February 24, 2016

Have you ever wondered about the history of African Americans within the early days of Christian Science? Marietta Webb quickly became a Christian Science practitioner and organized the Christian Science Society, Colored, of Los Angeles. Her testimony of the healing of her young son appears in Science and Health in the Fruitage chapter on page 612, according to the Mary Baker Eddy Library, and it is included in today’s readings.  Another contemporary of Mrs. Eddy’s, Sojourner Truth, was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.  She is included with Mrs. Eddy as one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by Smithsonian Magazine. Although not a member of the Christian Science church, Ms. Truth is quoted in Miscellaneous Writings as follows:  “God is the great house that holds all His children; we dwell in Him as the fishes dwell in the seas.” The subject of competition with our brothers and sisters of all creeds, colors, and countries in God’s great house is our topic for this Wednesday’s service.

Included on the readings page is a Sentinel Question of the Week about competition.  Wonderful replies were sent in, and I especially enjoyed learning about the root of the word “compete” (to build up or to seek together), that there is no competition in the “Adorable One,” and especially that we only compare spiritual things with spiritual (I Cor. 2:13), not one mortal with another mortal.

There is also a link to an excellent article by George Channing, which reads in part:

In [Mary Baker Eddy’s] Message to The Mother Church for 1902 (p. 4) she explains, “Competition in commerce, deceit in councils, dishonor in nations, dishonesty in trusts, begin with ‘Who shall be greatest?’ ” The race, therefore, is not between person and person; it is actually with oneself, that is, against the mortal sense of self. And the sense of competition can prod every seeming competitor to win the race for himself. Such competition is co-operation in making evident the man God made. (Christian Science Sentinel, August 6, 1949)

As many of you know, I use different Bible translations to help me with my Bible study. This approach is inspirational to me, and of course, everyone has their own way of studying. However, I had a question about one of the stories in the readings today, and using a different translation gave me a new perspective.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus told the blind man in John 9 to “go wash in the Pool of Siloam,” but in John 5, Jesus told the impotent man beside the Pool of Bethesda to “take up thy bed and walk” out of there? Here’s some quick research from Wikipedia:

The Johannine narrative (chapter 5) describes the porticos as being a place in which large numbers of infirm people were waiting, which corresponds well with the site’s 1st century AD use as an asclepieion. [An asclepeion was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius, the Grecian god of Medicine.]  Some ancient biblical manuscripts argue that these people were waiting for the troubling of the water; a few such manuscripts also move the setting away from Roman rituals into something more appropriate to Judaism, by adding that an angel would occasionally stir the waters, which would then cure the first person to enter. Although the Vulgate does not include the troubling of the water or the ‘angel tradition’, these were present in many of the manuscripts used by early English translations of the Bible, who therefore included it in their translations. Modern textual scholarship views these extra details as unreliable and unlikely to have been part of the original text; many modern translations do not include the troubling of the water or the ‘angel tradition’, but leave the earlier numbering system, so that they skip from verse 3a straight to verse 5.

In other words, if you look at the Revised Standard Version (or the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc), there is no John 5:4 (or “moving of the water” at the end of John 5:3) and thus no heavenly angel. The setting, then, is a pagan pool, and of course, Jesus wouldn’t need the impotent man to wash in the pool of a temple dedicated to a Greek god of medicine. Now contrast that with being immersed in the Pool of Siloam, full of Hebrew history as the reservoir of pure water built by good King Hezekiah to supply the people of Jerusalem when under attack. These Siloam waters were fed by the Gihon Spring, which Solomon used to anoint himself before becoming King.  (We had readings on the symbolism of Gihon and Mrs. Eddy’s Glossary definition of Gihon on July 23, 2014.)

This particular verse, John 5:4, has been discussed many times in our periodicals, especially under “Words of Current Interest.”  Here is the usual explanation:

The verb “trouble” as used in this context means to put into confused motion, to agitate or disturb. Apparently there was an old tradition, current among the Jews, to the effect that this intermittent bubbling of the water was due to the instrumentality of an angel. Several of the best manuscripts of the New Testament omit verse 4. The same is true of the reference to “waiting for the moving of the water” in verse 3. (From the April 4, 1970, and December 29, 1962 issues of the Christian Science Sentinel.)

So, if I was reading from the Revised Standard Version, would I still think this story was about competition if it didn’t include John 5:4? Would it be clear to me without this verse that Christ Jesus showed that the actions of God’s tens of thousands of angels were never limited to only one angel or only blessing those first in line?  On the other hand, if I was reading from the King James Version, would it be as clear that the impotent man was waiting for help in a Greek temple?

I appreciate the different meanings gained from the different translations of this story of the impotent man. Each has value because each adds depth to the story, and we are all the beneficiaries in this ongoing scriptural search for truth.


1 thought on “Competition

  1. During my readings yesterday, I was struck by Paul’s statement as applied to the use of different translations. He advised the Corinthians, “Everyone of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?” (I Cor.1:12-13) Is the Truth in separate translations of paper and ink or is it beyond the words?


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