John 6:49 min read

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers by Michael Pacher

And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.

John 6:4 (KJV)

Passover – Last week I suggested that if John 6:4 is removed, everything begins to align much better in the timeline of Yeshua’s ministry. We looked at all the surrounding text that exposed the reason that Passover could not have been happening at that time. Yeshua wasn’t traveling to Jerusalem as the law instructs all males should, Yeshua was teaching in a synagogue which was full of Jews who should have also been traveling to Jerusalem. The last revelation is that many people had no food which wouldn’t make sense if people were making this trek to Jerusalem because they would have had supplies during their travels. So now let’s dig into historic arguments concerning this verse.

Zachary Pearce

So let’s start with Zachary Pearce, a Christian protestant.

[Some] are of the opinion, that the word πάσχα is an interpolation; and I think, that the whole verse is so… It does not appear from the evangelist’s account, that Jesus was present at a feast of the pass-over here mentioned; and yet it seems probable, that he, who fulfilled all righteousness [Matthew 3:15], would not have been absent from a feast of the pass-over which (as is here said) was then nigh at hand.

Zachary Pearce, 1777

To be clear, Zachary Pearce stated that he believes John 6:4 was added because there is no way Yeshua would not be at the Temple during that feast.

Gerhard Vossius

This realization goes back even further to another man named, Gerhard Vossius.

… there is no need for us to say that John 6:4 was first written… “But the holy day of the Jews was approaching,” and that the text had to do with the holy day Tabernacles… but the copyist, since he was not paying attention to it, wrote Pascha [Passover]…

Gerhard Vossius, Amsterdam 1643

It appears during the 17th and 18th centuries, the common opinion was that the verse of Passover was added.

the ancients… seem not to have read the word Pascha at John 6, since they say that Christ predicted one year, or even a few months besides.

Ibid

“The ancients” referred to are the early church fathers. Vossius recognizes that these early church fathers never mention Passover here in John 6:4. We’ll get into this later. He also suggests like many others that Yeshua’s ministry was one year… not 3 years.

Henry Browne

Henry Browne, a Christian scholar from 1844, was struggling to work out the chronology of Yeshua as well.

The reading of the text [in] John VI:4… though it is found, I believe, in all the MSS and versions, could not have been found in the text of the two first centuries.

Henry Browne

The first two centuries of writings, according to Henry Browne, did not mention this verse. So while the above quotes are from later times that hint to what the early church fathers had in their texts, it’s best to go back and dig into these early church father’s writings themselves. What’s important here is not that these are “church fathers,” but rather they are witnesses to an early text of the New Testament. It’s not important how a church father understood the text, but rather for this study, what was in the manuscript from which he read.

The early church fathers cited the New Testament over a million times.

… so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstructions of practically the entire New Testament.

Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament

Clement of Alexandria

One such church father is Clement of Alexandria, circ. 150-212. He was an author who taught at a school in Alexandria which contained the largest library at the time. One book he authored is called Stromata.

“… And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old,” and so on. And that it was necessary for Him to preach only a year, this also is written: “He hath sent Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This both the prophet spake, and the Gospel.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, I, 21, 145

It was obvious to Clement that Yeshua’s ministry was one year. He justifies this with the words of Isaiah 61:2. We know this is from where Yeshua read in Luke 4:6-19. The understanding that Yeshua’s ministry was only one year long was the common viewpoint of the early church fathers. If John 6:4 existed in Clement’s text, this intelligent individual would not have made the mistake to suggest a one year ministry. The gospel of John would have recorded 3 Passovers – definitely not a one year period. So if Clement is suggesting one year ministry, it’s likely he did not read John 6:4 as the Passover.

Iranaeus of Lyon

But we need more than just Clement’s opinion. Iranaeus of Lyon, another church father, the disciple of Polycarp was once removed from the Apostle John himself. Iranaeus actually believed that Yeshua’s ministry was more like 20 years long due to the Pharisees suggesting that Yeshua wasn’t yet 50 years old in John 8:57. His argument was against Gnostics and others that believed in a one year ministry, and in his argument he quotes a number of Passovers from the gospel of John. Let’s dig in. So keep that in mind, his goal is to count every occurrence of Passover mentioned.

It is very surprising how [the Valentinians] claim to have found the depths of God and have not searched the Gospels to see how often after his baptism the Lord went up to Jerusalem… and there celebrate the feast of Passover.

The first time he went up to the feast of the Passover was after he had made wine out of water in Cana of Galilee [John 2]… After that he went up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover the second time. At that time he healed the paralytic who had been lying beside the pool for thirty-eight years [John 5]…

Again he departed to the other side of Lake Tiberias [John 6:1], where, when a large crowd had followed him, he satisfied that entire multitude with five loaves of bread [John 6:2-14]…

Then it is written that six days before the day of the Passover he came to Bethany [John 12]. From Bethany he went up to Jerusalem and ate the pasch [John 13] and suffered on the following day [John 19]. Now, everyone will admit that these three times of the Passover do not make one year.

Iranaeus, Adversus Haeresies Book 2, Chapter 22, Section 3

Notice that when Iranaeus quotes from John 6, he doesn’t mention the Passover. It’s important to observe what these authors don’t write as much as it is to observe what they do write. Finally Iranaeus mentions that “these three times of the Passover” and obviously isn’t including any 4th mention of Passover in John 6:4. He mustn’t of had that reference in his manuscripts.

In response to this, Henry Browne states,

… I think, incontestably, that S. Irenaeus did not read the words [Passover] in S. John VI.4. If he was so anxious to find a passover where none was (V.1.), he was not likely to overlook a passage where one was mentioned, especially as he notices the contents of that very passage…

Henry Browne, 1844

What Henry Browne is suggesting is that if Iranaeus was searching for mentions of Passover in the text, even to the point of uses John 5:1 where it only mentions “Feast of the Jews”, then he surely would not have missed John 6:4 if it was in his manuscript at the time.

Origen

The next church father is Origen. He was a disciple of Clement. He was a dedicated man to the word of God, and one of the most prolific Christian authors of all time. Again, we don’t need to agree with his opinions, but can learn what he was reading at the time. In regards to Yeshua’s ministry, he had this to say,

… [Yeshua] taught only during a year and some months…

Origen, First Principles “De Principiis,” Book IV, 5

Following the simple sense of the text, some say that the Savior preached the Gospel in Judea for only one year, and that this is what the passage “to preach an acceptable year of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:2) means…

Origen, Homilies on Luke 4:19

Origen wrote a verse-by-verse commentary on John, but the text covering John 6 was damaged, so we need to rely on other parts of his commentary to help us discern if his manuscript included John 6:4. In his text on John 5, he states,

But we must reply [to those who say that the unnamed feast in John 5 is Passover] that when he came into Galilee [John 2, just before Passover]… where earlier he had made “the water wine”… and “after these things there was a feast of the Jews [John 5], and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,” at which time he healed the paralytic…

But if this feast [John 5] were that of the Pasch (for its name is not added), the sequence of the account is cramped, and this is especially the case since a little later [John 7] it is added that “the Jews’ Feast of the Tabernacles was at hand.”

Origen, Commentary on John, Book XIII, 258

Origen is arguing that you can’t squeeze the Passover in John 5 as Iranaeus had counted because it would be too cramped. So if you can’t add a Passover in John 5, then surely you can’t add one in John 6 either! It would have covered the same period prior to the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7.

So even though we don’t have Origen’s commentary of John 6, we can infer that his manuscript did not included a Passover in that chapter.

Tyconius

Tyconius was another church father. He comes on the scene much later around 380 AD.

… did he give these precepts [Matthew 23:2-3] only for the next two days, because after them he was not alive any longer… But if he had also conveyed these things from the beginning of his preaching, it would have been a year. In that year what need was there to teach what would have been in force only until the passion?

Tyconius, ca. 380

Tyconius believed that Yeshua’s teaching was only relevant while He lived. And here, Tyconius is questioning the adherence to the Pharisees when reading the Torah on Moses’ seat, and suggests that teaching should have been conveyed for the whole year of Yeshua’s ministry and wasn’t sure why Yeshua was teaching this two days before His death. Without digging into Tyconius’ theology, it’s evident that he believed also in a one year ministry, not a 3 year ministry.

Finally

It isn’t until the 4th century when we see John 6:4 added to the text. We’ve already proven that it wasn’t included in the first three centuries by the quotes above. So it’s not about getting rid of a verse from the Bible, but rather bringing to light that two different versions exist. Don’t just believe the version in your hand. Seek out the texts, study to show yourself approved.

This post was written as documenting the discussion recorded below. Begin at minute mark, 13:20.

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