole passage [Jn 7:53-8:11] amongst his papers not yet published.
[note: we have Burgon's article on our website.].

- F.H.A. Scrivener,
Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT,
(4th Ed.,1889 Ed. Miller) Vol. 2,
Ch 12: Examples, pg 321-428,

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. Tischendorf's opinion lacks credibility here as elsewhere: As a collator he was second to none, but his superstitious reverence for Codex Sinaiticus (א) rendered his critical judgement impotent. Dean John Burgon, with support from Ellicott, comments:

' - Tischendorf's preference (in his last edition) for the betises of his own codex א [Sinaiticus], can only be defended on the plea of parental partiality. But it is not on that account the lesss foolish. His "exaggerated preference for the single manuscript which he had the good fortune to discover, has betrayed him." - (in the opinion of Bishop Ellicott) - "into an almost child-like infirmity of critical judgment." 1 .'

1. Bishop Ellicott, On Revision, p.47.

- Dean Burgon, The Revision Revised, (1883) p 325-326

Edward Miller (in agreement with Scrivener), also remarks on the widespread disappointment with Tischendorf's flip-flopping over thousands of variant readings in favour of א's peculiarities:

'The 8th edition was constructed with the help of the newly discovered Sinaitic manuscript (א) and his attachment to the treasure that he had rescued proved too much for him. He altered his 7th edition in no less than 3,369 instances, generally in compliance with the Sinaitic copy, "to the scandal," as Dr. Scrivener justly remarks, "of the science of Comparative Criticism, as well as to his own grave discredit for discern- ment and accuracy." 1

Much therefore as we may and must ever feel indebted to Tischendorf for the invaluable results of his labours, we cannot regard him as a man of sober and solid judgment. His zigzag course does not impress us with the soundness of any position upon which he found himself throughout it.'

1. Scrivener, " Plain Introduction," p. 529. = Ibid.

- Edward Miller, A Guide To The Textual Criticism Of The NT (London, 1886)

Lachmann's opinion is remarkable however, for he was no fan of the Textus Receptus. Here in Lachmann's view, the internal evidence outweighed even the prized testimony of the 4th century MSS.

2. Here Scrivener misreads the evidence in the manner common at that time. The three-way split among the oldest witnesses actually does nothing to enhance the particular reading of א B C. Although the instability of the text indicates heavy editing, no selection among these equally early texts is possible from the style of split. Internal evidence of an independant kind is required for that (i.e., grammatical, literary, contextual or historical).

3. This is no mere anecdote: Here Scrivener has true insight, even given the primitive state of understanding at that time. The observation that A & L consistently differ from א B extensively in large sections of John indicates independant early streams of transmission, with about equal claims to authenticity.

4. This notion reflects an early misunderstanding of the phenomenae surrounding textual variants. In fact, clusters of high density variation cannot generate grounds for suspicion for any particular reading, whatever the type. Logically, there must have been an original reading at every point in the text, even if it is an omission, but it does not follow that there is a variant at every point in the text.

Secondly, it follows again that the original reading is still expected to be among the collected group of known competing readings with significant probability over it being lost entirely.

Whether variation units are high or low density, whether there are many or few competing variants, 'suspicion' cannot rest upon the entire set of readings as a group. The correct reading will almost always be found somewhere in the group of extant readings, with a very high probability at just about every place.

In what exact sense then, can 'extreme' variations indicate grounds for suspicion? It is inevitable that some places in the text will have more variations than others, since error in transmission is a cumulative process. This has no intrinsic meaning for any portion of the text itself, but only for our knowledge or certainty regarding a particular selected reading.

The variation in density of readings is simply a phenomena created by actual events subsequent to the release of the text for copying. At any time in which the total number of copying errors able to dominate the textual stream remains small relative to the successfully transmitted data, (i.e., the majority of information is undamaged), it is safe to say that the areas hit by the process of corruption will be truly 'random' and unrelated to the relative value of the information found in various portions of the text.

Put another way, the specific portions of text "in doubt" due to damage will have no meaningful correlation to the type of information potentially in danger. The 'features' of the damage are phenomena of the transmission process, and not the text itself, nor can these features from their arbitrary but intrinsic forms and permutations tell us anything about the original text.

5. i.e., the majority of Old Latin and Vulgate MSS support the inclusion of John 5:3b-4. Here Scrivener (along with others from the early era of Textual Criticism) underestimates the weight and significance of the early versions (translations) of the NT. This is no surprise, since both the difficulty in dating specific readings and text-types found in the versions is great. Even today, textual critics have difficulty agreeing on how to weigh such evidence. But when many versions unite in support of an early text, this must inevitably push back both the date and the authority of that text, hence our emphasis of Scrivener here.

6. What Scrivener doesn't sufficiently note, is that the witness of both Tertullian and Didymus together consist of a very weighty and geographically diverse early witness to the fuller reading. Also, the lack of notice in Nonnus (5th century poet) is not significant. He skipped many passages in composing his poetry, as is common in all such artistic enterprises. These facts combine to make the patristic witnesses powerful and consistent in favour of the passage.

7. Two points modify Scrivener's judgement in 1889. (1) the versions are now recognized to be far more weighty and significant as sources of information for early textual readings than in his day. (2) The text of D (Codex Bezae) is now widely recognized as containing a much older Caesarean/Palestinian text, probably reaching back as far as the 3rd or 2nd century. Combined with Codex I, this makes the fuller reading very ancient and geographically close to the origin of the Gospel of John itself.

8. As noted above, the combined weight of Tertullian and the early versions is significantly greater than Scrivener had allowed, and the perhaps as importantly, the asterisks and obeli are now known to have served a variety of functions, not simply serving solely or consistently as "marks of suspicion". See our article on Asterisks and Obeli here:

Asterisks and Obeli <- - Click here.

9. This is one of the fundamental critera for the authenticity of a candidate for the original reading. What is most significant however, is not just the diversity of the early witnesses, but the peculiar and unique combination of them which suggests strongly an original reading.

10. See Scrivener's volume one for more details.

11. Since Scrivener's time, the textual evidence has been progressively given less weight in favour of internal criteria of various kinds, from grammatical to literary. While Burgon's study on John 7:53-8:11 is an excellent review of the evidence in his time, a large body of supplementary evidence both internal (literary) and external (textual and patristic) has been amassed since his day. These evidences simultaneously give greater weight to the authenticity of John 8:1-11 (the PA) and at the same time show that 'wide variations' in text in certain sections have far less significance than they were assumed to have in the 19th century.