Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

123. The Man Born Blind (John 9)*

There is real difficulty in establishing just when this next development in the Lord's Jerusalem ministry took place. Verse 1 : "And as he passed by" seems to be intended as a direct link with the end of chapter 8 : "he went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." According to this, chapter 9 also belongs to the Feast of Tabernacles (October).

However, this conclusion is challenged by those who stress the omission by a notable collection of early manuscripts of the words just quoted.

Also, there is the strong consideration that the parable of the Good Shepherd (ch.10) follows on perfectly from the healing of the blind man, and the allusion there to his healing (10:21) seems to require that that miracle was very fresh in mind. Yet, according to verse 22, chapter 10 (and therefore chapter 9?) belongs definitely to the Feast of the Dedication of the temple (i.e. Christmas).

Thus there are chronological pointers to two different times of the year.

The discordance is readily resolved by the mention of the man being excommunicated (v.34). It is known that such a drastic decision was never reached hastily. First, with solemn warning, an offender would be suspended from religious fellowship for thirty days. If this were ineffective, another thirty days' suspension might follow. If after that the offender were still recalcitrant, then permanent excommunication could be imposed.

Thus it is likely that between verse 1 and verse 34 a period of about two months is interposed; and indeed there are clear signs of breaks in the narrative (e.g. at v.15,24,35). So the time problem is probably to be solved by reading the story as beginning at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, and concluding near the end of December. During most of this time Jesus would be absent from Jerusalem, being busy with the great preaching tour (Lk.10:l) in which he and his disciples were making a special appeal to the southern half of the country.

The miracle

When Jesus and the twelve paused to read the rough inscription on the man's board: "Blind from birth," and to discuss the problem presented by his blindness, the quick-witted fellow would readily identify the group before him. Possibly, also, he become aware of the means by which Jesus made a paste to smear on his eyes—spitting on the ground to soften a small handful of the soil. It may be taken as certain that Jesus did not need to follow this method, but evidently he specially wished to emphasize personal contact with himself in the working of the miracle. There is also more symbolism here, to be discussed later.

The commentators have some strange and unimpressive ideas here about "the healing value attributed in old time to saliva," and about "the medical use of clay." These notions are fit only to be bound in with Grimm's fairy stories. As though the Lord would choose to identify himself with the ignoramuses and charlatans of that age!

Jesus offered up a prayer to God for the gift of sight (v.31; cp.11 -.41), anointed the man's eyes, and bade him: "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." Ever since the days of Hezekiah an important part of the city's water supply had come via the conduit which had been driven through solid rock from the Virgin's Pool in the Kidron valley. Approach to it was down an awkward flight of steps such as the blind man could hardly hope to negotiate without guidance, even if he had the resourcefulness to find his way across the city to the right spot. So, very probably, he was piloted there by one of the apostles who would witness his incoherent gladness as he moved into a new world of light, shape and colour.

From the outset the man had faith in the word and act of Jesus. He could have protested that clay rubbed into his eyes could only make him more hopelessly blind. He could have argued that never in history had the waters of Siloam brought sight to anyone. Instead, he obeyed implicitly, and had the reward of his faith.

By the time this happened Jesus was gone, probably to Bethany, so the man went happily home. Then began a highly excited discussion among the neighbours. Was he really the blind man they had known so long? Perhaps he had been an impostor all the time. Some were dubious, but thought he must be the same. Others were confident of his identity. Others, certain that such miracles do not happen, decided it was somebody else like the blind man they knew. But he settled it with a peremptory "I am he."

So a lively enquiry arose as to how the cure had been wrought. He told his story, simply, factually, without trimmings, ascribing it to "the man that is called Jesus"— the man whom every one had heard about; he was rot only called Jesus but truly was this man's Saviour. And where was this Jesus? The man could not say. He had had contact with him for only a few minutes at most whilst his eyes were being smeared with mud. It may be taken as highly probable that other blind men, hearing the story, would try anointing their own eyes with clay and then washing it off at Siloam, yet all to no purpose.

Official Enquiry

Next day these neighbours insisted on the man appearing before the Small Sanhedrin in the temple. The Great Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-two members and was convened only for consideration of questions of highest importance. There were also three "subcommittees" of twenty-three members each.

But why should it be deemed necessary to bring the man before the rulers at all? Many a miracle of Jesus had gone without official investigation. Were the man's friends so excited about the cure that they wanted it to convert the Pharisees whom they knew to be mostly hostile to Jesus?

The bombardment of questions recommenced. In response to repeated interrogation (so the Greek verb implies) the man once again told a simple factual story and stuck to it. The result was that the learned men who heard him were divided in their opinions. Said some: 'This man (Jesus) is not from God-he makes clay on the sabbath!' The marvellous blessing brought into a poor man's life was nothing to them! So they wrote Jesus off as an impostor. 'Not of God! therefore of the devil' was their clear implication.

Others on the committee were impressed: "How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?" (cp. 3 :2). The sharp dissension between them became more important than the blind man. This is yet another indication of how the party of the Pharisees had become split down the middle in its attitude to Jesus of Nazareth. The die-hards could find no good word to say about him. The others, with some reluctance doubtless, were steadily being persuaded of the divine character of his work.

But whatever the opinion held, from beginning to end of these long discussions there was never any doubt in anybody's mind of the vital part played in the cure by Jesus, even though he was a long way off when it happened.

So the questioning began again: "What sayest thou, because he opened thine eyes?'— mat is: What opinion have you formea about this Jesus? The question was probably put by the party more disposed to accept Jesus. They knew the man's answer was bound to favour their judgement regarding him. And it did. "He is a prophet," the man declared, remembering Christ's words (v.3-5), and utterly unabashed by the high dignity of the rabbis sitting before him. This answer did not please the others, so they succeeded in getting the question referred to a fresh committee (so the change from "Pharisees" to "J ews" suggests; v. 16, 18).

Bullying tactics

In the new enquiry, there was at first flat refusal to agree that the man had ever been blind. But now the man's parents were available for interrogation, and their testimony settled that point. Then the rulers had to believe (so v. 18 implies). With their son removed from the court these poor people were subjected to such keen cross-questioning that, already put in fear by a report, carefully leaked, that one good word about Jesus would mean religious excommunication, they were almost too afraid to speak.

Yes, this was their son, for certain. Yes, he was born without sight. No, they had no information to offer about the marvellous change in him, other than what he himself had told; and since he was an adult capable of giving legal evidence, why not get the story directly from himself? The increasing agitation of these poor folk in face of the learned bullying of the rulers comes out strongly in the Greek text.

The threat that they might be "put out of the synagogue" for confessing belief in Jesus was a very serious matter, even in its mildest form for a period of thirty days. So, although the timidity of the old people in not boldly supporting all that their son testified, is hardly a thing to admire, it is easy to understand.

Next, with the man himself before the court once again, different tactics were attempted. Pretending to have come by some information which showed the whole story to be an impojture, the rulers said to him: "Give God the glory. We know that this Jesus is a sinner." It is a mistake to read these words as implying: "Jesus has nothing to do with the restoring of your sight; it was God in heaven who did it," for as yet these men were not prepared to admit that a miracle had taken place. The expression: "Give God the glory" was used by Joshua when urging Achan to make confession of his sin at Jericho (Josh.7 :19). So now their implication was: "You may as well confess that the whole thing is a fraud. We have special information about the character of this Galilean."

Yet, in truth, in two eloquent passages in the prophets, there was special information about their own blindness and deafness:

"Hear ye, and give ear (Jn. 9:27a). Be not proud; for the Lord hath spoken: Give glory to the Lord your Cod, before he cause darkness (Jn.9 :39c), and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains" (Jer.13 :15,16). "Hearthe word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (ls.66:5).

Undismayed, the man, secure in the possession of his wonderful new gift of sight, stoutly and very shrewdly stuck to the stark incontrovertible facts: "Whether he be a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." Here was a solid fact which all the argument in the world could not push on one side.

Finding him unbudgeable, they attempted the age-old device of fresh cross-examination in the hope of finding inconsistencies in the repetition of his story: "What did he to thee? How opened he thine eyes?"

But he saw through their intention, and, hot in the least cowed by their official dignity, he talked back to them as man to man. With his rough well-practised wit, which had doubtless stood him in good stead in his begging days, he countered: 'I told you just now. Didn't you hear me? You need Jesus to heal your deafness, as he did my sight. And why do you want to hear it all again? Do you also want to be disciples of his, as I mean to be?'

The rulers fastened on this to divert attention away from the uncomfortable fact that a blind man was now undeniably seeing: "So you are a disciple of his!'—as much as to say: 'That explains your story. You are willing to tell any lies to boost his reputation.'

They went on: "We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spake unto Moses: but as for this man, we know not whence he is." Thus they leaped at the opportunity to jibe again (with a double entendre) at the disreputable origin of Jesus, as they chose to construe it. Did it not occur to them that, when Moses was growing up in the royal palace in Egypt, the same sneer was made behind the back of Pharaoh's daughter?

The man was not to be side-tracked from staunch perseverance in his testimony. The more they tried to bully him, the firmer became his witness about his benefactor, and this with a biting sarcasm such as these rulers had never experienced from a man of the people: "Why, here is the real marvel—more astonishing by far than the healing of my blindness—that he has opened my eyes, and you clever men do not know by what power he has done it. God does not hear the prayers of men who are wilful impenitent sinners (he said this with reference to the prayer Jesus had offered up audibly as he put the clay on his eyes). In all the Scriptures is there any miracle of healing to compare with this (for all his blindness the man knew his Bible!)? If Jesus did not have God behind him, he couldn't do a single thing (here was a neat side-allusion to the other miracles Jesus was known to have done).

It was a brave and powerful witness, its solid facts not to be impugned, its rugged common-sense not to be argued against. So, losing their tempers completely, these rulers shouted: 'Altogether born in sins—you! And do you presume to teach us, Israel's supreme authorities in godliness?—and they had him thrown out of the council chamber. His excommunication from the synagogue would follow as a matter of course (16:2).

It is a testimony to the uncontrolled exasperation of these men, that in their raving against this erstwhile blind beggar, they inadvertently conceded the truth of the very thing they were eager to deny, for "altogether born in sins" was meaningless except with reference to his blindness. Yet, such was the irony of the situation, they were in their sins, whilst he by dauntless thankful loyalty to Jesus was newborn, with the forgiveness of every sin freely available. The power to endow with sight showed that Jesus could do this greater thing also.

The disconsolate comforted

For all his bold front it must have been a bitter experience when the man found himself shut out of the religious communion of Israel. From the time of David, the blind and the lame had been excluded from worship at the sanctuary of the Lord (2 Sam.5 ;8). This man's new endowment of sight had meant that now he too could share in the temple service. His delight in it may well be imagined. And now from this new privilege he was roughly thrust out. It was a hard blow.

The news of this official enquiry and its outcome went round the city as by radio. Hearing it, Jesus knew that, for all his courageous witness, the man he had befriended was now for that very reason a social and religious outcast. With the anger of the rulers openly declared against him, few among the people would dare to have anything to do with him. So Jesus sought him out.

"Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" he asked. The man recognized the voice at once (10 :4), and knew that he stood before his benefactor, the one he had stoutly declared to be a prophet of the Lord. Now he felt sure he was being led on to accept Jesus as greater even than that. But he sought confirmation: "Who then is this Son of God you speak of, that I may believe on him?'—as who should say: 'I am willing to follow anyone you bid me follow.'

With characteristic indirect allusion to the miracle, Jesus replied: "Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee" (cp. Is. 52:6,8).

There was immediate and complete response. The man fell to the ground worshipping. "Lord, I believe," was all he had to say, all that he needed to say.

Growing faith

The maturing of this conviction and witness concerning Christ is impressive:

  1. He tells the simple facts of his healing: "He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see"(v.!5).
  2. "He is a prophet" (v.17).
  3. "Whether he be a sinner, or no, I know not: one thing I know. . ." (v.25).
  4. "Do you also wish to be his disciples?'—i.e. as I intend to be.
  5. "God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth" (v.31).
  6. "Lord, I believe" (v.38; contrast the tone of v.27).
  7. He worshipped him (v.38)
What a sequence!

There his story ends. Yet it is almost impossible to believe that a man of such lively mentality and with such a vigorous attractive personality was not brought by unflagging gratitude and faith in Christ to activity of some prominence in the early church. Is it possible that he is to be found again later in the New Testament story?

Notes: John 9.

Earlier healings of the blind: Mk. 8:22-26 (and its meaning in 27-29); Mt. 9:27-34; 12:22-27. And later: Lk. 18:35-43. The apostolic commentary on all these comes in Eph. 5:7-14.
The works of Cod manifest in him. But manifested to whom?—the man himself? the men of the temple? the nation generally? Cp. 11:4. What works of God?; 6:28,29 explains; cp. Ps. 145:10: men and women new-made.
The fairly well-supported reading: "We must work the works of God ..." might imply apostolic participation in the sign, as suggested in the text.

Him that sent me disallows the Trinity. Jesus sent by God, and the healing water (a symbol of Holy Scripture) was also sent by God (v.7)
Sent. .Siloam does not represent Christ, for he was the Sender. It represents the revelation about Christ.
I am he. Gk. I am. Definitely not the Covenant Name of God (Ex. 3:14). But this is often claimed for other occurrences; e.g. 10:11; 15:1; 18:5.
How opened he thine eyes? In the literal sense those eyes were open all the time, but were unseeing until Siloam. "Opened" is used idiomatically for "cured".
Division among them. The evidence of this gradual sorting-out process amongst the Pharisees is very much to the fore in John: 6:52; 8:31; 9:40; 20:19-21; 11:45.
Put out of the synagogue. And so it is always when a man confesses faith in Christ.

This man is a sinner. Were they giving a sinister twist to the known fact that Jesus had been baptized by John?
We know not from whence he is. Contrast 7:27; Mt. 21:23.
God heareth not sinners. Pr. 15:29; 1:28; 28:9; Ps. 66:18,19; Is. 1:11-15; 59:2,3; Mic. 3:4; Jer. 14:12

A worshipper of God. LXX applies this term to Job three times.
Found him. Like the Father, Jesus "seeketh such to worship him" (v.38; 4:23; Lk. 15:4).
He worshipped him In 4:20-24; 12:20 this word describes the worship of God.
Made blind. Consider: Jn. 3:17; 12:46-48; 1 Pet. 2:7,8; 2 Cor. 2:16; Is. 6:20; Rom. 11:7-10,25. And thus blind Israel found itself cast out of God's temple (2 Sam. 5:8).

Hoskyns draws attention to the similarities with the miracle of ch. 5:

a. Signs on the sabbath.
b. Official investigation by the rulers.
c. Jesus meeting again with the healed man.
d. A long-lasting affliction.
e. "Son of God" (Son of man).
f. Ignorance who Jesus was.
g. Reference to "the man" (no name).
h. Blind and lame mentioned together.

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