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Bible Commentaries
John 9

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Second Cycle: Chapts. 9 and 10.

The consequences of the first point of departure, the healing of the impotent man, chap. 5, are exhausted. A new miracle produces a renewed breaking out of hatred among the Jews and calls forth a new phase of the conflict. Nevertheless, one feels that the worst of the conflict is past. The people of Judea, those even who had shown themselves for a moment disposed to believe, are offended, like the Galileans, at the absolute spirituality of the promises of Jesus. He begins from this time to abandon that lost community to its blindness; He labors especially to the end of gathering about Himself the small number of those who are to form the nucleus of the future community. So the incisive character of the preceding conversations gives place to the tone of resignation and of saddened love.

1. Chap. 9: a new miracle opens the second cycle;

2. Chap. John 10:1-21: with this miracle is connected a first discourse, and then the representation of its immediate effects;

3. Chap. John 10:22-42: a second discourse, which, although given a little later and at another visit, is, in respect to its subject, only a continuation of the first; finally, a brief historical notice.

Verses 1-5

Vv. 1-5. “ And in passing, he saw a man blind from birth; 2 and his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind? 3. Jesus answered, Neither did he nor his parents sin; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. 4. I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night comes, in which no one can work. 5. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

These first five verses describe the situation in which the new miracle is wrought. If the last words of the preceding chapter in the T. R. are authentic, the first words of this would closely connect this scene with the preceding; comp. καὶ παράγων with παρῆγεν οὕτως . But there would be in this case, as de Wette has clearly seen, an improbability in the story; for the question which the disciples address to Jesus in Joh 9:2 implies a more calm condition of mind than that in which they could have been on leaving the temple after the violent scene of chap. 8. Nothing in the authentic text forces us to connect one of these facts with the other. The formula καὶ παράγων , and in passing, only requires that there should not be placed between them a too considerable interval. If the scene in Joh 8:30-59 occurred in the morning, that which follows may have taken place in the evening of the same day. This time of the day suits well the figure which the Lord employs ( Joh 9:4-5 ).

The blind man was sitting at one of the gates either of the temple, or rather of the city, to beg. The disciples learned from him or from others that he was blind from birth. The question which they address to Jesus seems to have been called forth by the marked attention with which he regarded this man ( εἶδεν ). From the point of view of Jewish monotheism, suffering, it seemed, could only be the consequence of sin. But, how apply this law to the present case? The only two alternatives which presented themselves to the mind were those which are indicated by the question of the disciples: but they seemed equally inadmissible. The dogma of the pre-existence of souls or that of metempsychosis might have given some probability to the first supposition; but these systems, although the second especially was not foreign to the Rabbinical teaching, were never popular in Israel. It would therefore have been necessary to hold that the misfortune of this man was an anticipatory chastisement of his future sins, or the punishment of some fault committed by him in the embryonic state (Genesis 25:22; Psa 51:7 ).

But these two explanations must have both appeared very improbable. The other supposition, that this man suffered for the sins of his parents, might be supported by Exodus 20:5, but nevertheless it seemed contrary to the justice of God. The disciples, perceiving no reasonable solution, ask Jesus to decide the question. The ἵνα preserves always in some measure the idea of purpose: “ that he should have been born thus, according to the divine plan.” In His reply, Jesus does not deny the existence of sin in this man or his parents; but no more does He acknowledge the necessity of a moral connection between this individual or family sin and the blindness with which the unhappy man is smitten. He teaches the disciples that they should direct their attention, not to the mysterious cause of the suffering, but to the end for which God permits it and the salutary effects which we can derive from it. Individual suffering is not often connected, except in a general way, with the collective sin of humanity (see on Joh 5:14 ), and does not give us the right to judge the one who suffers. But it always includes a call to fulfill a divine mission towards him by helping him temporally and spiritually. As evil has its work on earth, so God also has His, and it consists in making evil itself an occasion of good. All these acts by which we cooperate in the accomplishment of the divine intention, enter into what Jesus here calls the works of God.

The sequel will show that this word comprehends in the thought of Jesus, together with the outward act which bears the stamp of the divine omnipotence (the miracle of healing Joh 9:6-7 ), the spiritual effects which will result from it, the spiritual illumination and the salvation of the blind man ( Joh 9:35-38 ). The summons to help and save this unhappy man made itself felt in the Lord's heart at the very moment when He had fixed His eyes upon him; hence the εἶδεν of John 9:1. The term φανερώθῃ , be made manifest, is explained by the fact that these works are originally hidden in the divine plan, before being executed. This point of view from which Jesus regards suffering is that which He seeks to make His disciples share from the end of John 9:3, and that which He develops in John 9:4-5, by applying it to His own personal task during His sojourn here on earth.

When the master who has entrusted the task to the workman ( ὁ πέμψας , he who has sent), gives the signal, the latter must act as long as the day of working continues. This signal Jesus has just discerned. Though it is a Sabbath, he cannot defer obeying until the morrow. Perhaps Jesus was at that moment beholding on the horizon the sun which was setting and was in a few moments going to disappear. This day which is about to end is for Him the emblem of His earthly life, which is near its termination ( Joh 8:21 ). “When the night is come,” He says, “the workmen cease their work. My work is to enlighten the world, like this sun; and for me, as for it, the task will be ended in a little while. I must not lose a moment, therefore, of the time which remains for me to fulfill it.”

The reading (“ we must work ”) which belongs to the most ancient Mjj., is defended by Meyer, Lange, Luthardt, Weiss, Westcott, Tischendorf, etc. In that case, it must be supposed that a substitution for it was made in the numerous documents which read ἐμέ , I, under the influence of the με which follows, as well as that of John 9:5. This is possible; but is it natural that Jesus should apply to all the disciples the duty which He is to fulfill? And is not the contrary supposition also possible? Was there not a desire to make of this altogether individual expression a moral maxim, and still more probably was there not a desire to avoid the application to the Lord of the following words which seemed incompatible with His state of heavenly glory: The night comes, when no one can work. It is impossible for me to harmonize the ἡμᾶς , we, with the με , I, which follows. For there is a close correlation between the two notions: to be sent and do the work of. I think therefore that ἡμᾶς has been wrongly substituted for ἐμέ , and that only two MSS. ( א L) have been consistent throughout in logically adding to the change of ἐμέ to ἡμᾶς that of με to ἡμᾶς . The two others (B D), by neglecting to make this second change, have confessed and condemned the first. It is of importance to remark that the ancient Versions, the Itala and Peschito, support the received reading.

The contrast of day and night cannot denote, in this context, that of opportunity and inopportunity, or that of the moment of grace and the hour when it can no longer be obtained; it can be here only the contrast between the time of working during the day, and that of rest when once the night is come. There is therefore nothing sinister in this figure: the night. But in what sense can the idea of rest be applied to the heavenly life of Jesus Christ? Does He not continue in heaven, through His Spirit, the work begun here on earth? True, but, in His heavenly existence, He in reality only reaps that which He sowed during His sojourn on earth ( Joh 4:38 ). Consequently, a single divine call to do good neglected by Him here below, a single moment lost on earth, would have left an irreparable void in the work of salvation accomplished by the Holy Spirit after His departure. The whole material of the regenerating and sanctifying activity of the Spirit, even to the end of the present dispensation, is derived from the earthly work of Jesus.

The expression: I am the light of the world, John 9:5, has no relation to the figure of day and night, John 9:4; it is chosen with reference to the special work which the Lord must now accomplish in giving physical and spiritual light to the one born blind. We see from the conjunction ὅταν , when, which can only be rendered by as long as, how His sojourn in this world is to the view of Jesus a transitory and in some sort accidental thing. How should He not hasten to employ well a season which must end so soon?

Verses 1-41


UP to this point, decided faith and unbelief have been only exceptional phenomena; the masses have remained in a state of passive indifference or of purely outward admiration. From this time, the situation assumes a more determinate character. Jesus continues to make known the Father, to manifest Himself as that which He is for humanity. This revelation meets with increasing hostility; the development of unbelief, becomes the predominating feature of the history. Faith indeed still manifests itself partially. But, in comparison with the powerful and rapid current which bears on the leaders and the entire body of the nation, it is like a weak and imperceptible eddy.

It is in Judea especially that this preponderant development of unbelief is accomplished. In Galilee opposition is, no doubt, also manifested; but the centre of resistance is at Jerusalem. The reason of this fact is easy to be understood. In this capital, as well as in the province of Judea which depends on it, a well-disciplined population is found, whose fanaticism is ready to support its rulers in every most violent action which their hatred may undertake. Jesus Himself depicts this situation in the Synoptics by that poignant utterance: “It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem” ( Luk 13:33 ).

This observation explains the relatively considerable place which the journeys to Jerusalem occupy in our Gospel. The general tradition, which forms the basis of the three Synoptical Gospels, was formulated with a view to the popular preaching, and to serve the ends of the apostolic mission; consequently it set in relief the facts which were connected with the foundation of faith. What had not this issue had little importance for a narrative of this kind. Now, it was in Galilee, that province which was relatively independent of the centre, that the ministry of Jesus had especially displayed its creative power and produced positive results. In this generally simple and friendly region, where Jesus found Himself no more in the presence of a systematic and powerfully organized resistance, He could preach as a simple missionary, give free scope to those discourses inspired by some scene of nature, to those happy and most appropriate words, to those gracious parables, to those teachings in connection with the immediate needs of human consciousness; in a word, to all those forms of discourse which easily become the subject of a popular tradition. There was little engaging in discussion, properly so-called, in this region, except with emissaries coming from Judea (Matthew 15:1-12; Mark 3:22; Mark 7:1; Luke 5:17; Luk 6:1-7 ).

At Jerusalem, on the other hand, the hostile element by which Jesus found Himself surrounded, forced Him into incessant controversy. In this situation, no doubt, the testimony which He was obliged to give for Himself took more energetic forms and a sterner tone. It became more theological, if we may so speak; consequently less popular. This character of the Judean teaching, connected with the almost complete failure of its results, was the occasion of the fact that the activity displayed at Jerusalem left scarcely any trace in the primitive oral tradition. It is for this reason, undoubtedly, that the visits to that capital almost entirely disappeared from the writings which contain it, our Synoptics. The Apostle John, who afterwards related the evangelical history, and who had in view, not the practical work of evangelization, but the preservation of the principal testimonies which Jesus bore to Himself, as well as the representation of the unbelief and faith which these testimonies encountered, was necessarily led to draw the journeys to Jerusalem out of the background where they had been left. It was these visits in the capital which had prepared the way for the final catastrophe, that supreme event the recollection of which alone the traditional narrative had preserved. Each one of these journeys had marked a new step in the hardening of Israel. Designed to form the bond between the Messianic bridegroom and bride, they had served, in fact, only to hasten that long and complete divorce between Jehovah and His people, which still continues to this hour. We can understand that, from the point of view of the fourth Gospel, the journeys to Jerusalem must have occupied a preponderant place in the narrative.

Let us cast a glance at the general course of the narrative in this part. It includes three cycles, having, each one, as its centre and point of departure, a great miracle performed in Judea: 1. The healing of the impotent man at Bethesda, chap. John 5:2. That of the one who was born blind, chap. 9; 3. The resurrection of Lazarus, chap. 11. Each of these events, instead of gaining for Jesus the faith of those who are witnesses of it, becomes in them the signal of a renewed outbreaking of hatred and unbelief. Jesus has characterized this tragic result by the reproach, full of sadness and bitterness ( Joh 10:32 ): “ I have showed you many good works from my Father; for which of them do ye stone me? ” These are the connecting links of the narrative. Each one of these miraculous deeds is immediately followed by a series of conversations and discourses in connection with the sign which has given occasion for them; then, the discussion is suddenly interrupted by the voluntary removal of Jesus, to begin again in the following visit. Thus the strife which is entered upon in chap. 5, on occasion of the healing of the impotent man, is resumed in the visit of Jesus at the feast of Tabernacles (chaps. 7 and 8); thus also, the discourses which are connected with the healing of the one born blind are repeated, in part, and developed at the feast of dedication, in the second part of chap. 10. This arises from the fact that Jesus is careful, each time, to leave Jerusalem before things have come to the last extremity. Herein is the reason why the conflict which has broken out during one visit re-echoes also in the following one.

The following, therefore, is the arrangement of the narrative: First cycle: In chap. 5, the strife, which had been vaguely hinted at in the first verses of chap. 4, commences in Judea in consequence of the healing of the impotent man; after this, Jesus withdraws into Galilee and allows the hatred of the Jews time to become calm. But in Galilee also, He finds unbelief, only in a different form. In Judea, they hate Him, they desire to put Him to death; in Galilee, His discontented adherents confine themselves to going away from Him (chap. 6). There did not exist there the stimulant of active hatred, jealousy: unbelief arose only from the carnal spirit of the people, whose aspirations Jesus did not satisfy. With the journey to the feast of Tabernacles (chap. 7), the conflict begun in chap. 5 is resumed in Judea, and reaches in chap. 8 its highest degree of intensity.

Such is the first phase (chaps. 5-8). Chap. 9 opens the second cycle. The healing of the one born blind furnishes new food for the hatred of the adversaries; nevertheless, in spite of their growing rage, the struggle already loses somewhat of its violence, because Jesus voluntarily withdraws from the field of battle. Up to this time, He had sought to act upon the hostile element; from this moment onward, He gives it over to itself. Only, in proportion as He breaks with the ancient flock, He labors to recruit the new one. The discourses which are connected with this second phase extend as far as the end of chap. 10 The third cycle opens with the resurrection of Lazarus; this event brings to its highest point the rage of the Jews, and impels them to an extreme measure; they formally decree the death of Jesus; and, soon afterwards, His royal entrance into Jerusalem, at the head of His followers (chap. 12), hastens the execution of this sentence. This last phase includes chaps. Joh 11:1 to John 12:36. Here Jesus completely abandons Israel to its blindness, and puts an end to His public ministry: “ And departing, He hid himself from them. ” The evangelist pauses at this tragical moment, and, before continuing his narrative, he casts a retrospective glance on this mysterious fact of the development of Jewish unbelief, now consummated. He shows that this result had in it nothing unexpected, and he unveils the profound causes of it: John 12:37-50.

Thus the dominant idea and the course of this part, are distinctly outlined

1. chap. 5-8: The outbreak of the conflict;

2. chap. 9, 10: The growing exasperation of the Jews;

3. chap. 11, 12: The ripe fruit of this hatred: the sentence of death for The progress of this narrative is purely historical. The attempt, often renewed even by Luthardt to arrange this part systematically according to certain ideas, such as life, light and love, is incompatible with this course of the narrative which is so clearly determined by the facts. It is no less excluded by the following observations: The idea of life, which, according to this system, must be that of chaps. 5 and 6, forms again the basis of chaps. 10 and 11. In the interval (chaps. 8, 9), the idea of light is the dominant one. That of love does not appear till chap. 13, and this in an entirely different part of the Gospel. Divisions like these proceed from the laboratory of theologians, but they do not harmonize with the nature of apostolic testimony, the simple reflection of history. The real teaching of Jesus had in it nothing systematic; the Lord confined Himself to answering the given need, which was for Him, at each moment, the signal of the Father's will. If in chap. 5. He represents Himself as the one who has the power to raise from the dead, spiritually and physically, it is because He has just given life to the limbs of an impotent man. If in chap. 6, He declares Himself the bread of life, it is because He has just multiplied the loaves. If in chaps. 7 and 8, He proclaims Himself the living

Jesus. water and the light of the world, it is because the feast of Tabernacles has just recalled to all minds the scenes of the wilderness, the water of the rock and the pillar of fire. We must go with Baur, to the extent of claiming that the facts are invented in order to illustrate the ideas, or we must renounce the attempt to find a rational arrangement in the teachings of which these events are, each time, the occasion and the text.

Verses 6-7

Vv. 6, 7. “ Having said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed with this clay the eyes of the blind Man 1:7 and he said to him; Go, wash in the pool of Siloam ( a name which means, Sent). He went away therefore and washed, and came seeing.

By the words: having said this, the evangelist presents the following act as the immediate application of the principle which Jesus has just laid down. In Matthew 20:34 ( Mar 10:46 ), Jesus heals a blind man by a simple touch. In Mark 7:33; Mark 8:23, He uses, as here, His saliva for effecting cures. He makes use of an external means, therefore, only in some cases. Hence it follows that He does not use it as a medical agency. Is this the vehicle or the conductor of His miraculous power, as some have thought?

The same reason prevents us from deciding for this view. We must rather see in this manner of acting a pedagogic measure, not with the aim of putting the faith of the sick man to the test, as He is about to do with the blind man ( Calvin), but to the end of entering into more direct and personal contact with him. When Jesus had to do with sick persons who possessed all their senses, He could act upon them with a look or with a word. But in cases like that of the deaf-mute (Mark 7:33 ff.) and of the blind man ( Mar 8:23 ) we see Him making use of some material means to put them in relation to His person and to present to their faith its true object. It was necessary that they should know that their cure emanated from His person. This knowledge was the starting-point for their faith in Him as the author of their salvation.

And if in the case with which we are occupied, Jesus does more than anoint the eyes of the blind man, if He covers them with a mass of clay, adding thus to the natural blindness an artificial blindness, and sends him to wash in Siloam, the aim of this course of action can hardly be that which Meyer and Weiss suppose, to give to the organ, which had never performed its functions before, time to be formed and to be made ready to act; for when once miraculous power is admitted, it cannot be limited in this way; it is more probable that in this point also the aim of Jesus was of a moral nature. The pool of Siloam had played an important part in the feast which had come to its end. In the solemn and daily libation (p. 75), this fountain had been presented to the people as the emblem of the theocratic favors and the pledge of all the Messianic blessings. This typical significance of Siloam rested upon the Old Testament which had established a contrast between this humble fountain, springing up noiselessly at the foot of the temple mountain ( the waters of Shiloah which flow sweetly), emblem of the divine salvation wrought by the Messiah ( Emmanuel), and the great waters (of the Euphrates), the symbol of the brute force of the enemies of the theocracy ( Isa 8:7 ). What then does Jesus do by adding to the real blindness of this man, which He alone can cure, this artificial and symbolic blindness, which the water of Siloam is to remove? In the first place, He expressly gives to the sacred fountain a part in His work of healing, as He had not done in chap. 5 with reference to the pool of Bethesda, and He thus places this work more evidently to the eyes of all under the protection of God Himself. God is thereby associated, as it were, in this new Sabbatic work ( Lange). Then, He presents Himself as the real fountain of Siloam of which the prophet had spoken ( Isa 8:7 ) and thus declares to the people that this type of the grace of Jehovah is now fulfilled in Him.

It is undoubtedly this symbolic significance attributed to the water of Siloam, which explains the remark of the evangelist: a name which signifies: Sent. From the philological point of view, the correctness of the translation given by John is no longer disputed. It is acknowledged that the name Siloam is a verbal substantive or adjective from שָׁלַח , H8938, and derived from the passive participle Kal or rather Piel (with the solution of the daghesh forte in the into י ). What was the origin of this title? The pool of Siloam, discovered by Robinson near the place where the three valleys of Tyropeon, Hinnom and Jehoshaphat meet together, is fed by a subterranean conduit recently discovered, which starts from the fountain of the Virgin in the valley of Jehoshaphat and crosses in a zigzag way the side of the rock of Ophel, the southern prolongation of the temple mountain. The name sent can therefore be explained in this sense: water brought from far. Or we may think, with Ewald, of the jet itself of the spring, that is of the intermittent fountain which feeds the reservoir (see Vol. I., p. 455). Or finally we may see herein the idea of a gift of Jehovah ( Hengstenberg), springs being regarded in the East as gifts of God. In any case, this parenthesis has as its purpose to establish a relation between this spring celebrated by the prophet as the emblem of the Messianic salvation (the typical sent) and the sent one properly so-called who really brings this salvation.

As Franke remarks (p. 314), this case, being the only one in which Jesus rests upon the meaning of a name, must be explained by the circumstance that Isaiah had already brought the water of Siloam into connection with the salvation of which He recognized the accomplishment in Jesus.

Meyer and others explain this parenthesis by supposing that John saw prefigured in this name sent the sending of the blind man himself to Siloam. As if there were the least logical correspondence between this sending and the name of this reservoir; as if the name of sent were not above all the constant title of Jesus Himself in our Gospel. To get rid of this parenthesis which embarrassed him, Lucke had recourse, with hesitation, to the hypothesis of an interpolation. The Peschito actually omits these words. But this omission in a Syriac translation is very naturally explained, since the word translated belongs to that language.

According to the Alexandrian reading, we must translate in John 9:6: “He applied His clay to...” Weiss, to save this objectionable reading, proposes to refer the pronoun αὐτοῦ , not to Jesus, but to πτύσματος , the saliva: “He applied the clay of the saliva.” The fact is that here, as frequently, one must know how to free one's self from the prejudice which attributes to the Alexandrian text a kind of infallibility. The preposition of motion, εἰς , into, is used with the verb νίψαι , wash, probably because the blind man was obliged to go down into the reservoir. Meyer explains the εἰς , by mentioning that in washing, the blind man would necessarily make the clay fall into the basin(!). It is a matter of course that the blind man found a guide among the persons present. How can Reuss make a charge against the narrative on the point of this omission? The evangelist says: He returned seeing; this signifies, no doubt, that the blind man returned to the place where he had left Jesus that he might render thanks to Him, and that, not finding Him there, Jesus was only passing by ( Joh 9:1 ), he returned to his dwelling. This appears, indeed, from the following expression ( Joh 9:8 ): the neighbors, as well as from John 9:35; John 9:37. Reuss: “We are not told where the man went after having washed, why he did not return to his benefactor...” What is to be said of such criticism?

Verses 8-12

Vv. 8-12. “ His neighbors therefore, and those who before saw him begging, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? 9. Some said, It is he; others, He is like him. He said, I am Hebrews 10:0. Thereupon they said to him, How were thine eyes opened? 11. He answered and said, A man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes, and said to me, Go to the pool of Siloam and wash. Having gone thither and washed, I have recovered sight. 12. They said to him therefore, Where is this man? He says, I know not.

These verses describe in the most natural and most dramatic way the effect produced by the return of the blind man to his home. The evangelist distinguishes from the neighbors all those, in general, who were accustomed to see him (imperfect participle θεωροῦντες ) asking alms. The question of Joh 9:8 is proposed by all; but two slightly different tendencies immediately manifest themselves in the solutions given in John 9:9. Some frankly recognize the fact: “Yes, it is he.” Others seem to be already preparing for themselves a means of eluding it: “He is like him.” In the Byzantine reading: He is like him, a resemblance is conceded which is calculated to establish identity. But according to the Alexandrian variant: “ No; but he is like him!” there would be already a denial of identity; everything would be reduced to an accidental resemblance. In any case, it is evidently the latter class who, upon the declaration of the blind man, present to him the questions of Joh 9:10 and John 9:12. The expression recover sight ( Joh 9:11 ) arises from the fact that blindness, even from birth, is a state contrary to nature. The question of Joh 9:12 betrays the intention of provoking an inquiry; it is the transition to the following passage:

Verses 13-17

Vv. 13-17. “ They lead the man who was formerly blind to the Pharisees. 14. Now it was the Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened the eyes of this Man 1:15 . In their turn, the Pharisees also asked him how he had recovered his sight. He said to them, He put clay upon my eyes, and I washed, and I see. 16. Thereupon, some of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath. Others said, How can a wicked man do such miracles? And they were divided among themselves. 17. Addressing the blind man again, they say to him, What dost thou say of him, in that he opened thine eyes? He answered, He is a prophet.

Those who push for an investigation are the ill-disposed questioners of John 9:10; John 9:12. The term the Pharisees cannot designate the entire Sanhedrim (comp. Joh 7:45 ). Had the Pharisaic party a certain organization perchance, and is the question here of its leaders? It is more natural to suppose that the question here is of the more violent ones. It was undoubtedly the day after the one on which the miracle had taken place.

Verse 14

Ver. 14. Keil remarks that the expression is not for, but now ( δέ ). There is therefore no indication here of the reason for which they brought him; it is an incidental remark, explanatory of what follows.

The words: He made clay are skillfully added in order to make prominent the anti-Sabbatic work in the miracle. Renan says of Jesus: “He openly violated the Sabbath.” We have already seen that there is nothing of this (vol. I., p. 461). In this case, as in that of chap. 5, Jesus had trampled under foot, not the Mosaic Sabbath, but its Pharisaic caricature. The word πάλιν , again, alludes to John 9:10. This expression, as well as the repeated and in this John 9:15, indicates a certain impatience on the part of the blind man, whom these questions weary. He already penetrates their designs. Thus, also, is the somewhat abrupt brevity of his reply explained. The division which manifested itself in the public, is reproduced in this limited circle. Some, starting from the inviolability of the Sabbath ordinance, deny to Jesus, as a transgressor of this ordinance, any divine mission; from this results logically the denial of the miracle. Others, starting from the fact of the miracle, infer the holy character of Jesus, and thus implicitly deny the infraction of the Sabbath. Everything depends on the choice of the premise, and the choice depends here, as always, on moral freedom. It is at the point of departure that the friends of the light and those of darkness separate; the rest is only a matter of logic. We must not translate ἁμαρτωλός by sinner. The defenders of Jesus do not dream of affirming His perfect holiness; the termination ωλος expresses abundance, custom; thus: a man without principles, a violator of the Sabbath, a publican. The question addressed to the blind man in John 9:17, has as its aim to wrest from him a word which may furnish a pretext for suspecting his veracity. As for him, he recognizes in the miracle, according to the received opinion John 3:2, the sign of a divine mission, and he frankly declares it.

Confronting of the blind man with his parents:

Verses 18-23

Vv. 18-23. “ The Jews therefore did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and had recovered his sight, until they had called the father and the mother of him who had recovered his sight; 19 and they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see? 20. The parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees, we know not; or who has opened his eyes, we know not; he is of age, ask him;he shall speak for himself. 22. The parents spoke thus, because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should acknowledge him as the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. 23. Therefore said his parents, He is of age, ask him.

By the term οἱ᾿Ιουδαῖοι , the Jews, John does not mean to designate a group of new individuals. They are still the same; only he designates them now, no longer from the point of view of their position in Israel, but from that of their disposition towards Jesus.

The persons in question are the most hostile ones, those to whom John 9:16 a refers. They suspect a collusion between Jesus and the blind man, and for this reason they wish to make inquiry of his parents. Of the three questions which Joh 9:19 contains, the first two those which relate to the blindness from birth of their son and the identity of the man who is cured with this son are immediately answered by the parents affirmatively. There is something comical in the three αὐτός , he, by means of which they pass over from themselves to him the burden of answering the third. The term συνετέθεντο , they had agreed, John 9:22, denotes a decision formed, and not a mere project, as Meyer thinks; this follows from the word ἤδη , already, and from the knowledge which the parents have of this measure. The exclusion from the synagogue involved for the excommunicated person the breaking off of all social relations with those about him. The higher degree of excommunication would have had death as its result, if this penalty had been practicable under the Roman dominion. We find here a new landmark on the path of the hostile measures adopted with regard to Jesus; it is the transition between the sending of the officers (chap. 7) and the decree of death in chap. 11. The cowardice of the parents is, as it were, the prelude of that of the whole people.

Second appearance:

Verses 24-34

Vv. 24-34. “ They called, for the second time, the man who had been blind, and they said to him, Give glory to God; we know that this man is a wicked person. 25. He answered them, Whether he is a wicked person, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. 26. They said to him again, What did he to thee? How did he open thine eyes? 27. He answered them, I told you already, and you did not hear. Why would you hear it again? Do you also wish to become his disciples? 28. They reviled him and said to him, Thou art this man's disciple; we are disciples of Moses. 29. As to Moses, we know that God has spoken to him; but as for this man, we know not whence he is. 30. The man answered them and said, Herein is the marvellous thing, that you do not know whence he is; and yet, he has opened my eyes! 31. Now, we know that God does not hear the wicked; but if any one is his worshipper and does his will, him he hears. 32. Never has it been heard that any one has opened the eyes of one born blind. 33. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing like this. 34. They answered and said to him, Thou wert altogether born in sin, and thou teachest us! And they drove him out.

After this confronting, a deliberation intervenes; it is determined to extort from the blind man the disavowal of the miracle in the name of the Sabbatic principle, in other terms, to annihilate the fact by dogma. The expression: to give glory to God, denotes the homage rendered to one of the divine perfections momentarily obscured by a word or an act which seems to be derogatory to it (Joshua 7:19; 1Sa 6:5 ).

The blasphemy here was the declaration of the blind man: He is a prophet. It was in contempt of the holiness and truth of God to give this title to a violator of the Sabbath. This culpable assertion must be washed away by the opposite declaration: He is a wicked person. “ We know” say the rulers (John 9:24; Joh 9:29 ), setting themselves up as representatives of theological knowledge in Israel; in virtue of their knowledge, the miracle cannot be: therefore it is not. On his part, the blind man, while admitting his incompetency in theological questions, simply opposes fact to knowledge; his language becomes decidedly ironical; he is conscious of the bad faith of his adversaries. They feel the force of his position, and ask him again as to the circumstances of the fact ( Joh 9:26 ), hoping to find in some detail of his account a means of assailing the fact itself. Not having succeeded in overthrowing the miracle by dogmatics, they wish to undermine it by criticism.

This return to a phase of investigation already settled at once renders the blind man indignant and emboldens him; he triumphs in their impotence, and his reply borders upon irony: “You did not hear? You are deaf then!” They then cover their embarrassment by insult; between Jesus and the Sabbath, or, what amounts to the same thing, between Jesus and Moses, their choice is made. The blind man, seeing that there is a wish to argue with him, becomes more and more bold, and sets himself also to the work of arguing. If he has not studied dogmatics, he at least knows his catechism. Is there an Israelite who is ignorant of this theocratic axiom: that a miracle is an answer to prayer, and that the prayer of a wicked person is not answered. The construction of Joh 9:30 is doubtful. Meyer, Luthardt and Weiss explain: “In such a condition of things ( ἐν τούτῳ ), it is astonishing that you do not know whence he comes, and that he has opened my eyes.” But, in this sense, the last words are useless.

More than this, the idea: “and that he has opened my eyes” being the premise of the preceding conclusion: “whence he comes,” should be placed before it. We must therefore make the ἐν τούτῳ , as is so frequently the case, refer to the following ὅτι : in this that, and give to the καί which follows the sense of and yet (as in so many other passages in John): “There is truly herein a marvel (without τό ); or (with τό ): “The real marvelous thing consists in this: that you do not know whence this man comes: and yet He has opened my eyes!” This last reading is evidently the true one. “There is here a miracle greater than even my cure itself; it is your unbelief.” The γάρ ( for), in Greek, often refers to an understood thought. Thus in this case: “You do not know this? In fact, there is something here which borders upon the marvelous!” We know; that is to say, we simple Jews, in general ( Joh 9:31 ); in contrast to the proud we know of these doctors, in John 9:24; John 9:29. The argument is compact; Joh 9:31 is the major premise, Joh 9:32 the minor, and Joh 9:33 draws the conclusion.

Defeated by his pitiless logic, whose point of support is simply the principle that what is, is, the adversaries of Jesus give way to rage. Saying to the blind man: Thou wert altogether born in sin, they allude to his blindness from birth, which they regard as a proof of the divine curse under which the man was born ( Joh 9:2-3 ); and they do not perceive that, by this very insult, they render homage to the reality of the miracle which they pretend to deny. Thus unbelief ends by giving the lie to itself. The expression: they drove him out, cannot designate an official excommunication; for this could not be pronounced except in a regular meeting. They expelled him violently from the hall, perhaps with the intention of having the excommunication pronounced afterwards by the Sanhedrim in pursuance of a formal deliberation.

It is asked what is the aim with which John related this fact with so much of detail. No striking testimony of Jesus respecting His person marks it as worthy of attention. It refers far more, as it seems, to the history and conduct of a secondary personage, than to the revelation of Jesus Himself. Evidently John accords to this fact this honorable place because it marks in his view a decisive step in the progress of Israelitish unbelief. For the first time, a believer is, for his faith, cast out of the theocratic community. It is the first act of the rupture between the Church and the Synagogue. We shall see in the following chapter that Jesus really regards this fact in this light.

The whole scene here described has an historical truthfulness which is obvious. It is so little ideal in its nature that it rests, from one end to the other, upon the brute reality of a fact. Baur himself acknowledges this. “The reality of the fact,” he says, “is the point against which the contradiction of the adversaries is broken.” And yet this fact, according to him, is a pure invention! What sort of a man must an evangelist be who describes, with greatest detail, a whole series of scenes for the purpose of showing how dogmatic reasoning is shattered against a fact in the reality of which he does not himself believe? Does not criticism meet the same experience which here happens to the Pharisees in Joh 9:34 ? Does it not give the lie to itself? This whole chapter presents to modern criticism its own portrait. The defenders of the Sabbath ordinance reason thus: God cannot lend His power to a violator of the Sabbath; therefore the miracle ascribed to Jesus does not exist. A non posse ad non esse valet consequentia. The opponents of the miracles in the Gospel history reason in exactly the same way, only substituting for a religious ordinance a scientific axiom: The supernatural cannot be; therefore, however well attested the miracles of Jesus may be, they are not. The historical fact holds good against the ordinance, of whatsoever nature it may be, and it will end by forcing it to submit.

Verses 35-38

Vv. 35-38. “ Jesus heard that they had driven him out; and having found him, he said to him: Dost thou believe on the Son of man? 36. He answered and said, And who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him? 37. Jesus said to him, Thou hast both seen him and he that speaks with thee is he. 38. He said, Lord, I believe. And he prostrated himself before him.

In order that the true aim which Jesus proposed to Himself might be attained ( Joh 9:3-4 ). the spiritual illumination and salvation of the blind man must result from his corporeal cure; and certainly his courageous fidelity in the face of the enemies of Jesus made him worthy to obtain this new favor. This connection of ideas is indicated by the first words of John 9:35: Jesus heard...and...In the question which He addresses to this man we formerly preferred the reading: on the Son of God, to that of the three ancient Mjj. which read: on the Son of man. It explains better the act of worship with which the scene ends ( Joh 9:38 ). Westcott rightly observes, however, that the substitution of the technical and popular term Son of God for Son of man is much more probable than the reverse. And he cites the very striking example of John 6:69, where the term Son of God has evidently taken the place in the received text of Holy One of God. If we must read: on the Son of man, the meaning is: on the man who has an exceptional place among all His brethren and who is raised up in order to save them all. The question: Dost thou believe? does not signify: “Art thou disposed to believe?” (Lucke).

It is one of those questions, such as were sometimes put by Jesus, whose import goes beyond the actual light of the one to whom it is addressed, but which is, even for this reason, fitted to call forth the desired explanation. “Thou who hast just conducted thyself with so much of courage, dost thou then believe?” Jesus ascribes to the conduct of the blind man an importance which it as yet only impliedly possesses. This man had recognized Him as a prophet and had courageously proclaimed Him as such; he had thus morally bound himself to receive the testimony of Jesus respecting Himself, whatever it might be. The blind man accepts without hesitation this consequence of his previous words. And this relation it is which is expressed with much vivacity by the particle καί , and, at the beginning of his question.

This copula serves indeed to identify the light which he waits for with that for which the question of Jesus makes him hope; comp. Luke 18:26. Jesus might have answered: It is I, myself. He prefers to designate Himself by a periphrasis recalling to him who was previously blind the work which he has accomplished on his behalf: Thou hast seen him, and which gives a warranty to His present testimony: It is he who speaks to thee. The first καί in the reply of Jesus: Thou hast both seen him, connects this revelation with the promise of faith which the blind man has just made to Him. The successive καί set forth the ready, easy, natural linking together of all the moral facts which form the course of this story. In this rapid development, one step does not wait for another. Joh 9:38 shows us the consummation of this gradual illumination. In these circumstances, in which there was neither pardon to ask for, nor supplication to present, the genuflexion could be only a homage of worship, or at least of profound religious respect. The term προσκύνειν , to prostrate oneself, is always applied in John to divine worship (John 4:20 ff. Joh 12:20 ).

In the presence of this man prostrate at His feet and inwardly illuminated, Jesus feels Himself called to proclaim a general result which His ministry will have throughout the whole world, and of which the event which has just occurred is, as it were, a first example.

Verses 39-41

Vv. 39-41. “ And Jesus said, I am come into this world to exercise this judgment, that those who see not may see, and that those who see may become blind. 40. And those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these words and they said to him, And are we also blind? 41. Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would not have sin; but now you say, We see; therefore, your sin remains.

Here is a simple reflection to which Jesus gives utterance, and which is connected with the dignity of light of the world which He had attributed to Himself at the beginning of this scene ( Joh 9:5 ).

So the verb εἶπεν , he said, is left without a limiting personal object such as: to them. The coming of Jesus has for its end, strictly, to enlighten the world; but as this end cannot be attained in all, because all are not willing to allow themselves to be enlightened, it has another secondary end: that those who reject the light should be blinded by it. It is not necessary to see in the term κρίμα , judgment, the indication of a judicial act. Such a judgment had been denied in John 3:17. The question is of a moral result of the attitude taken by the men themselves with regard to Jesus, but a result which was necessary and willed from on high ( ἦλθον εἰς ). The term in this world recalls the expression: light of this world ( Joh 9:5 ). The greater part of the interpreters ( Calvin, Lucke, Meyer, etc.) give to the expression: Those who see not, a subjective meaning: “Those who feel and acknowledge that they do not see.” This interpretation arbitrarily weakens the sense of the expression employed by Jesus and it does not suit the context, since the man whose cure occasions these words, did not feel his blindness more than other blind persons, and since, speaking spiritually, he did not simply feel himself more ignorant than others, but he was so in reality. Those who do not see are therefore men who are really sunk in spiritual ignorance. They are those whom the rulers themselves call in John 7:49: “ This multitude who know not the law,” the ignorant in Israel, those whom Jesus designates, Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, as the little children ( νήπιοι ) contrasting them with the wise and intelligent. Those who see are, consequently, those who, throughout this whole chapter, have said, in speaking of themselves: We know, the experts in the law, those whom Jesus calls, in the passage cited, the wise and intelligent ( σοφοὶ καὶ συνετοί ).

The former, not having any knowledge of their own to keep, yield themselves without difficulty to the revelation of the truth, while the others, not wishing to sacrifice their own knowledge, turn away from the new revelation, and, as we have just seen in this chapter, presume even to annihilate the divine facts by their theological axioms. Hence it results that the former are immediately enlightened by the rays of the sun which rises upon the world, while the imperfect light which the latter possess is transformed into complete darkness. We must notice the delicate contrast between μὴ βλέποντες ( those who see not) in the first clause, which denotes a sight not yet developed, and τυφλοί , blind, in the second, which denotes the absolute blindness resulting from the destruction of the organ. This passage expresses, therefore, the same thought as the words of Jesus in the Synoptics: “ I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and intelligent, and hast revealed them unto babes ” (Matthew 11:25; Luk 10:21 ). Meyer objects that in this sense the seeing or not seeing would relate to the law and the becoming blind to the Gospel, that there would thus be a twofold relation which is not to be accepted. But in the view of Jesus (comp. John 5:45 ff.), the law, when thoroughly understood, and the Gospel are only one and the same increasing moral light. The knowledge of the law must lead, if it is earnestly applied, to the acknowledgment of the Gospel; if the latter had not come, the law itself would have covered the sight with an impenetrable veil ( 2Co 3:14-15 ).

The Pharisees who were at this moment in the company of Jesus, ask Him ironically if He ranks them also, the doctors of Israel, in the number of the blind. I do not think that they make a strict distinction between the non-seeing and the blind of John 9:39. They keep to the general idea of blindness and ask if He applies it to them also.

The answer of Jesus to this sarcasm ( Joh 9:41 ) is one of crushing severity. Instead of treating them as blind, as they no doubt expected, Jesus says to them, on the contrary: “It were a thing to be wished for, for your sakes, that you were so!” The expression: Those who see not, in this answer, designates those who have not the religious knowledge furnished by the profound study of the law. If those who interrogate Him at this moment had belonged to the ignorant portion of the nation, their unbelief might have been only a matter of surprise or of seduction, something like that sin against the Son of man which can be forgiven in this age or even in the other. But such is not their position. They are possessed of the key of knowledge ( Luk 11:52 ), they possess the knowledge of the law and the prophets.

It is, then, with full knowledge that they reject the Messiah: Behold the Son, this is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. Here is the exact rendering of their feeling. Their unbelief is the rejection of the truth discerned; this is what renders it unpardonable: ἁμαρτία μένει , their sin remains. Weiss gives to this last word a slightly different sense: the sin of unbelief remains in them because the pride of their own knowledge prevents them from attaining to faith. But the expression sin which remains has certainly a more serious meaning ( Joh 3:36 ); it has reference to the divine judgment. The meaning of this verse which we have just set forth (comp. Luthardt, Weiss, etc.) appears to me more natural than that given by Calvin, Meyer and most: “If you felt your ignorance, I could heal you; but you boast presumptuously of your knowledge; for this reason your malady is incurable.” The expression: You say ( yourselves say), proves nothing in favor of this meaning and against that given by us, as Meyer asserts. These words contain, indeed, an allusion to the ironical question of the Pharisees ( Joh 9:40 ), by which they had denied their blindness. Their own mouth had thus testified that it was not light which had been wanting to them. “You yourselves acknowledge, by saying constantly, We know, that you are not of those who are ignorant of the preparatory revelations which God has granted to His people. You are therefore without excuse.”

The relation here indicated between the ignorant and the learned in Israel is reproduced on a large scale in the relation between the heathen and the Jews, and with the same result. The sin of the heathen, who so long persecuted the Church, has been forgiven them, while the crime, consciously committed by Israel, of rejecting the Messiah, still rests upon that people. Jesus knew well that this judgment, in which His coming must issue, embraced the whole world; this is the reason why He said in John 9:39: “I am come into this world, in order that...” We shall find the same sentiment at the basis of the following section. Comp. John 10:3-4; John 10:16.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 9". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/john-9.html.
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