John 9

Jesus heals a man born blind, on the Sabbath. The Pharisees and Jerusalem religious establishment investigate. The former blind man’s parents are called in. The former blind man gets the better of the establishment. They throw him out. Jesus teaches about true seeing and spiritual blindness.

As I write in every introduction:

This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.

The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.

Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.

A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.

Links are provided for further study.

Let’s begin.

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind (John 9:1-12)

1 Then as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus replied: “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God may be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; the night comes when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying these things, he spit on the ground and made mud out of his saliva and smeared the mud on his eyes 7 and said to him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is interpreted as Sent). So he left and washed and came, seeing. 8 Then his neighbors and those who had seen him before that he was a beggar were saying, “Isn’t he the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “That’s the one.” Others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” But he kept saying, “I’m the one.” 10 So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “A man called Jesus made mud and smeared my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.” So after I left and washed, I recovered my sight.” 12 Next, they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

Comments:

Jesus is in Jerusalem probably between the Feast of Tabernacles (John 8) and the Feast of Dedication (John 10).

Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.

THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL

Sign Verses
1 Turning water into wine 2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign
2 Healing an official’s son 4:43-54 “the second sign”
3 Healing a disabled man at a pool 5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized
4 Feeding 5000 6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)
5 Walking on water 6:16-21
6 Healing a man born blind 9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)
7 Raising Lazarus from dead 11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)
8 Rising from the dead 20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)
Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited. I repost it in this chapter because we don’t have to worry about the cost of printed pages. This is online writing.

And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:

30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.

Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. I repost the same word study in this chapter because this is online writing, and the cost per printed page does not apply.

The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.

A true acronym:

F-A-I-T-H

=

Forsaking All, I Trust Him

One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.

The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.

Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness

Now let’s move on.

1:

This verse simply sets up the problem. We will learn in v. 14 that this day is the Sabbath, so when the Pharisees investigate the nonemergency healing, they will get angry at the man and Jesus for violating their Sabbath rules.

2:

Rabbi means “Teacher.” It did not have the official status or hold office of the later Rabbis.

1. Titles of Jesus: Rabbi and Teacher

“Disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”

Word Study on Disciple

The disciples are trapped in cultural thinking. Many believed that illness, particularly blindness, was caused by sin, whether by the victim or the parents. Apparently the disciples believed that the man was born or conceived in sin.

Mounce quotes the Babylonian Talmud: “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity (b. Shabb. 55a). Apparently this was the general principle.

3:

These Psalms may be in the background to the disciples’ simplistic theology:

Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be. (Ps. 58:3-5, NIV)

And this one:

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)

Recall that Jacob and Esau wrestled in Rebekah’s womb (Gen. 25:21-22).

And John 5:14 implies that the lame man did something wrong in the past. However, here, Jesus raises their sights and demands that they look forward, not backwards to the past. It does not matter what the blind man’s past was like or what his parents may have done or not done. No, God did not cause the blindness many years ago, just to heal the man many years later; Jesus was not answering such thorny questions. Instead, God was going to get glory out of this bad situation, redeem it, and work a miracle by healing the man.

Don’t focus on your past and play the blame game. “If only I had not sinned, then I would not be blind or ill!” If you need to repent of a sin, then God will clarify it to you. You don’t have to allow your overactive conscience or your small, defective theology that equates sickness with sin in all situations to cancel out your faith. Get rid of your cheap theology. Focus on Jesus and his healing power, instead.

Human Sin: Original and Our Committed Sin

Bible Basics about Sin: Word Studies

4:

“must”: it comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). Jesus includes the disciples in the “we.” Both Jesus and they have a divine mission to carry out.

He also impresses on them the urgency to work while it is during the day. Night will come when no one can do the works of God. It is not clear when this night will come, perhaps during judgment when God brings down the curtain on This Age. It is difficult to believe that Satan will be permitted to hinder the works or God even in communist and Islamic countries, for the gospel has a way of slipping in through the cracks. Even during God’s wrath in the book of the Revelation, the message goes out and penetrates. More immediately, he is referring to his time on the earth. The world sits in darkness, but we can still work in it.

5:

In view of this night and day contrast, Jesus once again announces the second of the seven “I am” statements: I am the light. He does not use the significant egō eimi (pronounced eh-goh ay-mee) I am” but just eimi “I am.”

However, the light is still a symbol, so let’s set up our two-level diagram, reading from the bottom up.

2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?

⸻⸻⸻⸻⸻

1.. Physical Object or Person

Now let’s fill it in:

2..  Jesus’s divine nature and truth

⸻⸻

1.. Light

How does Jesus signify light? First, God is light (1 John 1:5). It reflects his divine nature, and it speaks of truth. It illuminates the soul and spirit of humanity, after they repent and surrender to Jesus. Yet, light can shine on the path that leads to their repentance and surrender (BDAG). Light speaks of truth over error; knowledge over ignorance; wisdom over foolishness.

Being the light and working while it is still daytime “does not mean that Jesus stops being the light of the world once he has ascended. It means, rather, that the light shines brightly while he lives out his human life up to the moment of his glorification. Throughout that period he is the light that exposes the world, judges the world, saves the world” (Carson, comment on vv. 4-5).

Jesus is the light coming into the world, and darkness does not extinguish it:

4 In him was life, and this life was the light of people. 5 And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not put it out. … 9 The true light, which shines on every person, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world through him was made and the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who received him, to the ones who believe in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God … (John 1:4-5, 9-12).

People who are perceptive enough to see the light can become children of God. But generally speaking his own people did not receive him.

Jesus said in 8:12:

12 So then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. The one following me in no way walks in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 11:9-10:

9 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If someone walks around in the daytime, he does not trip because he sees the light to this world. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he trips because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10)

Jesus repeats the important theme in John 12:35-36:

35 So Jesus told them, “For still a brief time the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. And the one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.”  (John 12:35-36)

As noted, Jesus includes his disciples in the mission of doing the works of God. The one following Jesus will be a bright light and experience the life which he shines on them.

The light-darkness metaphor is found elsewhere in the NT. The one following Jesus will be a bright light and experience the life which he shines on them. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

14 You are the light of the world the light of the world. A town sitting above on a mountain cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do they light a lamp and place it under a container, but on a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. 16 In this way, let your light shine before people, so that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

Jesus is the source of our light, after we enter the kingdom. Then our (his) light shines in our good works.

Paul agrees:

12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:12, NIV)

In Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:8-14, NIV)

In Colossians:

… and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14, NIV)

In the Thessalonian correspondence:

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thess. 5:4-8, NIV)

Old Testament background (NIV):

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)

They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light. (Ps. 36:8-9)

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. (Ps. 119:105)

19 The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. (Is. 60:19)

Just go to biblegateway.com and search for light. Amazing hits.

The Essenes, living in Qumran, saw a conflict between light and darkness (Mounce, referencing 1 QS 3:20-21).

Throughout the Mediterranean world the word light meant “truth” and “the right way,” “ethical living.” Bruce reminds us that the expression “sons of light” means the “ethical qualities of the person or persons thus described” (comment on 12:35-36a).

“world”: The Greek noun is kosmos (pronounced coss-moss). It could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).

6:

“People of the ancient world regarded saliva as possessing curative powers. In the Hellenistic world, it was frequently used in magical rites and for that very reason came to be forbidden in the Jewish community” (Mounce comment on v. 6). So with that background, Jesus enters the thought world of their day and works a miracle by unusual means (see Mark 7:33 and 8:23). Once again, John reflects the historical context.

Carson, after a long discussion of various ancient societies and their taboos, including Lev. 15:8, which discusses saliva, sees Jesus as claiming religious authority. “The situation is not entirely unlike the healing of the man with leprosy: by touching him Jesus does not contract the leper’s uncleanness, but heals the leper of his disease (Mt. 8:1-4)” (comment on v. 6, p. 364).

An interesting connection, made by church fathers, sees the mud or clay as referring to Gen. 2:7, where God made humans out of the dust of the ground (Carson, comment on v. 6). The Greek word in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and a third-to-second century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) is the same as “mud” or “clay” here. Klink seems to like the idea, because in the Fourth Gospel Jesus was involved in creation. And sure enough the placement of the Greek pronoun “his” (as in “his” mud) instead of “his” (the blind man’s) eyes leans in that direction (comment on v. 6). Admittedly, when I first saw the Greek pronoun’s placement, I immediately wanted to translate it as “his mud.” But I went with what grammarian Novakovic suggested (“his eyes”). So combining Carson’s idea about Jesus’s authority and Klink’s (and the church father’s) idea about an echo of creation in Gen. 2:7, the mud could be symbolic. Yes, he really did make and apply it, but he wanted to symbolize something higher with the real mud. Borchert mentions it (comment on vv. 6-7):

What Jesus did next was rather shocking. The story as stated simply bristles with symbolic allusions, which are subject to varied scholarly opinions with respect to their meanings. It may suffice here to suggest a few possible allusions.

Two spittle miracles are recorded in Mark (the healing of the deaf man who also had a speech problem in 7:32–35 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22–25), but there are no spittle miracles in Matthew or Luke. In both cases from Mark, as in this case from John, spittle seems to be a kind of vehicle Jesus used to perform the miracle. Like his touch (cf. Mark 5:31; 5:41), Jesus’ spittle seems to be an aspect of his person that carried his power. In the present case the mixing of Jesus’ spittle (ptysma) with dirt is somewhat reminiscent of God’s breath mixing with dirt of the earth in the miracle of human creation (Gen 2:7). (Borchert, comment on vv. 6-7)

In any case, I would not sell “healing clay” or “healing mud” from my saliva over TV (!). In other words, I would not use this specific strategy to heal someone. The Bible was written for us (and for all generations), but not to us. This unusual method was intended to relate to their culture; don’t insist on duplicating it, as some healing evangelists do today in selling prayer cloths or little bottles of oil.

Much better is Jas. 5:14-15:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. … (Jas. 5:14-15, NIV)

Using oil to heal is all right in a church setting, but neither should anyone sell it over the radio or TV.

7:

This verse has a symbol in it: the word Siloam means “Sent.” It is a different Greek verb than we see in v. 4 (“the one who sent me”), but the connection is still there (some commentaries on the list, below, see the connection).  Borchert: “The intersection of the Pool of Siloam with the Festival of Tabernacles should also not be overlooked here because the water drawn for the water ceremony in the temple was carried in procession from this very same pool. The Pool of Siloam was a strategic place of well-being for the inhabitants of Jerusalem because after Hezekiah dug the water tunnel from the Spring of Gihon to the Pool of Siloam, the Jerusalemites had a continual source of life-sustaining water within the walls of the city during times of siege” (comment on vv. 6-7). The water was “sent” from a higher source.

However, let’s not make a big deal of it. I don’t believe in outsmarting the inspired biblical authors.

As to Siloam, nowadays you can google it. It is very interesting.

The main point is that the muddied blind man was obedient. Naaman the leprous general was told to wash in the Jordan River.

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” … 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. (2 Kings 5:9-12, 13-14, NIV)

Both Naaman and the former blind man obeyed the unusual instructions and got healed. Come to think of it, I have heard of a healing evangelist who was instructed by the Lord to touch his tongue with his finger and then touch a mute woman’s tongue, in a meeting over in eastern Europe. He hesitated, and so did she. But he obeyed, and she allowed it, and she was healed. She could talk. Let’s not look down our noses at such things. God may wish to do things in an unusual way. Don’t slam the door shut, but don’t market it in your fund raising, and don’t see it as a formula that should be done every time.

8-9:

The scene shifts to the aftermath of the healing. His neighbors and those who had seen him sitting a begging before, were speaking among themselves. Who is this healed man? Is the long-term beggar we saw every day? No? Then who? We don’t know. He may just look like the blind beggar. But he kept saying, “It’s me” or “I am he” or “I’m the one.” Those three clauses work for a translation.

10-12:

They finally agree that he is the same man who was born blind. So they ask him the logical question which everyone in his neighborhood wanted to know: How did your eyes open up? Then he recounts what happened. They did not think it was so strange about making mud and smearing it on his eyes. Once again, this is the thought world of their culture, and Jesus entered it. Jesus apparently slipped away in the crowd, much like he did in 5:13.

We should keep track of a progression or gradation in the understanding of who Jesus is. In v. 10, the former blind man says “a man called Jesus.” Soon he will call him a prophet (v. 17), the man sent from God (v. 33) and then the Lord (v. 38), the Son of Man.

Let the investigation begin.

GrowApp for John 5:1-12

A.. Has God healed you in an unusual way from a physical defect or disease? Tell your story.

B.. Has God healed you of your spiritual blindness? Tell your story.

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing (John 9:13-34)

13 They led him who was formerly blind to the Pharisees. 14 It was on the Sabbath day when Jesus made mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees asked him again how he recovered his sight. He told them, “He placed mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God because he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” So there was a division among them. 17 So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 So the Jews did not believe about him that he was blind and recovered his sight until they called the parents of the man who recovered his sight. 19 Then they asked them, saying, “Is this one your son whom you say that he was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 So in reply his parents said, “We know that this is our son and he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees, we don’t know, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself. 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for they had already agreed that if anyone confessed him to be the Christ, he was put outside the synagogue. 23 For this reason, his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So they asked the man who was blind a second time and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 So he replied: “Whether he is a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I know: I once was blind but now I see.” 26 So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He replied: “I told you already and you have not listened. Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples, do you?” 28 They insulted him and said, “You are a disciple of that one, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where that one comes from.” 30 In reply, the man said, “In this is a remarkable thing: You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if someone may be devout and do his will, God listens to him. 32 For an age, it was not heard that someone has opened the eyes of a man born blind; 33 unless this man were from God, he could not do one thing.” 34 In reply, they told him, “You were born entirely in sin, yet you teach us?” They threw him outside.

Comments:

In no verse in this long pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit does John use any word for “healed” (his eyes were “healed”). Instead, he says that the blind man’s eyes “were opened” or he (Jesus) “opened my eyes.” Or the verb “recovered sight” is used. The same is true of the opening of the eyes in vv. 1-12. There is a spiritual significance here. Our eyes need to be opened, our sight recovered, as well. Jesus will apply this lesson of blind eyes being opened in the next pericope (vv. 35-41).

13:

His friends and neighbors brought him to the Pharisees. We can fill in the blanks in the story and believe that the Pharisees summoned him, and the friends and neighbors brought or ked him to the Pharisees. In this verse John makes the point that he was formerly blind; in subsequent verses he will imprecisely say “the blind man,” but John understood that he had been healed.

14:

Now we learn that the opening of the eye was done on the Sabbath. Since this is online writing and I don’t have to worry about cost per printed page, let me repeat here what I wrote under John 5:9:

Jewish law allowed for healing on the Sabbath, if a life was at stake or a birth was happening. But the man’s blindness from birth did not fit this category.

Now let’s talk more broadly about the Sabbath laws and what constituted working. Here are the Mishnah’s thirty-nine categories of work that were not allowed (the Mishnah is a collection of legal and practical opinions, written down in about 200 AD). This comes from the second century, but it does reflect the times of Jesus:

  1. Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.
  2. Shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, and tearing in order to sew two stitches.
  3. Capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, and erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure].
  4. Building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer, and carrying out from one domain to another.

These are the forty primary labors less one.

(Source)

The rest of the tractate at another source goes on to define the parameters more precisely.

Religious teachers debated these issues endlessly. In effect, these strict teachers of the law said it was better that people should virtually do nothing on the Sabbath. It is better to be safe than sorry, to be severe and austere than risk too much questionable behavior before a holy God. This is called building a wall or fence around the Torah, so that people would not really break the Torah, but the traditions. Problem: the extra-rules became so strict that people felt oppressed.

The goal in these rules is to build a wall around the Torah, which does not specify what keeping or breaking the Sabbath was (one man was stoned to death for collecting wood in Num. 15:32-36). So if a man did any of those activities, he would not be stoned to death. The goal may have been noble, but the rules and strictures kept building and accumulating, become oppressive. The Pharisees and teachers of the law “are only interested in saddling him with the charge of Sabbath breaker, an offense worthy of death (Exod. 31:14). In their zeal to protect the law, they do not use it to set captives free but to bind them ever tighter.

John notes that Jesus made a mud or clay mixture. Even more absurdly, this may be considered working on the Sabbath, because it is close to kneading (see it in the first point, above). Bruce says that in the Mishnah (a written collection around A.D. 200 of earlier oral traditions) that in tractate Shabbath 7.2 and in the Babylonian Talmud (written much later), tractate ‘Abôdāh Zārāh 28.b, there is a discussion on whether it is permissible to anoint the eyes (note 6).

15:

Now the Pharisees ask or inquire of the former blind man how his eyes were opened, and he replied that he placed mud on his eyes; he washed and now he sees. Simple. So how do some of the Pharisees react? Let’s look at the next verse.

16:

They accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath, or more precisely, their rules for Sabbath keeping, as we saw in v. 14.

“sinful man”: it is the adjective hamartōlos (pronounced hah-mahr-toh-loss and used 47 times and 5 times in John: 9:16, 24, 25, 31), and it means as I translated it. It is someone who does not observe the law, in this context. Let’s explore the term more thoroughly.

BDAG defines the adjective as follows: “pertaining to behavior or activity that does not measure up to standard moral or [religious] expectations (being considered an outsider because of failure to conform to certain standards is a frequent semantic component. Persons engaged in certain occupations, e.g. herding and tanning [and tax collecting] that jeopardized [religious] purity, would be considered by some as ‘sinners,’ a term tantamount to ‘outsider.’” Non-Israelites were especially considered out of bounds [see Acts 10:28].)” “Sinner, with a general focus on wrongdoing as such.”  “Irreligious, unobservant people.” “Unobservant” means that he did not care about law keeping or observing the law.

Do you fail to conform to certain standards? Maybe you did break the demands of moral and religious law. Pray and repent, and God will accept you.

Let’s look at the related noun hamartia (pronounced hah-mahr-tee-ah). A deep study reveals that it means a “departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” (BDAG, p. 50). It can also mean a “destructive evil power” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, sin has a life of its own. Be careful! In the older Greek of the classical world, it originally meant to “miss the mark” or target. Sin destroys, and that’s why God hates it, and so should we. The good news: God promises us forgiveness when we repent.

Bible Basics about Sin: Word Studies

Some Pharisees believe that Jesus broke the Sabbath (or “does not keep it”), so from their point of view he is a law-breaker and therefore a sinful man. Others believed that he was not sinful or a law-breaker because he does such wonderful signs.

“signs”: it is used as a synonym for miracles and works (erga in Greek), that is another term for miracles. Recall the table of signs, above. They confirm the message and Jesus himself:

What Are Signs and Wonders and Miracles?

And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:

30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.

Bruce points out that Deut. 13:1-5 says that a prophet can works signs and wonders to gain a following and lead people astray. Here Jesus healed a blind man; it was not skywriting or calling down darkness from fire.

It’s simple logic in their (limited) viewpoint.

First argument:

A man who breaks the Sabbath is not a man of God; Jesus broke the Sabbath. Therefore, he does not come from God.

The other side argued like this.

Second argument:

Anyone who heals a blind man, particularly a man born blind, comes from God. Jesus healed a man born blind. Therefore, he is from God.

Bruce points out that the Rabbinic school of Shammai argued from first principles (the first argument). The School of Hillel argued from the second one, an established fact (an actual healing).

Conflict would ensue in such conclusions.

So once again, John is rooted in history.

17:

The Pharisees wanted to be thorough, so they ask the former bland man what he thought about Jesus. He answered that Jesus was a prophet. He will sarcastically expand his opinion in vv. 25, 27, 30-32. Let’s wait until then.

The former blind man goes from calling “a man called Jesus” (v. 11) to a “prophet.”

18:

The “Jews” is a generic term for the religious establishment. Evidently the investigation expands to include them, besides the Pharisees. They did not believe that he was blind and recovered his sight until they called for his parents and asked their opinion. Skepticism lives. They must have been out of touch with the smelly, common people of Jerusalem, particularly the blind beggars. If they were not out of touch with the expendables, like blind people, and if they had looked closely at them, they may have recognized this man in particular.

19-21:

His parents are summoned and the establishment ask them whether this is their son and whether he really was born blind. The parents affirm their questions, but they don’t know how he came to see now. Then they pass the buck to their grown son. The establishment should ask him, for he is of age. In a Jewish lawcourt, he had to be at least thirteen years old. The man was much older than that.

22-23:

They feared the religious establishment because if anyone acknowledged or declared or confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, they were “desynagogue” or “away from the synagogue” (as the Greek literally says). They were expelled from a local synagogue, not all synagogues nationally or from the temple (Carson, comment on v. 13, p. 367). His parents must have been devout Jews and intended to remain in the synagogue. Expulsion would have shamed them. Their son, however, in the next ten verses, is fearless and does not care about their religious club. He once was blind but now he sees.

Historical sidebar debate, which specialists engage in, as follows.

Some commentators see a cultural background after the destruction of the temple in A.D 70, even though John was written in the 90’s. Jewish leaders were eager to kick out or expel or excommunicate Jews who declared Jesus the Messiah. This anachronism is excused that John is speaking to his own time about the cost of discipleship (Mounce, referring to other commentators). However, Klink (comment on v. 22) argues strongly against this anachronism, saying that this simple verse misses some elements seen at the later time; also, this conflict was common. They were really reacting against Jesus, whom they will soon crucify (with Roman permission). Carson argues against it as well, saying says that the evidence favoring the anachronism is inconclusive. This debate is for specialists, beyond the scope of this commentary for the laity.

“Christ”: I translated Christos (pronounced khree-stoss) in Greek as “Christ” because John was writing to a Greek speaking audience, probably Gentiles, and he wanted to be clear on the meaning of Christos: the Anointed One. Earliest Christianity was going out to the Greek provinces, and the NT writers wanted to communicate in their language, so they used Greek. There is nothing sinister about it, as if it was an anti-Jewish conspiracy (John does use “Messiah” in 1:41, 4:25). Messiah also means Anointed One.

3. Titles of Jesus: The Son of David and the Messiah

24:

In vv. 24-33 there is a sharp, staccato (abrupt) back-and-forth between the former blind man and the establishment. Before we explore this intense interaction, let’s look first at this clause: “Give glory to God.” It may be an expression based on Josh. 7:19, where Joshua said to Achan, “Give glory to God” or own up and admit it (Bruce, comment on vv. 24-25). Borchert: “The statement “Give glory to God” is not a praise statement but the equivalent of a Jewish oath, which the authorities employed to call the man to give an honest witness and confess any sinfulness in his testimony (cf. Josh 7:19; Jer 13:16, cf. also 2 Chr 30:8)” (comment on vv. 27-30). Fair enough. However, I also take it to mean not to give one syllable of credit to Jesus (as does Mounce, comment on v. 24).

Now let’s take the dialogue in short, abrupt, alternating terms:

The establishment:

They demand that the former blind man give glory to God, for Jesus is a law-breaker / sinner. Don’t give Jesus one syllable of credit.

25:

Former blind man:

He does not know whether Jesus is a law-breaker / sinner. He knows only one thing: he once was blind, but now he sees. A powerful testimony cannot be shaken or denied, by reasonable people. Be sure to tell your story.

26:

The establishment:

Tell us again what he did to you and how the blind man’s eyes were opened. This demand indicates that they were flummoxed. They were not getting the answers they wanted. This miracle sign pointed to the Messiahship of Jesus, as the former blind man was about to preach to them (vv. 30-33).

27:

Former blind man:

He gets bolder and exasperated. He already told them, so do they really want him to repeat such a clear story? He sarcastically asks them whether they wanted to become his disciples, because when the blind man were to recount his story of his miraculous healing, the establishment might convert! The ex-blind man seems to believe that this is the establishment mental state: “Tell us your miracle story again! It edifies us so much that we are about to be nudged to follow the miracle worker!” Of course the ex-blind man knows this is not true; he’s just poking at them or trolling them, not taking them seriously. And his mockery insults them, so they insult him back.

28-29:

The establishment:

They verbally abused or reviled or jeered or ridiculed or scolded at him (all these words translate the one Greek verb accurately). They rely on old Moses to guide them. He was a true man of God, for God had spoken to him, but they were not sure where Jesus had come from. From Galilee? Where?

Recall these verses:

40 Then some of the crowd, when they heard these words, were saying, “This man is truly the prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This man is the Christ.” But others were saying, “No. Does the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Doesn’t the Scripture say that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So then there was a division in the crowd because of him. (John 7:40-43)

They depended heavily on Moses.

With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:8, NIV)

However, one of John’s themes is the truth that Jesus is superior to Moses: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Further, the establishment did not believe any story about the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod, those many years ago. They may not have even known about them. Too much water under the bridge.

Mounce: “Their answer was the equivalent of the childish taunt: ‘My dad is better than your dad’” (comment on vv. 28-29).

30-33:

Former blind man:

He shows more wisdom than the establishment. He asserts or states: (1) Well now! Isn’t this remarkable! (2) You don’t know his origins to determine whether he is a prophet or the Messiah! (3) Yet he opened my eyes, a man born blind. (4) God does not listen to law-breakers / sinners (he actually does, as they repent). (5) But if a man is devout and does God’s will, then God hears him. (6) From time immemorial it was never heard that someone opened the eyes of a man born blind. (7) Proof that God hears and backs Jesus: he opened the eyes of this man—“me!”—who was born blind. Jesus does more than nothing: he performs signs.

God opened the eyes of the Arameans because Elisha prayed (2 Kings 6:8-20), but never in the OT was a man healed who was born blind.

34:

The establishment:

They exert raw power over the man who was born completely sinful. How dare he teach them! They threw him out.

Some say this was a formal excommunication, but Mounce points out that this formal act could be done only by the Sanhedrin (comment on v. 34). It is better to see the idmissal as kicking him out of their court.

Please recall that the disciples asked Jesus whether the blind man they had just met was born in sin or his parents were sinful and were punished with a blind child (v. 2). Jesus said not to focus on such things. The man was this way so that God could be glorified (v. 3). Now the disciples know more about the ways of God than the establishment does.

In this staccato exchange, the former blind man won. Recall from my comments on John 8:49 that ancient Israel was an honor-and-shame society. One person acquires honor, and the other person or persons acquire shame. The former blind man overcame their objections and their final reply was to throw him out. In their eyes, he was shamed because he was born in sin. Yet their simplistic belief corresponds to the disciples’ deficient beliefs in vv. 2-3, so in the eyes of John’s readers, the blind man came out on top.

John 8

GrowApp for John 9:13-34

A.. Have your beliefs been unjustly challenged? How did you stand your ground?

B.. The former blind man said: “I once was blind but now I see.” Have you ever developed your testimony of God’s work in your life. That is, can you tell your story of how God opened your eyes, in about a minute or a minute-and-a-half, if the door of witness opened up to you?

Jesus Opens the Eyes of the Spiritually Blind (John 9:45-41)

35 Jesus heard that they threw him out, and when he had found him, said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 In reply he said, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “Not only do you see him, the one who is conversing with you is the one.” 38 He said, “I believe, Lord.” And he worshipped him. 39 Then Jesus told him, “I have come into this world for judgment, with the result that those not seeing may see; and those seeing may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were nearby heard these things and said to him, “We also are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see’; your sin remains.”

Comments:

35:

It seems that Jesus went looking for him, as implied in the verb “found.” Jesus spells it out for him. He is the Son of Man, and does the former blind man believe in him?

“Son of Man”: It both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.

4. Titles of Jesus: The Son of Man

In John’s Gospel the Son of Man refers to judgment, which the Father has committed to his Son (John 5:27) (Bruce, comments on vv. 35-38). However, Mounce points out that the Son of Man is a revelation of God’s glory (comment on v. 35). Borchert: The use of the title Son of Man “… is to be linked with the overwhelming use in John of the Son of Man theme as the incarnate revelation of God who gave his life for the world (cf. John 3:13–14; 5:53; 6:27; 12:23; 13:31; cf. also Matt 9:6)” (comment on v. 35).

“believe in”: As I noted under 8:24, faith or believing is more than just intellectual assent. It has to be directed towards someone, in this case, Jesus. It encompasses your entire being and devotion.

Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness

Jesus is about to tell some of the Pharisees that they will die in their sins, if they cannot come around to admit their needs.

36:

The former blind many wants to know who the Son of Man is, so that he can believe in him. He uses the word kurios (pronounced koo-ree-ohss), which can be translated simply as “sir.” Here this translation fits, but things are about to be elevated in v. 38.

Asking this question demonstrates that this man is perceptive—more perceptive than the religious establishment in the previous pericope. His eyes now see and his heart also sees. He is ready to receive.

37:

Jesus says it clearly. The one who is conversing or speaking with or talking with the former blind man is that one.

Recall these verses in Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well:

25 The woman said to him, I know that the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ.) When he comes, he will proclaim everything to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking to you.” (John 4:25-26)

Jesus is willing to reveal himself just enough for people to have saving faith, at this stage in his ministry. Soon he will fill them with his Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

38:

The man’s faith shot upwards. He says the title kurios again (see v. 36), but now it is right to translate it as “Lord.” He genuinely believes and worships him. The verb is correctly translated as “worship” and not just “pay homage” or “show reverential respect.”

The former blind man goes from “a man called Jesus” (v. 11) to a prophet (v. 17), (man from God (v. 33), back to “sir” (v. 36) (the former blind man was not sure) to Lord (v. 38).

Mounce believes that the ex-blind man actually knelt before Jesus in a true act of worship (comment on v. 38).

39:

Jesus had said that God did send the Son into the world to condemn / judge it (John 3:17). And in 12:47 where he says that he did not come to judge the world but to save it. So what is Jesus saying now? The world will judge itself by Jesus speaking indirectly and in symbols and metaphors. That’s how he will separate the perceptive from the dull, the true followers from the religious traditionalists. Bruce: “Jesus is not saying here that he comes to execute judgment; rather, his presence and activity in the world themselves constitute judgment as they compel men and women to declare themselves for or against hi, as they range from one side to another. Those who range themselves against him are ‘judged already’ (John 3:18)” (comments on vv. 39-41). Judgment here just means the division in v. 16.

“world”: see v. 5, for more comments.

Now Jesus reveals that his mission is to enable the blind (those not seeing) to see, and those who see become blind. So we have a role switch. The former blind man now sees spiritual things, and the ones who claim to see things clearly, particularly through the law of Moses, now are blind to the Son of Man, the Messiah, standing right in front of them. The blind man believes, but the religious establishment remain in their sin.

40:

So some of the Pharisees who were “with him” (literally), but it should probably be translated as “nearby him” as in approximation of distance. But who knows? Maybe these particular Pharisees kind of believed in him and kind of did not. So maybe it should be translated expansively as “who were distant allies of his” or “standoffish allies of his.”

Their question: it is arrogant or humble? Do they really want to know? The wording in Greek expects a negative reply. “No, you are not blind.” But in the next verse, Jesus leaves the question hanging. He does not answer it directly, except to say that it all depends on them. If they see and confess their need, they are close to recovering their sight. If they do not see and confess their need, they will remain blind.

41:

As I just noted in the previous verse, Jesus leaves the answer to their question hanging. The answer depends on them.

Before we (again) look at irony, let’s first examine the promise that they would not have “sin.” Does this mean their sin nature is eradicated and they have achieved moral perfection? No, it does not. It is simply another way of saying that they are no longer part of the dark world where Jesus was sent (v. 39). It means they have been transferred from it to him, by simple (not simplistic) faith. In this verse sin = darkness and unbelief’ sin = the kosmos (the world). Mounce is right that their refusal to come to saving faith adds up to an eternal sin (Mark 3:29) and the sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16) (comment on v. 41).

Now let’s look at irony.

Irony means people believe that they know something, but in reality they do not know as much as they thought they did. Comical example: Col. Klink, in the 1960’s and 1970’s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, boasted all the time that there had never been a successful escape from his Stalag, but the prisoners had tunnels going all over the place and left and came almost at will. He thought he knew more than he actually did.

Biblical example: Job and his friends thought they knew more about God and his ways than they actually did. God had to show up and instruct them that they did not know as much as they had thought.

These Pharisees were largely ignorant—they were confident in their ignorance. Ignorance + arrogance = irony of the worst kind. Ignorance + arrogance + political power = lethal irony.

John the Gospel writer is reshaping this truth found in the Synoptic Gospels, but most clearly in Matthew:

10 Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Because it is granted to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted, 12 for whoever has, it shall be given to him, even overflowing. But whoever does not have, even what he ‘has’ shall be taken from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because even though they ‘see,’ they do not see, and even though they ‘hear,’ they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Then this prophecy of Isaiah shall be fulfilled about them, saying:

You shall ‘hear’ with the act of ‘hearing,’ and you shall not understand,

And even though you ‘see’ carefully, you shall ‘see’ and not perceive.

15 For the heart of this people has become dull,

And the ears have become hard of hearing,

And their eyes have shut,

In case they might hear with their ears,

And with their hearts they might understand and might turn

And I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10]

16 But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears are blessed because they hear. (Matt. 13:10-16)

As I noted in v. 40, the answer to their own question depends on the Pharisees. Jesus said:

“The healthy have no need for a doctor; however, the sick do. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13)

If these Pharisees in this context were to see and confess their need and sickness, they would truly see. If they do not see and confess their need and sickness, their sin (= life in the dark world) will remain. They will not experience being born again (John 3:3).

In contrast, the former blind man’s physical eyes see, but more importantly, his spiritual eyes are “blessed” because they truly see (Matt. 13:16). He worships the Son of Man. He is not afraid to get thrown out of the synagogue.

I like Borchert here: “Blindness is here to be interpreted on two levels (9:39). On the one hand, the Pharisees who had by physical standards been able to see were by spiritual standards revealed to be blind. On the other hand, the former blind man who had come to see physically in fact also became the model of spiritual perception” (comment on vv. 36-41).

One last point: faith in Christ came after a miraculous sign. The man got his healing, and then he believed. Sometimes miracles precede conversion.

GrowApp for John 39:35-41

A.. When did you truly see Jesus with your eyes of faith? Tell your story.

B.. Do you have any spiritual or moral blind spots? If so, how do you close the gaps How then do you see things more clearly?

SOURCES

Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.

The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.

Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.

Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.

Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.

Works Cited

 

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