Exegetical Notes -- John 9.1-41
A. Comparison of texts:
v. 4 -- KJV says ""I must work the works of him that sent me;"" while most other translations say, ""We must do the work""
v. 6 -- KJV, NJB, NIV say ""spittle"" (ptúúsmatos), while NRSV renders ""saliva;""
- KJV says ""clay"" while NIV & NRSV say, ""mud"" (pelóón can mean mud or clay)
NJB says ""paste""
v. 34 -- ""thou wast altogether born in sin . . . cast him out"" (KJV)
- ""you were steeped in sin . . . threw him out"" (NIV)
- ""you were born entirely in sins . . . drove him out"" (NRSV)
- ""a sinner through and through ever since you were born . . . ejected him"" (NJB)
v. 35 -- KJV says, ""Do you believe in the son of God?"" while most others say, ""son of man""
B. Greek criticsm: v. 1: ""from birth"" -- this is a Greek expression found in LXX & other pagan writings; The more Semitic forms would probably be, ""from the mother''s womb"" (Mt. 19.12 & Acts 3.2); v. 4: ""we . . . me"" -- this is the rendering of the better texts but others render it ""we . . . us"" or ""I . . . me"" (e.g., Bultmann chooses the latter and suggests that: ""we"" was introduced by the Christian community. Rather, the ""we"" is probably Jesus'' way of associating his disciples with him in his work. (Brown); v. 6: ""smeared"" -- (epichriein) ""anointed"" is perhaps the best Greek rendering and supported by both Bodmer papyri. According to Raymond Brown, however, some scholars, e.g., Barrett, suspect that it was borrowed from vs. 11, and they prefer the reading of the Codex Vaticanus: ""he put mud on the man''s eyes"" (epitithenai). V. 18: ""who had gained his sight"" -- this is not found in P66 and other minor manuscripts; it appears to be out of place and redundant, which may give cause to its omission by some copyists. V. 21: ""we do not know"" -- this is left out of SB following minor versional and patristic evidence. V.27: ""you didn''t pay attention"" -- literally ""hear;"" some texts read ""believe,"" therefore trying to interpret what the hearing means. P66 and other minor Western texts leave out the negative, rendering it, ""I told you and you heard me.""
C. Rough translation of text: 1 And passing along he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And asked the disciples saying, ""Rabbi, who sinned, this man or the parents of him, that he was born blind?"" 3 Answered Jesus, ""Neither this man sinned nor the parents of him, but that the works of God might be manifested in him. 4 It is necessary for us to work the works of the one having sent me while it is day; comes night when no one can work. 5 When in the world I am, light I am of the world. 6 These things having said he spat on the ground and made clay out of the spittle, and put on him the clay of the eyes 7 and said to him, ""Go wash in the pool of Siloam (which is translated ''having been sent'')."" He went therefore and washed, and came seeing. 8 Therefore the neighbors of the one beholding him that a beggar he was, said, ""Not this man the one sitting and begging?"" 9 Some said, ""This is he."" Others said, ""No, but like to him he is."" That one said, ""I am."" 10 They said therefore to him, ""How then were opened of you the eyes?"" 11 Answered that one, ""The man being named Jesus clay made and anointed of me the eyes and told me, ''Go to Siloam and wash;'' going therefore and washing, I saw."" 12 And they said to him, ""where is that one?"" he said, ""I do not know."" 13 They lead him to the Pharisees, the at one time blind. 14 Now it was Sabbath on which day Jesus made clay and opened of him the eyes. 15 Again therefore also asked him the Pharisees how he saw. 16 Said therefore the Pharisees some, ""Not is this man from God because the Sabbath he keeps not. 17 they say to the blind man therefore again, ""What you say about him because he opened of you the eyes?"" And he said, ""a prophet he is.18 Do not believe therefore the Jews about him that he was blind and saw; until they called the parents of him of the one having seen 19 and asked them saying, ""This is the son of you, whom you say that blind he was born? How then sees he now?"" 20 Answered therefore the parents of him and said, ""We know that this is the son of us and that blind he was born; 21 but how now he sees not we know, or who opened of him the eyes we know not; him ask you, age he has, he about himself will speak."" 22 these things said the parents of him because they feared the Jews; for already had agreed the Jews that if anyone him should acknowledge Christ, put away from synagogue he would be. 23 therefore the parents of him said, ""Age he has, him question you."" 24 they called therefore the man a second time who was blind, and said to him, ""Give glory to God. We know that this man sinful is."" 25 answered therefore that one, ""if sinful he is I know not; one thing I know, that blind being now I see."" 26 they said therefore to him, ""what did he to you? How opened he of you the eyes?"" 27 he answered them, ""I told you already and you heard not; why again wish you to hear? Not also you wish of him disciples to become?"" 28 and they reviled him and said, ""You a disciple are of that man, but we of Moses are disciples. 29 we know that by Moses had spoken God, but this man we know not where he is."" 30 answered the man and said to them, ""in this then the marvelous thing is, that you do not know where is from, and he opened of me the eyes. 31 we know that God sinful men does not hear, but if anyone godfearing is and the will of him does, this man he hears. 32 from the age not it was heard that opened anyone eyes of a blind man having been born; 33 if not was this man from God he could not do nothing."" 34 they answered and said to him, ""In sins you were born wholly, and you teach us?"" and they expelled him outside. 35 heard Jesus that they expelled him outside, and finding him said, ""you believe in the son of man?"" 36 answered that one and said, ""and who is he, sir, that I may believe in him? 37 said to him Jesus, ""Both you have seen him and the one speaking with you that one is. 38 and he said, ""I believe sir, and he worshiped him. 39 and Jesus said, ""For judgment I unto the world this came, that the ones not seeing may see and the ones seeing blind may become. 40 heard some of the Pharisees these things with him being and they said to him, ""not also we blind are?"" 41 said to them Jesus, ""if blind you were not you would have had sin, but now you say, ''we see;'' the sin of you remains.""
A. Genre: This section is composed of seven scenes: scene 1 -- healing of the blind man (1-7); scene 2 -- the neighbors and the blind man (8-12); scene 3 -- the Pharisees question the blind man (13-17); scene 4 -- the Pharisees questions the blind man''s parents (18-25); scene 5 -- the Pharisees question the blind man a second time (24-34); scene 6 -- Jesus questions the blind man (35-39); and scene 7 -- Jesus responds to the Pharisees. There is also within this story two dualities that are present -- seeing vs. blindness and knowing vs. not knowing. There is also an issue of theodicy that introduces the reason the man was born blind, but the text doesn''t really deal with it in full (other than Jesus'' response, ""so that God''s work might be revealed""). Another way of understanding this text is found in its chiastic form. That is, the story is not just in a sequence of scenes, but the way they are arranged is thematically. This chiasm in John 9 could then be laid out in the following manner: scenes 1 & 7 deal with Jesus and the observers in the story; scenes 2 & 6 deal with the blind man''s encounter the early and late stages of his story. Scene 4 then becomes the central part of the story since it stands on its on as compared to the rest of the story. As J.L. Martyn, et al, have pointed out that this scene is crucial because it reveals the effects of this in light of its historical context. The expulsion mentioned was a much later phenomenon that couldn''t have been during the time of Jesus. The Jesus movement during his time period sprang from within Judaism. It was only during the periods following the fall of the Temple in 70 C.E. did Judaism begin to depart from this movement. Martyn further identifies actions of official expulsions from the synagogue during ca. 8085 C.E. This was when the council of Jamnia exerted power over the remnants of the Jewish faith and began centralizing a belief system. Therefore this chiasm reveals a possible central theme within the story: the actions of Jesus began to polarize himself and his community from the Jews. This in turn informs our interpretation into our own contexts.
B. Personal interaction/questions & observations: This text is full of possibilities for questions and reflection that deal with historicity, theology, and preaching. Several questions emerged for me from the text: 1.) Jesus'' response to the theodicy question seems inadequate to me. Why did he not appeal to Jeremiah''s treatment of such issues (Jer. 31.29: In those days people will no longer say: ""the fathers have eaten unripe grapes; the children''s teeth are set on edge."" But each will die for his own guilt. Everyone who eats unripe grapes will have his own teeth set on edge. -- and then the section on the ""new covenant""). This question still begs to be answered by people. 2.) As to the mud or clay, how did Jesus know what to do? There are speculations that from his travels to Egypt, Jesus may have learned this form of healing. Some believed saliva to have medicinal qualities. To transplant this into modern contexts, this could''ve been an ancient treatment for cataracts. Also, what was special about the water in the pool? Even today, some waters are sought for their healing/therapeutic qualities. Was this the belief about the water in the pool of Siloam? Then was the healing power from the spittle coupled with the water? 3.) Another question would be that if we follow the chiastic interpretation where scene 4 is the pivotal scene, this makes understanding difficult. That is, many readers would miss this focus (as did I). It was only after discovering the chiasm and then applying it to the rest of the text and historical context did I make the connection. A broader question then remains for the church: why are some texts like this one so shrouded from our understanding? One possible answer comes in doing what we''re doing here -- digging into the texts to find their meanings, albeit sometimes hidden ones. Conversely, this is the beauty of the texts. There is so much that we gain from Scriptures, but it doesn''t come to us by osmosis. We must do our homework, we must allow the text to speak to us, and we must learn to ""read between the lines"" at times to discern its meaning. 4.) Finally, a question for me would be this: as Raymond Brown suggests from the early church''s practice of reading this text before baptism, this seems to be problematic at least in part. This ritual would be more of a baptism for believers than an initiatory rite. Were both elements present in this use of the text for baptism? If so, how? I can see the initiatory elements in the story (at his healing he was introduced into this by his acceptance/believing). So then is baptism both an initiatory rite and a statement of faith?
C. Organization: As mentioned above, the ways this could be preached is manifold. I agree with on take on this dilemma: In a sense, the story needs only to be told, not preached. It makes its own theological claims. (Texts for Preaching 216) At the same time, several key elements stand out. The aforementioned dualities are key. The man who is ""born blind"" becomes the one really sees. The ones who say they are the seeing ones, righteous ones -- the Jews, Pharisees -- are the ones who in the end are blind. Closely related to this is the duality of ""knowing."" The one who claims not to know, or at least not to be very sure, is the one who receives faith and in the end, knows for sure he has been healed. The ones who claim to know, in the end do not. Of course, the analogies are clear. In God''s realm, seeing and knowing are elements of faith. This Gospel continues to bring up the issue of signs and seeing as ways for knowing and believing (Nicodemus, Samaritan woman, et al). Again in this story, the writer reveals that it is in relationship with God revealed in the Christ -- specifically here, being healed from literal blindness -- that one truly sees and knows God. Such was the claim of the blind man. The Pharisees -- and many today -- are asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking ""how"" one sees, knows, believes, the blind man appeals to his experiential faith: ""all I know is that this man did this to me & now I see!""
A. Immediate context: Chapter 8 sets up the polarity vividly revealed in scene 4 of chapter 9. Though a much later insertion, the first part of chapter 8 deals with Jesus forgiving the woman trapped in adultery. This is a scene that is in direct opposition to ""the Jews."" Then at the end of chapter 8, Jesus further sets up that contrast between them and himself in relation to Abraham, both in whom claim to have their origins (though Jesus'' claim goes much deeper than ancestry or religious heritage). Then at the end of chapter 8, the duality of ""knowing"" set up -- who are the ones who really ""know"" Abraham? The very last sentence in chapter 8 says that they started to throw stones at Jesus. In the chapters immediately following this pericope, Jesus further reveals his identity (sheep gate, good shepherd, son of God) and his works (raising of Lazarus from death). This also continues to exacerbate the feelings of animosity towards him and his impending crucifixion.
B. Organization of the compositional whole: This pericope is another example of his life-giving works that begins to intensify in following chapters. As he continues to give life to others in God''s name, this further infuriates his opponents, the Jews. The key for this pericope is not the actual healing or sign performed. It''s brevity of description would give evidence of this. The key in this passage is how those around him react to the healing. The ways that we find ourselves and others in these characters becomes the crucial way for understanding the text.
C. Authorship issues: Raymond Brown offers three possible ways of dealing with authorship (i.e., what kind of writing, not so much who): an adaptation of a familiar story with changes for effect, a fabrication of creativity, or a reworking of the Synoptic versions. (Anchor Bible 378)
A. Primitive Christianity: The Synoptics include this story or variations thereof. There is the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus who sat and begged near Jericho (Mark 10.46-52; Luke 18.35-43; Matthew 20.29-34). Matthew 9.27-31 tells of two blind men in Galilee. There is a blind mute in Galilee or Capernaum in Matthew 12.22-23. A blind man is healed using spittle at Bethsaida in Mark 8.22-26. From extra-biblical sources, there were legends of healings about powerful figures of antiquity. One such popular tale told about the healing power of the Emperor Vespasian. One of the common people of Alexandria, well known for his loss of sight, threw himself before Vespasian''s knees, praying him with groans to cure his blindness, being so directed by the God Serapis, whom this most superstitious of nations worships before all others; and he besought the emperor to deign to moisten his cheeks and eyes with spittle. . . . So Vespasian, believing that his good fortune was capable of anything and that nothing was any longer incredible, with a smiling countenance and amid intense excitement on the part of the bystanders, did as he was asked to do. . . . and the day again shone for the blind man. (Storyteller''s Companion 99)
B. Old Testament & Judaism: The pool Siloam played a role in the feast of Tabernacles. This is related -- how closely is debated -- to the settings in chapters 7 & 8 of John. The issue of the Sabbath was widely known in the OT and in Judaism. The acts done in the healing were specifically named as violations of Sabbath. This explains the Pharisees'' reaction. They were so caught up in the letter of the law that they missed the higher law of compassion and healing for the man born blind.
C. Hellenistic World: Related to IV. A above, stories of healings of blind men were known throughout the ancient world. Such stories could be found engraved on stones at sanctuary sites, functioning as a form of propaganda, such as this inscription from a temple of the healing god Asclepius in Rome: ""To the blind soldier Valerius Aprus the god commanded by an oracle to come and take the blood of a white rooster, to mix it with honey and eye salve and to spread it on his eyes for three days. And he recovered his sight, and came and presented an offering of thanksgiving to the god."" (Storyteller''s Companion 98)
A. Summary of salient features: I drew two salient features from this text. First, the nature of faith is revealed. The blind man''s faith comes from his healing encounter with Christ. The dualism of seeing and blindness are this Gospel''s way talking about faith. The man born blind believes in Christ''s command to go and wash in the pool. On the other hand, the Pharisees, who claimed to be the rulers of faith, were blind to the agenda of Jesus. The only thing they saw was the breaking of Sabbath. They didn''t see the works of God performed through Christ and therefore missed the point altogether. Their theological blindness has caused them not to see. Jesus equates blindness with sin or lack of faith. We see a progression in the blind man''s understanding and faith. He first sees him as a prophet (v. 17), then as one from God (v. 33), and his full acceptance (v. 37, ""Lord, I believe.""). This theme of seeing and believing is played out later in the Gospel -- the post-resurrection narrative of Thomas. In this text, Jesus equates seeing with believing, knowing with faith. Both come not from adherence to the law -- which is obviously not the central source of healing. Rather, the source of God''s healing comes from personal encounters with the Christ. And not just happenstance encounters, but encounters that call persons to accept in faith healing, forgiveness, compassion, etc. are what saves us. Second, this text reveals how this message is received by those who are blind. The Pharisees are blind the work of God in Jesus and so they draw definitive lines between their agendas and his. In their blindness, they miss the point that God''s compassion is greater than the letter of the law. Their understanding of religion is based on the law of Moses and keeping it faithfully. But they miss out on the point when they link the man''s blindness to sin -- and irrational argument in light of the new covenant text in Jeremiah -- wonder how anything good could happen to this man. They miss the point when Jesus heals on the Sabbath violating the law in several counts. They miss the point when Jesus tells them the source of his healing -- God''s grace. Jesus'' work as articulated in v. 39 is to give sight to the blind, and to make blind the sighted.
B. Smooth translation: NRSV text is the one I would choose.
C. Hermeneutical bridge: The metaphors here are strong. The ones who were excluded from the opportunities of religion were the ones -- like blind persons -- who were unworthy due to their sin (the logical explanation for being born in that condition). Yet Jesus came offering God''s healing and salvation to all persons, especially the ones who no one else deemed worthy of God''s presence. The fact that Jesus touched this man crossed several barriers of conventional wisdom (he would''ve been considered as an unclean sinner, and yet Jesus touched his eyes). The Pharisees remain blind because of their inability to see God''s work in Jesus. We then can draw connections to our modern contexts. Who are the ones who are really blind in our churches? Who are the ones who are really grasping the true nature of God''s grace and presence? Is it found in the institutional structures? Does God work through wealthy parishioners who reign supreme in local church leadership? Does God''s healing through flashy charlatans who make millions from televised performances while their ""on air"" congregants drain their bank accounts? The analogies are limitless, but I believe that God''s realm works in similar circles today. And this always means that we need examine ourselves ever so closely to see just where it is that we try to convey that realm in our world today.
Brown, Raymond. The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (New York: Doubleday, 1966)
Brueggeman, Walter, et al. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV -- Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Culpepper, R. Alan. The Gospel and Letters of John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Marshall, Alfred. The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975)
Sloyan, John. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching -- John (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Smith, Dennis E. and Williams, Michael E., eds. The Storyteller''s Companion to the Bible: Volume Ten -- John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)