[(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).]
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 (2 Kings 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1 Samuel 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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.
He could do nothing—i.e., nothing of this kind, no miracle such as this, much less this miracle itself.
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. 3 John 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.
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)
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.)
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.”
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.
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.