1.As Jesus passed by—Did this take place as Jesus passed from the excited scene at the close of the last chapter? Or is there an interval of some days, and the opening of a new event? In favour of the former view is the obvious sense of the language implying no break, and the fact that the temple where that scene took place was an ordinary place for the beggar to post himself for alms. On the contrary, however unexcited Jesus may have been, the disciples could scarce at such a moment have been in a mood for proposing a dry speculative question upon the first object they meet. Nor is it natural to understand the Sabbath-day of John 9:14 as any other than the weekly Sabbath. We hold, therefore, that John here gives a separate narrative, of a very illustrative kind, of an event which occurred probably the Sabbath after the scene which closes the last chapter.
From his birth—And therefore the cure was beyond human power, and so supernatural and miraculous.
§ 84.—RESTORATION OF THE BLIND-BORN AND FOURTH DISCOURSE AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES, John 9:1—John 10:21.
The event here narrated, with its appended discourse, must, in order to be understood in its completeness, be taken into one reading from John 9:1 to John 10:39. It takes place at the Feast of Tabernacles. Through chapter ix the spiritual lords of Jerusalem show themselves false shepherds, as the blind-born is a true representative sheep; and through John 10:1-21 Jesus contrasts the true shepherd with the false. Three months after, at the Feast of Dedication, (John 9:22-39,) Jesus takes occasion to resume the same thread of discourse, and the angry Jews, in resentment for his rebukes, drive him from their capital.
The immediate narrative exhibits a thorough hostile sifting of one of our Lord’s miracles by the exciting authorities. First, it was the case of one born blind; a kind of case never curable (John 9:32) by natural means. Second, the reality of the blindness was notorious, and yet was thoroughly examined by the authorities. Third, there was no escape from the conclusion of the reality of the miracle. It was attested by the man himself, by his parents, by his neighbours, by Jesus and his disciples. It was finally undenied by the Lord’s enemies. It was moreover attested and recorded by John, our Evangelist, himself an eye and ear witness of the whole transaction.
After the performance of the miracle, John 9:1-7, the case is examined by the neighbours, John 9:8-12; the man is brought before the authorities and examined a first time, John 9:13-17; the parents are brought before them and examined, John 9:18-23; the man is recalled and re-examined and cast out, John 9:24-34. Jesus finds and receives him, passing condemnation on his rejecters, whom in the next chapter he contrasts with the good Shepherd.
2.Who did sin?—We have here a bit of speculative theology. The disciples assume the prevalent doctrine as true, that special calamities are the result of special sinfulness. If they had assumed that the race is liable to miseries because the race is depraved, there would have been no error. It is also true that many sins entail particular sufferings upon posterity, physical, moral, and political. Nevertheless, special sufferings are not absolute proof of special guilt.
This man, or his parents—But how could the apostles conceive that this man had sinned before his birth? Some commentators have held that they imagined that the man’s soul may have sinned in a previous body. That would imply the doctrine of metempsychosis or transmigration, by which the same soul is supposed to inhabit different bodies; and so the soul may have sinned in a former body and be punished in this. There is no clear proof that this doctrine was prevalent among these Jews. Others hold that they believed that the child in the womb, before its birth, could be guilty of wicked impulses and motions. Others, that the disciples asked a confused question without distinctly perceiving the implications it contained. But, note, this may have been the very difficulty they desired the Lord ultimately to explain; namely, how this man’s birth-blindness could have been the result of his own sin. On the popular supposition that suffering was the result of a sin, they desire to know of whose sin this man’s suffering is the consequence. Was it his parents’ sin or his own? And if Jesus had replied his own the next question would have been, If his own, how?
3.Neither’ this man’ nor his parents—Our Lord does not deny that they had sinned, but that they had sinned as the cause of his being born blind. Works of God—We do not understand our Lord to say that the single object for which this man was born blind was, that Jesus might work a miracle upon him. God is a divine teacher; awakening, instructing, and developing the minds of men, by the phenomena around them, to a full knowledge, both scientific and spiritual, of his works in nature and in history. Both the excellencies and defects of nature, the ordinary and the extraordinary providences, furnish subjects of study as illustrations of God’s works and his dealings with a sinful race.
4.I must work the works—The apparent defect in this work of nature, so called, gave room for the manifestation of a work of grace. But the work, whether of nature, as in the case of the man’s being born blind, or of grace, as of his being restored to sight, is in either case the work of him that sent me—God.
While it is day—In the terms day, night, light, of John 9:4-5, we recognize some allusion to the night of the blind man’s eyes on which he was to pour the light of day. The work to which the Lord alludes is his earthly work, to be performed during his dwelling in the flesh. Relative to this, his death, although it should be the opening of a new and still greater scene of work, would be a close, a cessation, a night. The must implies that Jesus felt, as it were, a sort of obligation, from the very nature of his mission, to repair by grace this defect of nature.
No man can work—Though men may partially work by the literal night, yet the spiritual night of death is the perfect termination of all living operations.
5.As long as—The objects of labour are, like this blind man, perpetually turning up; there must be no tiring during the brief day of his earthly life.
6.He spat on the ground—The Lord uses instrumentalities for the end, to show that the end was the purposed end, and not mere coincidence or chance. He uses instrumentalities plainly inadequate, to show that the power was miraculous. Both spittle and clay were often used by the ancients as an ointment for the cure of weak eyes; and this again indicates that our Lord purposes, by their use, to show that the cure is the result of his purpose. Yet no one could ever believe that the cure of one born blind could ever be effected naturally by such means. The cure was, therefore, an intended result and a miraculous one.
Made clay—Made a clay mortar or mixture.
7.Go, wash—An act of faith is the condition to his salvation. Had he refused, he might have been doomed to perpetual darkness.
Pool of Siloam—This is a pool or a small pond, in an oblong form, at the lower end of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, overlooked by the wall of Mount Zion. Its sides are built up with stones, and a column stands in its middle, indicating that a chapel was once built over it. It is in length fifty-four feet, by eighteen in breadth. It is fed, probably, by water from the temple mount.
By interpretation, Sent—By this explanation of the meaning of the word, we understand the Evangelist to indicate that Jesus selected this pool because its name was significant. As Christ himself is the fountain, sent from God, by which our nature is purified, so Siloam is the fountain, sent from the mount of God’s temple, by which the man is washed from both his blindness and his clay. The man was sent by the Sent to the Sent.
The word Siloam here is in the Hebrew Shiloah, ; the h being changed to m for Greek euphony. But Kuinoel, like many other critics, affirms that Shiloah is not truly the Hebrew for Sent, but Shaluah; and so claims that this parenthesis is not John’s, but an interpolation. Tholuck, however, maintains “that the yod in Shiloah is to be regarded as daghesh forte resolved, and that the word is, consequently, to be regarded either as abstract, or equivalent to effusion, that is, aqueduct; or may even be like the form passively equivalent to ‘the one sent.’“
8.He that sat and begged—The notoriety of his case explains how it was that the apostles knew him to be born blind. John 9:2.
Excitement among neighbours, John 9:8-12.
So great a cure upon so well-known a case could not fail to startle the immediate residents of the locality. The scenes and dialogues that follow are so natural that they cannot but be true. The character of the restored man is developed in the most exquisite manner by his own words. His native shrewdness and firmness of convictions against captious cavils, his rational faith in, and confiding fidelity to, his restorer, appear in beautiful succession. He had, or at least attained, that position, purpose, and spirit of faith which only need Christ to be truly presented, to result in his full acceptance of Christ. Even before he knew the Good Shepherd he was, by anticipation, one of the true sheep, showing his Christward predisposition, and obedience to the Father’s drawings, by hearing the Shepherd’s voice and following his steps. See notes on John 9:17; John 9:25; John 9:35, and John 10:4.
The neighbours prosecute a threefold inquiry. Is this the very man who was blind? How were his eyes opened? Where is his restorer? The first two questions were amply answered by the man himself. The third remained as yet unanswered.
9.Like him—This was doubtless the desperate solution of some who, like certain modern would-be philosophers, adopt any supposition rather than admit a miracle.
He said, I am he—A man is generally the best judge of his own identity.
11.A man’ called Jesus—The excitement produced by the miracles and preaching had not reached, as yet, the blind beggar. He knew his benefactor only by name.
Made clay—The man’s recital of the instrumentalities clearly indicates the impression they were intended to produce, (see our note on John 9:6,) and their obvious inadequacy demonstrated the miracle.
12.Where is he?—The motive for asking was not hostility, but a natural interest to see and know the author of such a work.
I know not—The man had heard the voice but had never seen the person of his benefactor, until revealed. John 9:37. So we have not seen our Saviour; nor will, until his final coming.
13.They brought to the Pharisees—We see no proof of hostility to Jesus (attributed by some commentators) in their thus referring to the proper examiners so extraordinary a fact. The humble neighbours were perfectly willing that its author should be pronounced a prophet.
The man’s first examination before the court, John 9:13-17.
That this was an authoritative body appears from their power to send for the different parties, (John 9:18; John 9:24,) and from their expelling from the synagogue, 34. It was probably the lesser Sanhedrim, called the Pharisees, as being mainly composed of that sect.
14.Sabbath day—The Evangelist here prepares us for the ground upon which the Pharisees will seek to invalidate the miracle.
15.Again—In addition to the previous questioning by the neighbours. The man doggedly reiterates the methods which formed the body, and the supernatural affect which formed the soul, of the miracle. He evidently sees that there is a demand for firmness, and he braces himself for the trial. Nothing shall induce him to deny his benefactor’s mercy. Thus there may be a heroic and martyr-like spirit of faith before the object of faith is clearly discovered and made known.
16.Therefore—That is, in consequence of the man’s unflinching statement. They had hoped that he would invalidate the miracle by his testimony; but, failing of this, they proceed to invalidate it against testimony, by reasonings of their own.
Others said—One party said, He is a sinner, and this cannot be a miracle. The other party said, This is a miracle; so he cannot be a sinner. Had the deed truly been a sin, the reasoning of the first party would have been correct. The premise of the second party proved not only that Jesus was no sinner, but that he was a messenger of God.
17.What sayest thou of him, [in view of the matter,] that he hath opened—This shows that there is but one question. And the crooked question brings a straight answer.
A prophet—The man had heard from the readings of the Old Testament (though his own eyes had never seen a letter) that there were prophets of old, who did works by the power of God, and whose words, as from God, were thus divinely authenticated. Nothing less than such a one, even before this spiritual court, he avers, could this restorer of his sight have been. And this firm confessor shows himself prepared for that humble reception of Jesus’s words which he exhibited in John 9:36-38. He is a predestined sheep of Christ; predestined, that is, by predisposition and free volitional purpose before he is by full regeneration. And this confession disconcerts these lords spiritual for the moment. But they fall back upon a pretext; perhaps his parents will admit that he was not born blind.
Parents examined before the spiritual court, John 9:18-23.
20.Parents answered—To suit the court, they ought to answer that it is a great mistake that the man was born blind. He was only a little dim, and washing in Siloam purged his vision, and so gave grounds for this impostor’s quackery. But the aged couple, though non-committal, refuse to be false.
We know—As the court had asked a double question, the wary witnesses divide it and give a twofold answer. He is their own blind-born son, they know; but as to the pinch, how he now sees, these deponents say not.
21.What means—The safe testimony they clearly give; the unsafe part they slip, and thrust their son into the post of danger. That danger he is man enough to brave.
He is of age—He has maturity to be responsible for his own case.
22.Had agreed already—Doubtless this agreement was published by authority, or these parents could not have known it. To these Jews, therefore, there are chargeable two crimes against truth. They predetermined that no evidence of the divinity of Jesus should be admitted as valid, and thus they rejected truth by positive will. They decreed that all acknowledgments of his Messiahship, on whatever evidence, should be suppressed by force; and this was persecution. They ignored truth, and they persecuted what they feared to be truth.
He was Christ—They might have acknowledged Jesus to be a prophet, or a worker of miracles, without confessing him to be Christ or Messiah. But then, so varying was the notion in regard to Christ, that they might fear that any acknowledgment of his supernatural claims might incur the penalty. The tyranny that can pass a persecuting decree can stretch it to any shape that suits its own malice.
24.Give God the praise—The obvious meaning of this phrase to the English reader is, Give God the praise for thy healing, and not to this man. But it is rather an adjuration—
Revere and glorify God by testifying the truth. We know—And he is bound, so they think, to know just as they know. Respect was doubtless due to the opinion of this court; but with the man a point of conscience and a point of fact were at stake.
This man is a sinner—This they might opine, but they could not know. This opinion was grounded upon the assumption that to apply moist clay to heal a man’s eyes on the Sabbath is Sabbath-breaking.
The re-examination of the blind-born, John 9:24-34.
They are little satisfied with the previous arraignment, which resulted in a firm confession of the prophetic character of Jesus, (John 9:17.) They recall and salute him with a peremptory declaration of the character of Jesus, according to their verdict. The blind-born is of course expected to agree. The result is doubly unsatisfactory.
25.Whether’ a sinner—Rather, If he be a sinner I know it not. He stands first upon a profoundly conscientious know not, and next upon his own infallible
know. Was blind, now I see—Upon this point his knowledge was surer than any Sanhedrim’s that ever sat. A feeble character might have surrendered; but in soul this is a most princely beggar.
26.Said they’ again—Proceeding apparently to cross-question him, in order to detect some refutation of the miracle. This cross-questioning the man indignantly and sarcastically declines. He refers them to his explicit narrative in his former examination, which they endeavoured to slight; and he ironically imputes their zealous questioning to a desire to become his disciples. The keenness with which sceptics scrutinize the Gospel often surpasses the earnestness of its believing students. And it is a striking fact that critical attacks have stimulated Christian scholars to a profounder study of the word of God, and have thus resulted in a truer understanding of its depths of meaning, and clearer demonstrations of its infinite truth.
27.Be his disciples—Was the irony in his question justifiable? Elijah used irony in 1 Kings 18:27, and Jesus in Matthew 23:32. And yet, if this were truly a legal court, it may be doubted whether the man did not commit a faulty disrespect for which the want of self-respect in the court furnishes no full excuse. Yet when we consider that he was a poor, uncultivated mendicant, we can excuse this single error, and still wonder at his martyr-like constancy.
28.Moses’ disciples—The court puts on its dignity. Disciples of this Jesus, forsooth! We are disciples of the ancient founder of our law and nation!
29.Whence he is—Moses was sent from God; but whence Jesus is sent we know not.
30.Ye know not—Ye is here emphatic; ye, who of all ought to know. The opener of my eyes can be no other than God-sent; and this ye are the ones who should know.
31.God heareth not sinners—That is, to grant them miraculous powers. The blind-born ably argues, on ground of common sense, that a man who receives a commission from God to work miracles, his character, authority, and teaching are thereby endorsed by God; and if God be holy, the man cannot be, in the very miracle, a sinner.
32.Since the world began—Philosophers at the present day, like Hume and his followers, maintain that as miracles are contrary to experience, they can never take place. But, 1. A thing is not contrary to experience because it is unexperienced. To be contrary to experience, somebody must have a positive experience that a miracle cannot take place. But no one ever had or can have such an experience. 2. Miracles are not contrary but according to experience. This man could hold that giving sight to the blind-born was hitherto unexperienced; but he positively knew that it was not contrary to experience, for he knew that he himself had just experienced it. 3. Human experience is, that the so-called laws of nature are in themselves permanent, and yet that their operations are sometimes interrupted or varied by divine interpositions. And these two experiences are perfectly consistent with each other. Hence our man here correctly argues, human experience is, that ordinarily the born-blind is never restored; but a human experience also is, that in the present case the operation of that law has received a divine exception. 4. To say that a miracle never happened, because it is contrary to experience, is reasoning in a circle. For to say “it is contrary to experience” is but to say, in other words, that “it never happened.” So that the reasoning then is: A miracle “never happened” because it “never happened.”
33.Do nothing—Nothing to sustain his mission from God.
34.Altogether—In body and in soul; in body, as thy birth of blindness shows; in soul, as thy sustaining this Jesus shows. By this they do not assert that he had sinned before birth or in a previous body. In the spirit of Hindoo caste, they pronounce him of more base and depraved nature than their own. He is of a vile, unholy flesh and blood.
Cast him out—Excommunicated him. Not only thrust him bodily from the court-room, but from the synagogue and temple, and from all worship therein. A second grade of excommunication additionally confiscated his property. A third, by cutting him off from Israel, gave him over to heathenism and hell. Persecuted and outcast, the man is firm. Perhaps his very life of deprivation and mendicancy enabled him, while the more luxurious sacrificed their conscience rather than their prosperity, to bear his outcast condition with firmness. But thus cast out for Christ, he is soon received by Christ. And happier therein is he than the court that condemned, or the moral cowards who, frightened by his lot, renounce the truth of Jesus.
35.Dost thou believe—When a man’s will and purpose is aright for Christ it is easy to believe. This man knows not what Jesus will teach him, but what Jesus shall teach, that he believes beforehand.
Jesus consoles the outcast sheep, but condemns his false shepherds, John 9:35-41.
A day or two may have passed, when the outcast is strangely blessed by the hitherto unseen Jesus. Blessed is he whom Jesus thus seeks to bless! That voice the born-blind had heard bid him to wash and see; and, surely, he could need no other proof of the identity of Jesus than that forever unforgotten voice. And then how divine the benignity of the eye of the Son of man beaming upon the face of this his faithful confessor amid rebuke and persecution!
36.Who is he—What it is to be the Son of God, the man knows not; but whatever Jesus shall affirm, that it is. And to whom belongs this title he knows not; but to whom Jesus assigns that high title, to him it belongs. So faith may lie in the heart, the spirit, and the will, long before it is completely defined in the head. See notes on John 9:8-12.
38.Lord, I believe—So faith is the consent of the will, the accord of the heart, and the assent of the understanding.
39.For judgment—For a judicial dealing by which those who close their eyes may have them sealed; and
vice versa. Which see not—As this man saw not physically, but was made to see, so those who see not spiritually are made to see.
They which see—Which wilfully refuse right seeing in order to see falsely.
Made blind—Made to lose the power and chance of seeing truth, and left to the real blindness of their false seeing.
40.Some of the Pharisees’ with him heard—It would seem as if these Pharisees, expecting that Jesus might visit his poor adherent, were in a sort of ambush to watch and see and hear. Accordingly as Jesus utters this reflection upon his own work they are on hand to overhear and retort.
We blind also?—Are we included in that class who need to receive sight from thy hand?
41.If ye were blind—If, like this man, you were utterly and innocently without the power to see.
Ye should have no sin—Ye would be perfectly blameless for not seeing. Just as blameless as this man for not seeing the sun without the power. No man is required to use a power he never could possess. If a man never could possess the power for right, he could never be condemned for wrong. If, indeed, he brings his powerlessness upon himself, he cannot plead it in excuse.
But now ye say, We see—By your own confession, which is true, you are able to see the truth; and yet, wilfully, ye see falsely; your judgment shall be that ye shall lose the opportunity to see truth, and ye shall be abandoned to that false seeing which is a real blindness. As both their not seeing truth and their untruthful seeing were willful, there was no excuse; their sin stood permanent, recorded, unpardoned, eternal.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany