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Hello, When studying Scripture, we need to understand that each portion we call a book (Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians, etc) was a letter or document written to a specific person for a specific reason. Not everything recorded in the Bible is a theological doctrine that we are to follow. For example, just because Gideon put out a fleece does not mean we do the same. We need to understand what was going on at that moment and why the author included the account in his writing. With that understood, we are going to look at the recording of a pool called Bethesda.

"Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 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" John 5:2-4

I have heard of churches who have a ritual practice called the pool of Bethesda; one located in the area I live and which I know several people who attend. Depending on the church, there are different practices and beliefs that surround it; but one foundational belief is based on healing.

To others, there is a question on this account in John. Many see the practice as seeming very paganistic. Some commentaries believe that this account was added at a later date. The reason for this belief is because there is absolutely no record of this pool in any of the Old Testament writings, and the whole concept seems to be completely out of the character of God. For one, in the Kingdom of God, first will become last and the last first. God does not heal because someone is the first, but will definitely heal that who sits back and allows another to be healed.

So, what is going on in this account?

The pool was believed to be a myth until about the 19th century when they found the pool; just as it was described. Therefore, we do understand that the existence of such a pool is true.

While the existence is proven, there are still problems with the ritual account around the pool. There is absolutely no record, not in the Bible nor Jewish history, that tells of such a pool. The Jewish Bible reads this account as:

"2 In Yerushalayim, by the Sheep Gate, is a pool called in Aramaic, Beit-Zata, 3 in which lay a crowd of invalids — blind, lame, crippled. 4 [a] 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 Yeshua, seeing this man and knowing that he had been there a long time, said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered, “I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I’m trying to get there, someone goes in ahead of me.” 8 Yeshua said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and walked."
John 5:2-9 CJB

So the Jewish Bible leaves out the reference of an angel, yet there is a mention of a stirring of the water. Why the difference? What’s going on?

We actually find these pools in Roman history. The pools were associated with the temples of asclepeion (As-kli-pieon); which is a healing temple, sacred to the god asclepius (As-kli-pies).

It’s unfortunate, but a common fact, to those who study Scripture, that the people of Israel often took on the pagan rituals of the land which controlled Israel or in which the people lived. We see these practices all through Old Testament accounts. It fully appears that this pool was one such adaptation by Israel. If that’s the case, then why did John include this account in his Gospel; and why would the other Gospel writers omit this account?

We must understand that each Gospel writer had an intended purpose of writing their account. Because of that purpose, the author would omit certain facts, add accounts, and the likes. We often find, so-called, discrepancies when we compare the Gospels. Don’t be disturbed by these discrepancies, but ask the question, “What is the author trying to point out?”

In order to fully understand this question, one must look at the gospel as a whole, they need to understand the author, and they need to have an understanding of the full character of God and the context of Scripture. The question around this pool is a perfect example to show what I’m talking about.

We’ve already discussed that the practices around this pool are outside the character of God. History shows the pool to be a Roman practice, and we know that this pool is associated with the pagan worship of a god of healing. The Bible shows us that the people of Israel, more often than not, followed the pagan practices of the country which occupied them; and they incorporated these practices into the things of God. So why would John include this account?

Let’s understand the author. In that, we ask the question, “Why did John write his account of the Gospel?”

"but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." John 20:31

There are several differences between the book of John versus other books of the Bible and the other Gospels. In fact, when comparing the other Gospels with John, John is kinda like it’s own little bird over here.

The Bible was not written to non-believers, it was written to the people of God; whether Israel or Christ following gentiles. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are intended to show specifics in characteristics of Christ, what He said, how He led the disciples on their path, and the likes. Yet, John is the only book that is actually for the non-believer. John specifically tells us that his intent on his writing is so that those who don’t believe will believe. This was the reason he included this account. John was not recording Biblical doctrine, nor even ceremonial doctrine, he was recording pagan, ritualistic, belief’s that were contrary to God’s character. He then showed the contrast to these beliefs, and the character of God through Christ, in that while these people waited for a stirring, then a mad rush towards a belief of a pagan god; here, the real God, steps forward and actually heals, and He does so to the last and not the first. So that, those Jew’s who believed in YHWH, yet still also followed the pagan ways, would believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God.

Here is my fear. There are many churches, probably with good intentions, which have taken an obscure passage, which has no relation to Jewish history, their ceremonial rituals, or the character of God, and they’ve implemented this practice into their beliefs and ritualistic practices within the church. And, they are actually practicing and serving the pagan god asclepius (As-kli-pies).

We must remember that the Bible records many pagan practices to which the people of Israel adapted. Understand what is going on before you jump into paganism and idolatry practices. We must be so careful not to fall into the same error that Israel often fell into, which the adapted the pagan gods, of the occupying country, into their own practices. God hated it then, and He has not changed; He hates it now.