I was listening to a future debate opponent (I’ll let you guess which one) while riding yesterday. I was on a steep descent with lots of curves, the kind where you out run cars behind you no matter what–the kind of descent you really have to concentrate on–when I heard this gentleman assert that scribes had deliberately altered the text of John 1:28 to “Bethabara” because it is obvious that “Bethany is not beyond the Jordan.” Now, maybe it was due to the fact that I was shifting my weight to the left side to take the next sharp turn (you know, outer leg down, weight the inside hand) that I didn’t laugh at the assertion, but once I got back from the ride and revisited the text I had to chuckle just a little bit. Here it is:
These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
“Bethany” is replaced by “Bethabara” or “Betharaba” in an odd assortment of witnesses. Why? Well, in this case, we pretty much know why. When Origen visited the area almost two centuries later he could not locate this spot, so, he speculated on an alternative, “Bethabara.” But in any case, my future opponent made a simplistic mistake: he assumed there is only one Bethany mentioned in Scripture, missing the, well, rather obvious fact that the very reason the phrase “Bethany beyond the Jordan” is used is not to tell folks where the one Bethany was located (the “other” Bethany is near Jerusalem) but to differentiate this Bethany from the more famous one. This Bethany was “beyond the Jordan,” which would have adequately identified it for anyone familiar with the area at the time when John wrote. But I likewise noticed that this particular speaker often throws out such alleged contradictions and “corruptions” with such rapidity and ease that even a seasoned, grounded listener can be taken aback by the allegations. Another good example that teaches us to be slow to jump to conclusions but quick to think through the arguments being presented to us!