1. After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
[After this there was a feast of the Jews.] The other evangelists speak but
sparingly of Christ's acts in Judea; this of ours something more copiously. They mention
nothing of the Passovers from his baptism to his death, excepting the very last; but St.
John points at them all. The first he speaks of chapter 2:13; the third, chapter 6:4; the
fourth, chapter 13:1; and the second, in this place. It is true he does not call it by the
name of the Passover here, but only a feast in general. However, the words
of our Saviour mentioned above, chapter 4:35, do give some kind of light into this matter.
2. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in
the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
[In the Hebrew tongue.] That is, in the language beyond Euphrates, or the
Aruch: that is, the language of those beyond the flood.
If the Holy Books be written in the Egyptian, or Medes', or Hebrew language. Gloss,
In the Hebrew, that is, the language of those beyond Euphrates.
The Hebrew writing is that of those beyond the river.
So that by in the Hebrew tongue they mean the Chaldee language, which, from
their return out of Babylon, had been their mother-tongue; and they call it "the
language of those beyond Euphrates" (although used also in common with the Syrians on
this side Euphrates), that, with respect to the Jews, they might distinguish it from the
ancient holy tongue; q.d. "not the tongue they used before they went into captivity,
but that which they brought along with them from beyond Euphrates."
The Jews to whom this was the mother-tongue were called Hebrews; and from thence are
distinguished from the Hellenists; which every one knows. Whence St. Paul should call
himself a Hebrew, 2 Corinthians 11:22, when he was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, might
deserve our consideration.
[Having five porches.] It mightily obtains amongst some, that in Bethesda the
sacrifices were washed before they offered them: but here I am a little at a stand. For,
I. It is very difficult proving that the sacrifices were washed at all either here or
in any place else, before they were offered. The Holy Scriptures are wholly silent as to
any such thing; nor, as far as I have yet found, do the traditional writings speak of it.
It is confessed, the entrails were washed after the beast had been slain; and for this
service there was set apart in the very Temple the washing-room. But for their
bodies, their skins, or backs, whether they were washed before they were slain, is justly
II. Amongst all the blemishes and defects whereby the beast was rendered unfit for
sacrifice, we do not read that this was ever reckoned, "that they had not been
washed." Do we believe that Abraham washed the ram caught in thicket, Genesis 22,
before he sacrificed it? It is said, indeed, "that he took it and wiped it.
But this was after he had taken off the skin. He took it, and taking off the skin,
he said, 'Behold this, O Lord, as if the skin of thy servant Isaac was taken off before
thee.' He wiped it [Gloss, he wiped it with a sponge], and said, 'Behold this, as
if Isaac was wiped.' He burnt it, and said," &c.
And let that be well considered in Siphra, fol. 18. 1, where a dispute is had
upon those words, Leviticus 6:27; "If the blood of the sacrifice for sin be sprinkled
upon a garment, &c. When the discourse is of a garment, I would understand it of
nothing but a garment. Whence is to be added, the skin when it is pulled off.
The text saith, 'Upon whatsoever the blood shall be sprinkled, ye shall wash.' Perhaps,
therefore, one may add the skin before it is pulled off. The text saith, a garment:
as a garment that is capable of uncleanness, so whatsoever is capable of uncleanness. Except
the skin before it be pulled off. They are the words of R. Judah." Mark, the skin
as yet cleaving to the beast's back, and not flayed off, is not capable of uncleanness.
I. I would therefore judge rather, that men, and not beasts, were washed
in the pool of Bethesda. I mean the unclean, that by washing they might be purified. For
whoever considers the numbers of the unclean that did every day stand in need of being
washed, and whoever would a little turn over the Talmudic treatises about purifications,
and the gatherings of waters for those purposes, might easily persuade himself that both
Bethesda, and all the other pools in Jerusalem, did serve rather for the washing of men,
and not of beasts.
I would further judge, that the Syriac interpreter, when he renders that passage,
"There was at Jerusalem a certain place of baptistery," that he intended
rather the washing unclean person than beasts.
II. "There was not any like to Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, under the second
Temple. He one day struck his foot against a dead tortoise, and went down to Siloam,
where, breaking all the little particles of hail, he washed himself......This was on
the shortest day in winter, the tenth of the month Tebeth."
I do not concern myself for the truth of this story; but must take notice what he hints
that telleth it; viz. that in such a case men were wont to wash themselves in Siloam, not
the fountain, but the pool.
"Simeon Sicuensis dug wells, cisterns, and caves in Jerusalem. Rabban Jochanan Ben
Zacchai saith to him, 'If a woman should come to thee, and ask thee about her menstrua,
thou sayest to her, Dip thyself in this well, for the waters thereof will
III. Those five porches, therefore, seem to be the several entrances by which the
unclean went down into the waters to be washed; and in which, before washing, they might
lay up their clothes, and after it put them on again, being there always protected from
the rain. And perhaps they had their different entrances and descents according to the
different sorts of uncleanness, that all those that were one and the same way defiled
should have one and the same entrance and descent into the pool. That this was the first
design and use of these porches I do not at all doubt, though afterward there was another
use for them brought in. And as to the washing of the unclean in this pool, let me also
superadd this one remark: That when they allowed (and that of necessity, because of the
multitudes of unclean persons) the lesser gatherings of waters, viz. forty seahs of water
in a place fitted on purpose both for breadth and depth, if there was no greater plenty of
water, then we must not suppose that they would by any means neglect the ponds and pools.
4. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water:
whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of
whatsoever disease he had.
[An angel went down at a certain season.] It is hardly imaginable that these
impotent people lay day and night throughout the whole year at this pool. It seems rather
that the troubling of the waters and healing the sick was usual only at the solemn feasts,
probably only the feast of the Passover. And so it may not be amiss to interpret the certain
season with this restriction, "It was a feast of the Jews, and an angel went down
at that certain season into the pool," &c.
[And troubled the water.] We have this story, or rather this tale, concerning a
certain fountain troubled by an evil angel: "It is a story in our city concerning
Abba Joses (saith R. Berechiah in the name of R. Simeon), that when he sat at the fountain
and required something, there appeared to him the spirit that resided there, and said,
'You know well enough how many years I have dwelt in this place, and how yourselves and
your wives have come and returned without any damage done to you. But now you must know,
that an evil spirit endeavours to supply my room, who would prove very mischievous amongst
you.' He saith to him, 'What must we do then?' He answered him and said, 'Go and tell the
townspeople, that whoever hath a hammer and an iron pin or bolt, let him come hither
tomorrow morning, and have his eyes intent upon the waters; and when you see the waters
troubled, then let them knock with the iron, and say, "The victory is ours":
and so let them not go back, till they see thick drops of blood upon the face of the
waters.'" The Gloss is: "By this sign it will appear that the spirit was
conquered and killed." And the rest of the legend tells us that they did as was
commanded, and did not depart till they saw the thick drops of blood upon the waters. Let
them enjoy themselves in their doughty victory.
When the time was not afar off wherein "there should be a fountain opened for sin
and for uncleanness," Zechariah 13:1, viz. the fountain of the blood of Christ;
Divine Providence would have it, that a thing of that inconceivable excellency and benefit
should not want some notable prognostic and forerunner. And therefore, amongst all the
fountains and pools that were in Jerusalem for washing the unclean, he chose the most
noble and celebrated pool of Bethesda, or Siloam, that in that might appear some
prefiguration of his blood that should heal the world. Those waters, therefore, that had
been only cleansing before, were made healing now; that, by their purifying and healing
quality, they might prefigure and proclaim that that true and living Fountain was not far
off, who should both purge and heal mankind in the highest degree.
How many years before our Saviour's suffering this miraculous virtue of the pool
discovered itself, the holy story doth not tell us: and as for the traditional books, I do
not find that they once mention the thing, although I have turned over not a few of their
writings (if possible) to have met with it. From what epocha, therefore, to date the
beginning of it, would seem rashness in us to undertake the determining. Whether from the
first structure of the sheepgate by Eliashib, as some persons of great note judge, or
whether from the extinction of the Asmonean family, or the rebuilding of the Temple by
Herod, or from the nativity of our Saviour, or from any other time, let the reader make
his own choice. What if we should date it from that great earthquake of which Josephus
hath this passage: "About that time, about the battle of Actium betwixt Caesar and
Antony, the seventh year of the reign of king Herod, there was a mighty earthquake in
Judea, that made an infinite slaughter of beasts in that country; and near ten thousand
people slain by the fall of houses?" Perhaps in that ruin the tower of Siloam fell,
of which Luke 13:4; and what if then the angel made his descent first into the pool? as
Matthew 28:2, "There was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord
descended," &c. But in this matter I had rather learn than dogmatize.
It might be further inquired, at what time it was first known that the healing quality
followed the troubling of the waters; but this is as dark and obscure as the former:
especially when the spirit of prophecy, appearance of angels, and working of miracles, had
been things so long unwonted in that nation.
The masters attribute such a kind of a healing virtue to the fountain of Miriam,
as they call it, in the sea of Tiberias.
"The story is of a certain ulcerous man, who went down to the sea of
Tiberias that he might dip himself: and it happened to be the time when the well of
Miriam flowed, so that he swam there and was healed."
They have a fiction about a certain well that opened itself to the Israelites in the
wilderness for the merits of Miriam, which at her departure disappeared. They suppose,
also, as it should seem, that a certain well or gulf in some part of the sea of Gennesaret
had obtained this medicinal virtue for her sake. It is a wonder they had not got the story
of this pool by the end too, and attributed its virtue to the merits of Solomon, because
this once was Solomon's pool.
There was a time when God shewed wonders upon the fountains and rivers about Jerusalem
in a very different manner, that is, in great severity and judgment, as now in mercy and
These are the words of Josephus, exhorting the people to surrender themselves: "Those
springs flow abundantly to Titus, which, as to us, had dried away long before. For you
know how, before his coming, Siloam and all the springs about the city failed so much,
that water was bought by the bottle: but now they bubble up afresh for your enemies, and
that in such abundance, that they have sufficient, not only for themselves, but for their
cattle and gardens. Which very miracle this nation hath formerly experienced, when this
city was taken by the king of Babylon."
If there was such a miracle upon the waters upon the approach of the enemy and
destroyer, it is less wonder that there should be some miraculous appearance there, though
in a different manner, at the approach of him who was to be our Saviour.
How long the virtue of this pool lasted for healing the impotent, whether to the
destruction of Jerusalem, or whether it ceased before, or from this very time, it would be
to as little business to inquire, as after the original and first appearance of it, being
both so very uncertain and unintelligible.
6. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case,
he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
[Wilt thou be made whole?] It is no question but he desired to be healed,
because for that very end he had lain there so long. But this question of our Saviour hath
respect to the sabbath; q.d. "Wouldst thou be healed on the sabbath day?" For
that they were infinitely superstitious in this matter, there are several instances in the
evangelists, not to mention their own traditions, Mark 3:2; Luke 13:14, 14:3.
8. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
[Take up thy bed, and walk.] He said elsewhere, "Take up thy bed, and go
thy way into thine house," Mark 2:11. Whether this be the same with that, it is not
so very clear.
I. The common distinction must be observed respecting the sabbath: that is, so that
there may be a difference betwixt a private place, or what is any one's peculiar
right, and a public place, or what is of more public and common right. Let nothing
be carried out on the sabbath out of a private place into a public; and so on the
"Whoever on the sabbath carries out any thing either from a private place to a
public, or from a public place to a private, or brings in, if he do this unadvisedly,
he is bound to offer sacrifice for his sin; but if presumptuously, he is punished by
cutting off, and being stoned."
II. But it was lawful, within places of private propriety, such as were the porches,
entries, and courts, where various families dwelling together might be joined; it was
lawful for them to remove and bear from one place to another; but not all things, nor
indeed any thing, unless upon very urgent necessity.
"They remove four or five chests of straw or fruits for the sakes of passengers,
or want of Beth Midrash; but they remove not their treasure," &c. The
Gloss is, "They remove these things if they have need of the place they take up,
either for passengers to eat or scholars to learn in; neither are solicitous for their
labour on the sabbath," &c.
But why do we speak of these things, when as, by the canons and rules of the scribes,
it is forbidden them to carry any thing of the least weight or burden on the sabbath day?
So that it would be plainly contrary to those rules to take his bed hither or thither in
the porch itself, much more out of the porch into the streets. It is worthy our observing,
therefore, that our Saviour did not think it enough merely to heal the impotent man on the
sabbath day, which was against their rules; but further commanded him to take up his bed,
which was much more against that rule. From whence it is very evident that Christ had
determined within himself either to try the faith and obedience of this man; or else, at
this time, openly to shake the Jewish sabbath, which, ere long, he knew must be thrown off
the hinges it now turned upon; or both.
17. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
[My Father worketh hitherto.] Our Saviour being called before the Sanhedrim, 1,
asserts the Messiah to be God: and, 2, that he himself is the Messiah. 'The Son of God'
and 'the Messiah' are convertible terms, which the Jews deny not; and yet have very wrong
conceptions about 'filiation,' or being made a son.
St. Peter confesseth, Matthew 16:16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living
God." So also Caiaphas in his interrogatory, Matthew 26:63, "Tell us whether
thou be the Christ, the Son of God?" But they hardly agree in the same sense and
notion of sonship. Aben Ezra upon Psalm 2:12, Kiss the Son, confesseth that this is
properly spoken of the Messiah; but in Midras Tillin there is a vehement dispute
against true filiation. The same Aben Ezra likewise confesseth, that in Daniel 3:25, one
like the Son of God is to be taken in the same sense with that of Proverbs 31:2, What,
my son? and what, the son of my womb? But Saadias and R. Solomon understand it of an
"There is one who hath neither son nor brother; the Holy Blessed; who hath neither
brother nor son: he hath no brother, how should he have a son? only that God loved Israel,
and so called them his children."
It is not unknown with what obstinacy the Jews deny the Godhead of the Messiah. Whence
the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, lays this down as his first foundation of discourse,
That the Messiah is truly God, Hebrews 1. Which they, being ignorant of the great mystery
of the Trinity, deny; fearing lest, if they should acknowledge Messiah to be God, they
should acknowledge more Gods than one. Hence they every day repeated in the recitals of
their phylacteries, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." And so,
being blind as to the mystery of the Trinity, are the more hardened to deny that.
Our Saviour strenuously asserts here the Godhead of the Son, or Messiah; namely, that
he hath the same power with the Father, the same honour due to him as to the Father, that
he hath all things in common with the Father. And hence he makes this reply upon them
about healing on the sabbath; "My Father worketh on the sabbath day, so do I
19. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The Son
can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he
doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
[The Son can do nothing of himself.] That is, "The Messiah can do
nothing of himself." For he is a servant, and sent by his Father; so that he must
work, not of his own will and pleasure, but his Father's, Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my
servant": Targum, Behold my servant the Messiah. So Kimchi in loc. and St.
Paul, Philippians 2:7.
The Jew himself, however he may endeavour to elude the sense of that phrase 'the Son of
God,' yet cannot deny the truth of this maxim, 'That the Messiah can do nothing, but
according to the will and prescription of his Father that sent him.' Which he also will
expound, not of the weakness and impotency, but the perfection and obedience, of the Son
that he so doeth.
25. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead
shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
[The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear, &c.] The Jews, as
we have said before, looked for the resurrection of the dead at the coming of Messiah: and
that truly, and with great reason, though it was not to be in their sense.
The vision of Ezekiel about the dry bones living, chapter, 37, and those words of
Isaiah, "thy dead men shall live," &c., chapter 26:19, suggest to them some
such thing, although they grope exceedingly in the dark as to the true interpretation of
That of R. Eliezer is well enough; The people of the earth [the Gentiles] do
not live: which somewhat agrees with that of the apostle, Ephesians 2:1, "Ye were
dead in trespasses and sins." Nor does that of Jeremiah Bar Abba sound much
differently: "The dry bones [Eze 37] are the sons of men, in whom is not the
moisture of the law."
It is true, "many bodies of the saints arose" when Christ himself arose,
Matthew 27:52: but as to those places in Scripture which hint the resurrection of the dead
at his coming, I would not understand them so much of these, as the raising the Gentiles
from their spiritual death of sin, when they lay in ignorance and idolatry, to the light
and life of the gospel. Nor need we wholly expound Ezekiel's dry bones recovered to life,
of the return of the tribes of Israel from their captivity, (though that may be included
in it) but rather, or together with that, the resuscitation of 'the Israel of God' (that
is, those Gentiles that were to believe in the Messiah) from their spiritual death.
The words in Revelation 20:5, "This is the first resurrection," do seem to
confirm this. Now what, and at what time, is this resurrection? When the great Angel of
the covenant, Christ, had bound the old dragon with the chains of the gospel, and shut him
up that he should no more seduce the nations by lying wonders, oracles, and
divinations, and his false gods, as formerly he had done: that is, when the gospel, being
published amongst the heathen nations, had laid open all the devices and delusions of
Satan, and had restored them from the death of sin and ignorance to a true state of life
indeed. This was 'the first resurrection.'
That our Saviour in this place speaks of this resurrection, I so much the less doubt,
because that resurrection he here intends, he plainly distinguishes it from the last and
general resurrection of the dead, verses 28, 29; this first resurrection from that last:
which he points therefore to, as it were, with his finger, by saying, "The hour is
coming, and now is," &c.
27. And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of
[To execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.] Daniel 7:13:
"Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to
the Ancient of days...and there was given him dominion, and glory," &c. To this
our blessed Saviour seems to have respect in these words, as the thing itself plainly
shews. R. Solomon upon the place: "One like the Son of man, this is the King, the
Messiah." R. Saadias, this is the Messiah our righteousness. When our
Saviour declared before the Sanhedrim, "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on
the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds"; they all said, "Art thou
Christ, the Son of the blessed God?" by which they imply, that the 'Son of God' and
'Christ' are convertible terms: as also are 'Christ' and the Son of man. And it
plainly shews that their eyes were intent upon this place: "Art thou that Son of
man spoken of in Daniel, who is the Son of God, the Messiah?" So did Christ in
these words look that way.
30. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just;
because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
[As I hear, I judge.] He seems to allude to a custom amongst them. The judge of
an inferior court, if he doubts in any matter, goes up to Jerusalem and takes the
determination of the Sanhedrim; and according to that he judgeth.
35. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to
rejoice in his light.
[A burning and a shining light.] He speaks according to the vulgar dialect of
that nation; who were wont to call any person famous for life or knowledge a candle.
"Shuah" [the father-in-law of Judah, Genesis 38] "was the candle or light
of the place where he lived." The Gloss is, "One of the most famous men in
the city enlightening their eyes." Hence the title given to the Rabbins, the
candle of the law: the lamp of light.
39. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are
they which testify of me.
[Search the Scriptures.] This seems not to be of the imperative, but indicative
mood: "Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life;
and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have