John 9:1-2 – Who Sinned?

While walking in Jerusalem, the disciples see a man born blind and ask Jesus why the man was born blind (verse 1-2). Judaism sometimes connected sin and illness The reason for this is a strong belief that God judges sin with illness. The three friends in the book of Job is the classic example of the belief that extreme illness and suffering is the result of sin. For example, when Miriam rebelled against Moses, she was struck with leprosy.The same is true for Uzziah, a king who violated the law.  When Hezekiah became ill he took it as a sign of divine disfavor.

Jesus Heals a Blind Man

In addition to suffering for your own sins, there are a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible that indicate some sins will be punished for several generations.  Idolatry, for example, carried a punishment for three more generations. Frequently kings were not directly punished for their rebellion, but their sons or grandsons are killed, ending their line.

Another possibility for a man born blind is that he sinned in the womb. For most of us, the idea of a prenatal sin is difficult to understand (not to mention a little bit frightening!) The rabbinic Genesis Rabbah suggests Esau was “hated” and Jacob “loved” because he had committed sin in the womb:

“R. Bekehja said in the name of R. Levi: “When she [Rebecca] walked past synagogues and houses of instruction, Jacob struggled to get out, in accordance with Jer 1:5: ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I knew you.’ And when she passed idol temples Esau ran and struggled to get out, in accordance with Ps 58:4, ‘The godless go astray from the womb’” (Gen. Rab. 63; cited by Beasley-Murray, John, Second Edition, 154)

Jesus denies a “universal principle” that sin and sickness are connected. There may be cases, (Miriam, Paul’s comments to the Corinthians about their abuse of the Lord’s supper), but not all sickness can be connected to a specific sin. Generally, alcohol abuse often leads to a natural physical consequence; this natural result hardly a judgment of God!

In fact, Jesus says the man was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in him (John 9:3-5). The blind were considered unclean and were always excluded from Temple worship. Since they are blind, they cannot know when they might contact some unclean thing, therefore they could never be allowed to go up to the Temple to worship.

Jesus says the man was born blind so God’s power might be displayed in him (verse 3-5). The blind were considered unclean and were always excluded from Temple worship. Since they are blind, they cannot know when they might contact some unclean thing, therefore they could never be allowed to go up to the Temple to worship. Jesus indicates he will not always be in the world. Since he is the light of the world, it is the time to do the work of God. As Rabbi Tarphon said, The day is short and there is much work to be done; the workers are lazy, and the reward is great, and the Master of the house is urgent” (Pirqe ‘Abot 2.15).

Once again Jesus declares he is the light of the world (cf. 8:12). In this case, the light will illuminate the darkness of the blind man. This chapter is connected to the previous via “the light of the world.” Carson comments that this is what happens when someone who is blind encounters the “light of the world.”

It is important to pause and reflect on what Jesus says about sin and sickness. Some Christians make an unfortunate assumption that sin leads to illness, so that if you are sick in any way there is unconfessed sin in your life, or sickness is a sign of a deficient spiritual life. If you are healthy, they claim, you are blessed by God and must be living a spiritual life. Even thought there are examples of God using illness as a punishment in the Old Testament, this view of relationship between illness and sin is completely unscriptural. Aside from a general ignorance of the Book of Job and the life of the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh, it misses the point Jesus makes here in John 9: sometimes illness can be used for the glory of God. Jesus does not say God will smite you with a dread disease so that you will praise God more, but he does indicate physical infirmities are opportunities to see the glory of God in different ways.

If this miracle does reveal something about the glory of God, what is it? What do we learn about Jesus from this miracle?

18 thoughts on “John 9:1-2 – Who Sinned?

  1. On a personal note, this passage has been an encouragement to our family with the birth of our twins and the life of Brianna. ..”this happened so that the work of God could be displayed in [her] life.” Her deafness has been an opportunity for the gospel of grace to be proclaimed in several continents. But more importantly in her own life, she sees God working in her life as she gives Him the glory for how she is fearfully and wonderfully made. She is pursuing a medical career so that she can help others who are suffering.

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  2. Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    A professor of mine a while back referred to a rabbinic view that people could sin in the womb, but he did not refer to a specific reference. This post does.

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  3. I was never aware of the fact that people associated illness with sin. Growing up, I have had a sister that is hearing impaired and has a deformity in her arm. I have never known someone to consider the fact that she was born with those to be because of her sins or my parents. So to read Scripture and see that is how people used to think, and how some still do, is kind of intriguing to me.
    Seeing the story of the man born blind, Kostenberger says that “this notion of a tight cause-and-effect relationship between sin and suffering accorded with contemporary Jewish beliefs” (Kostenberger, 103). This belief was really prevalent during that time, to where even people that didn’t sin were afraid of what people would think, like with Hezekiah. It is also worth noting that Jesus truthfully and gracefully tells them that they are wrong, and that just because someone is sick or handicapped does not mean that it occurred because of their sin. Kostenberger says “we may not always know the reason for someone’s… suffering, and in the end it is not what is most important” (Kostenberger, 104). Who God decides to give illness and those he doesn’t is not dependent on how good we are, or how bad. Sometimes God gives us these things so that in the end, he will receive glory through our struggles.

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  4. it is so accurate to note that things like alcoholism naturally lead to health complications and have nothing to do with God. I never really gave thought to how much of Jewish culture really seemed to believe that sickness especially serious ones always came from God because of sin. obviously some illnesses in the Old testement did originate from God based on ones sin but that seems like it would be few and far between. what one can say is that because of the fall and the first sin illness is possible and happens due to that. but Jesus makes a statement that is against what everyone in his own culture believes and in this way he is showing us what it is to be counter cultural. we as Christians especially in a modern context should know better than to think that sickness is caused by sin. with the knowledge we know medically and what we know of Christ’s saving work it should there should be little to no doubt as to why sickness happens and the fact that it does not have anything to do with sin.

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  5. The Jews had the idea that any form of disease or illness was caused by sin. Although this believe is not biblical nor does scripture support this believe. A few occurrences of this are found in the Bible, but nothing supports this believe. “His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind (John 9:2).” Jesus response was No one sinned, this happened so that the works of God my be displayed in him (v.3). The miracle that Jesus performed was fulfilling what prophesies said about the coming Messiah. “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see (Isaiah 29:18).” Not only did the Jews believe that illnesses and diseases were caused by sins and transgressions. But they also believed that children in the womb could sin. How scary of a thought is that, that even unborn children could be born sinners. And because of that be born with a deformity or disease? Jesus’ disciples asked him who sinned the man or his parents because they wanted to know what caused him to be born blind. But instead of blaming the man or his parents or perhaps someone else Jesus responded that it’s no ones fault. But that it happened so that the power and glory of God be shown to this man. And those who saw him would know that it was God who healed him. So this can also be used to prove that the thought of people being born with diseases or deformities are a result from sin, isn’t true.

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  6. Several things could be learned through Jesus’s miracle of giving the blind man sight in John 9. I think one of the most obvious was that He was discrediting a universal belief between sin and suffering. The people in Jerusalem had the tendency to try and figure out the link between a man’s suffering and the sin associated with that suffering. However, Jesus wanted to break this norm that even his disciples believed in by healing this man of his blindness. According to Köstenberger, the miracle performed by Jesus was to show the world that one should not waste their time trying to figure out the root cause of suffering but to instead see those instances as opportunities for the work of God to be displayed on people (Köstenberger, 120). Nonetheless, the second learning outcome from Jesus comes from our class discussion on this miracle being a sign for the messianic age to come (P. Long). John was setting up Jesus’s narrative of the miracle to reference the account of Isaiah, where there were similarities between the language of the accounts. Isaiah 42:7 reads, “the eyes of the blind should be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” similar to what transpired in the miracle of John 9. Jesus’s miracle was aligned with Isaiah’s account by opening up the eyes of the blind man which gave us an idea of His true identity. An identity that supported his divine nature and His authority to do the Father works on His people.

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  7. Sin and sickness is, of course, commonly associated with each other, but I think this cause and effect relationship applies to other things as well. For example, even when life happens to take a turn for the worst and gives somebody bad or unfortunate circumstances, that person may assume God is “punishing them”. I have actually said something similar before, because frankly it is easy and seemingly logical to associate our circumstances with rewards and punishments. But God is not amused. Our circumstances are meant to bring us closer to God, never to distance us from Him. Kostenberger, in his analytical narrative, shows that the blind man in chapter nine of the Gospel of John, by the end of the story, actually develops faith in Jesus Christ. I would argue that perhaps, without his affliction of blindness, he would not have come to believe in Jesus Christ–for the power of God would not have been manifested in him. Christ even said it Himself: “It was not that this man sinner, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). In other words, Christ used this man’s sickness for good–to bring glory to God and, consequently, to bring salvation to the man. What a paradigm shifter! Instead of thinking God is punishing us when our circumstances or health is poor, we ought to remember that God is using these circumstances to bring us closer to Himself. More specifically, He is using all of our experiences for good, as is stated by Paul the apostle in the book of Romans.

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    • I agree that we often look at our lives as a circumstance of rewards and punishments, as that is how we are trained. When we do good, we get something, and when we do bad we get something taken away. This is not the same method that God is using in our lives. Like you said sin and sickness are not a cause and effect relationship, although it can often seem this way. In the short term it may seem like God is doing harm to us, or that He is simply not taking care of us, but God has a greater plan than what we see on the surface. The blind man lived his whole life not being able to see, not being able to go into the Temple to worship because of this. This sickness affected his whole life, and I’m sure if he is anything like me he probably would have been upset that he had to live his life that way, and maybe wondered why it had to happen to him. But God had a plan all along, before he was even born. Not only was his life affected when he gained his sight, but those around him were able to see this miracle as well. There is going to be great struggles in our life, and they may drag on long enough where we are not getting to see the positive plan that God has. But we need to remember that it may not always be us that is going to be affected.

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  8. The idea that someone’s sin would lead to an illness seems like a strange concept these days, but seeing the context that the Jewish people had, it is not a far stretch to jump to this conclusion. The disciples ask Jesus if it was the man himself or if it was his parents that sinned that made him blind from birth. They are assuming that a sin has taken place, and this is the result of that sin. Jesus, however, tells them that this man was not blind due to a sin that had taken place; but rather He tells them that this man was blind so that the power of who God is might be shown through him (John 9:3). Here Jesus is revolutionizing the thought process of who he is, sin, and illness. Due to the fact that there are several times in the Old Testament people were struck with illnesses when they disobeyed God did not mean that this was something that would always be the case when someone was ill. Illness is not a tell-tale sign of how someone is doing in their spiritual life. Instead Jesus uses this man’s blindness to show that He is the light of the world. There is nothing that the man or his parents did to cause this blindness. God created him this way so that he would have the opportunity to heal him, bringing him from the darkness into the light. In this He is revealing His true nature of being the light that will save to everyone who is in the dark.

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  9. Things happen in the world. Some may be good and some may be bad. Originally I believe that sometimes the reason that bad things happen is because of our sin. Not particularly that we are being punished, but rather that it is the worldly consequence of our sin. God does not purposefully do bad things to us because we disobeyed, but rather sometimes He just does not stop the bad consequences that happen upon us because of His overall purpose. Through the bad and through the pain, we can grow more as a person. We feel more, we see more, and we understand more. When others are suffering, I do not see it is a fault because they sinned, but rather it is a learning point in their life whether or not to give up, or to trust more in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5 tells us this as it says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” (NIV). When we trust in God, He will lead us. Even in our suffering and pain, we must trust in Him because He has a plan for our lives. We just need to learn to be humble and learn that our suffering can sometimes open up other opportunities. But overall, what Kostenberger has to say is important and that is,”the application is evident: we may not always know the reason for someone’s-including our own- suffering, and in the end this is now what is most important,” (Kostenberger, 104). We may never understand why we suffer, but we just need to trust God and understand that He has an overall plan.

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  10. I always believed that bad things happened for a reason, and there is a reason, just not one reason across the board for all sins like Judaism would tend to believe. Romans 14:12 says “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God”. God is going to deal with our sins at some point in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that He is going to give us an illness or generational curse because of what we have done. I like when Jesus says in verses 3-5 that the man was born blind so that God’s power would be on display for all to see. This is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and trying to apply to my life daily. There are always going to be bad things that are going to happen in our lives, and the lives of those we love, and sometimes they will not be able to be explained. Jesus was able to make this man who had been blind sense birth see the light, and at the same time showing He is the light of the world. Kostenberger p103 says, “Just as Jesus turns out to be the Light of the world by fulfilling the symbolism…he proves to be the Light of the world by giving sight to the blind man”. What a better way to introduce to the world that He is the Light of the world, than integrating giving a blind man sight into his message.

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  11. How unfortunate would it be if our health was dependent on how our ancestors sinned? Likely the majority of us would not be in such great health. However, the Jews believed that sin and illnesses were connected, either you or someone in your family had sinned before you and that is the reason why you have ‘xyz’ disease. Jesus denies sin as being the reason why the man was born blind, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (John 9:3) Jesus tells them that the man was born blind so that God may someday display his power in him and heal him. Ironically, my pastor mentioned this passage during his sermon this past Sunday and talked about how he did not like the English translation of this because if read incorrectly it can be used to say things like “Oh you got cancer because God is going to do a miracle on you, or your child has this illness because God is going to use him to show his power in a miracle.” Sometimes I do wonder if we lose the real meaning of the Word in the midst of language translations and Bible translations. Did Jesus really mean that God makes people born with illnesses so that he can someday heal them to show his power or does it mean something entirely different?

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  12. I really like this passage because it shows that just because someone is sick does not mean that someone in your family or even you sinned. I remember when I had a rare form of leukemia, and some people asked my parents what they do in their past to make me have cancer. they knew that that was not the reason I had cancer because everyone sins, so if that were the case everyone would be sick with cancer, and thats not the case. the truth is that bad things happen, and it’s not because God is punishing us, things just happen. I think that it is really sad that some people still live this way thinking that they have neck ache because God is mad at them.

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  13. It is interesting how back then, people thought that it was a persons individual sin or the sin from the ones who raise the person, that a disease would be be given. They shifted the blame to the person suffering and/or their parents.
    I used to believe that that way of thinking only happened in bible times, but as I thought about it, I realized that we do this today, but just with different language.

    I have a friend that is sick a lot and she gets people coming up to her all the time asking her if their is anything in her life that she needs to cast out or ask for forgives for from God.
    People have also asked her to go through her generational line and ask God to forgive them.
    I have seen how this has warn her down with trying to figure out what she has done wrong.
    I know how much she loves God and has such a pure heart, but more than that, God does not give us pain or disease- the enemy does.

    Reading this passage gives me hope for her because now I see that God can use this sickness in her life for His glory!
    I let may be a long process, but God is faithful to the end!

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  14. In today’s society we aren’t far off form what people believed in the days of Scripture; when a child becomes sick or a young adult often times medical researchers will look at family history or what the child has been exposed to. Most times, they blame the family health history for the child’s problem. For example if a child is around smoke, and then they are diagnosed with lung cancer the doctors assume they developed this because of second hand smoke. Just as in Scripture where they blamed the parents for sinning and that is why their child received the curse of illness. But the difference is that medication, and research have come so far we rely on that rather than the healing powers of the Lord. I believe that the Glory of God us used as a tool in this aspect of Scripture to follow the theme of John of doing the impossible by using the healing power from the Father that was given to Christ so that the man could finally see. But, it was also used to show people that Jesus is the messiah and He can do what others cannot. We learn that Jesus, believes and says that all illness is used to display God’s glory; which I firmly believe is correct, today if all fully believed in the healing powers of Christ we’d be able to see a bigger movement in the kingdom and more people coming to Christ.

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