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Bible Commentaries
John 5

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-47

V 1-47 A Feast at Jerusalem —Geographical and also exegetical reasons have led many to suspect that the original order of Jn was chh 4, 6, 5, 7, on which see § 781k,l.Ch 5 shows the opposition of the Jews definitely marshalled—that is, the leaders of the nation at Jerusalem, especially Pharisees. If the time is a Paschal festival, we have the striking sequence that similar opposition asserts itself vigorously in Galilee a little later, and on the same sabbatarian grounds, Mark 2:23 ff.; Luke 6:1 ff.; Matthew 12:1 ff. In Jn, however, which concentrates on the opposition at Jerusalem, the charge against Jesus, though connected with an alleged case of Sabbath-breaking, soon centres on his claim to equality with God—the real reason for their compassing his death.

1-9 Miracle at the Pool of Bezatha —1. In writing ’a festival of the Jews’ the Rheims translators assumed the non-authenticity of the Gk definite article before ’festival’. Certainly MSS and versions, numbered and weighed, leave a strong critical doubt. Editors generally vote for the omission of the article, but in this case we here meet the sole instance of Jn speaking vaguely of a festival and the sole instance in his Gospel of the absence of the article before this particular word. The reading has a bearing but not a necessary bearing on chronological calculation. Without prejudice to the very respectable probability of a public evangelical ministry of only two years and some months, we follow the system suggested by our interpretation of 4:35, and give preference to a ministry of three full years and four Paschs of which this festival would be the 2nd. Of those who transpose ch 5 some hold the festival of 5:1 to be the Pasch mentioned as near in 6:4 (Joüon, Braun, Sutcliffe), others hold for Pentecost (Lagrange), while other supporters of a two-year ministry make it a lesser feast—that of Trumpets (Durand) or Purim (Prat). However unlikely it might seem, we cannot, of course, say a priori that Jesus would not have gone up to Jerusalem for what was New Year’s Day or even for the very much secularized feast of Purim or ’Lots’. [If Purim be the feast in question, then a two-year Ministry is likely. —Gen. Ed.]

2. The original Rheims version adhered over-literally to the pre-Clementine designation of the Pool, translating ’upon Probatic’. Neither should it be translated ’a Pool (called) Probatic’, as the present Vg text has it, but a swimming pond (????µß?T?a) near ’the sheep-gate’, that is, at the NE. corner of the Temple Area. The place-name is probably Bezatha (S, Bethzatha), meaning ’(Quarter of) the (Rock) Cutting’ rather than Bethsaida (B, W, Vg) or Bethesda (A) which last some have favoured with perhaps not sufficient critical detachment from its beautiful symbolic meaning: ’House of mercy’. Excavations made less than 4 yards NW. of the Crusaders’ Church of St Anne have brought to light this natatoria, a great oblong with four lateral porches and a fifth central dividing porch.

3b. Here the sick lay ’waiting for the moving of the water’. Critically the participial phrase is very doubtful, being absent from S, B, C, L, A and the doubt is even greater for 4. The Decree of Trent (Sess. iv) does not forbid us to regard the words as a gloss, since the form of 4 varies very much even in the Vg MSS. Neither does the Church in her Liturgy intend to decide the question, when she assigns John 5:1-4 to the feast of the Archangel, St Raphael, precisely on account of this 4th verse. [Since v 7 refers to a moving of the water it would seem that a glossator felt it necessary to insert this explanation of the phenomenon.—Gen. Ed.]

5. Every priest knows St Augustine’s ingenious tropological accommodation of the 38 years of infirmity, according to which perfection symbolized by the number 40, when diminished by 2 symbolizing the two precepts of charity, becomes imperfection and infirmity—it should not, however, be presented as exegesis!

6. In reply to Jesus’ question, the man expressed his desire to be cured, especially because his malady was connected with personal sin, 14b.

7. The man, who seems to have been a paralytic, was powerless to reach the source of health without a helper.

8. The thaumaturgical words of Jesus are like those spoken to the paralytic of Capharnaum, Matthew 9:2 f.Krabattos (Lat. grabatus) is a Macedonian word denoting a rudimentary bed, generally a simple mat.

9. The cure was immediate.

10-16 Sabbatarian Grievance —10. There are more than twenty, perhaps as many as forty, sabbatarian carrying prohibitions in the Mishnaic treatise Shabbath, the carrying of an empty bier or bed being included by implication—in fact, carrying any material burden in the usual way was regarded as forbidden.

11. The logic of the restored man’s answer is that a miracleworker will be ready to answer for himself.

12. The Jews ignore the miracle and concentrate on the violation of the Sabbath.

13. As Jesus had withdrawn, before a demonstration should take place in such a crowded spot (cf.Matthew 12:16-21), the man did not know who had healed him.

14. The good spiritual effect of the miracle is probably to be recognized in the man’s visit to the temple. The warning given by Jesus shows that in this case there was personal sin behind the infirmity. It is not always so, 9:1-3, and here we cannot say whether sin was the direct physical cause of the malady or the moral cause of such a particular form of penal retribution (cf.1 Corinthians 11:30).

15. The man’s report to the Jews was not a denunciation but a solemn attestation of the identity of his benefactor.

16. [Both verbs are in the imperfect tense in Gk, and could signify: ’Therefore the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he began to do these things on the sabbath’. Jn would then be noting the first employment of a new technique of persecution subsequently used with effect in Galilee.—Gen. Ed.] The Jewish persecution on account of this cure evidently took the form of a direct reproach.

17-30 Claim to Divine Sonship —17. Jesus’ answer, in which he claims identity of activity with his Father, is the key to 19-30. It reads: ’My Father is working (even) till now, and I (too) am working’.

18. As St Augustine acutely remarked: The Jews understood what the Arians did not understand. The Arians denied the equality of the Son with the Father, which those blind Jews, those murderers of Christ understood from the words of Christ himself.

19-30. The subject of these difficult verses is not the Word simply but the Incarnate in his consubstantial oneness with the Father and his authority towards men as the giver of divine life and the judge of those who refuse to believe. There is unity of activity between the Father and the Son and also co-equality of dignity and honour. The Son (and he Incarnate) works miracles and gives life, because his Father works (through the one divine nature) the identical works; it is likewise the Son Incarnate who judges the living and the dead, and precisely because he is man he does so by the final visible judgement which permanently fixes men’s voluntary attitude towards him. It is well to keep the concrete circumstances of the discourse in mind, for all the deep theology which this short passage yields is not the immediate object of exegesis, which simply explains the text.

19. When Jesus implied that his action in curing the man was no more Sabbath-breaking than the incessant action of God in the world, the Jews rightly inferred that he made himself equal to God. Jesus does not deny this, but affirms it more strongly. The equality is ineffably real, because it means oneness of action. Jesus is evidently speaking of divine works such as the miracle just wrought. Action depends on knowledge, and there is a perfect communion of knowledge between the Father and the Son, so that the Son cannot do anything except what he ’consubstantially’ sees the Father doing. ’To see’, says St Thomas, ’is to receive the divine knowledge’; St Augustine had already said that both to hear from the Father and to see was to be from the Father, Deus ex Deo. Following a suggestion of St Cyril of Alexandria we might crystallize the thought in Greek terminology by saying that the homognosis from which the common action comes is really homoousia. There is no divine work that the Son does not do together with the Father, and not merely after the manner that human brain and hand work together in writing, doing the same thing but differently. The Son does every work ’in like manner’, that is equally. There is no question of the Son just imitating the Father.

20. The metaphor of ’showing’ on the part of the Father corresponds to the metaphor of ’seeing’ on the part of the Son, and, as St Thomas points out, the love of the Father for the Son is rather the sign than the cause of this community of knowledge and operation. Greater and more astonishing works of divine power are yet to come from the Word Incarnate.

21. Jesus turns to the idea of life—by which, with St Augustine, we understand supernatural life, which is primarily the life of the soul but also includes the resurrection of the body on the last day. Consequently, the dead whom the Father raises and makes to live are sinners. Of these the Son is equally the free Resuscitator and Vivificator.

22. When it is said that the Father does not judge any man, but has given all judgement to the Son, it seems that, in accordance with the constant signification of ??ís?? in Jn, we must understand not a judgement of discussion but of condemnation, viz. exclusion from eternal life.

23. This communication from Father to Son demands that all men give the Son co-equal honour. In fact, refusal to honour the Son is refusal to honour the Father who sent him.

24. Acceptance of the word of Jesus and belief in his divine mission infallibly gives eternal life (i.e. grace destined to be consummated in glory). The true believer does not incur damnation, but by the act of belief (informed by charity) has definitely passed from the death of sin to the life of supernatural grace.

25. The world is an immense necropolis, but the hour is coming, yea rather now is, when those spiritually dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God calling them to life, and those who hear with the virtue of faith shall have life.

26. The Son’s power of giving life comes from his having it. To have life in himself essentially, not participatively, is his prerogative as much as it is the prerogative of the Father.

27. Moreover, the Father has given him power to exercise judgement, for the visible giver of life (Son of Man) must visibly exclude the unworthy.

28 f. This visible function at the termination of human history evokes the thought of the general resurrection. To remember that he is the One who shall call all men from their tombs to different destinies according to their works will make what he has said appear less amazing. It is quite clear in this statement that not faith alone but works rooted in faith shall decide the resurrection of men to life rather than to the judgement of condemnation reserved for those who have done evil things.

30. Using the first person and a device of speech known as inclusion, Jesus applies the word of his exordium, 19, to his office of judge. In this as in other divine works he can do nothing from himself. Note that while he used the verb ’to see’ when speaking of himself as operator, he uses the verb ’to hear’ when speaking of himself as judge, but when there is question of a condemnation which, as involving executive authority, is particularly a decree of the will, the justice of it is referred to the conformity of Christ’s human will with the divine will. Let us remark in conclusion that no one may say that he has understood these 12 verses perfectly, for they are full of the mystery of the Incarnation.

31-47 Jewish Incredulity —All this is both believable and to be believed, and the Jews have ample testimony of it. This Jesus proceeds to show, appealing by condescension to the testimony of the Precursor, 33-35, but chiefly to the testimony of the Father, 32, given in the works that Jesus does, 36-38, and given also in the Scriptures, 39 f., 45-47. He shows at the same time that the cause of the Jews’ infidelity was their self-seeking vanity, 41-44.

31. Jesus could and did, 8:14, testify to himself, but here he makes a concession to the legal axiom that no one is to be believed when testifying in his own favour.

32. The true testimony that Jesus can evoke is that of his Father, although he does not yet clearly say so.

33. Meanwhile, ad abundantiam iuris, he refers to the recent and true testimony of one commonly regarded as a Prophet, recalling the declaration made by the Precursor to the solemn delegation sent from Jerusalem. Quite evidently John declared the truth.

34. Not that Jesus needs human testimony, but he will use the impressiveness of John’s emphatic words to help the Jews to salvation.

35. Unfortunately they have behaved like children. Before that burning and shining lamp (not yet, it seems, extinguished but hidden behind the walls of Machaerus) they were delighted for a time, but soon turned away on the facile pretext that John was a demoniac, Luke 7:33.

36. His divine works are the greater testimony to which Jesus can appeal. Of the two exceedingly difficult verses, 37, 38, which follow, the best interpretation seems to be that which supposes an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15-19. It is substantially this: The Father has left testimony (whom your fathers at Sinai asked neither to see nor hear any more save through Moses); and what is more, the word of God you have not abiding in you, because you do not believe the Prophet,Deuteronomy 18:15, whom he has sent. From this Jesus passes to the testimony of the Scriptures.

39 f. The absence of any other exhortatory imperative and the implied contradiction between seeking life in the Scriptures and rejecting the Giver of life, seem to commend the indicative: ’You search’ rather than the imperative ’Search’. In writings that contain the words of life and show the Messias the Jews seek what suits their own ideas and consequently they do not come to Jesus, in order to have life.

41 f. Jesus says this, not because he seeks glory from their coming to him, but because he knows that it is through want of genuine love of God that they have gone astray in their quest.

43. The Envoy of God they will not accept, but a pretender they are always ready to receive—a truth only too well demonstrated in the later history of Judaism, which, it is said, records 64 false Messias, 25 of whom are known by name.

44. The real obstacle is what we should call hypocritical respectability—the fundamentally wrong disposition called human respect. The seekers of self and human praise are far from faith, access to which is in the humble desire to please God alone.

45-47. The accuser of the Jews shall not be Jesus but Moses in whom they have set their hope, but whom notwithstanding they refuse to believe. If they believed Moses, they would believe the Christ of whom Moses wrote, when he recorded the words on the Seed of the woman, Genesis 3:15, the blessing of Abraham, 12:3, the heir of the sceptre of Juda, 49:10, the Star arising out of Jacob, Numbers 24:17, the great Prophet, Deuteronomy 18:15. How can disciples of Moses, 9:28, who pride themselves on their knowledge of the written word, 7:49, and yet do not really believe it, have faith in the mere spoken words of Jesus? Let us remember that Jewish Scribes and Pharisees were worshippers of the letter, 2 Cor 3.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 5". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-5.html. 1951.
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