Exegesis of John 9 Part 2

Exegesis of John 9 Part 2


In chapter 8, Jesus has just given the Pharisees teaching on light and that Jesus is the light of the world (vs. 12). Further, he includes knowing Jesus is to know the Father (vs. 19). After this, Jesus cryptically predicts his death (vss. 28-29) and declares that those who sin are slaves to sin (vs. 34), but the truth will set them free (vs. 32). The chapter ends with Jesus boldly declaring, “before Abraham was, I am.” (vs. 58 CSB). This declaration is an explicit announcement of equality with God (Exodus 3:10-14). The religious leaders desired to stone Jesus after he made that statement (vs. 59. Within this context, the story of John 9 unfolds with the central figures of Jesus, the blind man, the disciples, the blind man’s neighbors, the blind man’s parents, and the Pharisees. The setting also changes from Jesus’ walking and passing by the blind man near the Temple to the pool of Siloam, the man’s home, the synagogue where the Pharisees gathered, and the final scene outside of the synagogue.

John 9 is an inclusio with vss. 1-6 describing the blind man’s encounter and healing with Jesus. The middle of the inclusio (vss. 7-34) deals with the religious fallout of the miracle. Sandwiching the inclusio is a second encounter with Jesus (vss. 35-41). This literary device exposes the contrasts of the text – the love and mercy of Jesus, the venom of the religious elite resulting in fear from the parents and the neighbors, and the love and inclusive mercy from Jesus. Wright states:

The chapter about the man born blind comes to its conclusion with the complete reversal of where it had started. The chapter began with the disciples assuming that because someone was born blind either he or his parents must have been guilty of sin. Jesus opposed that view, healed the man and then warded off the challenge from those who objected to him doing it on the sabbath. Now the chapter ends with his accusers claiming to see everything clearly when in fact they can’t.[1]

Chapter 9 opens with Jesus passing by a blind man. The disciples ask a question – who is responsible for the man’s blindness? Did he or did his parents sin and put him in this state? The question is pertinent because the text reveals that the man was blind from birth.

The status of those who were blind in first-century Israel was one of begging and charity.[2] The disciples would ask this question because it was commonly believed that suffering – blindness – resulted from sin. Stemming from Exodus 34:7, this sin could either be by the person suffering or their family.[3] To the disciples, the blind man was not a person in need but a “theological curiosity.”[4] This question is a precurser to the modern day “Prosperity Gospel” in which good behavior received rewards and bad behavior receives curses.[5]

Jesus answered the disciples with a countercultural response. Vs. 3 Jesus explains to the disciples that neither the man nor his parents sinned, but that the man’s blindness was for a greater purpose. Jesus adds that: “We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5 CSB). Jesus uses the metaphors of night and day – corresponding to the theme of contrasting light and dark. The man was blind – he was in the dark. Jesus was the light. Kostenberger observes: “As in the natural realm, so in the spiritual sphere of existence, light is an indispensable prerequisite for life. For this reason, the coming of Jesus as “the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5) is shown to make eternal life possible for those who put their trust in him.”[6]

As stated above, the healing itself only takes two verses (vss. 6-7). But the healing was unusual.

  1. Jesus spat on the ground.
    1. He made mud.
    1. He spread the mud on the man’s eyes.
    1. He told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash off the mud.
    1. The man did as he was told.
    1. He received his sight.

Several points can be made on this methodology. First, because this was congenital blindness, a creative miracle was in order.[7] In a shadow of Genesis 2:7, Jesus uses the dust to create new eyes for the man. Second, saliva was used (like Mark 7:33; 8:23), and in that time, it represented a healing agent while at the same time being vulgar.[8] Third, the man was sent to the southern part of the city to the pool of Siloam. The significance of this healing will be revealed in the verses to follow. John intends his readers to see that Jesus is the source of light and truth, bringing the reader back to the prologue (1:4).[9] By bringing the reader back to the prologue in the first chapter where the opposing forces of light and dark – (good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death) – mark the coming of God into the world as Jesus. There is no way for the dark to overcome the light (1:5). The text states that Siloam means “Sent.” This reference could be a way for Jesus to communicate that he was sent from God as the source of the healing.[10] Siloam was also used as a source for the purifying water used in the feast of Tabernacles. The pool was the conduit to the Virgin’s Fountain in the middle of the city and was an open pool 20×30 feet in dimension.[11] This use of the water could indicate that Jesus was replacing this water with his power to cleanse and heal (see John 4).[12] This connection implies that healing is another of the signs in the Gospel that Jesus is indeed “the God-sent Messiah.”[13]

            The scene shifts in vs. 8 to the man’s home. It is assumed that he went home because the characters of the neighbors come into play. Their reaction is one of astonishment. Some believe he is the same man, but others are doubtful (Vs. 9a). The man repeated, telling them that he was the blind man they knew, and he was now healed (vs. 9b). These folks were used to his dependence on charity and their donations. To see him no longer blind caused confusion, but the man verified his own identity.[14] Showing the beginning of his faith, the man described what happened to him but made no real leap to understand the person of Jesus at this point.[15] He just knew that it happened. He didn’t know where the man who healed him was (vs. 12), but he knew that he could now see.

            Vs. 12 transitions again to the neighbors bringing the man to a meeting with the Pharisees. Although not mentioned in the text, it can be assumed that they met in a local synagogue (vs. 22). Why did his neighbors bring him to the Pharisees? One reason could be to let them know of the miracle and that all of this happened on the sabbath (vs. 14).[16] That it happened on the sabbath was a problem because making mud could violate the sabbath rules against working.[17] The man described how he was healed in vs. 15, thus dividing the Pharisees (vs. 16). Some thought Jesus was not of God because he broke the Sabbath rules. Others wondered how a miracle like this could happen if Jesus weren’t a man of God.

            In their debate, they asked the healed man what he thought of Jesus (Vs. 17). The common understanding of first-century Jews was that a prophet was unusually close to God and had extraordinary power.[18] He would not consider Jesus as a messiah as that would have more political meaning than spiritual. His was an intensely personal spiritual experience, and the title of a prophet would be the most appropriate label.

            However, the Pharisees were having none of it. In vs. 18, they question if the man was even blind in the first place. They hauled in his parents and questioned them. Greek and Jewish courts could compel people to testify even though it was against their will. The inquisition of the parents in vss. 19-21 revealed a couple who didn’t want anything to do with the proceedings. Vss. 22-23 explain just why that is. First, the Pharisees were breaking their laws on examination and cross-examination – this line of questioning was highly irregular and harsh.[19] Second, they were faced with the possibility of excommunication from the synagogue. The specific word used for this action is ἀποσυνάγωγος, used only in this Gospel. The word refers to expulsion or excommunication from the synagogue.[20] The synagogue was the center of Jewish life, and to be removed from that community would have devastating consequences.[21]

            For a second time, the healed man is brought before the Pharisees for a more intense round of questioning (Vss. 24-34). They start with a direct instruction: “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” (Vs. 24 CSB). Trying to get him to denounce Jesus, the Pharisees gave the man very little room to answer. Either he denounced Jesus as a sinner, or he was not glorifying God. This phrase may be linked to a “confession formula” used for witnesses to attest to the truth.[22] It is also a play on words with the “know” οἶδα as they did not know that to honestly give God glory was to give glory to Jesus (John 5:23).[23] It was a false dichotomy that had very little room for movement. This trial scene is remenicent to the trial that Jesus will endure later in the gospel.[24]

            However, the man answered: “Whether or not he’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (Vs. 25 CSB). This was as honest an answer as the man could provide. When the Pharisees asked him how it was done (for the second time), the man poses the most interesting response ending with “You don’t want to become his disciples too, do you?’” (Vs. 27 CSB). The tables have been turned on the Pharisees as he uses language that conveys that the Pharisees are unwilling to hear lawfully attained testimony and an appeal if they also want to follow Jesus.[25] The question of the entire passage is this: who is actually in the dark? The blind man or the religious elite?  With this question, the matter of who was blind and in the dark becomes more apparent.

            The Pharisees emphatically declare “σὺ μαθητὴς” while they affirmed their adherence to Moses (vss. 28-29). This declaration was their only response to the man’s argument. The man further pointed out that never has the blind been healed and that this was a miracle that could only be attributed to God (Vss. 30-32). He was arguing that a) Jesus did a great act of healing on him, b) this miracle could only mean that God hears him, c) God never hears the prayers of a bad man, and therefore d) Jesus could not be a bad man.[26] In fact, “If this man were not from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.” (vs. 33 CSB). The response from the Pharisees went back to the beginning of the chapter, where the disciples questioned whose sin caused the blindness. They reasoned that the man’s original state of blindness was an accurate indicator he was a sinner.[27] The Pharisees, continuing their abuse of this man, excommunicated him from the synagogue (vs. 34).

            In the first encounter, Jesus sought the man out to prove an eternal truth – that it isn’t the sin of our ancestors that causes suffering, but God will work through suffering to bring glory (vs. 3-4. In the second encounter, Jesus sought out the man again. However, his suffering is not one of infirmity. The man had been thrown out of the synagogue – excommunicated. Jesus found the man, which implies that he intentionally searched for him.[28] The Religious elite cast the man aside when he was blind. They cast him aside after he was healed. Jesus sought the man who was blind, and he sought him again to bring him complete healing.

            The question asked by Jesus, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (vs. 35 CSB) is a probe to start the man’s thinking about the Messiah. Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” referring to the title given to the Messiah in Daniel 7. Some older manuscript use “Son of God” which would have the same meaning.[29] Jesus is prompting messianic images in the man’s mind. The man responded with an eager “Who is he, Sir, that I may believe in him?” (vs. 36 CSB). Jesus then does something that he has done only a few other times thus far in the Gospel (John 4:26 and John 8:28 for example), he revealed who he genuinely was – the Messiah (vs. 37). All the man could do from there is worship him (vs. 38).

            Vs. 39 Jesus reveals the purpose statement for this whole scene: “I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.” Jesus is ideologically contrasting the two spiritual states. The text describes some Pharisees who were standing near where Jesus had the second encounter (vs. 40). These men do not ask Jesus about the miracle, nor do they ask him who he actually is. The question is far more self-centered based on incredulity: “We aren’t blind too, are we?” (Vs. 40 CSB). Jesus’ answer is a bit confusing. First, if they were blind, they wouldn’t have sin. The NLT translates the statement: “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty.” If they were to realize their spiritual state of blindness, then they would not be guilty. Second, he states, “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” (vs. 41b NLT). They are condemned because, in their spiritual blindness, they deceive themselves by saying, “we can see.”[30] Judgment comes on those who sin but believe they do not. Kostenberger notes that this whole story has a parable nature that contrasts a man gaining sight against the Pharisees’ blindness.[31]

            In summary, why is blindness a significant theme for this passage? John has used the man’s physical blindness to expose the blindness of the Pharisees. This contrast is stark. The man had physical blindness so that Jesus could physically heal him and reveal to him who he was. The Pharisees rejected the blind man, and they rejected Jesus. They could not see the miracle for what it was – a demonstration of God’s power and glory. “Light is what God and Jesus are. They were blinded by their worship of the minutia of the Sabbath law. Spiritual blindness would have been well known to the Pharisees as passages such as Isaiah 42:16-19 and Jeremiah 5:21 describe this kind of blindness. However, they could not see it within themselves.”[32] “The religious authorities, who are sure they are not spiritually blind “are the blindest of all.”[33]

[1] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 144.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn 9:1.

[3] Ibid, Jn 9:2.

[4] Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 101.

[5] Rush Otey, “Between Text and Sermon John 9:1-7,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 73, no. 4 (2019): 392.

[6] Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009, Zondervan Academic), 166.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Keener, 9:6.

[9] Wright. 134.

[10] Jey J. Kanagaraj, John, ed. Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener, vol. 4, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 100.

[11] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2, The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY: Edinburgh: St. Andrews Press, 2001), 50.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Kostenberger, 224.

[14] Tenney, 102.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 221.

[17] Keener, 9:14-16.

[18] Kanagaraj, 101.

[19] Keener, 9:22-23.

[20] Kruse, 223-224.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Keener, 9:24.

[23] Kanagaraj, 102.

[24] Carl H. Yuckman, “That the Works of God Should Be Made Manifest: Vision and Vocation in John 9,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 12, no. 1 (2018): 112.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Barclay, 56.

[27] Wright, 142.

[28] Tenney, 105.

[29] Ibid, 106.

[30] Kanagaraj, 105.

[31] Kostenberger, 223-224.

[32] Keener, 9:39-41.

[33] Ibid.

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