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John 5:3

ESV In these lay a multitude of invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed.
NIV Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.
NASB In these porticoes lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, limping, or paralyzed.
CSB Within these lay a large number of the disabled—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
NLT Crowds of sick people — blind, lame, or paralyzed — lay on the porches.
KJV In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
NKJV In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.

What does John 5:3 mean?

North of the temple, in the northeast corner of Jerusalem, was a two-section pool covered by five roofed porches (John 5:2). This area offered shade and nearness to the temple. There may have been a healing property in the water. For whatever reason, this area was filled with people suffering from various disabilities. Jesus has come to the city to attend one of the required festivals (John 5:1). He is about to perform the third of His seven "signs" recorded in the gospel of John.

Part of Jesus' complaint against Israel during His earthly ministry was their spiritual coldness. Jesus drove greedy merchants out of the temple; these men had replaced ministry with money (John 2:13–22). In this story, we see "a multitude" of people in need of support, close to the temple. This is a sad reflection on Jerusalem's unwillingness to love their neighbors.

John refers to the number of people seeking healing here as "a multitude." Yet Jesus will only heal one of them at this time. This underscores an important truth about the Christian life: it's not primarily about miracles. God uses supernatural events to send a message, or to further His will. True miracles, like the "signs" John records, are not common. They are not expected. This was as true for the people of Jesus' day as it is today. Nor is the gospel about physical health; it is a matter of eternal life.

This verse leads to an interesting textual debate. Older, more reliable manuscripts do not contain the words of John 5:4. The text usually associated with that verse explains the reason for the crowd of invalids: miraculous healing. According to the disputed words, an angel would occasionally stir up the water, and the first person into the water would be healed. Some have raised theological objections to this. For instance, this seems to contradict the normal biblical approach to miracles. It also seems unfair for God to make a contest out of healing.

However, it seems that the words of John 5:4 were not part of the original manuscript. Most likely, a marginal note put in as an explanation of the pool was inadvertently moved into the main body and became part of future copies. Ultimately, this is a theologically minor point. However, it is an excellent example of the typical manuscript "variant:" noncontroversial, relatively unimportant, and well-understood.
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