John 9:1-2 – Who Sinned?

A Blind ManWhile 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.

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?

4 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.

    Like

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