Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 9
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind (Verses 1 - 12)
John Chapter 9 will reveal more of the man that was Jesus through the story of a blind man. The healing of the blind man is presented as a parable of spiritual illumination. Thanks to the coming of the true light of the world, many of the people formally in darkness have been enlightened. Verses 1 through 12 detail this man's miraculous healing.
As Jesus is traveling with his disciples, they come upon a blind man who has been blind since birth. Jesus' disciples ask if the blindness is a punishment from God for the sin of this man or his parents. Jesus, however, explains that the man's blindness has a higher purpose; to show the glory of God in his life. At this, Jesus declares himself the light of the world and heals the man using mud and saliva. The now-sighted man, so astonished at his healing, begins to tell those who recognize him about the man that is Jesus. However, as in previous chapters of John, Jesus is nowhere to be found after the miracle, which again shows that His works may be less for the sake of his immediate image, and more guided toward the after effects of the witness and the discussion and depth to understanding at a later point. Despite the fact that the man was healed, the Jews harass him in disbelief. Even though Jesus had attributed the man's blindness to God's glory, rather than to sin, the Pharisees continue to label this man a sinner. We know that this was to God's glory when we look at verses 3-5. At first, the disciples are confused, and ask God who has sinned: his parents or the blind man to make him this way. Then in the following verses Jesus provides further information saying that it is neither. The reason why this man is blind is so that "the works of God might be displayed in him." (NAS v.3)(reference to John 11:4, 10:38, 11:40) Glorification of Jesus being his upcoming death, resurrection, and accession is one of the major themes in the gospel of john. Further, in verse 4 Jesus states "we must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work." (NAS)(reference to John 7:33) This is also another reference to a popular theme in John in comparing day and night or light and dark. When Jesus inhabits the world He is the light and when He leaves it will be dark with sin. (Prologue of John) Then in verse 5 we have even more evidence of this when Jesus says "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (NAS)
The healing of a blind man is a continuation of the theme of Chapter 3 that God is a loving God toward mankind. The disciples believe the man's blindness is caused by a sin his parents committed. Jesus tells them the man is not blind as a punishment but as an example of God's glory and love. Jesus then proceeds to make some mud and give the man sight.
The Pharisees were so intent on proving the man wrong that they summoned his parents to the scene and interrogated them as well. Though they claim the man as their son, they are hesitant to get involved further out of fear of being removed from the temple. The family is clearly poor, as their son must beg outside of the temple to be able to get by. If the man and his family were to be thrown out of the temple, he would be unable to beg outside of it; indeed, people would probably shun him because of it. The family tries very hard to stay out of it, saying that their son is of age and can speak for himself. This plan did not necessarily work, however, as the son was thrown out of the temple anyway.
Ironically, the Pharisees, who have clearly witnessed the aftermath of a miracle, disregard what they seem to not understand and say that they "don't even know where he comes from" (v 29). This contradicts the passage in 6:41-42, which clearly states that the leaders "know his father and mother" (for those were leaders from an area more local to Jesus' home). In chapter 7:27, once again the people say "But we know where this man is from." This contradiction in the words of "the Jews" may very well be intentional on the part of the author. The entirety of chapter 9 demonstrates how the man who was once blind can now see in both a physical and a spiritual sense. The Pharisees, then, are examples of those who are blind, in darkness. Thus, the contradiction of their words with those previously stated by "the Jews" may very well be an attempt by the author to portray the Pharisees as the spiritually blind who are grasping at whatever argument may suit their opposition to the light. The blame may be attached to the pharisees, religious leaders, who claim to be able to see, but are spiritually blinded--to be so self-deceived as to shut their eyes to the light. Had they acknowledged their spiritual blindness and allowed Jesus to remove it, then they would have been blessed and could be enlightened.
Jesus talks about the principle of spiritual blindness. Although he only clarifies the principle in a quasi-cryptic way, it seems to mean that if you are a true believer you do not claim to have all of the answers or to understand fully. You follow in spite of not knowing. Claiming to know all is like having a blind man claiming to understand colors. One cannot fully express what they cannot see. He tells the Pharisees that since they claim to be able to see, they are, in fact, still with sin and do not see at all.
However, the verse continues, claiming that "no one will know where he is from," which lines perfectly up with the Pharisees in 9:29. Truly, however, none of these leaders knows where Jesus originally came from despite His repetitive claimed origin as being "from the Father."
The chapter concludes with the man that was healed being thrown out and Jesus returning to him. Jesus asks if he believes in the Son of Man, and the man says no, but asks who he is so that he may believe. Jesus then reveals himself to the man and says that on Judgment Day the blind, in this case the spiritually blind, will not be saved, but those who can see will. As in those who accept Jesus will be saved in the end. Those who say they can see, but are lying to themselves will still suffer from their guilt in the end.
When the blind man is confronted, his response has become proverbial: "... I was blind but now I see." (V 25). The man is interpreted rather sarcastic. "He cannot yet render a theological judgment about Jesus, but he knows for sure what his previous condition was and how it has decisively changed," (Smith 197). As the man continues to be questioned, the interrogators start to disregard that the event even happened. The man has already described what had happened and as he continues to answer sarcastically, the Pharisees (presumably the interrogators) they revile him. "Their statements are weighty and telling, doubtless reflecting where things now stand between the synagogue and the Johannine Christians, (Smith 197).
The fact that Jesus is portrayed as spitting on the ground to make mud in order to heal the blind man is very unusual. John is including this detail, despite the fact that it seems to suggest that Jesus wouldn't be able to heal the blind man without this secret potion. Interestingly, in the story's predecessor, Mark 8, Jesus is said to have used the same methods for healing with mud, but has to attempt the healing twice because the first time didn't quite work. After the first attempt, the man remarked "I see people but they look like trees, walking" (Mark 8:24). John does omit this section, seemingly because it emphasizes that Jesus was not powerful enough to heal the man the first time (even with his mud). John does however keep the mud element itself. This is probably due to the fact that he was writing for a Jewish audience, and the inclusion of the mud could have been seen as a violation of the Sabbath 3 times over: Jesus kneaded the mud, which was forbidden; then made from it a potential building material, which was forbidden; then healed the man's sight, which was also forbidden.
In this chapter the sixth sign of the ministry of Jesus is revealed, the healing of a blind man. "Was his blindness because of his own sin or that of his parents?", asked the disciples. Jesus replied that this case was to be for the glory of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The issue is not the cause of the man's blindness, but the role that it plays in the work of God. The role is the power of the Spirit and of the word, making Christ known as the One sent by the Father, gives him sight. It is the divine teaching in the heart of man. Christ, as man, touches us. We are absolutely blind, we see nothing. The Spirit of God acts, Christ being there before our eyes; and then we see clearly (J. Darby, 1996)
Chapter 9 is a summary of John's concept of revelation and sin, according to Smith. He says Jesus's coming reveals who people are and that we are all really in darkness. We need the giver of sight and light and the ones who own up to this need accept Jesus as the Revealer and the giver of light and sight. The ones who insist they see already in fact do not see and are kept away from God through sin.
"The Jews" in Chapter 9 and The Gospel of John as a Whole The Gospel of John is a book that has frequently been used to attack Jews and claim their inferiority to Christians. Therefore it is important to question if the Gospel of John itself is anti-Semitic. There are many different sides of this argument. On one hand, the Gospel in general paints a fairly strong caricature of the Jews, most especially in this chapter. The Jews could be seen as naïve, ignorant, even “dumb.” In verses 18 and 19, the Jews want evidence that the man who was healed was actually born blind. They call this man's parents in. The Jews are seen as illogical for doing this, and the parents' response stems from the fact that they are afraid of the Jews' "wrath" basically, and afraid of what they will do to those who believe Jesus is "the Christ." What if the actual Jews from this time in history understood exactly both what Jesus was saying and the situation with the blind man, and simply made a conscious, educated decision NOT to follow Jesus, based on what they believed to be true? On the other hand the possibly condescending language between “the Jews” and those who were following Jesus in the Gospel of John wasn’t necessarily uncommon in Jesus’ day and the time period from which the narrator of John writes. It is quite possible that the narrator felt he was depicting what actually happened in an unbiased way. Whether or not the narrator of John meant this text to be anti-Semitic, or even be construed as anti-Semitic, it is important for the readers of this particular Gospel to realize this is a text that can be potentially dangerous to society, if it is used in a vengeful way against Jews or any other non-Christians.
As the question raised above suggests, John has been consistently accused of infusing his gospel with language that has come to be considered anti-Semitic. While it is true that when we read these passages in a modern context we understand them to be anti-Semitic primarily because of our understanding of the way in which John uses the epithet "the Jews." This, however, might very well be a mistake on our part. As we have said consistently, it is vitally important when reading an ancient text that one not confuse modern understanding with the understanding of the author or the audience of the ancient text in question. While not enough is known about the climate in which John was writing, or his motives for doing so, it is a distinct possibility that John was writing his gospel with a specific purpose and for a specific audience in which the term "the Jews" would have taken on a completely different meaning than what we understand today. It has been wondered whether or not John was using the term ironically and that perhaps it is appropriate to use quotation marks when translating the term. Considering the fact that the large majority of the characters in the gospel were in fact Jewish, the heroes as well as the villains, it is not completely illogical to think that John might have been taking a jab at those who were throwing the Jewish members of the early Christian groups out of the synagogue for not being "Jewish" enough. Whatever the case, enough is not known about his intentions or the meaning of the term to his followers to conclude that he was or was not being "anti-Semitic."
Ethics in John Chapter 9 Christ heals a man born blind in Chapter 9. It is one of his miracles, and the man himself fully subscribes to the idea of Christ being a prophet. But what of Christ's words regarding the healing? He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (verse 3) This raises an interesting question: if neither the man nor the parents had sinned, or rather, had not sinned gravely enough to warrant fierce punishment, why must the man be forced to endure such profound helplessness? In other words, what kind of morality does Christ Himself profess? Are the just rewarded and the wicked punished, or is suffering more equally or even randomly distributed? It is certainly interesting to consider that this man only suffered years of blindness so that Christ could cure him.