18. Healing Blindness (John 9:1-41)

Audio (24:34)

Harold Copping (1863-1932), 'At the Pool of Siloam' (watercolor illustration)
Harold Copping (1863-1932), 'At the Pool of Siloam' (watercolor illustration)
John's account of the healing of the man born blind is certainly a sign, for it points to Jesus the Healer and Light of the World. At the same time as it contrasts physical blindness that can be healed, with spiritual blindness that cannot.

Jesus has just left the temple grounds at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles (8:59), if we can assume a continuity between chapters 8 and 9..

The Man Born Blind (9:1)

"As he went along[105], he saw a man blind[106] from birth.[107]" (9:1)

The blind man may have been in the custom of asking for alms near the gate to the temple (Acts 3:2), so that people in a merciful mood might drop a coin or two in his hands. Almsgiving towards the poor was a command (Deuteronomy 15:8, 11) that would be rewarded by God himself (Matthew 6:2-4).

This man is specifically identified as one who was "blind from birth." How did they know this? We're not sure, but perhaps because of his relatively young age. (His parents were still living, we're told later in the story.) Those nearby who knew the man might have shared this information as well.

Sin and Sickness (9:2-3)

Seeing a young man with no sight caused Jesus' disciples to wonder aloud the cause. Why, Lord? They were curious. They assumed that his blindness was a result of sin, but since he was young, they wondered if it might have been his parents' sin that caused it, not his. So they asked their rabbi -- Jesus.

2  His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'
3  'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed[108] in his life.'" (9:2-3)

Jesus' answer makes it clear that in this case his affliction wasn't because of someone's sin, but because God had a larger purpose in it, that "the work of God might be displayed in his life" (9:3).

It is clear in Scripture that sometimes afflictions do come as a result of sin (1 Corinthians 11:30; Psalm 38:3; James 5:16). This may have been the case in the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:14). But Job's afflictions weren't the result of sin -- even though his "friends" were insistent that Job's sin was the cause (Job 1:11-12).

Q1. (John 9:1-3) Is sin always the cause of sickness or affliction? What are some of the good results that come out of the sicknesses and afflictions of godly people?

I Am the Light of the World (9:4-5)

Seeing the blind man, Jesus speaks of light and darkness -- perhaps with the idea that the eyes are the portals of light to the body (Matthew 6:22-23).

"4  As long as it is day, we[109] must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (9:4-5)

Does the phrase "night is coming" forebode the coming of the evil one? I don't think so. If that were the case, the disciples themselves wouldn't be able to work after Jesus left them. It is probably another way of speaking of Jesus death.

Jesus is saying simply that we must do God's works while we have opportunity, because the time will come when we won't be able to do them any longer. It is a word to motivate those of us who feel too busy (or too selfish) to fulfill our calling. Don't put off for later what you can do today!

Spreading Mud on the Man's Eyes (9:6-7)

Now John describes the healing in a few short words.

"6  Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put[110] it on the man's eyes. 7  'Go,' he told him, 'wash[111] in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing." (9:6-7)

mikveh, a bath or pool used for ritual immersion for ceremonial cleansing.

Are we to see this as some kind of medicinal poultice applied to heal blindness? Some point to the fact that saliva was thought to possess medicinal qualities in Hellenism and Judaism. Jesus himself uses saliva in two additional healings -- of a dumb man (Mark 7:33) and another blind man (Mark 8:23). But beyond those incidents, Jesus isn't depicted as a physician resorting to natural medicines, but as a miracle-worker. Certainly, whatever natural medicinal properties that might be thought to be in saliva were not believed by the people of Jesus' day to cure a man born blind! Healing a man born blind had never happened in recorded Jewish history!

Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus
Location of the Pool of Siloam, south of the temple. Larger map

Why does Jesus use saliva and mud on this occasion? Why does he sometimes lay on hands for healing (Luke 4:40; Mark 6:5), and other times just speak the word of command (Matthew 8:5-13) or cast out a demon (Matthew 17:18)? Why does he put his fingers in deaf ears (Mark 7:33)? Why does he encourage his disciples to anoint with oil for healing (Mark 6:13)? We can see no fixed pattern to the forms of Jesus' healing ministry. He listens to the Father (John 5:19, 30), and then acts as he is led. His guidance from the Father is both in his message and the manner in which it is communicated (12:49). Jesus is our example in this. We minister as he leads us.

Notice that since the healing wasn't instantaneous, the blind man never actually saw Jesus, but only knew his name (9:11). He went to the Pool of Siloam and washed off the mud "and came home seeing" (9:7b). Perhaps this was a healing in which Jesus sought to have the blind man exercise his own faith in obedience. We see this in the case of healing the ten lepers whom he told to go and show themselves to the priests. We read, "and as they went, they were cleansed" (Luke 17:14)..

John indicates the derivation of the name Siloam as meaning "sent." Perhaps he is making the point that the man was healed because he was "sent" to wash in the pool; the healing didn't just happen by itself.

Q2. (John 9:6). Why do you think Jesus healed in different ways? Laying on of hands, command, mud on eyes, fingers in ears, etc.? How much do you think was at his Father's direction (5:19, 30; 12:49). Why is it important to seek God's guidance in how we should minister to a person?

The Man Tells His Story to His Neighbors (9:8-12)

The healed man didn't return to where Jesus was, but went home. He must have caused a real stir in his neighborhood!

"8  His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, 'Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?' 9  Some claimed that he was. Others said, 'No, he only looks like him.'
But he himself insisted, 'I am the man.'
10  'How then were your eyes opened?' they demanded.
11  He replied, 'The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.'
12  'Where is this man?' they asked him.
'I don't know,' he said." (9:8-12)

The miracle was so great that some of his neighbors didn't believe he could be the same man they saw begging. But he told them, "I am the man," and related the story of how it happened.

The Pharisees Interrogate the Man (9:13-17)

"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind." (9:13)

It wasn't right to hide this miracle of healing, so his neighbors or parents brought him before the local religious authorities -- after all, it was a religious healing. There is no indication here that his neighbors were trying to get Jesus in trouble, but just tell others of the wonderful thing God had done.

However, where the neighbors saw a miracle, the Pharisees saw a serious infraction of the Sabbath laws prohibiting kneading and healing on the holy day.

"14  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. 'He put mud on my eyes,' the man replied, 'and I washed, and now I see.'
16  Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.' But others asked, 'How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?' So they were divided." (9:14-16)

Some of the Pharisees were so focused on the Sabbath infraction that they couldn't see the miracle. But others (apparently a minority, because they didn't prevail) stated the obvious -- that a sinner couldn't perform such an amazing healing. Jesus must be from God!

Since they couldn't come to a consensus, they asked the healed man what he thought about the man who healed him.

"Finally they turned again to the blind man, 'What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.'
The man replied, 'He is a prophet.'" (9:17)

The formerly blind man gave his healer the highest office he knew, that of a prophet. But that wasn't what Jesus' enemies wanted to hear.

The Pharisees Interrogate the Parents (9:18-23)

The majority of the Pharisees (now referred to as "the Jews"[112]), didn't believe that such a miracle could have really taken place.

"18  The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. 19  'Is this your son?' they asked. 'Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?'
20  'We know he is our son,' the parents answered, 'and we know he was born blind.
21  But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.'
22  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23  That was why his parents said, 'He is of age; ask him.' (9:18-23)

Notice how careful the parents are! They don't want to cross the dangerous Pharisees. So they affirm that the healed man is their son and was born blind, but offer no opinion on his healer. "Ask him. He will speak for himself."

You would expect most parents to be ecstatic about their blind son being healed. You'd think they'd be ready to tell everyone far and wide this wonderful thing that had happened.

But they are just poor people -- so poor that they allowed their son to beg. They know they are no match for the leaders who have already made up their minds to excommunicate anyone who claims Jesus to be the Messiah. So they clam up. They are afraid. What would happen to them if they were excluded from their own religious community and shunned by friends? Don't get involved! Say as little as possible!

The Pharisees Re-Interrogate the Healed Man (9:24-34)

His parents are fearful, but the healed man is not! He may be uneducated, but he is not afraid. The authorities summon him again to appear before them.

"A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. 'Give glory to God,' they said. 'We know this man is a sinner.'" (9:24)

These are not fair judges seeking truth. They have already reached a conclusion. Now they are seeking evidence so they can accuse their enemy Jesus. They weren't able to stone him in the temple (8:59; cf. 10:31-32). Perhaps they can find cause to indict him for healing on the Sabbath.

"Give glory to God" may mean either, "God deserves the glory for this healing, not Jesus who just put mud on your eyes," or, perhaps, "Know that God sees you, so give him due honor by speaking the truth."[113]

They must have asked the healed man again about his healer. Admit that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath! they insist.

"He replied, 'Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'" (9:25)

The formerly blind man isn't going to be trapped into saying Jesus is a sinner. He states his testimony, unshakable in its simplicity: "One thing I know. I was blind but now I see."

"26  Then they asked him, 'What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?'
27  He answered, 'I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?'" (9:26-27)

The Pharisees ask the same questions again, trying to bully the man into saying something against Jesus. But he isn't intimidated. Rather, he has an "attitude." He accuses the Pharisees of not listening the first time and, dripping with sarcasm, suggests that maybe they are inquiring again because of spiritual interest in becoming Jesus' disciples. He knows that they are not impartial judges!

"28  Then they hurled insults at him and said, 'You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from.'" (9:28-29)

They respond to his sarcasm by insulting their witness. But they say too much: "We don't know where he comes from" (9:29b). That is their problem. They see him as a nobody, an upstart; they are so blind that they are unwilling to see that he has been sent to them by God Himself!

The once-blind man, unlearned but bold, can't resist pointing out their lack of logic -- still with great sarcasm.

"30  The man answered, 'Now that is remarkable![114] You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.'" (9:30-33)

Here's the man's flawless logic:

  1. Jesus healed my eyes.
  2. God doesn't listen to sinners (so Jesus can't be a sinner).
  3. This is an unheard of miracle -- opening the eyes of a man born blind -- not some common kind of healing that you might explain away.
  4. If Jesus isn't from God, he couldn't do such a miracle.
  5. (Therefore Jesus is from God!)

They don't attempt to answer his clear logic, rather they pull rank on him. They're the authorities, not he!

"To this they replied, 'You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture[115] us!' And they threw him out." (9:34)

They insult him as "steeped in sin at birth" (as proved by his blindness from birth) and unlearned, therefore not qualified to offer an opinion. No matter that the man's opinion makes great sense, while their opinion makes no sense at all.

"They threw him out," probably means they excommunicated him from the synagogue.

Jesus Reveals Himself to the Healed Man (9:35-38)

The once-blind man has been cut off from his faith because he challenged the bigotry of the Jewish leaders. He is healed now, but alone. He is being persecuted for Jesus' sake, because he will not cooperate with the corrupt leaders who are seeking to destroy his Healer. Jesus seeks him out.

"35  Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?'
36  'Who is he, sir?' the man asked. 'Tell me so that I may believe in him.'
37  Jesus said, 'You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.'
38  Then the man said, 'Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped him." (9:35-38)

The man has been thrown out of his synagogue, but he is more than ready to believe. Jesus finds him and asks him if he believes in "the Son of Man" (a reading that has stronger attestation than "the Son of God" as in the KJV).[116] The man eagerly asks for more information and Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. Immediately, the man confesses his faith and kneels or prostrates himself before him in an act of worship.[117]

It's interesting to watch the progression of faith in this once-blind man. He moves from one who hardly knows of Jesus to a worshipper.

  1. "The man called Jesus..." (9:11a).
  2. "He is a prophet" (9:17c).
  3. He is one who does God's will (9:31b).
  4. He worshipped him (9:38b).

Q3. (John 9:35-38) Why did Jesus go looking for the man he had healed? What was the healed man's level of openness? His level of faith? His knowledge? What did he need at this point? What people do you know who are so ready that they just need some guidance in how to believe in Jesus?

Judgment on the Spiritually Blind (9:39-41)

The healed man's interview with Jesus is probably private. But later, in public, Jesus reflects on the irony of his role.

"Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'" (9:39)

"Judgment" is krima. Here it refers to "the judicial decision which consists in the separation of those who are willing to believe from those who are unwilling to do so."[118] By his very presence as Light, Jesus becomes a polarizing figure -- attracting those who are seeking God and repelling those who wish retain their own way of life while denying the obvious truth that stares them in the face. Those who turn from the Light are truly blind.

Jesus' words, "So that the blind will see," reflects Isaiah's prophecies that the blind would be healed in the Messianic Age:

"In that day ... out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see." (Isaiah 29:18)

"Then will the eyes of the blind be opened...." (Isaiah 35:5; cf. 42:7)

Indeed, healing the blind was one of the signs of his Messiahship that he communicated to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:4-6).

Because they do not want to believe, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders become fixed in their blindness. How sad! There are many like them today who are blind to Jesus because they know their lives would need to change if they believed in him. Such people "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18).

The Pharisees rightly perceived that Jesus' ironic statement was directed at them.

"39 Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'
40  Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, 'What? Are we blind too?'
41  Jesus said, 'If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'" (9:39-41)

A person who professes ignorance along with a willingness to learn is not guilty. But one who claims to see and is unwilling to learn is indeed guilty. As the writer of Proverbs observed:

"Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him." (Proverbs 26:12)

It is clear from Jesus' words that you and I are responsible for the knowledge we do have and for rightly interpreting what we see. When we turn a blind eye to truth, it is a serious and dangerous action.

Spiritual Blindness Today

One of the paradoxes of John's Gospel is that people see miracles with their own eyes, but don't "connect the dots." Spiritual blindness was present in Jeremiah's day as well as in our own.

"To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.
The word of the LORD is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it." (Jeremiah 6:10)

The Pharisees are a reminder to us that not everyone can "see" and "hear" Jesus. Only those who have eyes to see (Revelation 3:18) and ears to hear (Luke 8:8; 14:35; Mark 8:18; Revelation 2:7, 11). Spiritual blindness is a curse of the devil.

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

But at the same time, according to Jesus, we are responsible for our hard hearts:

"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (9:41)

God, have mercy on us all!

Q4. (John 9:39-41) Were the Pharisees responsible for their hard hearts and spiritual blindness? According to 2 Corinthians 4:4, what causes spiritual blindness? Was Pharaoh responsible for his hardness of heart? (see Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34; 10:3; 13:15; 1 Samuel 6:6).

Lessons for Disciples

John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

The story of the healing of the man born blind has a number of lessons for Jesus' disciples to learn.

  1. Sickness and affliction are not necessarily the result of someone's sin. Sometimes it is so that God may be glorified (9:1-3).
  2. Jesus' method of healing varied -- he didn't always heal the same way (9:6). No doubt he sought the Father about whom he should heal and the particular method in each case (5:19, 30; 12:49).
  3. Some people refuse to commit themselves to Christ out of fear of how others might react to it (9:22; cf. 12:42).
  4. Some people are just waiting to know how to put their trust in the Lord -- like the man who was healed (9:35-38). All they need is some guidance.
  5. Some unbelievers are not seeking, but have their minds already made up. They are set in their spiritual blindness (9:39-41).


Father, I am grieved at the spiritual blindness I see in some of my loved ones. I pray for them that you will "grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25). Lord, have mercy on our world. Send revival to us and sweep many into your Kingdom, I pray. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verses

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:3, NIV)

"Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25, NIV)

"Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?' 'Who is he, sir?' the man asked. 'Tell me so that I may believe in him.' Jesus said, 'You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.' Then the man said, 'Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped him." (John 9:35-38, NIV)

"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41, NIV)


[105] "Went along" (NIV), "walked along" (NRSV), "passed by" (ESV, KJV) is paragō, either (1) "to move along and so leave a position, go away" or (3) "to go past a reference point, pass by" (BDAG 761, 1 and 3).

[106] "Blind" is typhlos, "pertaining to being unable to see, blind" (BDAG 1021, 1a).

[107] "Birth" is genetē, "coming into being through birth, birth" (BDAG 193).

[108] "Be displayed" (NIV, ESV), "be revealed" (NRSV), "made manifest" (KJV) is phaneroō, here, passive, "become public knowledge, be disclosed, become known" (BDAG 1048, 2aβ).

[109] KJV "I must do" vs. more recent translations "we must do" is difficult. Metzger (Textual Commentary, p. 227) sees "somewhat superior external support" for "we," and a slightly higher probability that copyists would have altered "we" to "I" than vice versa. The Committee adopts "we" but gives it a {D} "doubtful" rating.

[110] "Put it on" (NIV), "spread" (NRSV), "anointed" (KJV) is epichriō, "to apply a viscous substance, anoint, spread/smear (on)," from epi-, "upon" + chriō, "anoint" (BDAG 387).

[111] "Wash" is niptō, "to cleanse with use of water, wash," here, in the middle voice, "wash oneself," also 9:11ab (BDAG 674, 1bα).

[113] See Morris, John, p. 490.

[114] "Remarkable" (NIV), "astonishing/amazing/marvelous thing" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is thaumastos, "pertaining to being a cause of wonder or worthy of amazement, wonderful, marvelous, remarkable" (BDAG 445).

[115] "Lecture" (NIV), "teach" (NRSV, KJV) is didaskō, "to tell someone what to do, tell, instruct" (BDAG 241, 1).

[116] Most early manuscripts read "Son of Man" (p66,75 Aleph B L W syrs copsa,bo,ach,fa), though some read "Son of God" (A L Θ Ψ f1,13 Byzantine). "The external support for anthrōpou is so weighty, and the improbability of thou being altered to anthrōpou is so great, that the Committee regarded the reading adopted for the text as virtually certain," with an {A} level of certainty (Metzger, Textual Commentary, pp. 228-229).

[117] "Worshiped" is proskyneō, "to express in attitude or gesture one's complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully" (BDAG 882, a).

[118] Krima, BDAG 567, 6.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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