Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
As Jesus passed by - As he was leaving the temple, Joh 8:59. This man was in the way in which Jesus was going to escape from the Jews.
Master, who did sin? ... - It was a universal opinion among the Jews that calamities of all kinds were the effects of sin. See the notes at Luk 13:1-4. The case, however, of this man was that of one that was blind from his birth, and it was a question which the disciples could not determine whether it was his fault or that of his parents. Many of the Jews, as it appears from their writings (see Lightfoot), believed in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls; or that the soul of a man, in consequence of sin, might be compelled to pass into other bodies, and be punished there. They also believed that an infant might sin before it was born (see Lightfoot), and that consequently this blindness might have come upon the child as a consequence of that. It was also a doctrine with many that the crime of the parent might be the cause of deformity in the child, particularly the violation of the command in Lev 20:18.
Neither hath this man sinned ... - That is, his blindness is not the effect of his sin, or that of his parents. Jesus did not, evidently, mean to affirm that he or his parents were without any sin, but that this blindness was not the effect of sin. This answer is to be interpreted by the nature of the question submitted to him. The sense is, "his blindness is not to be traced to any fault of his or of his parents."
But that the works of God - This thing has happened that it might appear how great and wonderful are the works of God. By the works of God, here, is evidently intended the miraculous power which God would put forth to heal the man, or rather, perhaps, the whole that happened to him in the course of divine providence first his blindness, as an act of his providence, and then his healing him, as an act of mercy and power. It has all happened, not by the fault of his parents or of himself, but by the wise arrangement of God, that it might be seen in what way calamities come, and in what way God meets and relieves them. And from this we may learn:
1. To pity and not to despise and blame those who are afflicted with any natural deformity or calamity. While the Jews regarded it as the effect of sin, they looked upon it without compassion. Jesus tells us that it is not the fault of man, but proceeds from the wise arrangement of God.
2. All suffering in the world is not the effect of sin. In this case it is expressly so declared; and there may be many modes of suffering that cannot be traced to any particular transgression. We should be cautious, therefore, in affirming that there can be no calamity in the universe but by transgression.
3. We see the wise and wonderful arrangement of Divine Providence. It is a part of his great plan to adapt his mercies to the woes of men: and often calamity, want, poverty, and sickness are permitted, that he may show the provisions of his mercy, that he may teach us to prize his blessings, and that deep-felt gratitude for deliverance may bind us to him.
4. Those who are afflicted with blindness, deafness, or any deformity, should be submissive to God. It is his appointment, and is right and best. God does no wrong, and the universe will, when all his works are seen, feel and know that he is just.
The works of him ... - The works of beneficence and mercy which God has commissioned me to do, and which are expressive of his goodness and power. This was on the Sabbath day Joh 9:14; and though Jesus had endangered his life (John 5:1-16 by working a similar miracle on the Sabbath, yet he knew that this was the will of God that he should do good, and that he would take care of his life.
While it is day - The day is the proper time for work - night is not. This is the general, the universal sentiment. While the day lasts it is proper to labor. The term "day" here refers to the life of Jesus, and to the opportunity thus afforded of working miracles. His life was drawing to a close. It was probably but about six months after this when he was put to death. The meaning is, My life is near its close. While it continues I must employ it in doing the works which God has appointed.
The night cometh - Night here represents death. It was drawing near, and he must therefore do what he had to do soon. It is not improbable, also, that this took place near the close of the Sabbath, as the sun was declining, and the shades of evening about to appear. This supposition will give increased beauty to the language which follows.
No man can work - It is literally true that day is the appropriate time for toil, and that the night of death is a time when nothing can be done. Ecc 9:10; "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave." From this we may learn:
1. that it is our duty to employ all our time in doing the will of God.
2. that we should seek for opportunities of doing good, and suffer none to pass without improving it. We go but once through the world, and we cannot return to correct errors, and recall neglected opportunities of doing our duty.
3. We should be especially diligent in doing our Lord's work from the fact that the night of death is coming. This applies to the aged, for they must soon die; and to the young, for they may soon be called away from this world to eternity.
As long as I am in the world ... - As the sun is the natural light of the world, even while it sinks away to the west, so am I, although my days are drawing to a close, the light of the spiritual world. What a sublime description is this! Jesus occupied the same place, filled the same space, shed his beams as far, in the moral world, as the sun does on natural objects; and as all is dark when that sun sinks to the west, so when he withdraws from the souls of men all is midnight and gloom. When we look on the sun in the firmament or in the west, let us remember that such is the great Sun of Righteousness in regard to our souls; that his shining is as necessary, and his beams as mild and lovely on the soul, as is the shining of the natural sun to illumine the material creation. See the notes at Joh 1:4.
And made clay ... - Two reasons may be assigned for making this clay, and anointing the eyes with it. One is, that the Jews regarded spittle as medicinal to the eyes when diseased, and that they forbade the use of medicines on the Sabbath. They regarded the Sabbath so strictly that they considered the preparation and use of medicines as contrary to the law. Especially it was particularly forbidden among them to use spittle on that day to heal diseased eyes. See instances in Lightfoot. Jesus, therefore, by making this spittle, showed them that their manner of keeping the day was superstitious, and that he dared to do a thing which they esteemed unlawful. He showed that their interpretation of the law of the Sabbath was contrary to the intention of God, and that his disciples were not bound by their notions of the sacredness of that day. Another reason may have been that it was common for prophets to use some symbolical or expressive action in working miracles. Thus, Elisha commanded his staff to be laid on the face of the child that he was about to restore to life, Kg2 4:29. Compare the notes at Isa 8:18. In such instances the prophet showed that the miracle was performed by power communicated through him; so, in this case, Jesus by this act showed to the blind man that the power of healing came from him who anointed his eyes. He could not see him, and the act of anointing convinced him of what might have been known without such an act, could he have seen him that Jesus had power to give sight to the blind.
Wash in the pool - In the fountains.
Of Siloam - See the notes at Luk 13:4.
By interpretation, Sent - From the Hebrew verb to send perhaps because it was regarded as a blessing sent or given by God. Why Jesus sent him to wash there is not known. It is clear that the waters had no efficacy themselves to open the eyes of a blind man, but it is probable that he directed him to go there to test his obedience, and to see whether he was disposed to obey him in a case where he could not see the reason of it. An instance somewhat similar occurs in the case of Naaman, the Syrian leper, Kg2 5:10. The proud Syrian despised the direction; the tremble blind man obeyed and was healed. This case shows us that we should obey the commands of God, however unmeaning or mysterious they may appear. God has always a reason for all that he directs us to do, and our faith and willingness to obey him are often tried when we can see little of the reason of his requirements. In the first edition of these notes it was remarked that the word Siloam is from the same verb as Shiloh in Gen 49:10. "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah - until Shiloh (that is, the Sent of God: the Messiah) come," and that John in this remark probably had reference to this prophecy. This was incorrect: and there is no evidence that John in this passage had reference to that prophecy, or that this fountain was emblematic of the Messiah. The original words Siloam and Shiloh are from different roots and mean different things. The former, Siloam שׁלח Shiloach, is derived from שׁלה shaalach (to send); the latter, Shiloh שׁילה Shiyloh, means rest or quiet, and was given to the Messiah, probably, because he would bring rest that is, he would be the "prince of peace." Compare Isa 9:6.
The neighbours ... - This man seems to have been one who attracted considerable attention. The number of persons totally blind in any community is very small, and it is possible that this was the only blind beggar in Jerusalem. The case was one, therefore, likely to attract attention, and one where there could be no imposture, as he was generally known.
To the Pharisees - To the members of the Sanhedrin. They did this, doubtless, to accuse Jesus of having violated the Sabbath, and not, as they ought to have done, to examine into the evidence that he was from God.
The Pharisees asked him how ... - The proper question to have been asked in the case was whether he had in fact done it, and not in what way. The question, also, about a sinner's conversion is whether in fact it has been done, and not about the mode or manner in which it is effected; yet it is remarkable that no small part of the disputes and inquiries among men are about the mode in which the Spirit renews the heart, and not about the evidence that it is done.
This man is not of God - Is not sent by God, or cannot be a friend of God.
Because he keepeth not the sabbath-day - They assumed that their views of the Sabbath were correct, and by those views they judged others. It did not occur to them to inquire whether the interpretation which they put on the law might not be erroneous. Men often assume their own interpretations of the Scriptures to be infallible, and then judge and condemn all others by those interpretations.
A sinner - A deceiver; an impostor. They reasoned conclusively that God would not give the power of working such miracles to an impostor. The miracles were such as could not be denied, nor did even the enemies of Jesus attempt to deny them or to explain them away. They were open, public, frequent. And this shows that they could not deny their reality. Had it been possible, they would have done it; but the reality and power of those miracles had already made a party in favor of Jesus, even in the Sanhedrin Joh 7:50; Joh 12:42, and those opposed to them could not deny their reality. It may be added that the early opponents of Christianity never denied the reality of the miracles performed by the Savior and his apostles. Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian - as acute foes of the gospel as perhaps have ever lived - never call this in question. They attempted to show that it was by some evil influence, or to account for the miracles in some other way than by admitting the divine origin of the Christian religion, but about the facts they had no question. Were they not as well qualified to judge about those facts as men are now? They lived near the time; had every opportunity to examine the evidence; were skilful and talented disputants; and if they could have denied the reality of the miracles they would have done it. It is scarcely possible to conceive of more conclusive proof that those miracles were really performed, and, if so, then the Lord Jesus was sent by God.
A division - Greek, "A schism." A separation into two parties.
What sayest thou of him? ... - The translation here expresses the sense obscurely. The meaning is, "What sayest thou of him for giving thee sight?" (Campbell); or, "What opinion of him hath this work of power and mercy to thee wrought in thee?" (Hammond).
He is a prophet - That is "I think that the power to work such a miracle proves that he is sent from God. And though this has been done on the Sabbath, yet it proves that he must have been sent by God, for such a power could never have proceeded from man." We see here:
1. A noble confession made by the man who was healed, in the face of the rulers of the people, and when he doubtless knew that they were opposed to Jesus. We should never be ashamed, before any class of men, to acknowledge the favors which we have received from Christ, and to express our belief of his power and of the truth of his doctrine.
2. The works of Jesus were such as to prove that he came from God, however much he may have appeared to oppose the previous notions of men, the interpretation of the law by the Pharisees, or the deductions of reason. People should yield their own views of religion to the teachings of God, and believe that he that could open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead was fitted to declare his will.
Is this your son? ... - The Pharisees proposed three questions to the parents, by which they hoped to convict the man of falsehood:
1. Whether he was their son?
2. Whether they would affirm that he was born blind? and,
3. Whether they knew by what means he now saw?
They evidently intended to intimidate the parents, so that they might give an answer to one of these questions that would convict the man of deception. We see here the art to which men will resort rather than admit the truth. Had they been half as much disposed to believe on Jesus as they were to disbelieve, there would have been no difficulty in the case. And so with all men: were they as much inclined to embrace the truth as they are to reject it, there would soon be an end of cavils.
His parents answered ... - To the first two questions they answered without hesitation. They knew that he was their son, and that he was born blind. The third question they could not positively answer, as they had not witnessed the means of the cure, and were afraid to express their belief. It appears that they had themselves no doubt, but they were not eye-witnesses, and could not be therefore legal evidence.
He is of age - He is of sufficient age to give testimony. Among the Jews this age was fixed at thirteen years.
If any man did confess that he was Christ - Did acknowledge that he was the Messiah. They had prejudged the case, and were determined to put down all free inquiry, and not to be convinced by any means.
Put out of the synagogue - This took place in the temple, or near the temple. It does not refer, therefore, to any immediate and violent putting forth from the place where they were. It refers to excommunication from the synagogue. Among the Jews there were two grades of excommunication; the one for lighter offences, of which they mentioned 24 causes; the other for greater offences. The first excluded a man for 30 days from the privilege of entering a synagogue, and from coming nearer to his wife or friends than 4 cubits. The other was a solemn exclusion forever from the worship of the synagogue, attended with awful maledictions and curses, and an exclusion from all contact with the people. This was called the curse, and so thoroughly excluded the person from all communion whatever with his countrymen, that they were not allowed to sell to him anything, even the necessaries of life (Buxtorf). It is probable that this latter punishment was what they intended to inflict if anyone should confess that Jesus was the Messiah: and it was the fear of this terrible punishment that deterred his parents from expressing their opinion.
Give God the praise - This expression seems to be a form of administering an oath. It is used in Jos 7:19, when Achan was put on his oath and entreated to confess his guilt. Joshua said, "My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel (in the Greek of the Septuagint, the very expression used in John, 'Give God the praise'), and make confession unto him." It is equivalent to an adjuration in the presence of God to acknowledge the truth; as the truth would be giving God praise, confessing the case before him, and trusting to his mercy. Compare Sa1 6:5 The meaning here is not "give God praise for healing you," for they were not willing to admit that he had been cured Joh 9:18, but confess that there is imposture in the case; that you have declared to us a falsehood, that you have endeavored to impose on us; and by thus confessing your sin, give praise and honor to God, who condemns all imposture and falsehood, and whom you will thus acknowledge to be right in your condemnation. To induce him to do this, they added that they knew, or were satisfied that Jesus was a sinner. As they considered that point settled, they urged him to confess that he had attempted to impose on them.
We know - We have settled that. He has broken the Sabbath, and that leaves no doubt.
A sinner - A violator of the law respecting the Sabbath, and an impostor. See Joh 9:16.
Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not - The man had just said that he believed Jesus to be a prophet, Joh 9:17. By his saying that he did not know whether he was a sinner may be meant that though he might be a prophet, yet that he might not be perfect; or that it did not become him, being an obscure and unlearned man, to attempt to determine that question. What follows shows that he did not believe that he was a sinner, and these words were probably spoken in irony to deride the Pharisees. They were perverse and full of cavils, and were determined not to believe. The man reminded them that the question was not whether Jesus was a sinner; that, though that might be, yet it did not settle the other question about opening his eyes, which was the chief point of the inquiry.
One thing I know ... - About this he could have no doubt. He disregarded, therefore, their cavils. We may learn, also, here:
1. That this declaration may be made by every converted sinner. He may not be able to meet the cavils of others. He may not be able to tell how he was converted. It is enough if he can say, "I was a sinner, but now love God; I was in darkness, but have now been brought to the light of truth."
2. We should not be ashamed of the fact that we are made to see by the Son of God. No cavil or derision of men should deter us from such an avowal.
3. Sinners are perpetually shifting the real point of inquiry. They do not inquire into the facts. They assume that a thing cannot be true, and then argue as if that was a conceded point. The proper way in religion is first to inquire into the facts, and then account for them as we can.
How opened he thine eyes? - The reason why they asked this so often was doubtless to attempt to draw him into a contradiction; either to intimidate him, or throw him off his guard, so that he might be detected in denying what he had before affirmed. But God gave to this poor man grace and strength to make a bold confession of the truth, and sufficient common sense completely to confound his proud and subtle examiners.
Thou art his disciple - This they cast at him as a reproach. His defense of Jesus they regarded as proof that he was his follower, and this they now attempted to show was inconsistent with being a friend of Moses and his law. Moses had given the law respecting the Sabbath; Jesus had healed a man contrary, in their view, to the law of Moses. They therefore held Jesus to be a violater and contemner of the law of Moses, and of course that his followers were also.
We are Moses' disciples - We acknowledge the authority of the law of Moses, which they alleged Jesus has broken by healing on that day.
We know ... - We know that God commanded Moses to deliver the law. In that they were correct; but they assumed their interpretation of the law to be infallible, and, hence, condemned Jesus.
As for this fellow - The word "fellow" is not in the original. It is simply "this." The word "fellow" implies contempt, which it cannot be proved they intended to express.
Whence he is - We know not his origin, his family, or his home. The contrast with the preceding member of the sentence shows that they intended to express their belief that he was not from God. They knew not whether he was mad, whether he was instigated by the devil, or whether he spoke of himself. See Joh 7:27; Joh 8:48-52.
A marvelous thing - This is wonderful and amazing.
Know not from whence he is - That you cannot perceive that he who has performed such a miracle must be from God.
Now we know - That is, it is an admitted or conceded point. No one calls it into question.
God heareth not - When a miracle was performed it was customary to invoke the aid of God. Jesus often did this himself, and it was by his power only that prophets and apostles could perform miracles. The word "heareth" in this place is to be understood as referring to such cases. God will not hear - that is, answer.
Sinners - Impostors. False prophets and pretenders to divine revelation. See Joh 9:24. The meaning of this verse is, therefore, "It is well understood that God will not give miraculous aid to impostors and false prophets." We may remark here:
1. That the passage has no reference to the prayers which sinners make for salvation.
2. If it had it would not be of course true. It was the mere opinion of this man, in accordance with the common sentiment of the Jews, and there is no evidence that he was inspired.
3. The only prayers which God will not hear are those which are offered in mockery, or when the man loves his sins and is unwilling to give them up. Such prayers God will not hear, Psa 66:18; "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" Isa 1:14-15; Job 27:9; Jer 11:11; Eze 8:18; Mic 3:4; Zac 7:13,
A worshipper - A sincere worshipper; one who fears, loves, and adores him.
Doeth his will - Obeys his commandments. This is infallibly true. The Scripture abounds with promises to such that God will hear their prayer. See Psa 34:15; Mat 7:7-8.
Since the world began - Neither Moses nor any of the prophets had ever done this. No instance of this kind is recorded in the Old Testament. As this was a miracle which had never been performed, the man argued justly that he who had done it must be from God. As Jesus did it not by surgical operations, but by clay, it showed that he had power of working miracles by any means. It may be also remarked that the restoration of sight to the blind by surgical operations was never performed until the year 1728. Dr. Cheselden, an English surgeon, was the first who attempted it successfully, who was enabled to remove a cataract from the eye of a young man, and to restore sight. This fact shows the difficulty of the operation when the most skillful natural means are employed, and the greatness of the miracle performed by the Saviour.
Could do nothing - Could do no such work as this. This reasoning was conclusive. The fact that Jesus could perform miracles like this was full proof that he was commissioned by God - proof that never has been and never can be refuted. One such miracle proves that he was from God. But Jesus gave many similar proofs, and thus put his divine mission beyond the possibility of doubt.
Wast born in sins - That is, thou wast born in a state of blindness a state which proved that either thou or thy parents had sinned, and that this was the punishment for it. See Joh 9:2. Thou wast cursed by God with blindness for crime, and yet thou dost set up for a religious teacher! When people have no arguments, they attempt to supply their place by revilings. When they are pressed by argument, they reproach their adversaries with crime, and especially with being blind, perverse, heretical, disposed to speculation, and regardless of the authority of God. And especially do they consider it great presumption that one of an inferior age or rank should presume to advance an argument in opposition to prevailing opinions.
They cast him out - Out of the synagogue. They excommunicated him. See the notes at Joh 9:22.
Dost thou believe on the Son of God? - Hitherto he had understood little of the true character of Jesus. He believed that he had power to heal him, and he inferred that he must be a prophet, Joh 9:17. He believed according to the light he had, and he now showed that he was prepared to believe all that Jesus said. This is the nature of true faith. It believes all that God has made known, and it is premiered to receive all that he will teach. The phrase Son of God here is equivalent to the Messiah. See the notes at Mat 8:29.
Who is he? - It is probable that the man did not know that he who now addressed him was the same who had healed him. He had not yet seen him Joh 9:7, but he was prepared to acknowledge him when he did see him. He inquired, therefore, who the person was, or wished that he might be pointed out to him, that he might see him. This passage shows that he was disposed to believe, and had a strong desire to see and hear the Son of God.
Lord - This word here, as in many other instances in the New Testament, means "Sir." It is clear that the man did not know that it was the Lord Jesus that addressed him, and he therefore replied to him in the common language of respect, and asked him to point out to him the Son of God. The word translated "Lord" here is rendered "Sir" in Joh 4:11; Joh 20:15; Joh 12:21; Act 16:30; Mat 27:63. It should have been also here, and in many other places.
I believe - This was the overflowing expression of gratitude and faith.
And he worshipped him - He did homage to him as the Messiah and as his gracious benefactor. See the notes at Mat 2:2. This shows:
1. That it is right and natural to express thanks and praise for mercies.
2. All blessings should lead us to pour out our gratitude to Jesus, for it is from him that we receive them.
3. Especially is this true when the mind has been enlightened, when our spiritual eyes have been opened, and we are permitted to see the glories of the heavenly world.
4. It is right to pay homage or worship to Jesus. He forbade it not. He received it on earth, and for all mercies of providence and redemption we should pay to him the tribute of humble and grateful hearts. The Syriac renders the phrase, "he worshipped him," thus:" and, casting himself down, he adored him." The Persian, "and he bowed down and adored Christ." The Arabic, "and he adored him." The Latin Vulgate, "and, falling down, he adored him."
For judgment - The word "judgment," here, has been by some understood in the sense of condemnation - "The effect of my coming is to condemn the world. But this meaning does not agree with those places where Jesus says that he came not to condemn the world, Joh 3:17; Joh 12:47; Joh 5:45. To judge is to express an opinion in a judicial manner, and also to express any sentiment about any person or thing, Joh 7:24; Joh 5:30; Luk 8:43. The meaning here may be thus expressed: "I came to declare the condition of men; to show them their duty and danger. My coming will have this effect, that some will be reformed and saved, and some more deeply condemned."
That they ... - The Saviour does not affirm that this was the design of his coming, but that such would be the effect or result. He came to declare the truth, and the effect would be, etc. Similar instances of expression frequently occur. Compare Mat 11:25; Mat 10:34; "I came not to send peace, but a sword" - that is, such will be the effect of my coming.
That they which see not - Jesus took this illustration, as he commonly did, from the case before him; but it is evident that he meant it to be taken in a spiritual sense. He refers to those who are blind and ignorant by sin; whose minds have been darkened, but who are desirous of seeing.
Might see - Might discern the path of truth, of duty, and of salvation, Joh 10:9.
They which see - They who suppose they see; who are proud, self-confident, and despisers of the truth. Such were evidently the Pharisees.
Might be made blind - Such would be the effect of his preaching. It would exasperate them, and their pride and opposition to him would confirm them more and more in their erroneous views. This is always the effect of truth. Where it does not soften it hardens the heart; where it does not convert, it sinks into deeper blindness and condemnation.
If ye were blind - If you were really blind had had no opportunities of learning the truth. If you were truly ignorant, and were willing to confess it, and to come to me for instruction.
No sin - You would not be guilty. Sin is measured by the capacities or ability of people, and by their opportunities of knowing the truth. If people had no ability to do the will of God, they could incur no blame. If they have all proper ability, and no disposition, God holds them to be guilty. This passage teaches conclusively:
1. that people are not condemned for what they cannot do.
2. that the reason why they are condemned is that they are not disposed to receive the truth.
3. that pride and self-confidence are the sources of condemnation.
4. that if people are condemned, they, and not God, will be to blame.
We see - We have knowledge of the law of God. This they had pretended when they professed to understand the law respecting the Sabbath better than Jesus, and had condemned him for healing on that day.
Your sin remaineth - You are guilty, and your sin is unpardoned. People's sins will always be unpardoned while they are proud, and self-sufficient, and confident of their own wisdom. If they will come with humble hearts and confess their ignorance, God will forgive, enlighten, and guide them in the path to heaven.