Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
[(b) Jesus is Light (continued).
(δ)Physical light given to the man born blind (John 9:1-41):
The miracle itself (John 9:1-12).
The objections of the Pharisees, and the witness of the sufferer (John 9:13-34)
Physical light and darkness; spiritual light and darkness (John 9:35-41).]
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.(1) And as Jesus passed by.—Better, And. as He was passing by. The words are immediately connected with those of the preceding verse, “and went out of the Temple.” It was then, as He was leaving the Temple to escape the fury of His enemies who had taken up stones to cast at Him, and was passing by. the place where the blind man was, that His eye fell upon him. The day was the Sabbath of the preceding discourse, now drawing to its close. (Comp. John 9:4; John 9:14, and John 8:12.) The place was probably some spot near the Temple, perhaps one of its gates. We know that beggars were placed near these gates to ask alms (Acts 3:2), and this man was well known as one who sat and begged (John 9:8).
A man which was blind from his birth.—The fact was well known, and was probably publicly proclaimed by the man himself or his parents (John 9:20) as an aggravation of his misery, and as a plea for the alms of passers by. Of the six miracles connected with blindness which are recorded in the Gospels, this is the only case described as blindness from birth. In this lies its special characteristic, for “since the world began, was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind” (John 9:32).
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?(2) Who did sin, this man, or his parents?—The disciples noticed that He looked at the man, and it may be that He halted as He was walking by. Their attention is directed to the sufferer, and with suffering they connect the idea of sin. They ask a question which may have come to them many times before, and which has in various forms come to men’s hearts many times since. Some of them may have heard it discussed in Rabbinic schools, and may have wished to know what answer He whom they had come to regard as greater than the Rabbis, would give. But it is a question not of the learned only, but of men generally, and those who now ask it do not propound it as a matter for discussion, but as a mystery of human life brought home to them in all its darkness, and for which they seek a solution at His hands. His teaching on the wider questions of the existence of evil and the connection of sin and suffering, though coming in the order of events after these words, and in part probably arising out of them, has in the order of the record occurred before them, and has been already dealt with in Notes on Luke 13:1-5. What is special to the question, as it meets us here, is that what is deemed to be the punishment had come with birth before possibility of thought or action, and therefore, as we think, before possibility of sin.
The form of the question puts two alternatives on precisely the same grounds; and we have no right therefore to assume that one of them is excluded by the questioners themselves. The fact of sin is stated as beyond question. The problem is, “Was the sin that of the man himself, or that of his parents?” The latter alternative is familiar to us, and daily experience shows us that within limits it holds good in both the moral and the physical worlds. It was clearly taught in the Second Commandment, and there is abundant evidence that the belief was at this time widely spread. We have greater difficulty in tracing the origin of the former alternative. It is not easy to accept the view that they thought of sin in his mother’s womb, though it seems certain that the Jews currently interpreted such passages as Genesis 25:22, and Psalm 51:5 in this sense. That a more or less definite belief in the transmigration of souls was common among Jews at the time of our Lord’s ministry, is made probable by references in Philo and Josephus. We know it was a doctrine of the Essenes and of the Cabbala; and we find it in the nearly contemporary words of the Wisdom of Solomon, “Yea rather being good, I came into a body undefiled” (Wisdom Of Solomon 8:20). Still it has been urged that it is not likely that such a belief would have made its way among the fishermen of Galilee. We have to remember, however, that among the disciples there are now men of Jerusalem as well as of Galilee, and that questions which men found hard to understand were constantly being raised and answered in the Rabbinic schools. In the meetings of the yearly festivals the answers of great Rabbis would be talked over and become generally known, and be handed on as maxims to those who knew little of the principle on which they were based. It was, then, probably with some thought that the life in this maimed body may not have been the first stage of his existence, that they ask, Did this man sin?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.(3) Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents.—The answer is, of course, to be understood with the limitation of the question, “that he was born blind.” Neither his special sin nor theirs was the cause of the blindness. Our version does not give quite accurately the form of the answer. It should be, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents. Their question sought to establish a connection between the suffering and some definite act of sin. The answer asserts that no such connection exists, and our Lord’s words remain a warning against the spirit of judging other men’s lives, and tracing in the misfortunes and sorrows which they have to bear the results of individual sin or the proof of divine displeasure. There is a chain connecting the sin of humanity and its woe, but the links are not traceable by the human eye. In the Providence of God vicarious suffering is often the noble lot of the noblest members of our race. No burden of human sorrow was ever so great as that borne by Him who knew no human sin.
But that the works of God should be made manifest in him.—They had sought to trace back the result of sin which they saw before them to a definite cause. He will trace it back to the region of the divine counsel, where purpose and result are one. Evil cannot be resolved into a higher good: it is the result of the choice exercised by freedom, and without freedom goodness could not be virtue. Permitted by God, it is yet overruled by Him. It has borne its fearful fruit in the death and curse of humanity, but its works have led to the manifestation of the works of God in the divine plan of redemption. It is so in this instance. The blindness of this beggar will have its result, and therefore in the divine counsel had its purpose, in the light which will dawn upon the spiritual as well as upon the physical blindness, and from him will dawn upon the world.
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.(4) I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day.—The better reading is probably that which has we, instead of “I,” and perhaps also that which has us, instead of “me”; but this latter change is not so well supported by MS. authority. The clause would read then, We must work the works of Him that sent Me (or us) while it is day. He identifies the disciples with Himself in the redemptive work of His mission. There is before them a striking instance of the power of evil. He and they are there to manifest the power of good. They must gird themselves to the task. If we are right in placing the whole section from John 7:37 to John 10:21 on the same great day of the Feast (comp. Note on John 9:14), then this work must have come near the close of the day. The sun sinking to the west may have reminded them that the day was passing away, and that the night was approaching. He was reminded of the day of life, and the night of death. He will not be long in the world (John 9:5). That night will be the close of His human work, and the shadows of evening are already falling upon Him.
The night cometh, when no man can work.—He does not except even Himself from the proverbial law. The day of opportunity passes, never to return. His own great work of doing the work of Him that sent Him, could only be done when that day was present. It has, of course, been ever done in the work of His church under the guidance of His Spirit; but the work of His own human activity on earth ceased when the night came. Comp. John 11:9 for this thought of the hours of the day.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.(5) As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.—Better, when I am in the world. The thought is that the two things necessarily co-exist. He is the true Light, and this true Light cannot be in the world without shining in its darkness. (Comp. Note on John 1:5.) The thought is here closely connected with His teaching in the Temple but a short time before (John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world”), and also with the removal of physical and spiritual darkness which immediately followed.
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,(6) And he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.—The words “blind man” are omitted in some of the older MSS. The marginal rendering, and He spread the clay upon the eyes of the blind man (or, upon his eyes), is to be preferred.
The details given in this and the next verse are evidently to be regarded as part of the sign. They impressed themselves as such upon the eye-witnesses, and they have been recorded as such for us. We have then to seek their interpretation. At the outset we are met by the undoubted fact that our Lord here made use of means which, in part at least, were natural, and found their place in the ordinary prescriptions of the day. We know from the pages of Pliny, and Tacitus, and Suetonius, that the saliva jejuna was held to be a remedy in cases of blindness, and that the same remedy was used by the Jews is established by the writings of the Rabbis. That clay was so used is not equally certain, but this may be regarded as the vehicle by means of which the saliva was applied. Here, then, as elsewhere, we may recognise the Divine manifested by means of the human, and see the ordinary remedy of every-day life blessed to meet a case that was beyond human power. Physicians had applied such means commonly to cases of post-natal blindness, but congenital blindness had always been regarded as incurable, and no instance to the contrary had ever been heard of (John 9:32). The Great Physician, then, by using the ordinary means, will teach men that the healing powers of nature are His gracious gift, and that they are increased at the Giver’s will. Our daily sustenance in health and strength, our restored power after sickness or accident, the whole of ordinary life, which we too commonly connect only with ordinary means, is lifted to the higher region of union with Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
Another interpretation sees in the use of clay a symbolism which is to be traced to the first Creation, when man was formed from the dust of the earth. We find this as early as Irenaeus, and it may well, therefore, represent an oral explanation, going back to the days of the Evangelist himself. The thought would be that our Lord will here exercise the same creative power as that which made man, and will complete, by the gift of sight, this man, who had hitherto been maimed and without the chief organ of sense.
The use of means by which the healing power is conveyed is common to this instance with that of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), and that of the deaf and dumb man in Decapolis (Mark 7:32-37); while the two blind men in the house (Matthew 9:27-31), and the two blind men at Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34), are touched and receive their sight. The reader is referred to the Notes on these passages of St. Matthew and St. Mark. Here it will be enough to observe that in each case the loss of a channel of communication between the individual man and the outer world is compensated by some special means which may help to assure him of the presence of the true Healer, and may furnish a foundation for his faith and hope. The deaf man cannot hear the tones of a voice that tells of mercy and love, but the touch applied to the ear may in part convey the same gracious truths. The blind man cannot see the look of compassion which others can see, but the saliva or the clay applied to the eye gives force to the word which is heard by the ear. In every case we should remember that the means is chiefly moral, preparing in the sufferer a mental condition which can receive the gift of healing, and that the physical gift is itself regarded as a stage in the spiritual education. The wisest physicians of the body, and the wisest physicians of the soul, have alike sought to follow in the steps of Him who is their common Master. There are conditions of physical disease for which the truest medicines would be faith, and love, and hope—a mind at peace with itself and with God. There are morbid states of spiritual life that have their cause in physical derangement, and would find their truest remedy in the healthy tone of a restored and vigorous body.
And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.(7) Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.—Comp. Notes on John 5:2 (“Bethesda”), and on Luke 13:4 (“the tower in Siloam”). The locality is almost without doubt that now known by the Arabic form of the same name, the Birket Silwân, which is in the lower Tyropæon valley, between the Temple mountain and Mount Zion. It is about a quarter of a mile from the present city wall, but in the time of our Lord the wall extended up to it (Jos. Wars, v. 4, § 1; so the Antonine Itinerary in the fourth century). The place is frequently mentioned by Josephus, and there is every reason to believe that in the present pool we have the Siloah of Nehemiah 3:15, the Shiloah of Isaiah 8:6, and the Siloam of the present passage. The form of the word here used by St. John is that found in the Greek translation of both the Old Testament passages.
The words “wash in” mean literally, wash into, that is, “wash so that the clay from the eyes will pass into the tank.”
The attempt to show that in the waters of Siloam, too, we have an ordinary remedial agent, must be abandoned, at least as far as regards blindness. The command recalls that to Naaman the Syrian (2Kings 5:10), and not improbably recalled it to the mind of the blind man. In any case, it is a further stage in his spiritual education. It is a demand on the faith which realises the presence of the Power to heal. The place is chosen, perhaps, as a well-known spot, or as one at some little distance, so as to afford time for reflection and a test for obedience. It may be, however, that there is another reason for the choice. The pool of Siloam was bound up with all the religious feelings of the Feast of Tabernacles. A solemn procession went each morning to it, and carried water from it to the Temple. That water had already led to the teaching of the gift of the Spirit to every man who should receive the Messiah (see Notes on John 7:37 et seq.), uttered, perhaps, on this very day (comp. John 9:1). There would be attached, then, to the pool of Siloam a sacred significance that would be in itself a help to faith.
Which is by interpretation, Sent.—St. John sees a significance even in the name. The sending of the waters of this intermittent spring had given it the -name Siloam. Popular belief connected the moving of the waters with the presence of an angel who gave them their healing virtue. There was One then present who was the source of all life and power to heal, and He was Himself the sent of God. So He had taught men in words which had fixed themselves on St. John’s mind (John 3:17; John 3:34; John 5:36; John 5:38; John 7:29; John 8:42). So the prophet Isaiah had spoken of His work (Isaiah 61:1), and He had quoted that prophecy of His own work with the remarkable addition from the LXX., “and recovering of sight to the blind.” (Comp. Notes on Matthew 11:5, Luke 4:18; and Isaiah 42:7.) So He was later called “the Apostle (the One sent) of our profession (Hebrews 3:1).
And came seeing.—These words need no Note for the reader who will pause to think of them, but we often pass over them without remembering that a whole world of visual objects now first burst upon the mind of him who was healed. We can only know in part what a revelation this was, but we may by thought realise it in some degree. There is no reference to his coming again to our Lord. He returned apparently to his usual dwelling, and this agrees with the mention of “neighbours” in the following verse.
The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?(8) They which before had seen him that he was blind.—The better reading is, that he was a beggar. The persons are the neighbours, who from living near him knew all about him, and those who used to see him at the spot where he sat begging. Both classes, of course, knew that he was blind.
Is not this he that sat and begged?—Better, Is not this he that sitteth and beggeth? The tenses are present, marking his usual custom.
Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.(9)He is like him.—The more probable reading is, No; but he is like him. It is not that these speakers agree with some hesitation with those who assert the identity. They oppose to it their own opinion, that it is a case of resemblance only. He himself sets the question at rest by declaring that he is the same person.
The verse, and indeed the whole narrative, is one of the many striking instances of the natural form which is taken by the narrative of one personally acquainted with all the facts. We may suppose that St. John recorded this from the lips of the man himself. We can still see the whole picture;—the man returning, observed by one or two neighbours, who spread the story; the excitement of their curiosity; the question whether he is really the same; some struck by the points of identity in the features, and declaring that he is; others struck by the features of the opened eyes lighting up the whole face, and declaring that he is not; the simple declaration of the man himself, which is at once accepted as decisive—all this passes before us just as it occurred.
Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?(10) How were thine eyes opened?—They wonder at the change wrought in him, and seek to know how it happened. The question is important if we adopt the better reading, beggar, for “blind,” in John 9:8, as showing that they knew he had been blind, the moment they knew that he was the same person who used to sit and beg.
He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.(11) A man that is called Jesus.—Some of the better MSS. read, “The Man that is called Jesus,” implying that He would be known to the blind man and his friends. They can hardly have failed to hear of His teaching at the feast.
Made clay, and anointed mine eyes.—He gives the details in order, omitting the spitting on the ground, which he had not seen.
And I received sight.—The Greek word means exactly, “to see again.” The power, though given in this instance for the first time, was usually a restored power, and this is expressed in the word. This man uses the ordinary language of men, though, in strictness it was not applicable to his own case. This use of the word is, moreover, justified by other examples.
Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.(12) I know not.—He had not returned to our Lord (John 9:7), who was passing by when He spoke to him (John 9:1), and by the time the man had gone to the pool and had returned would have gone beyond his knowledge.
They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.(13) They brought to the Pharisees.—More exactly, They bring . . . The present tense speaks of what they did, as the writer thinks of it in actual occurrence. Their question in the previous verse, and the fact stated in the following verse, seem to indicate that they did this in the spirit of opposition to our Lord. They may have been influenced also, as the parents were, by the agreement of the Jews to excommunicate any who should confess Christ (John 9:22). By the term, “to the Pharisees,” we are not to understand the Sanhedrin, which did not meet on the Sabbath, and which is not spoken of by St. John as simply “the Pharisees,” but a body of the leading Pharisees who were the most bitter foes of Christ, and who seem at this time to have formed practically a permanent committee of the Sanhedrin, always ready to take counsel or action against Him. (Comp. Notes on John 7:32; John 7:45; John 7:48.)
And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.(14) And it was the sabbath day—i.e., most probably, the last day, that great day of the feast of John 7:37. Nothing has taken place which makes it necessary to suppose any interval, and though the discourses seem long, they would have occupied but a short time in delivery. The whole narrative follows in unbroken order, which makes it difficult to suppose that a week intervened.
When Jesus made the clay.—This is mentioned as a servile work which contravened the Sabbath law. The anointing the eyes with spittle on the Sabbath was specially forbidden by the decrees of the Rabbis. They held that no work of healing might be performed on the Sabbath except in cases of immediate danger.
On the question of our Lord’s relation to the Sabbath day, comp. Notes on John 5:16 et seq., and on Matthew 12:10; Luke 13:11-16; Luke 14:1-5.
Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.(15) Then again the Pharisees also asked.—As the neighbours and acquaintances had done before (John 9:10).
He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes.—The answer is the same as before, but briefer. It is that of a man who is answering against his will (comp. John 9:27) and does not care to say more than he is obliged to.
And do see.—This differs from “I received sight” (John 9:11). He now speaks as in conscious possession of the power to see. (Comp. John 9:25.)
Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.(16) This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day.—See Note on John 9:14, and reference there. Here the truth of the miracle is granted, but it is urged that the power by which it is wrought cannot be of God, because it was exercised on the Sabbath day. The inference is, that it was done by the influence of the power of evil.
Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?—This question is asked by the better party among the Pharisees, represented, as we know, by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa, and perhaps by Gamaliel. They see the inference implied in the earlier question, and appeal to the nature of the miracles wrought. Works of mercy, and love, and power, were not the product of a life of sin, or of communion with the powers of darkness. We find evidence of this better spirit among the Pharisees before, in the question of Nicodemus (John 7:51). It has now extended to others. The teaching on the earlier work on the Sabbath (John 5) has led some among them, at least, to look with allowance upon this.
And there was a division among them.—Comp. Note on John 7:43.
They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.(17) They say unto the blind man again.—The question is not asked by either of the parties, for this must have been noted, but by the assembly generally. They who questioned him in John 9:15, question him again now. They have differed among themselves, and they ask what impression the fact of the miracle had left upon him who was the object of it, with regard to the person of Him who had performed it.
What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes?—Stress is laid on the pronoun. What sayest thou? He ought to know better than any one, seeing that his eyes had been opened and this they admit, while the nature of his witness is uncertain; but immediately that is given they disbelieve the fact of the miracle, and soon reject with scorn him they question now (John 9:34).
The English reader should observe the punctuation here, which rightly makes the question one. It is sometimes read as though it were, “What sayest thou of Him? that He hath opened thine eyes?” It is not, however, the fact which is here questioned, but the opinion of the man, based upon the fact, for the present assumed as true, which is called for.
He is a prophet.—The education of the man has been doing its work, and he is convinced that the power which has healed him is direct from God, and that the person who has exercised it is a messenger from God. His words are uttered in the brevity and calmness of clear conviction, and they are the direct negative to the statement of the Pharisees, “This man is not from God.” (Comp John 3:2; John 4:19; John 6:14.) It is important to note, that even in the language of the ordinary people, the word “prophet” did not mean simply a predictor of events in the future, but one who was as the representative of God. He was not only or chiefly a “fore-teller,” but a “forth-teller,” declaring God’s truth, revealing His will and character, bearing the witness of divine works; but as the future is ever present to the divine counsels, prophecy, in the narrower sense, may be part of the work of the true prophet.
But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.(18) But the Jews did not believe.—Better, The Jews therefore did not believe. The words are connected, as an inference, with those which precede. Because of this explanation of the fact, they are driven to the expedient of disbelieving the fact itself. The designation of those who take this position is remarkable. The substantive is not unexpressed, as in John 9:17, nor is it “the Pharisees,” as in John 9:16, but it is the term which we have met with again and again, as marking out the leaders of the Jerusalem party who were opposed to Christ. (Comp. Note on John 1:19.)
Until they called the parents.—After they have done so, they can affect to doubt the fact no longer (John 9:26). But they hoped that the parents would from fear (John 9:22) have given an answer which would have enabled them to deny the identity of person, or the fact of congenital blindness.
And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?(19) Is this your son, who ye say was born blind?—The “ye” is emphatic; ye say he was born blind, as opposed to us, for we do not believe it. There are three questions. Is this your son? Do ye still say that he was born blind? which is incredible, as he now possesses the faculty of sight (John 9:32). If you do, how do you account for the fact that he now sees?
How then doth he now see?—Their question means—“How does it come to pass, since he was born blind, that he all at once seeth?” The word rendered “now,” here and in John 9:21; John 9:25, conveys the idea of the suddenness of the change which had taken place.
His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:(20) We know that this is our son . . .—The two earlier questions of matter of fact they can answer with certainty. They know, as none besides themselves can know, that he was their son, and they know the painful truth that he was born blind.
But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.(21) But by what means he now seeth.—Better, but how he now seeth. The answer is in the exact words of the question, which is not seen in our version. They will not pass beyond the plain matters of fact of which they were certain.
Or who hath opened his eyes.—They pass here to a fourth question, which was not asked, but which they see to be the real point which the Pharisees are aiming at, and in which they have determined not to be entangled.
He is of age, ask him.—The better reading here is probably that which places “ask him” first; ask him, he is of age. The Received text has been influenced by John 9:23. The Greek expresses with the fullest emphasis, which it is not easy to preserve in English, that they intend to have nothing to do with this third question, but to leave it to their son to answer. Literally, it is, Ask him; he is of full age; he himself will speak concerning himself.
These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.(22) For the Jews had agreed already.—This does not imply a formal decree of the Sanhedrin, but an agreement on the part of the leaders which they had made known to the people, and which they would have had little difficulty in carrying into effect. The word rendered “agreed” occurs again in the New Testament only twice. It expresses the covenant made with Judas, in Luke 22:5, and the agreement of the Jews to kill Paul, in Acts 23:20.
He should be put out of the synagogue.—Comp. John 16:2, and Note on Luke 6:22. The Jews at a later date distinguished three kinds of excommunication. (1) The lightest continued for thirty days, and prescribed four cubits as a distance within which the person may not approach any one, not even wife or children; with this limitation, it did not make exclusion from the synagogue necessary. (2) The severer included absolute banishment from all religious meetings, and absolute giving up of intercourse with all persons, and was formally pronounced with curses. (3) The severest was a perpetual banishment from all meetings, and a practical exclusion from the fellowship of God’s people. It has been sometimes supposed that the words of Luke 6:22, (a) “separate you,” (b) “reproach you,” (c) “cast out your name,” refer to these gradations, but probably the only practice known in the time of our Lord was that which was later regarded as the intermediate form, falling short of perpetual banishment, but being, while the ban lasted, exclusion from all the cherished privileges of an Israelite.
Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.(23) See Note on John 9:21.
Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.(24) Then again called they the man that was blind.—He had not been present during the interview with his parents. They now wish him to believe that they have ascertained from his parents either that he was not their son, or that he was not really born blind. It is useless for him, therefore, to persist in his belief that a prophet had given him the power to see.
Give God the praise.—Better, Give glory to God. This phrase is very generally misunderstood, though almost all competent authorities are agreed as to its true meaning. It is not “Give God the praise for your cure, instead of this Man, who is a sinner. Trace the gift to its true source, and give glory to the true Giver.” This is wholly opposed to the context, for they are assuming that no cure has really taken place. The phrase is rather an adjuration calling upon the man to speak, as in God’s presence, and confess the whole truth. (Comp. the words of Joshua to Achan, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me,” Joshua 7:19. Comp. also 1Samuel 6:5; Jeremiah 13:16; 1 Esdras 9:8; Revelation 16:9.)
We know that this man is a sinner.—Some of them had said before that He was not from God, while others had felt that such miracles were inconsistent with the belief that He was a sinner. The man himself had declared his simple conviction that He was a prophet (John 9:16-17). They now assert, with the emphasis of an authority which is beyond question, that they know Him to be a sinner.
He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.(25) Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not.—The words, “or no,” are added to the text, but rightly complete the meaning. He, like his parents, will confine himself to matters of fact coming under his own certain knowledge. They had declared authoritatively that they knew this Man to be one whose life was characterised by sin. He is convinced that this cannot be so (John 9:31; John 9:33), but he does not dispute their assertion; he simply makes his own, which cannot be gainsaid, and which cuts the ground from under them.
One thing I know.—For this use of “one thing” to mark the chief thing which is so important that all others are excluded, and it is left as the only one in the mind, comp. Mark 10:21 (“one thing thou lackest”) and Luke 10:42 (“one thing is needful”).
Whereas I was blind, now I see.—Better, Being a blind man, now I see. He places the two things in contrast. He was the well-known “blind man,” whose experience of his own blindness had extended from birth to manhood. They declare that he has not been healed. He is conscious of his power to see, and this one thing he affirms. The difficulty is of their making; let them explain it as they think best.
Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?(26) Then said they to him again.—Failing to establish their denial of the fact, they repeat their questionings as to the means used. They hope, it may be, to detect some difference in the accounts, or something which they can construe into a charge against our Lord; or, perhaps, as some have suggested, their repeated questions are merely to gain time or cover their retreat. His honest boldness is too much for their craft. Their adjuration to speak as in God’s presence has been answered in a way they little expected, and the questions they now repeat are asked because they know not what to say.
He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?(27) I have told you already, and ye did not hear.—The man becomes weary of this cross-questioning, the purpose of which is sufficiently clear to him. His first answer was in the fewest possible words (John 9:15, compared with John 9:7), and even these he will not repeat. There is some difficulty about the meaning of the word “hear” in the two clauses of this verse. When the man says “Ye did not hear,” we naturally understand “did not heed;” but when he goes on to say, “Wherefore would ye hear it again? the word clearly has its ordinary sense of hearing. The same word occurs in the two clauses in the Greek, just as it does in the English, and we are scarcely justified in giving it two distinct meanings. If we were to read both clauses as questions, we should avoid this difficulty, and get a sense which would suit the evident feeling of the man. He is impatient, and expresses this in a series of rapid questions. “I have told you already, and did ye not hear? wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be His disciples?”
Will ye also be his disciples?—The words refer, probably, to some who are His disciples, not to the man himself as being, or being ready to become, a disciple. This is a further stage of his spiritual education which is to follow, but has not yet arrived (John 9:35-38). The man must have known of the existence of a band of disciples, who indeed in his presence had questioned their Master concerning him (John 9:2), and it is not unlikely that while the parents were being questioned, the son may have learnt more concerning the work of Christ. The question puts the irony in the severest form, “Surely ye also do not wish to become His disciples?” It may have been designed, or may only have been as an arrow drawn at a venture; but there must have been among those of whom it was asked, men who tried in vain to encase themselves in the armour of authority, which would repel his shaft and silence him. It must have gone through the joints of the harness and pierced to the hearts of men like Nicodemus, who were half-disciples without the “courage of their convictions.” Here was the blind beggar making an open avowal of that which the Pharisees and rulers dared only to confess by night (John 3:2).
Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.(28) Then they reviled him.—The Greek word occurs only here in the Gospels. The other passages where it occurs in the New Testament are Acts 23:4, 1Corinthians 4:12, and 1Peter 2:23. It expresses the passionate outburst of their anger, which was excited by his question, and finds vent in heaping reproaches upon him.
Thou art his disciple.—They cast his own reproach back upon himself, but in stronger words than he had used they mark out the distinction between Jesus and themselves. Thou art that Man’s disciple.
But we are Moses’ disciples.—The emphasis of the words is important. We, as opposed to thou; Moses, as opposed to that Man’s.
We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.(29) We know that God spake unto Moses.—Better, We know that God hath spoken unto Moses. “He was commissioned,” they would say, “by God, and received a revelation from God which remains to us.” They would press here, as before, the authority of the great Lawgiver, which to every Israelite was final. They will not, therefore, accept this Man as a prophet. Their words have tacit reference also to the fact that His works were in their eyes a transgression of the Mosaic law. There is an opposition between them. Both cannot be right, and they will themselves continue to be disciples of Moses. He, it is implied, by confessing Jesus to be a prophet, was practically denying the authority of Moses.
As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.—In our English version the words in italics are added, but they do not express more than the single Greek word, which is used with contempt. Before they had said, “Howbeit we know this Man whence He is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence He is” (John 7:27; see Notes on this and the next verse). They here oppose the divine authority of the mission of Moses, which was acknowledged by all, to the absence, as they would say, of any such authority for the work of Jesus. Their words are meant to convey more than they express, coming as they do in sharp contrast with “God spake unto Moses.” They would say again, “This Man is not of God” (John 9:16), “we know that this Man is a sinner” (John 9:24). For the expression, “whence He is,” i.e., “what authority He has,” comp. John 19:9, and Matthew 21:25.
The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.(30) Why herein is a marvellous thing.—Several of the better MSS. read more emphatically, the marvellous thing. He again puts two contradictory positions—their assertion that they knew not by what authority Jesus did these things (whence He was), and the evident fact that He had opened his eyes. He cannot reconcile their statement with what he knows to be true, and he states his wonder in the strongest form.
That ye know not from whence he is—i.e., ye whose business it is to know, ye who claim for yourselves a special knowledge of all such questions, and whose duty it is to inquire into the authority of any one who asserts that he is a teacher or a prophet. (Comp. Note on John 1:24.)
Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.(31) Now we know that God heareth not sinners.—What they should have known, but asserted that they did not, he proceeds to declare. The argument of this and the two following verses may be stated in syllogistic form, thus:—(1) God heareth not sinners, but only those who worship Him and do His will. (2) That God heareth this Man is certain, for such a miracle could be performed only by divine power. (3) This Man, therefore, is not a sinner, but is from God.
He assumes as a general truth, which all accepted, that God heareth not sinners. This is based upon numerous passages in the Old Testament Scriptures—e.g., Isaiah 1:11-15; Psalm 66:18; Psalm 109:7; Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:29; Job 27:9; Job 35:13. We are, of course, to understand the word “sinner” in the sense in which they had used it in John 9:16; John 9:24. They had said that they knew this Man to be a sinner, and they meant one who was a sinner in a darker sense than that in which the word may be applied to all men. He asserts, as a truth which agrees with the whole teaching of the Old Testament, and with all the religious instincts of men, that there would be no communion between such a man and heaven. Such a one could not be commissioned as a prophet, or so heard in heaven as to have power to work miracles on earth. (Comp. Notes on John 11:41-42, and Acts 3:12.) Men have sometimes taken the words altogether apart from their context, and read into them a dark meaning which they cannot be rightly made to bear. Neither these words, nor any words of God, assign any limit to the divine grace, which extendeth to every penitent sinner; nor is there any voice of any child of man lifted to heaven, which is not heard by the Father who is in heaven.
It has often been noted here that the words are spoken by one whose authority does not make them binding upon us; but it is clear that they were accepted. as a general truth. We need no other explanation if we bear in mind the special sense which is here attached to the word “sinner.”
Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.(32) Since the world began was it not heard.—Literally, from the world-age was it not heard. The phrase is a reminiscence of Isaiah 64:4. (Comp. also Note on Luke 1:70.)
The eyes of one that was born blind.—This differentiates the miracle from the others in cases of blindness, and still more from all ordinary cures of maladies of the eyes. The man expresses what was simply true, that no science or skill had at that time been equal to the removal of blindness which had accompanied birth. That modern science has succeeded in making even this possible, is altogether beside the question, unless it is pretended that human skill could effect it under like conditions and with the same means. For the man himself there had been years of darkness without a ray of hope, for none had ever dreamt that recovery was within the limits of possibility; and now that the blessing has come, he regards it as the gift of God, and doubts not that the immediate giver is from God.
If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.(33) If this man were not of God.—His argument meets each of their assertions. His general assumption, admitted as a universal truth (John 9:31), had denied their assertion that this Man was a sinner. His conclusion now denies their assertion, “This Man is not of God” (John 9:16).
He could do nothing—i.e., nothing of this kind, no miracle such as this, much less this miracle itself.
They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.(34) Thou wast altogether born in sins.—Their reproach now takes the most malignant form, and shrinks not from casting in his teeth the calamity of his birth as the mark of special sin. “Thou didst come into the world,” these words mean, “bearing the curse of God upon thy face. Thou hast said that God heareth not sinners. Thy life in its first moments bore the marks of some fearful crime.”
And dost thou teach us?—i.e., “Dost thou, marked more than is the common lot of man by sin, teach us, who are the authorised teachers and expositors of the truth?” For any one to have doubted their authority would have seemed out of question; but here was one who had been a beggar, one of the “people of the earth,” untrained in the Law, and therefore cursed (comp. Note on John 7:49), and, more than this, altogether born in sin, who was actually teaching them!
And they cast him out.—These words are generally taken to mean excommunication, as in the margin, and it is certain that they may have this sense. (Comp. 3John 1:10.) Having this meaning before them, our translators did not, however, think it the better one, and their view seems to be borne out by the general impression which we get from the narrative. The man with all his boldness has not technically fallen under the ban they had threatened, for he has not “confessed that He was Christ” (John 9:22). A decree of the Sanhedrin would have been necessary, and this must have been formally pronounced. Now, we feel that in a detailed narrative such as we have here, all this would hardly be told in a single short sentence. It seems to be rather that their anger has now passed all bounds. They cannot refute the truth which, in his honest, homely way, he has put before them. They can only heap reproaches upon him, and thrust him by force out of their presence.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?(35) Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him.—There is no hint of time or place. We may naturally suppose that this seeking and finding on the part of our Lord followed immediately on the expulsion by the Pharisees. His parents had. for fear of the Pharisees, forsaken him; and they who should have been as the shepherd of this sheep of the flock of Israel, had thrust him from them; but in his case, too, the words of the Psalmist were to be fulfilled, “When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord taketh me up.” The Good Shepherd, who gathereth the lambs with His arm, and carrieth them in His bosom, is at hand to lead him.
Dost thou believe on the Son of God?—There is much doubt about the true reading here. A majority of the best MSS. have “the Son of Man,” which is the usual term applied by our Lord to Himself. But comp. Notes on John 10:36; Matthew 26:63; and Matthew 27:43. On the other hand, the reading, “Son of God,” is certainly as old as the second century, and seems to supply the sense which the context requires. The man had been cast out. Our Lord hears of this, and knows it is because of his bold confession that He was a prophet. The lesson He had before taught him had been learnt, and had borne fruit. He will lead him from that confession to a higher one. He marks him out as distinct from others, and asks a question which is meant by its form to lead him to an affirmative answer, “Thou believest on the Son of God?” This question follows naturally on the truth which the man had grasped. “If this Man were not of God, He could do nothing” (John 9:33), and this title was one of the theocratic names of the Messiah. (Comp. John 1:49.) The title, “Son of Man,” could hardly have conveyed to him the same meaning. Its insertion in some of the MSS. here is probably to be traced to the fact that copyists substituted the title which our Lord more generally used for the rarer one. We should carefully bear in mind that though our Lord does not usually apply the title “Son of God” to Himself, He constantly asserts the truth which it expresses. (Comp., e.g., in this Gospel, John 5, 7, 8)
He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?(36) Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?—For “Lord” it would be better to read Sir, as in John 4:11; John 4:19; John 5:7, et. al. The man does not express by it more than the reverence to a prophet or teacher. He recognises Him by the voice which he had heard before, and now for the first time sees Him. He is ready to believe on the Messiah whom all expected, and he feels that this prophet, who had opened his eyes, can tell him who the Messiah is. The form of the question, “Who is He?” suggests that he half expected that He, upon whom he looked, was more than a prophet, and was none other than the Messiah Himself. In the absence of any such thought, the question would have taken a vague form, such as “Where is He?” or “When shall He appear?” He asks as one who knows that the object of his faith is at hand.
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.(37) Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.—The answer reminds us of that to the woman of Samaria, “I that speak unto thee am He” (John 4:26); but here both the sense of sight and that of hearing are appealed to as conveying knowledge to the mind. There is a special fitness in the emphasis thus laid upon the seeing Him, in the case of one whose very power to see was witness to the presence of the Messiah. The words do not refer to any earlier meeting, but the perfect tense refers to the completion of the act of vision and the abiding impression.
And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.(38) And he said, Lord, I believe.—The title is repeated, but now with the deeper meaning. His half-faith has passed into full conviction. The spiritual education has led him step by step from “the Man that is called Jesus” (John 9:11) to the confession that He is “a prophet” (John 9:17), and that He is “of God” (John 9:33), to the belief that He is the Messiah. It is. the course of a plain man in the honesty of his heart daring to think for himself, and to act upon his convictions. He declines to be silenced by authority, or ensnared in the mazes of argument. The ultimate facts of his own consciousness supply him with a definite foundation of truth, and this is immoveable. The steps by which he advances in knowledge are a striking comment on the promise (John 7:17).
And he worshipped him.—The act of adoration is the necessary expression of his faith in the Son of God. We may not think that he has yet learnt all that this term includes; but he has at least learnt that the Son of God has the attribute of the divine glory, and is the object of human worship. It should be noted that St. John uses the word here rendered “worshipped” only when speaking of the worship of God. (Comp. also John 4:20-24; John 12:20.)
And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.(39) For judgment I am come into this world.—These words arise immediately out of what has preceded. The beggar has passed from a state of physical blindness, and has received the faculty of sight. He has passed from a state of spiritual blindness, and has received the power to recognise and believe on Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He did not see, but the result of the manifestation of the Messiah is for him that he now does see. Conscious of his own spiritual blindness, he asked, “Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?” and to him, as to every earnest and humble seeker after truth, because in all his seeming need he really “hath,” there is given that he may “have more abundance.” In marked contrast to this spirit of humility and desire to come to the light, was that of the Pharisees. They claimed to have the “key of knowledge” (Matthew 11:25), and were, as a Pharisee represents him who is “called a Jew,” “confident that they were guides of the blind, lights of them which are in darkness” (Romans 2:17 et seq.; comp. 1Corinthians 1:21; 1Corinthians 3:18). Conscious of their own spiritual light, they felt no need of a truer Light, and therefore could not see it; and from them, as from every careless and self-trusting possessor of truth, because, in all his seeming abundance, he really “hath not,” there is taken away “even that he hath.” (Comp. Note on John 1:16.)
This passing from darkness to light, and from light to darkness, suggests thoughts which our Lord has already uttered in John 3:17-19, and which will meet us again more fully in John 12:37-50. (See Notes on these passages.) Judgment is not the ultimate end of His coming, for He came to save the world; but it is an end, and therefore a result. The special form of the word rendered “judgment” in this place is used nowhere else by St. John, and indicates that what is here thought of is not the act of judging, but the concrete result—the sentence pronounced after judgment. His coming was a bringing light into the darkness of men’s hearts, a testing of the false and the true, and as men accepted or rejected Him they pronounced a judicial sentence upon themselves. That light judged no man, and yet by it every man was judged.
That they which see not might see.—The force of these words lies in the fact that the phrases, “they which see not” and “they which see,” are to be interpreted as from their own point of view—“That they which think they see not might really see; and that they which think they see might really be made blind.”
And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?(40) And some of the Pharisees which were with him.—The words in the preceding verse are not addressed specially to any one. The Pharisees would be still watching our Lord, and some had probably followed the beggar, expecting that our Lord would seek him, and hoping that the interview might furnish some ground for a fresh charge against one or both of them. It is the presence of mental conditions such as theirs and such as his that has brought again to our Lord’s thoughts the judicial result of His manifestation, and this rises to His lips as an utterance of the solemn thought that fills His mind. The Pharisees hear this exclamation, and apply to themselves that which their own state suggested; but which was expressed as, and is, a wide law, holding true for all mankind.
Are we blind also?—They misunderstand His words, for He has asserted of the blind (“they which see not”) that the result of His coming is “that they might see.” But yet they do not understand the words in a physical sense, in which they could have had no application to themselves. Care is required to catch the force of the term in these three verses, and it may be well to distinguish again the meanings attached to the word blind. It is used (1) for physical blindness. This has been its meaning throughout the chapter. It suggests the imagery in these verses, but is not itself present in the thought which is of spiritual, blindness only. (2) For conscious spiritual blindness (“they which see not,” “they which think they see not”), which is really the first step to spiritual sight. (3) For unconscious spiritual blindness (“they which see,” “they which think they see”), which is really the first step to a total loss of spiritual perception.
Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.(41) If ye were blind, ye should have no sin.—His answer is that He does not place them among those who are in this second sense blind. If they were among those “which see not” they would be conscious of their blindness, and would seek for spiritual light. They would ask, “Who is He, Lord, that we may believe on Him?” and would not ask in vain. In that case their present rejection of Him would arise from ignorance willing to be overcome, and this ignorance, not being wilful, would not be sin. Conscious ignorance would be the first step towards knowledge.
But now ye say, We see.—Their true place is among those who were spiritually blind, and were unconscious of it, “they which see,” they which think they see.” For them the first step towards true spiritual light must be a consciousness of blindness. As it is, as long as they think that they see, there is no ground for hope. (Comp. Matthew 9:12-13.)
Therefore your sin remaineth.—The word “therefore” should probably be omitted. The words “Your sin remaineth,” or better, Your sin abideth (comp. Note on John 3:36), stand alone in their awful solemnity. They stand side by side with “Ye say, We see.” The two states are one. The assertion of spiritual knowledge and independence was the original cause of sin (Genesis 3:4), and while spiritual pride exists sin cannot cease.
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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