John 5 – The Pool at Bethesda

This healing takes place sometime after Jesus’ return to Galilee, likely during the feast of Tabernacles. If this is true, then it is late October. Assuming a three year ministry, this is the only event from the second year of Jesus’s ministry. John gives the location precisely, the Sheep Gate near the pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda has been identified near St. Stephen’s Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, next to St. Anne’s Church.  Until the mid 1960’s, it was thought that John either did not know the city of Jerusalem very well, or that the Pool and Gate were metaphors.

The Pool of Bethesda

The Pool of Bethesda, May 2011

The Pool is near the Sheep Gate on the north end of the Temple Mount. The Gate is mentioned in Nehemiah and may have been used for sheep being brought to the Temple for sacrifice.  The Pool would therefore be used to wash the sheep before they were brought into the temple for sacrifice. This means that the pool was not the sort of place were “classy” people went to wash before entering the temple. The fact that a number of invalids are waiting for the water to stir to be healed means that the Pool was a gathering for lower class people, the sick and injured.

The site was also likely the location a shrine dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek and Roman god of healing. This is certainly the site of Hadrian’s Shrine to Asclepius and Serapis, and it appears that a pool dedicated to these gods was first built in the first century B.C. James Charlesworth thinks there was, based on his paper at the 2010 ETS meeting. If the “Five Porticos” describes the unusual building housing the pools, then it is possible that one area was dedicated to Asclepius, and another was used to wash sacrificial animals.



If it is true that the site was used to worship Asclepius, then this helps explain the superstition that the waters might heal the sick. John 5:4 does not appear in the NIV or ESV.  It is probable that this verse was a marginal comment by a Bible reader explaining the tradition of healing at the pool.  This comment was inadvertently included in the text at some point.  Virtually no scholar or modern translation includes the verse, conservative or liberal!

Since the pool was fed by an underground spring, ever once in a while the waters did naturally stir. It is easy enough to explain this as an action of a god, if you were Roman it is Asclepius, if you were a Jew, it is an angel of God.

Could the waters actually heal? There is nothing in the text to suggest they might, but there are many illnesses which are psychosomatic.  In addition, it is possible that the springs gave some mineral content to the waters, which might have some health benefit. But if one believes that Asclepius is going to heal then, then perhaps healing did happen.  Like the results of many modern sham-faith healers, that healing might not last since it was not a real healing.

This background also helps to explain the relevance of this miracle to John’s audience in Ephesus of the A.D. 90’s. The cult of Asclepius was popular and offered something of an alternative to the biblical idea of God as the ultimate healer. This background sets the scene for Jesus’ miracle.  Who will be the one to provide healing for this man, the god or Jesus?

Who is really the giver of life?

13 thoughts on “John 5 – The Pool at Bethesda

  1. The man that was laid aside the Bethesda pools was certainly under the impression that the spring waters could heal his disability. The disabled man knew of no other way to get his walking abilities back but to get in the pool everybody so claims has healing powers. The only thing the disabled man wanted from anybody was a helping hand to get in the pool (John 5:7) However, Jesus offered him another solution that did not require the helping hand of another individual to guide him into the pool. As Kostenberger states the man expected to be healed from the pool but Jesus gave him healing through his word of mouth (Kostenberger, 95). Jesus tells the man in John 5:8, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” illustrating a sense of authority over the waters of the pool. Through this healing, Jesus basically undermined the supposed healing powers of the pool and left a solid impression on the disabled man. A solid statement that displayed Jesus as the only one who can give life through his word of mouth. In other words, Jesus demonstrated that there is no need to get in the water in order to be healed but to just have faith in Him.

  2. Jesus is the true giver of life. This is not the only time we see Jesus lean into the cultural norms to soon completely switch up what people predicted would happen. The water would not have been able to heal a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. Even if it had been able to reverse the paralysis, water itself would not have the power to build the bone and muscle structure to walk immediately after. This would have required a higher force, which Christians know could only be God.

    I love the way that Jesus provides physical healing for people as He travels on His missionary journey. Not only does he provide a spiritual change for people, but also a physical change if we simply put our faith in Him. It is interesting to consider all of the other paralyzed and sick people that were present at that pool on the day Jesus performed this healing. I am sure that there were others who would have liked to experience the same healing. It makes me sad that Jesus did not physically heal them but I have to remember that God has individual plans for each of His children. We are told in scripture that there is a time for everything (Ecc. 3) and that God has plans to give us all hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

  3. The people of those days had to have believed the waters to be healing waters because they were willing to enter the water and bring their sheep offerings through the water, even though there were unclean people surrounding the waters. They had to have thought that the waters would clean them of their sins and ceremonial filth. However, I do not believe the waters had healing powers by themselves. I am sure the waters were quite filthy at times, considering all things. One question that I just thought of was: had the people actually seen a person dunk themselves in the water and be healed of their sickness or disability??? Or where they basing their beliefs on mere rumor or hearsay? I like that you mention the possibility that many of the illnesses ‘healed’ could have been psychosocial in nature meaning the person may have had a placebo effect and felt as if they were healed of their illness because they were first to dunk themselves in the Pool after an action had occurred. I do not believe that the man that was healed by Jesus was because of the waters but rather the healing powers that came from Jesus. Jesus is the true giver and healer of life.

  4. It is interesting to me how the god Asclepius is stealing the glory from the Lord, that Yahweh is the true healer, but instead the focus is being placed on the god, Asclepius. Wether it is true or not that the an angel came and stirred the water and people were healed or if that did not happen, the heart of what John is trying to communicate is the same. The heart behind this verse, is that the Lord is the healer. His Spirit is the one that heals. He is the true healer. In Isaiah 42:8 it says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” The Lord does not share His glory with another. Not to any idol like Asclepius.
    We need to be aware and careful when we see that a verse does not appear in the text. Aware that it is not in the other translations and that it might have been added later on and careful when we share our opinion. When we share our opinion, let it be wrapped in prayer and careful thought. When we share our thoughts, we should also be sharing God’s heart behind a verse.
    For instance, why would John or another disciple include this part? What is he trying to show us about the Lord?

  5. For me all of this is very interesting, I recently having the privilege of visiting Israel, however what I find even more fascinating is the way in which Jesus healed the lame man he was Born a congenital defect of some form 38 years is a significant amount of time. His legs would’ve suffered from severe atrophy there were than serious nerve conduction issues not to mention a underdevelopment of the motor control part of the brain and yet all it took was for Jesus to say “rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”Not to say that God is a show off but clearly he here is shown through the complexity and magnitude of his miracle that he is supreme and sovereign over all god’s he will not be outdone. Another significant thought brought up by Köstenberger is the idea that rather than the ruling Jews to be upset or concerned with Jesus performing a miracle and healing this man there more upset about this man healing an invalid on the Sabbath and perhaps even this invalid now healed picking up his mat(his home) and walking with it on the Sabbath

    Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. Print. Encountering Biblical Studies.

  6. When we go downtown or look on the sidewalks and see homeless men and women living on the streets, It may cause us to feel bad, sad, uncomfortable, frustrated, or something more. Maybe we want to help but do not know how. Maybe we know how to help but do not want to out of pride, arrogance, or inconvenience. The people who passed through Jerusalem for Jewish festivals during the first century may have experienced similar experiences and emotions when they passed by the pool called Bethesda. According to Köstenberger, a mass of needy individuals surrounded this site and would surely be noticed by those attending the festivals in Jerusalem (p. 78). The needy and lame occupied this area since the pool was believed to have healing properties when it was stirred. The pool was located over a natural spring where the water would move and stir as the spring naturally bubbled (Long, para. 5). The beliefs surrounding this pool were split between the Jews and Romans. The Jews believed an angel of the Lord stirred this “healing water” and the Romans believed Asclepius stirred it. The truth of the matter is that the people who resided here were in need. They needed relief, healing, and help. Jesus uses this as the location to perform his sign of healing not because healing was not needed elsewhere, but because this seemed to be the last resort for those seeking help. As Christians, we should be seeking to help those who need it in our daily lives; but I believe we should also be meeting those who need help where they are already at. Instead of waiting for others to approach us, let us go to our modern-day Bethesda’s and start stirring up the Living Water there.

  7. The historical context of the pool of Bethesda is very interesting and can see how it could be very controversial regarding the god of Asclepius and the angel of God to the Jews. To the Romans they believed that the god of Asclepius was the one healing the people along with the natural properties of the water. Now, I do not disagree that the water could have certain properties that assist in healing or restoration, but what I think is important to remember is who created those water properties in the first place. We know from scripture that God created the waters on the third day, but unfortunately to the Romans they believed in other gods that created the earth’s properties. The overall question though we want to look at is, “who is the giver of life?” And I myself can confidently say Jesus Christ. As we continue to explore the book of John we see countless miracles from the healing of the lame man, Jesus walking on water, turning water into wine, feeding 5000, and so many more. Through these miracles we see a common theme: unexplainable. The miracles and the signs that Jesus performs are unexplainable to man and proves that only the highest most perfect being could do such miracles and we know through the scriptures, historical documents and findings, letters, etc. that Jesus Christ is that being. He is the giver of life. He is the ultimate healer and provider and sustainer.

  8. Though the people of Bethesda believed the fountain had “healing” properties, it is evident when reading further in John 5 that only Jesus truly heals people, not just physically, but spiritually as well. Long states, The site was also likely the location a shrine dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek and Roman god of healing.” To me, this shows the irony of the story of Jesus healing a man at this particular pool. This pool of water is theorized to be a tribute to a false god, Asclepius, and Jesus heals a man at this pool, shutting down the idolatry within Bethesda, as well as showing the true power and healing of God, rather than a false God. This particular pool of water was also used by what are known as “invalids,” people who were disabled in some way and/ or shunned by society. So, what society saw as “lesser” people would attempt to use this pool to heal themselves, making Jesus’ actions even more prominent, with him interacting with those who were seen as less than worthy of saving, by societies standards. Regarding the lame man that Jesus heals, Kostenberger states, “He had been an invalid for thirty-eight years, longer than many people in antiquity lived” (p.2030). So, not only did Jesus talk to and heal someone who was considered “invalid,” but he healed a man who was known to be one of the longest-standing “invalids” within Bethesda.

    Only Jesus can really heal, especially when in comparison to a “magical” fountain that was made to be a tribute to the false god of Asclepius. Jesus healed one of the longest-standing “invalids” within the town of Bethesda, as well as healed him at a fountain that claimed to heal, but really only offered, possibly, temporary relief for those in need of physical healing. The spiritual message within this passage is strong, and presents the parallel that worldly “solutions” only offer temporary relief, while Jesus offers permanent and everlasting salvation.

  9. The account of Jesus healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda is interesting, and the history and culture that would have surrounded that pool is also very intriguing to me. Well, I was familiar with the story of Jesus healing the lame man, I had no idea about what the pool of Bethesda was. Now knowing the social importance of the pool, and supposed healing powers it had, it is now making sense as to way a lame man would be there. The healing history behind the pool is very interesting to me. The idea the there was a pool that a god would stir up so that people could be healed seems Ludacris to me, but that’s likely because of the science, and natural explanations we can now give to many things. Well, the waters couldn’t heal, the belief that it could gave Jesus a perfect opportunity to show that he is greater, and can heal, without the help of something like that. Jesus just told the lame man to take his things and walk, which is what he did. It seems to be a direct insult to those who think the pools had healing powers, when instead Jesus was the only person who healed the Lame man. Then there is the whole issue, at that time, that Jesus healed on the sabbath, something that the Jews didn’t take lightly, as Jesus also directly compared Himself to God. There is a lot of importance packed into this one story, and is very interesting to dissect.

  10. The healing of the lame man in John 5 will always be fascinating to me. Out of all of Jesus’ miracles, it is truly unexplainable in human terms. How does a man who was lame for most of his life get up and walk? This one of my favorite instances of Jesus proclaiming the reality that faith is paramount- without faith, we simply cannot believe in this miraculous healing. Mere facts and human logic cannot convince us. As we dive deeper into this scripture, we come across a question; is there a significance to the Pool at Bethesda? Does it have healing powers? I think it is very easy for us as believers to debunk this- Jesus healed and I believe He still heals today, but that healing comes from Him and Him alone. It’s through the power of Jesus Christ. There is no man, nor thing, that can provide this miraculous power. If we were to put our faith in something such as this pool, we are essentially worshipping this pool, claiming it to be a god, or idol, because we associate it with supernatural healing powers. The history and mythology of this pool is interesting, but scripture provides us with a clear answer as to whether this pool itself could provide healing powers or not.

  11. This blog post was insightful to me because, while I had already learned about Jesus healing the lame man, I never thought much about the historical context or significance of the location of the healing. I find it interesting that the Pool of Bethesda was a place for lower class people to gather, in hopes of being healed due to its location. Long (2011) mentions, “The site was also likely the location of a shrine dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek and Roman god of healing,” (par. 3). This further explains why people might have believed that the water in the Pool of Bethesda would heal them- because it was associated with the god of healing. People could have believed that Asclepius was responsible for the healing done at the pool, rather than Jesus. However, the Bible makes it clear that it was only through Jesus performing the miracle that the lame man was healed. Jesus performed several miracles that only he could do because of his divine power. Only Jesus can give a man who has been unable to walk for thirty-eight years of his life the ability to get up from his mat and walk again. The water of the Pool of Bethesda might have provided short-term relief, or perhaps people expecting to be healed experienced the placebo effect, in which people were healed at the pool only because they believed and expected that they were going to be, though the water itself did not benefit anything. Ultimately, the water did not provide the miraculous healing that only Jesus can provide. The water might have provided temporary healing; however, Jesus is the only one who can truly give people eternal life and healing.

  12. The healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda was a story I found fascinating as a kid. My Sunday school teachers never explained that the water probably was not stirred by an angel. After not studying it for many years I finally have come to a realization that the pool was most likely just a spring. This may seem unimportant or a no brainier for others but I think there is something to be learned from this. As kids we hear the”popular” stories over and over again but as we teach them we do not go into any detail teaching kids the full story besides the good miracle that occurred. Reading this article it really stood out that Sunday school lessons are great but they truly need to strive to teach kids more than the surface of the Bible.

  13. This passage of scripture is one that I had previously been unaware of, and understanding it for the first time was an incredible experience. It is interesting that there is an elimination of John 5:4 in the first place. Bible translation is funky sometimes. I grew up reading the KJV, and it is one of the more popular versions that still includes this verse. Interestingly, the ESV and NIV along with many other versions exclude this verse. It makes sense, however, that the water was stirred by the spring that fed the pool, yet it is interesting to me to see how people of different beliefs will interpret a “supernatural” event. The Romans and Greeks who followed their false gods believed it was Asclepius, and the Jews believed it was an angel from God. While these facts are interesting, one must keep focus on the main facts, however. Jesus miraculously healed the lame man there, telling him to pick up his mat and walk. He did it on the Sabbath, and it was just and righteous in everyway. This would have been a shock to all the other invalids there who have been waiting to be healed by the water, and consequentially a bigger following of Jesus ensued.

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