Healing a Man Born Blind, 1-12

9:1 Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?”

“Who sinned?” – This does not assume a belief in reincarnation.  Jews believed in resurrection, not reincarnation.  Some Jews would have thought it possible that a child could sin in the womb.  It was also thought that a fetus could be implicated in some of the sins of its parents (as when a pregnant woman worshiped at a pagan shrine). (Carson)

‘There are few notions that men seem to cling to so naturally, as the notion that bodily sufferings, and all affliction, are the direct consequences of sin, and that a diseased or afflicted person must necessarily be a very wicked man. This was precisely the short-sighted view that Job’s three friends took up when they came to visit him, and against which Job contended. This was the idea of the people at Melita, when Paul was bitten by a viper, after the shipwreck: “This man is a murderer.” (Acts 28:4) This appears to have been at the bottom of the question of the disciples: “There is suffering; then there must have been sin. Whose sin was it?”’ (J. C. Ryle)

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. 9:4 We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned” – Neither Jesus, nor Scripture generally, denies a connection between sin and suffering.  But both deny that any particular instance of suffering is necessarily caused by any particular sin.

“But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” – After denying the two suggested causes of this man’s blindness, Jesus declines to offer any further comment about its cause.  Rather, he refers to its purpose.

Kruse comments that the words ‘this happened’ (NIV) do not reflect the original text, but have been supplied by the translators.  Moreover, the Gk. contains no punctuation, and so this too must be supplied.  Kruse suggests, accordingly, that the impression that this man was born blind so that (many years later) God’s work might be displayed in his life is misleading.  Kruse suggests: ‘Jesus replied, “Neither this man sinned nor his parents. But so that the works of God may be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no-one is able to work.” ’ Punctuated like this, Kruse concludes, ‘the text implies not that the man was born blind so that the works of God may be revealed in him, but that Jesus had to carry out the work of God while it was day so that God’s work might be revealed in the life of the man born blind.’

Although there is no universal causal relationship between sin and suffering, this does not make suffering meaningless or pointless.

‘Jesus was asked about the cause of the man’s blindness, but he answers in terms of its purpose.’ (R.E. Brown)

‘Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect. They look backward for a connection between prior sin and present suffering. The Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals. The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its results. The man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him.’ (Francis Anderson, Job, 68)

‘The best way to answer the great question of the origin of evil, is to consider the end of it, “What good comes out of it?” this makes the subject plain and useful. Why was this man born blind? That the works of God might appear, and Christ might cure him. -Why did man fall? That God might save him. -Why is evil permitted in the world? That God may be glorified in removing it. -Why does the body of man die? That God may raise it up again. -When we philosophise in this manner we find light, certainty, and comfort. We have a memorable example of it in the case before us.’ (Jones, Q by J.C. Ryle)

‘The disciples wanted to look backward, to find out “Why?” Jesus redirected their attention. Consistently, he points forward, answering a different question: “To what end?” And that, I believe, offers a neat summary of the Bible’s approach to the problem of pain. To backward-looking questions of cause, to the “Why?” questions, it gives no definitive answer. But it does hold out hope for the future, that even suffering can be transformed or “redeemed.” A human tragedy, like blindness, can be used to display God’s work.’  (Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts?)

So often, we cannot discern God’s purpose in suffering at the time. This person, and those who loved him, must have asked endlessly, “What has caused this? Why has this happened? They cannot have known that he was born blind then, so that the work of God might be displayed in his life now.

Must I go and empty handed,
Thus my dear redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give him,
Lay no trophy at his feet?
Not at death I shrink nor falter,
For my savior saves me now;
But to meet him empty handed,
Thought of that now clouds my brow.
O the years in sinning wasted,
Could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my savior,
To his will I’d gladly bow.
O ye saints, arouse, be earnest,
Up and work while yet ‘tis day;
Ere the night of death
O’er take thee, strive for
Souls while still you may!

“As long as it is day” – the equivalent of “While I am in the world”, v5.

“Night is coming, when on one can work” – Jesus will shortly be taken away from them, and they will, for a while, be plunged into darkness.

Carson: ‘These verses are crucial precisely because they signal to the reader how the healing of the blind man is to be understood. It is not just a miracle; it is a sign, the work of the Father, mediated through the sent one, to shed light on those who live in darkness. The Evangelist is thus telling his readers that the long-awaited Messiah really is Jesus (cf. notes on vv. 30, 31), that Jesus’ symbol-laden miracles attest the point, and that his departure brought down a ‘night’ on many Jewish leaders who refused to open their eyes to the light, but also, by implication, that it would be disastrous for people still to disbelieve at the time of writing, compounding the sinful blindness of the original rejection of the Messiah by a continued rejection of the Messiah’s messengers.’

Jn 9:4; 1 Cor 3:11-15; Php 1:6-7

“I am the light of the world” – cf. Jn 8:12.

9:6 Having said this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes 9:7 and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back seeing.

‘The blind man, introduced as the theme of a theological debate, becomes the object of divine mercy and a place of revelation.’ (Barrett)

He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put in on the man’s eyes – See also Mk 7:33; 8:23.  The significance is unclear.  It may be parallel to the action that Jesus took when he touched a man with leprosy (Mt 8:1-4): rather than contaminating Jesus it brought healing to the sufferer.  See Carson’s discussion.  It may be that the Pharisees regarded Jesus’ making of the clay as Sabbath work, and that it was this in particular that aroused their ire.

The Pool of Siloam – Traditionally, this was assumed to be the site where there is now a pool and church built by the Byzantine empress Eudocia (c. 400–460 A.D.).  However, in June 2004 archaeologists uncovered the remains of a pool from the Second Temple period.  This is south-east of the traditional site.  See this article.

Translated “sent” – This detail is added as if to say that the man was healed, not because of in intrinsic healing properties in the water, but because he had been sent there by Jesus (Kruse).

The blind man went away and washed – Unlike Naaman (2 Kings 5:10-14) he did so willingly and unhesitatingly.

9:8 Then the neighbors and the people who had seen him previously as a beggar began saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9:9 Some people said, “This is the man!” while others said, “No, but he looks like him.”

“He looks like him” – Some people will disbelieve the evidence before their very eyes, such is their prejudice.

9:10 So they asked him, “How then were you made to see?” 9:11 He replied, “The man called Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and was able to see.” 9:12 They said to him, “Where is that man?” He replied, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know” – He is not being difficult.  He has not seen his healer yet!

vv11-37 See the progression in this man’s ideas about Jesus:-

  1. A man, v11.
  2. A prophet, v17.
  3. The Son of God, vv35-37.

The Pharisees’ Reaction to the Healing, 13-34

9:13 They brought the man who used to be blind to the Pharisees. 9:14 (Now the day on which Jesus made the mud and caused him to see was a Sabbath.) 9:15 So the Pharisees asked him again how he had gained his sight. He replied, “He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I am able to see.”

They brought the man…to the Pharisees – probably to the Synagogue.

The day…was a Sabbath – ‘Christ purposely chose a sabbath day, which would give cause of offence to the Jews. He had already found in regard to the paralytic, that even this work was open to misrepresentation. Why then does he not avoid the offence, as he could easily have done, save because the malignant reaction of his enemies would magnify the power of God? The sabbath day is like a whet-stone that sharpens them to inquire more eagerly into the whole affair. And yet what good does a careful and earnest examination of the question do, but that the truth of the miracle shines more brightly.’ (Calvin)

‘Here are some of the things which were forbidden by the law, and which a man must not do on the Sabbath. “A man may not fill a dish with oil and put it beside a lamp and put the end of the wick in it.” “If a man extinguishes a lamp on the Sabbath to spare the lamp or the oil or the wick, he is culpable.” “A man may not go out on the Sabbath with sandals shod with nails.” (The weight of the nails would have constituted a burden, and to carry a burden was to break the Sabbath.) A man might not cut his finger nails or pull out a hair of his head or his beard.’ (William Barclay)

‘It was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath. Medical attention could only be given if life was in actual danger. And even then it must be such as to keep the patient from getting worse, and it must not make him any better…Clearly the man who was born blind was in no danger of his life; therefore Jesus broke the Sabbath when he healed him.’ (William Barclay)

9:16 Then some of the Pharisees began to say, “This man is not from God, because he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” Thus there was a division among them.

“He does not observe the Sabbath” – They are more interested in the niceties of Sabbath observance than in the joyful fact that a blind man has been healed.

9:17 So again they asked the man who used to be blind, “What do you say about him, since he caused you to see?” “He is a prophet,” the man replied.
9:18 Now the Jewish religious leaders refused to believe that he had really been blind and had gained his sight until at last they summoned the parents of the man who had become able to see. 9:19 They asked the parents, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” 9:20 So his parents replied, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 9:21 But we do not know how he is now able to see, nor do we know who caused him to see. Ask him, he is a mature adult. He will speak for himself.” 9:22 (His parents said these things because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. For the Jewish leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 9:23 For this reason his parents said, “He is a mature adult, ask him.”)

The response of the man’s parents is ‘minimally truthful but obviously evasive’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary).  John is evidently contrasting for his readers their fear with the son’s forthright honesty.

As Kruse remarks: ‘They must have heard from their neighbours, if not their son, how his sight had been restored, but they were afraid to say so in front of ‘the Jews’.’

“He is of age” – ‘Among the Jews this would be thirteen years and one day…But the expression may perhaps mean “he is old enough to reason” rather than “he is legally of age”.’ (Leon Morris)

‘Away back in the days of Ezra we read of a decree that whosoever did not obey the command of the authorities “his substance should be forfeited and himself separated from the congregation.” (Ezr 10:8) Jesus warned his disciples that their name would be cast out for evil. (Lk 6:22) he told them that they would be put out of the Synagogues. (Jn 16:2) Many of the rulers in Jerusalem really believed in Jesus but they were afraid to say so “lest they should be put out of the Synagogue”.’ (Jn 12:42) (William Barclay)

His parents…were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders – lit. ‘of the Jews’.  Of course, the parents were Jews themselves, and so the Evangelist must have something more restricted in mind when he refers repeatedly to ‘the Jews’.  The present translation offers a sensible paraphrase.

9:24 Then they summoned the man who used to be blind a second time and said to him, “Promise before God to tell the truth. We know that this man is a sinner.” 9:25 He replied, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. I do know one thing—that although I was blind, now I can see.” 9:26 Then they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he cause you to see?” 9:27 He answered, “I told you already and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You people don’t want to become his disciples too, do you?”

“This man is a sinner” – ‘Significantly they leave their accusation that Jesus is a sinner in general terms and do not attempt to demonstrate their point with an example.’ (Leon Morris)

9:28 They heaped insults on him, saying, “You are his disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses! We do not know where this man comes from!” 9:30 The man replied, “This is a remarkable thing, that you don’t know where he comes from, and yet he caused me to see! 9:31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does his will, God listens to him. 9:32 Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see. 9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 9:34 They replied, “You were born completely in sinfulness, and yet you presume to teach us?” So they threw him out.

See Job 27:9; Ps 34:15; 66:18; 145:19; Pr 15:29; Isa 1:15.

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners” – Howe and Geisler (When Critics Ask) attempt to defend this saying, based on the premise that it represents the teaching of John, the inspired apostle (‘John said here, “We know that…”‘).  This is, of course, pointless, since the words were spoken by the man who had been born blind.  There is no reason to think that his words were divinely inspired; he may or may not have been right.  Biblical authority is not at stake here.

They threw him out – Their interrogation probably took place in the synagogue, and so this was an act of expulsion from the synagogue (cf. v22).  This was a very serious matter.

The Man’s Response to Jesus, 35-41

9:35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, so he found the man and said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 9:36 The man replied, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 9:37 Jesus told him, “You have seen him; he is the one speaking with you.” [9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 9:39 Jesus said,] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.”

“For judgement I have come into this world” – This does not necessarily refer to condemnation. After all, we are explicitly told that he had not come to condemn the world, Jn 3:17; 5:43; 12:47. The meaning here, therefore, is, “I have come to show people what they really are; to show them their danger and their need. Some will respond positively and find salvation; others will respond negatively and will find themselves more deeply condemned.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and asked him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 9:41 Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.”

‘These closing words which Jesus had spoken to those Pharisees who followed him breathe the sadness of expected near judgment, rather than the hopefulness of expostulation.’ (Edersheim)