The controversy over the Son of God (8:12–10:42) - continue

The Fifth Sign: the testimony of the blind man (9:1–41)

Main idea

From birth every person is blind to the Light of the world and separated from God. True blindness goes much deeper than the eyes; it is a disease that creates blindness to oneself. But for the Christians this blindness becomes the channel of belief.

  1. The healing of the man blind from brith (9:1–7);
    a). Blindness and sin: “rabbi, who sinned?” (9:1–2);
    b). Blindness and “the works of God” (9:3–5);
    c) Jesus heals the blind man (9:6–7).

  2. The judgment of Jesus in his absence: the healing was done on the Sabbath (9:8–34);
    a). The blind man and the neighbours (9:8–12);
    b). The blind man and the Jewish authorities (9:13–17);
    c). The blind man’s parents and the Jewish authorities (9:18–23);
    d). The blind man and the Jewish authorities (again) (9:24–34).

  3. The confession of the blind man (9:35–41);
    a). Jesus encounters the blind man (9:35–38);
    b). Jesus judges the Pharisees (9:39–41).


The connection can be establish with 8:59 - Jesus “went out from the temple … and was passing by”.

The healing of the blind illustrates the meaning of John 8:12 - Jesus is the Light of the world.

The reader is provided with an information that the man was blind from birth - which will become significant in the course of the dialogue.


The blindness of that unmanned man provides the disciples with an opportunity to ask Jesus a theological question.

There are several OT texts (Ex 20:5; Ps 89:32) and later rabbinic texts (“there is no death without sin and no suffering without iniquity”, Talmud, b. Shabbat 55a) that infer such a connection.

One question comes to mind: how could an infant commit sin in his mother womb?


Jesus’ response does not rule out a theory (cf. 5:14), but he focuses the attention of his disciples on the hand of God, not on the man or his parents. Such a claim removes neither the man nor his parents from the consequences of sin, but it focus on what God has done and not on what they have done.

Here, we are facing the mystery of suffering that is the topic of Job and that is beyond the grasp of human mind.

Jesus declares that this happened so that “the works of God might be made manifest in him”.

The anonymous blind man becomes a primary witness of the works of God - the objective of the works of God is to lead to faith in Jesus and thus experience eternal life.


“We” (cf. 3:11) -in this case it is an authoritative (see also 14:12 - in the future the disciple will do similar works in communion with Jesus).

“Day” and “night”. “Day” in this case probably refers to few months remaining of Jesus’ ministry and the “night” to his trial, crucifixion and death (see John 11:9; 12:35–36; 13:30). But those who are in Jesus, united with him, they are always in the day (cf. 1 These 5:4–5).


This statement is nearly identical to 8:12 - the pronoun “I - ego” is missing.


cf. Mk 7:33; 8:23 - saliva only. Here we have mud with saliva, but it is the mud that the narrator highlights.

Some commentators suggest a translation that Jesus applied “his mud” to the eyes [of the blind man]“. In this case, the action would point us back to the creation story in Gen 2:7. Moreover Job 4:19; 10:9 LXX used the same term ”mud" in relation to humans being made out of clay/mud.

Thus, we have here an encounter not between a miracle worker and a sick person, but between the Creator and “his” creation.


The pool of Siloam is identified with the pool mentioned in Is 22:9, 11. Siloam meant “sent”; it speaks of Jesus being sent by the Father (9:4) who sends the blind man to the waters of that pool.

See also Is 8:6 for a powerful significant of this verse. In a moment the reader will know how the Pharisees refused Jesus - the One Sent - the way their ancestors refused the silent water of the pool of Siloam.

The blind man who obeyed Jesus’ command comes back with his sight restored. And now, we shall see who is actually blind.


The neighbours were familiar with him as the blind beggar, but seeing him now healed they asked: “is this not the one who used to sit and beg?” The question expects affirmative answer and yet doubts remain. The identity of this anonymous man remains anonymous even to his “neighbours”.


Their conflicting answers points to the fact that something about him is similar but something is entirely different. The blind man ends the doubts by testifying: “I am”. His answer reminds us of all those Jesus’ statement where he declared “I am”. Most of the scholars understand it as purely secular “It is I/ I am he”, but his answer indicate that he already represents Jesus. His answer points to Jesus who healed him.


Curiosity. The people want to know how he got healed. How did it happen means by whom did it happen?


The man provides a factual account of what happened. Unlike the cripple at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:13), the once-blind man knows the identity of the one who healed him: “the man called Jesus” healed him. At the end of this story, the once-blind man will believe and worship Jesus (9:38).


“Where is this man?” can indicate that they would also like to question Jesus about the miracle. But at that moment, the blind man does not know it yet. But he will know and he will see him (cf. 9:35–38).


The informal interrogation becomes formal - from the neighbours to the Pharisees - things are getting serious (cf. 1:19, 24).

It is worth noticing that the neighbours led him to the Pharisees and the verb “led” reminds us of the woman caught in adultery being “led” to Jesus (8:3).

And why the Pharisees? On the one hand, they were respected authorities on the law and its interpretation, but on the other hand, by the time the Gospel was written, they were the only remaining authorities - the others perished in the Roman-Jewish war of (66–74).


The narrator adds a detail that is going to spell the trouble (cf. 5:1–18). Jesus repeated the same offence. Jesus was again “working” on the sabbath by “making mud” - declared later in Talmud as a violation of the sabbath law. Mixing of saliva with earth and making it into mud was consider “kneading” - an activity forbidden by the law.

It is interesting how the biblical authors often delay information - we see that often in the OT.


The reader already knows all the details of the story, so the Pharisees gets only the most significant information.


Two opposed points of view are expressed and two opposed conclusions are reached that divided the Pharisees.

Someone who breaks the sabbath law cannot be from God.
But can a sinner perform such a sign? Deut 13:1–5 accepts a possibility of a prophet performing signs and wonders and leading people astray. So what to do?

As in 7:43 the crowd, now the Pharisees are divided over Jesus’ credentials.

The historians say that there were two distinct rabbinical schools:

  1. The strict one of Shammai - Anyone who breaks the law is a sinner;
  2. The liberal one of Hillel - looking into the facts first, namely in the case of Jesus it was a good work that he performed.


Can the witness resolve their disagreement? What kind of answer did they expect from the blind man? Were they surprised by his firm answer? He does not provide an opinion, he declares openly that Jesus is prophet.

The Samaritan woman perceived Jesus to be a prophet because her life-story was an open book to him.

The crowd that had been fed with loaves and fishes and the Jerusalemites who heard his call to come and receive ‘living water’ identified him with “the prophet” because in action and word he seems to be the expected second Moses.

The man who had received his sight could think of Jesus’ healing work in line with the work of Elijah and Elisha. What the Jordan had done for Naaman’s leprosy, the pool of Siloam had done for his blindness.

But, the term “prophet” can mean that Jesus is “from/of God” something that the Pharisees did not want to accept.


In this verse the Pharisees are replaced by the Jews - which probably indicates that John saw them as synonymous.

The reason for calling his parents is stated - lack of belief. Despite all the evidence - the Jews did not believe that he was blind.

“Belief” is an important concept in this Gospel. The reader already knows that despite all the evidence the Jews also did not believe that Jesus was sent by the Father.

The reader is also becoming aware of the power wielded by the Jewish leadership.


Two questions are asked: (1) one to confirm their blood relation and that he was born blind and (2) how can he see now?

In the first question there is that “you say” which somehow put doubt whether he was actually born blind.

The second question is a threat. If they say that he was born blind, they will have to also explain how he got healed.


The parents stood their ground. They affirm the identity of their son and testify that he was indeed born blind. One cannot abolish such testimony. They “know”. And so their testimony confirms the words of their son and the fact that a miracle indeed took place.


Regarding the second question their answer is “we do not know”. This sets them free from further investigation. Moreover, they indicate two things: their son is reliable witness himself - he is old enough, and he is also competent witness - only he knows how he got his sight.


The narrator again provides the reader with additional information (cf. 6:6, 64, 71; 8:27) that explain the behaviour of the parents of the blind man.

The parents “fear the Jews” (cf. 7:13), because there was already “decree” that public faith in Jesus would lead to the expulsion from the synagogue (cf. 12:42; 16:2).

Some scholars indicate that it refers to a curse against the Nazarenes and heretics written by the rabbis into the synagogue prayers after 74 AD.

Others indicate that even within Judaism of that time, the parents of a man accused of heresy would be considered guilty by association.


The concluding comment regarding his parents’ response.

The parents were freed. The Evangelist does not indicate whether the parents believed in Jesus. The story will return to the blind man who for his ‘stubbornness’ will indeed be expelled from the synagogue.


For the second time the blind man is ‘summoned’ by the authorities.

“Give glory to God” is a sort of “oath formula” used before offering testimony or a confession of guilt (cf. Josh 7:19).

The declaration is made in the form of judgement. They “know” that Jesus is a sinner, which it seems to reject his own testimony that Jesus is a prophet.

It is interesting that Jesus’ opponents never actually use Jesus’ name - although the blind man provided them with Jesus’ name. They always use “this man”.

In light of the significance of the name of Jesus revealed in the prologue (1:12), their avoidance of it is symptomatic of their unbelief.

Without any evidence, they declare Jesus “a sinner” and force the blind man to do the same.


They “know” but the blind man “does not know” that Jesus is a sinner. He knows something else, something they do not want to accept - he was blind but now he sees.

They could not refute this proclamation.


It seems that the Pharisees did not expect such an answer. Not knowing what to do, they ask again for what they already know.

Or, like in today’s world, by asking again the same questions they expect to find some difference in his answers.


The blind man responds to the Pharisees’ two questions with two of his own - a sort of rebuke.

He reminds them that they heard his testimony already but they did not listen. Perhaps, their ears might need to be restored to hear God’s word (cf. 9:31), just as his sight needed to be restored to see God’s world.

Then, he wants to know “why” they keep asking him.

His first question can be translated as: what do you want to hear again? - he cannot offer anymore information.

The blind man does not expect them to become Jesus’ disciples - it was probably intended as a rebuke.

But his “also” is interesting. Does it suggest that he somehow sees himself as Jesus’ disciple? Or does it prepare the reader for the topic on discipleship that will follow? (Cf. 8:31).


The Pharisees got wild. They reviled him.

Notice again, that they do not use Jesus’ name. Why? But they proudly use Moses’ name calling themselves Moses’ disciples.

By seeing themselves as the disciples of Moses, they disassociate themselves from Jesus. But the reader knows that Moses is on Jesus’ side (cf. 5:45–46).


“We know” appears again (cf. 9:12, 21, 25), but do they really know? By this time the reader can already doubt their knowledge.

Yes, God has spoken to Moses (Ex 33:11; cf. Num 12:8), but it is the Son alone who “knows” God (1:17–18). But, that fact “they do not know”. The true origin of Jesus is hidden from them or they simply do not want to accept it.


This is the longest speech of the blind man in this speech. He is astonished at the last statement of the Pharisees regarding Jesus. Their lack of knowledge surprises him.


“We know” mimics and perhaps even mocks the twice-repeated (9:24, 29) claim of the Pharisees.

The blind man now offers his theological reasons.

God does not listen to sinners but to the one who fears God and does his will. By implication then, against the Pharisees, the blind man considers Jesus God-fearing man who does the will of God .

On the other hand, that God does not listen to sinners can find support in the scriptures (Is 1:15; Ps 66:16–20; 109:7; Prov 15:29). But God hears the cry of sinners when they turn to him with repenting heart asking for the grace of a new life - that is the message of the Gospel.


“From the beginning of time/age” - the blind man speaks about the uniqueness of what has happened to him. After all, Jesus is the creator of time/age as well and so only he can cure such sickness. Moreover, the restoration of sight to the blind is a sign that the new age has dawned (cf. Is 35:5; 42:7).


The blind has already stated that Jesus was “a prophet”, now he declares that he is “from God”. He is probably not aware of the significance of his statement, but the readers know that Jesus the Son comes “from” the Father.

The blind man proves to fear God more than the Jewish authorities.


The Pharisees got wilder. They declare the blind man to be “entirely born in sin” (see 9:2) - now both Jesus and the blind man are being declared sinners by them.

The testimony of the blind man caused him to be excommunicated by the authorities (cf. 9:22).

9:35–38 - the confession of faith in Jesus


Expelled from the synagogue the blind man is found by the good Shepherd, enters Jesus’ fold and becomes one of his disciples.

Now comes a surprising question: “do you believe in the Son of man?” (Some manuscripts have here “Son of God”).

The title “the Son of man” points to all power, glory, and the rule of God that resides in the person of Jesus, the ultimate Judge and Ruler (see 1:51; 5:27; cf. Dan 7:13–14).

But, there can also be a connection with Luke 12:8. Since, the blind man acknowledged Jesus on earth, now the Son of man acknowledges his faithful confessor immediately on the earth.


The response of the blind man shows that he has to make a connection between the Son of man and Jesus, his healer.


Cf. 4:26. Jesus declares his identity. “You have seen him” shows that the two kinds of vision - physical and spiritual - come together. On the one hand, he sees Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, he comes to recognise in Jesus of Nazareth the Son of man.


In 9:36, he already addressed Jesus as “κύριε” understood as “sir”, but here, the same word means “the Lord”.

To Jesus’ statement that he is the Son of man, the man’s response is the statement of faith, “I believe” and the act of worship.

9:39 - 41 - the Jewish authorities remain in blindness


Now Jesus speaks. Till now he was being judged, now he takes place as the Judge and his audience becomes the whole world (cf. 3:18–20).

The judgement is practically equivalent to the “division” - the blind can see and those who see become blind.

This judgement creates a question in all listeners: do I possess blindness or sight?

From the prologue onward, the Gospel has depicted the inability of the darkness to recognise the light (1:5). But the scandal is not simply that the darkness cannot see the light, but also that it cannot see itself for what it is - darkness.

The fundamental irony of the gospel is not that God became human but that humanity thought they had become God. For this reason they were blind, and for this reason the true God, came to manifest the truth about himself.

He alone is “the light of life” (8:12) and “freedom” (8:32–36); anything else is “slavery to sin” (8:34) and existence in a state of blindness.

Here Jesus declares the fulfilment of the judgement of God promised through the prophets (Is 6:10; cf. Mk 4:10–12).

The healing of the blind man is presented as a parable of spiritual illumination. Thanks to the coming of the true light of the world, many who were formerly in darkness have been enlightened. But on the other hand some who thought they had no need of the enlightenment that Jesus brought, because they could see perfectly well already, turned their backs on him and, without realising it, moved into deeper darkness (cf. 3:19–21).


The narrator does not explain why and how some of the Pharisees were with him. He presents their question that in reality reveals the state of their blindness. They are still unable to acknowledge their spiritual blindness.


Prov 26:12.

If they “were blind” - meaning - if they acknowledged that they were in darkness, then like in the case of the blind man, Jesus would not declare whose fault it was that they ended up in darkness but he would come and healed them.

The problem is that they claim to be in the light while refusing to see in Jesus the Light of the world.

The fact that their sin “remains” suggests that they are pronounced guilty before God (cf. 3:36).

The motif of sight and blindness enters upon the illusion “that one can manage without Jesus as the light of the world”. One does not need to look for blindness as if it can be procured. We all have it - like the blind man, from birth.

The disciples’ opening question “who sinned?” (9:2) was prophetic in regard to the issue at hand. Just like the blind man, before someone can claim “I believe” (9:36), they must first declare, “I am a sinner!”.

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