Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Account of the man who was born blind, Joh 9:1-5. Christ heals him, Joh 9:6, Joh 9:7. The man is questioned by his neighbors, Joh 9:8-12. He is brought to the Pharisees, who question him, Joh 9:13-17, and then his parents, Joh 9:18-23. They again interrogate the man, who, vindicating the conduct of Christ, is excommunicated by them, Joh 9:24-34. Jesus, hearing of the conduct of the Pharisees, afterwards finds the man, and reveals himself to him, Joh 9:35-38. He passes sentence on the obduracy and blindness of the Pharisees, Joh 9:39-41.
And as Jesus passed by - This chapter is a continuation of the preceding, and therefore the word Jesus is not in the Greek text: it begins simply thus - And passing along, και παραγων, etc. Having left the temple, where the Jews were going to stone him, (Joh 8:59), it is probable our Lord went, according to his custom, to the mount of Olives. The next day, which was the Sabbath, Joh 9:14, he met a man who had been born blind, sitting in some public place, and asking alms from those who passed by, Joh 9:8.
Who did sin, this man, or his parents - The doctrine of the transmigration of souls appears to have been an article in the creed of the Pharisees, and it was pretty general both among the Greeks and the Asiatics. The Pythagoreans believed the souls of men were sent into other bodies for the punishment of some sin which they had committed in a pre-existent state. This seems to have been the foundation of the disciples question to our Lord. Did this man sin in a pre-existent state, that he is punished in this body with blindness? Or, did his parents commit some sin, for which they are thus plagued in their offspring?
Most of the Asiatic nations have believed in the doctrine of transmigration. The Hindoos still hold it; and profess to tell precisely the sin which the person committed in another body, by the afflictions which he endures in this: they profess also to tell the cures for these. For instance, they say the headache is a punishment for having, in a former state, spoken irrevently to father or mother. Madness is a punishment for having been disobedient to father or mother, or to one's spiritual guide. The epilepsy is a punishment for having, in a former state, administered poison to any one at the command of his master. Pain in the eyes is a punishment for having, in another body, coveted another man's wife. Blindness is a punishment for having killed his mother: but this person they say, before his new birth, will suffer many years' torment in hell. See many curious particulars relative to this in the Ayeen Akbery, vol. iii. p. 168-175; and in the Institutes of Menu, chap. xi. Inst. 48-53.
The Jewish rabbins have had the same belief from the very remotest antiquity. Origen cites an apocryphal book of the Hebrews, in which the patriarch Jacob is made to speak thus: I am an angel of God; one of the first order of spirits. Men call me Jacob, but my true name, which God has given me, is Israel: Orat. Joseph. apud Orig. Many of the Jewish doctors have believed that the souls of Adam, Abraham, and Phineas, have successively animated the great men of their nation. Philo says that the air is full of spirits, and that some, through their natural propensity, join themselves to bodies; and that others have an aversion from such a union. See several other things relative to this point in his treatises, De Plant. Noe - De Gigantibus - De Confus. Ling. - De Somniis, etc.; and see Calmet, where he is pretty largely quoted.
The Hindoos believe that the most of their misfortunes arise out of the sins of a former birth; and, in moments of grief not unfrequently break out into exclamations like the following: - "Ah! in a former birth how many sins must I have committed, that I am thus afflicted!" "I am now suffering for the sins of a former birth; and the sins that I am now committing are to fill me with misery in a following birth. There is no end to my sufferings!"
Josephus, Ant. b. xvii. c. 1, s. 3, and War, b. ii. c. 8, s. 14, gives an account of the doctrine of the Pharisees on this subject. He intimates that the souls of those only who were pious were permitted to reanimate human bodies, and this was rather by way of reward than punishment; and that the souls of the vicious are put into eternal prisons, where they are continually tormented, and out of which they can never escape. But it is very likely that Josephus has not told the whole truth here; and that the doctrine of the Pharisees on this subject was nearly the same with that of the Papists on purgatory. Those who are very wicked go irrecoverably to hell; but those who are not so have the privilege of expiating their venial sins in purgatory. Thus, probably, is the Pharisean doctrine of the transmigration to be understood. Those who were comparatively pious went into other bodies, for the expiation of any remaining guilt which had not been removed previously to a sudden or premature death, after which they were fully prepared for paradise; but others who had been incorrigibly wicked were sent at once into hell, without ever being offered the privilege of amendment, or escape. For the reasons which may be collected above, much as I reverence Bishop Pearce, I cannot agree with his note on this passage, where he says that the words of the disciples should be thus understood: - Who did sin? This man, that he is blind? or his parents, that he was born so? He thinks it probable that the disciples did not know that the man was born blind: if he was, then it was for some sin of his parents - if he was not born so, then this blindness came unto him as a punishment for some crime of his own. It may be just necessary to say, that some of the rabbins believed that it was possible for an infant to sin in the womb, and to be punished with some bodily infirmity in consequence. See several examples in Lightfoot on this place.
Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents - That is, the blindness of this person is not occasioned by any sin of his own, nor of his parents, but has happened in the ordinary course of Divine providence, and shall now become the instrument of salvation to his soul, edification to others, and glory to God. Many of the Jews thought that marks on the body were proofs of sin in the soul. From a like persuasion, probably arose that proverb among our northern neighbors-Mark him whom God marks.
While it is day - Though I plainly perceive that the cure of this man will draw down upon me the malice of the Jewish rulers, yet I must accomplish the work for which I came into the world whole it is day - while the term of this life of mine shall last. It was about six months after this that our Lord was crucified. It is very likely that the day was now declining, and night coming on; and he took occasion from this circumstance to introduce the elegant metaphor immediately following. By this we are taught that no opportunity for doing good should be omitted - Day representing the opportunity: Night, the loss of that opportunity.
I am the light of the world - Like the sun, it is my business to dispense light and heat every where; and to neglect no opportunity that may offer to enlighten and save the bodies and souls of men. See Joh 8:12.
Anointed the eyes of the blind man - It would be difficult to find out the reason which induced our Lord to act thus. It is certain, this procedure can never be supposed to have been any likely medical means to restore sight to a man who was born blind; this action, therefore, had no tendency to assist the miracle. If his eye-lids had been only so gummed together that they needed nothing but to be suppled and well washed, it is not likely that this could possibly have been omitted from his birth until now. The Jews believed that there was some virtue in spittle to cure the diseases of the eye; but then they always accompanied this with some charm. Our Lord might make clay with the spittle to show that no charms or spells were used, and to draw their attention more particularly to the miracle which he was about to work. Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from this is: That God will do his own work in his own way; and, to hide pride from man, will often accomplish the most beneficial ends by means not only simple or despicable in themselves, but by such also as appear entirely contrary, in their nature and operation, to the end proposed to be effected by them.
Siloam - Called also Shiloah, Silos, or Siloa, was a fountain under the walls of Jerusalem, towards the east, between the city and the brook Kidron. Calmet thinks that this was the same with En-rogel, or the fuller's fountain, which is mentioned in Jos 15:7; Jos 18:16; in Sa2 17:17; and in Kg1 1:9. Its waters were collected in a great reservoir for the use of the city; and a stream from it supplied the pool of Bethesda.
By interpretation, Sent - From the Hebrew שלח shalach, he sent: either because it was looked upon as a gift sent from God, for the use of the city; or because its waters were directed or sent by canals or pipes, into different quarters, for the same purpose. Some think there is an allusion here to Gen 49:10; that this fountain was a type of Shiloh, the Christ, the Sent of God; and that it was to direct the man's mind to the accomplishment of the above prophecy that our Lord sent him to this fountain. This supposition does not appear very solid. The Turks have this fountain still in great veneration, and think the waters of it are good for diseases of the eyes. Lightfoot says that the spring of Siloam discharged itself by a double stream into a twofold pool - the upper was called שילוח shiloach - the lower שלח shelach; the one signifying απεϚαλμενος, sent, the latter, κωδιων fleeces; and that our Lord marked this point so particularly, to inform the blind man that it was not to Shelach, but to Shiloach, that he must go to wash his eyes. These two pools seem to be referred to in Isa 7:23; Isa 22:9.
That he was blind - Ὁτι τυφλος ην: but, instead of this, προσαιτης, when he begged, or was a beggar, is the reading of ABC*DKL, seven others, both the Syriac, both the Arabic, later Persic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Sahidic, Gothic, Slavonic, Vulgate, eight copies of the Itala, and some of the primitive fathers. This is in all probability the true reading, and is received by Griesbach into the text.
Beggars in all countries have a language peculiar to themselves. The language of the Jewish beggars was the following: זבי כי Deserve something by me - Give me something that God may reward you. רכי ני זכי גר מך O ye tender-hearted, do yourselves good by me. Another form, which seems to have been used by such as had formerly been in better circumstances, was this: סכי כי מה הוינא אסתכל בי מה אנא Look back and see what I have been; look upon me now, and see what I am. See Lightfoot.
Some said, This is he - This miracle was not wrought in private - nor before a few persons - nor was it lightly credited. Those who knew him before were divided in their opinion concerning him: not whether the man who sat there begging was blind before - for this was known to all; nor, whether the person now before them saw clearly - for this was now notorious; but whether this was the person who was born blind, and who used in a particular place to sit begging.
Others said, He is like him - This was very natural: for certainly the restoration of his sight must have given him a very different appearance to what he had before.
A man that is called Jesus - The whole of this relation is simple and artless in the highest degree. The blind man had never seen Jesus, but he had heard of his name - he felt that he had put something on his eyes, which he afterwards found to be clay - but how this was made he could not tell, because he could not see Jesus when he did it; therefore he does not say, he made clay of spittle - but simply, he made clay, and spread it upon my eyes. Where a multitude of incidents must necessarily come into review, imposture and falsehood generally commit themselves, as it is termed; but, however numerous the circumstances may be in a relation of fact, simple truth is never embarrassed.
Where is he? - They had designed to seize and deliver him up to the Sanhedrin, as a violater of the law, because he had done this on the Sabbath day.
They brought to the Pharisees - These had the chief rule, and determined all controversies among the people; in every case of religion, their judgment was final: the people, now fully convinced that the man had been cured, brought him to the Pharisees, that they might determine how this was done, and whether it had been done legally.
It was the Sabbath - Some of the ancient rabbins taught, and they have been followed by some moderns, not much better skilled in physic than themselves, that the saliva is a cure for several disorders of the eyes; but the former held this to be contrary to the law, if applied on the Sabbath. See Lightfoot's Hor. Talm.
This man is not of God - He can neither be the Messiah, nor a prophet, for he has broken the Sabbath. The Jews always argued falsely on this principle. The law relative to the observation of the Sabbath never forbade any work but what was of the servile and unnecessary kind. Works of necessity and mercy never could be forbidden on that day by him whose name is mercy, and whose nature is love; for the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; were it otherwise, the Sabbath would be rather a curse than a blessing.
How can a man that is a sinner, etc. - They knew very well that though magicians and impostors might do things apparently miraculous, yet nothing really good could be performed by them. We might have safely defied all the magicians in Egypt, who are said to have been so successful in imitating some of the miracles of Moses, to have opened the eyes of one blind man, or to have done any essential good either to the body or to the soul.
And there was a division among them - Σχισμα, a schism, a decided difference of opinion, which caused a separation of the assembly.
He is a prophet - They had intended to lay snares for the poor man, that, getting him to acknowledge Christ for the Messiah, they might put him out of the synagogue, Joh 9:22, or put him to death, that such a witness to the Divine power of Christ might not appear against them. But, as the mercy of God had given him his sight, so the wisdom of God taught him how to escape the snares laid for his ruin. On all thy glory there shall be a defense, says the prophet, Isa 4:5. When God gives any particular mercy or grace, he sends power to preserve it, and wisdom to improve it. The man said, He is a prophet. Now, according to a Jewish maxim, a prophet might dispense with the observation of the Sabbath. See Grotius. If they allow that Jesus was a prophet, then, even in their sense, he might break the law of the Sabbath, and be guiltless: or, if they did not allow him to be a prophet, they must account for the miracle some other way than by the power of God; as from Satan or his agents no good can proceed - to do this it was impossible. So the wisdom of God taught the poor man to give them such an answer as put them into a complete dilemma, from which they could not possibly extricate themselves.
But the Jews did not believe - All the subterfuge they could use was simply to sin against their conscience, by asserting that the man had not been blind; but out of this subterfuge they were soon driven by the testimony of the parents, who, if tried farther on this subject, might have produced as witness, not only the whole neighborhood, but nearly the whole city: for it appears the man got his bread by publicly begging, Joh 9:8.
That he had been blind, and received his sight - This clause is omitted in some MSS., probably because similar words occur immediately after. There is, however, no evidence against it, sufficient to exclude it from the test.
He is of age - Ἡλικιαν εχει, literally, he has stature, i.e. he is a full-grown man; and in this sense the phrase is used by the best Greek writers. See Kypke and Raphelius. Mature age was fixed among the Jews at thirty years.
Put out of the synagogue - That is, excommunicated - separated from all religious connection with those who worshipped God. This was the lesser kind of excommunication among the Jews and was termed nidui. The cherem, or anathema, was not used against the followers of Christ till after the resurrection.
Give God the praise - Having called the man a second time, they proceeded to deal with him in the most solemn manner; and therefore they put him to his oath; for the words above were the form of an oath, proposed by the chief magistrate to those who were to give evidence to any particular fact, or to attest any thing, as produced by or belonging to the Lord. See Jos 7:19; Sa1 6:5, and Luk 17:18. But, while they solemnly put him to his oath, they endeavored to put their own words in his mouth, viz. he is a sinner - a pretender to the prophetic character, and a transgressor of the law of God: - assert this, or you will not please us.
Whereas I was blind, now I see - He pays no attention to their cavils, nor to their perversion of justice; but, in the simplicity of his heart, speaks to the fact, of the reality of which he was ready to give them the most substantial evidence.
I have told you already - So he did, Joh 9:15. And did ye not hear? Ye certainly did. Why then do you wish to hear it again? Is it because ye wish to become his disciples? The poor man continued steady in his testimony; and, by putting this question to them, he knew he should soon put an end to the debate.
Then they reviled him - Ελοιδορησαν. Eustathius derives λοιδορια from λογος, a word, and δορυ, a spear: - they spoke cutting, piercing words. Solomon talks of some who spoke like the piercings of a sword, Pro 12:18. And the psalmist speaks of words that are like drawn swords, Psa 55:21, words which show that the person who speaks them has his heart full of murderous intentions; and that, if he had the same power with a sword as he has with his tongue, he would destroy him whom he thus reproaches.
We are Moses' disciples - By this they meant that they were genuine Pharisees; for they did not allow the Sadducees to be disciples of Moses.
We know not from whence he is - As if they had said: We have the fullest assurance that the commission of Moses was Divine; but we have no proof that this man has such a commission: and should we leave Moses, and attach ourselves to this stranger? No.
Why herein is a marvellous thing - As if he had said, This is wonderful indeed! Is it possible that such persons as you are, whose business it is to distinguish good from evil, and who pretend to know a true from a false prophet, cannot decide in a case so plain? Has not the man opened my eyes? Is not the miracle known to all the town; and could any one do it who was not endued with the power of God?
God heareth not sinners - I believe the word ἁμαρτωλων signifies heathens, or persons not proselyted to the Jewish religion; and therefore it is put in opposition to θεοσεβης, a worshipper of the true God. See the note on Luk 7:37. But in what sense may it be said, following our common version, that God heareth not sinners? When they regard iniquity in their heart - when they wish to be saved, and yet abide in their sins - when they will not separate themselves from the workers and works of iniquity. In all these cases, God heareth not sinners.
Since the world began - Εκ του αιωνος, From the age - probably meaning from the commencement of time. Neither Moses nor the prophets have ever opened the eyes of a man who was born blind: if this person then were not the best of beings, would God grant him a privilege which he has hitherto denied to his choicest favorites?
Opened the eyes of one that was born blind - It will readily appear that our Lord performed no surgical operation in this cure: the man was born blind, and he was restored to sight by the power of God; the simple means used could have had no effect in the cure; the miracle is therefore complete. That there are cases, in which a person who was born blind may be restored to sight by surgical means, we know: but no such means were used by Christ: and it is worthy of remark that, from the foundation of the world, no person born blind has been restored to sight, even by surgical operation, till about the year of our Lord, 1728; when the celebrated Dr. Cheselden, by couching the eyes of a young man, 14 years of age, who had been born blind, restored him to perfect soundness. This was the effect of well directed surgery: that performed by Christ was a miracle.
If this man were not of God, etc. - A very just conclusion: God is the fountain of all good: all good must proceed from him, and no good can be done but through him; if this person were not commissioned by the good God, he could not perform such beneficent miracles as these.
Thou wast altogether born in sins - Thou hast not only been a vile wretch in some other pre-existent state, but thy parents also have been grossly iniquitous; therefore thou and they are punished by this blindness: Thou wast altogether born in sins - thou art no other than a sinful lump of deformity, and utterly unfit to have any connection with those who worship God.
And they cast him out - They immediately excommunicated him, as the margin properly reads - drove him from their assembly with disdain, and forbade his farther appearing in the worship of God. Thus a simple man, guided by the Spirit of truth, and continuing steady in his testimony, utterly confounded the most eminent Jewish doctors. When they had no longer either reason or argument to oppose to him, as a proof of their discomfiture and a monument of their reproach and shame, they had recourse to the secular arm, and thus silenced by political power a person whom they had neither reason nor religion to withstand. They hare had since many followers in their crimes. A false religion, supported by the state, has, by fire and sword silenced those whose truth in the end annihilated the system of their opponents.
Dost thou believe on the Son of God? - This was the same with, Dost thou believe on the Messiah? for these two characters were inseparable; see Joh 1:34, Joh 1:49; Joh 10:36; Mat 16:16; Mar 1:1.
Who is he, Lord? - It is very likely that the blind man did not know that it was Jesus the Christ who now spoke to him; for it is evident he had never seen him before this time; and he might now see him without knowing that he was the person by whom he was cured, till our Lord made that discovery of himself, mentioned in the following verse.
And he said, Lord, I believe - That is, I believe thou art the Messiah; and, to give the fullest proof of the sincerity of his faith, he fell down before and adored him. Never having seen Jesus before, but simply knowing that a person of that name had opened his eyes, he had only considered him as a holy man and a prophet; but now that he sees and hears him he is convinced of his divinity, and glorifies him as his Savior. We may hear much of Jesus, but can never know his glories and excellencies till he has discovered himself to our hearts by his own Spirit; then we believe on him, trust him with our souls, and trust in him for our salvation. The word κυριε has two meanings: it signifies Lord, or Sovereign Ruler, and Sir, a title of civil respect. In the latter sense it seems evidently used in the 36th verse, because the poor man did not then know that Jesus was the Messiah; in the former sense it is used in this verse - now the healed man knew the quality of his benefactor.
For judgment I am come - I am come to manifest and execute the just judgment of God:
1. By giving sight to the blind, and light to the Gentiles who sit in darkness.
2. By removing the true light from those who, pretending to make a proper use of it, only abuse the mercy of God.
In a word, salvation shall be taken away from the Jews, because they reject it; and the kingdom of God shall be given to the Gentiles.
Are we blind also? - These Pharisees understood Christ as speaking of blindness in a spiritual sense, and wished to know if he considered them in that state.
If ye were blind - If ye had not had sufficient opportunities to have acquainted yourselves with my Divine nature, by the unparalleled miracles which I have wrought before you? and the holy doctrine which I have preached, then your rejecting me could not be imputed to you as sin; but because ye say, we see - we are perfectly capable of judging between a true and false prophet, and can from the Scriptures point out the Messiah by his works - on this account you are guilty, and your sin is of no common nature, it remaineth, i.e. it shall not be expiated: as ye have rejected the Lord from being your deliverer, so the Lord has rejected you from being his people. When the Scripture speaks of sin remaining, it is always put in opposition to pardon; for pardon is termed the taking away of sin, Joh 1:29; Psa 32:5. And this is the proper import of the phrase, αφεσις των ἁμαρτιων, which occurs so frequently in the sacred writings.
1. The history of the man who was born blind and cured by our Lord is, in every point of view, instructive. His simplicity, his courage, his constancy, and his gratitude are all so many subjects worthy of attention and emulation. He certainly confessed the truth at the most imminent risk of his life; and therefore, as Stephen was the first martyr for Christianity, this man was the first confessor. The power and influence of Truth, in supporting its friends and confounding its adversaries, are well exemplified in him; and not less so, that providence of God by which he was preserved from the malice of these bad men. The whole story is related with inimitable simplicity, and cannot be read by the most cold-hearted without extorting the exclamation, How forcible are right words?
2. It has already been remarked that, since the world began, there is no evidence that any man born blind was ever restored to sight by surgical means, till the days of Mr. Cheselden, who was a celebrated surgeon at St. Thomas's Hospital, London. For though, even before the Christian era, there is reason to believe that both the Greek and Roman physicians performed operations to remove blindness occasioned by the cataract, yet we know of none of these ever attempted on the eyes of those who had been born blind, much less of any such persons being restored to sight. The cure before us must have been wholly miraculous - no appropriate means were used to effect it. What was done had rather a tendency to prevent and destroy sight than to help or restore it. The blindness in question was probably occasioned by a morbid structure of the organs of sight; and our Lord, by his sovereign power, instantaneously restored them to perfect soundness, without the intervention of any healing process. In this case there could be neither deception nor collusion.