The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the cure of the man born blind

(John 9)

On His way from the temple, as He was threading His course (παράγων) through the crowds, Jesus came by a man that had been born blind, who sat by the wayside begging. Jesus ‘saw’ him; thereby is expressed that His eye fastened upon Him, that He showed him sympathy, and soon learned that he had been born blind.1 The disciples, of whom we thus learn in this passage that they formed a body of attendants round Jesus, asked Him, ‘Master, who hath sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ The disciples believe for certainty, and with reason, the doctrine, that God visits the misdoing of fathers upon their children until the third and fourth generation; that therefore, surely, in general, guilt on the part of parents admits of being punished in their children. Therefore they might be led to think, whether perhaps this man might not have been for some transgression of his parents struck with natural blindness. But it might again appear to them a harsh supposition, that for some possible guilt of his parents the poor man should have to make atonement with blindness all his life through.

Therefore another thought might offer itself to their mind, originating out of views which at that time were beginning to engage the Jewish people. Even if we must not look to find the doctrine of the transmigration of souls prevailing as a popular notion among the Jews, at least at this time and in this neighbourhood, yet the notion that a man may perhaps have incurred sin in the pre-existence of his soul, before it came into his body, or perhaps also, the other notion, that he may have incurred it when an unborn child in his mother’s body,2 may very possibly have been known to them, and have come to their minds on the present occasion. But then they also, no doubt, felt that this supposition was even a more difficult one than the first.

Thus this blind man with his suffering proved an enigma to them, which they confessed themselves unable to solve. But the solution which they expected from Jesus would also (they thought) be likely to afford them light in reference to the mysterious relations subsisting between hereditary ills affecting men and former sins.

We must repeat our words, they thought; for if we imagine to ourselves the scene in which the disciples proposed the question, we can hardly suppose that they could just now have had any great interest in a mere theoretical inquiry.

It is, we suppose, plain that the proceeding took place on the same day that Jesus was threatened with stoning in the court of the temple; nay, that it took place in the vicinity of the temple, and on the road by which Jesus was leaving the temple. For it is still the Sabbath-day, and surely not yet a returning Sabbath. Jesus is still on the road of the temple-hill; and there, in the vicinity of the temple, beggars used to station themselves. Also, the Evangelist expressly links the scene immediately on to the preceding.3

On this very account the calm mind with which Jesus, who has only just now escaped from the tumult of the deadly enemies who were pursuing Him, stops by the blind man, is calculated in two ways to raise our astonishment and to command our reverential awe. But the disciples would hardly be in an equally composed frame of mind. They had, no doubt, all of them shared the expectation of the brothers of Jesus, that Jesus, on publicly presenting Himself at Jerusalem, would meet with the best possible reception; and in this expectation they had found themselves fearfully disappointed. It must needs have come hard to them to be obliged to leave the courts of the temple with their Master in such a fashion, as persecuted and driven forth. How readily they might think that their persecutors might soon be behind them! Can we imagine that in such a frame of mind they would be disposed to take up difficult questionings relative to the pre-existence of the soul, or even respecting the connection between sin and evil? We might surely suppose the very reverse: we may naturally conjecture that, in their present state of excitement, they may have fallen back into the common popular notion for the purpose of suggesting to our Lord, whether He should now detain Himself with a man who was so seriously marked by Heaven itself.

At all events, the answer of Jesus enters into no particulars relative to the inquiry which they had proposed. He declares that ‘neither the man himself nor his parents had sinned,’ to bring upon him this evil. Further than this He will not have the source of this mark of obloquy which was laid upon the man and his parents inquired after,—an investigation reaching back to its dark origin, where it certainly must be connected with the general sinfulness of mankind. Rather He at once fastens His eye upon the ends contemplated in this affliction, and above all its chief end. He was destined to suffer it ‘that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’ In the most general sense, this end is at all times contemplated in all sufferings: God means to glorify Himself in those who suffer. The obscure causes of human sufferings often recede beyond our ken, but the Divine end is always clear. But in the present case this held good in an especial measure.

That is, it was to the Lord already a clear point, that His miraculous power was able to prove itself in this man’s case in an especial degree, and not only (we may be sure) in his body, but also in his soul. What He further said appears to have been particularly aimed against an ill-concealed disposition on the part of the disciples to hurry on, and therefore to dissuade Him from attending to the case. ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.’ He knows, and tells them, that the bright day of His life is still secured; and that, therefore, He can fearlessly tarry for this work, even in the very vicinity of His persecutors. No doubt He had a forefeeling that His night of death would come soon, to put an end to this form of His working.4 But on that account He is also disposed still to turn this opportunity to account, and to give light to this blind man’s eyes. ‘As long as I am in the world,’ He says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ He speaks this, we may believe, in the particular sense, that during His sojourn in the midst of the world, He was for the world, not only spiritually but also corporeally, its mightiest, eye-awakening Light-Fountain, and that He would prove Himself to be such to the end.

And already He was busy with helping the patient. He spat on the ground, and made clay with His spittle, and with the clay He besmeared the eyes of the blind man, and said to him, ‘Go thy way, and wash thyself in the pool of Siloam.’5

‘That, translated, is, The Sent,’ remarks the Evangelist. We have already been taught to recognize the well of Siloah, which was the proper temple-spring at the foot of the temple-hill outside the sanctuary, as a symbol of the blessing of the Spirit, the fulness of which has appeared in the Messias. So, without doubt, the Evangelist regarded it. Therefore the word of Jesus appeared to him so significant; the patient was, by the Sent One of God, sent to the well of the Sent One.6 Go thy way to the pool of Siloah! This word had, indeed, from the lips of Christ, a significance, which was intended to rouse into intense action the spirit of this gifted blind man, and to excite his believing anticipations. He followed out the directions which Jesus had given him. A guide to direct his steps would be easily found. He went, washed himself, and came back seeing.

The miraculous cure soon got wind. Those who before had known the blind beggar, and now saw him go about seeing, were astonished. Some doubted whether he were the same as they had known in the person of that blind man; others would not believe their eyes, and affirmed he was only like him; others, again, declared that it must be the same person. He himself corroborated the affirmation of these last. And now he was required to tell how he had got to see. He related to them in what manner the ‘man who was called Jesus’ had healed him. Thereupon they asked him where Jesus was. He did not know. Next they brought him to the Pharisees, and this, as it should seem, simply on the ground that the cure had taken place on the Sabbath-day. Without question, among these people who took him before the Pharisees, were some who were themselves pharisaical spirits. By these he was passed over into the hands of the Pharisees, and subjected to a judicial investigation.

It is probable that this hearing did not take place till the day after the Sabbath on which the man was healed. But if we were disposed to assume that it took place on that Sabbath, or, more accurately, on that eighth day of the feast, yet that would not infer the difficulty which some have found in this supposition. For even if we do not admit the hypothesis that it is only an occasional private process which is here spoken of (see Ebrard, p. 318), yet certainly a distinction is to be made between regular judicial processes, which ordinarily did not take place on the Sabbath, and a hearing such as was probably held in a little Sanhedrim (of twenty-three assessors), or in a synagogue court (see Lücke, ii. p. 383).

At this hearing the healed man was required once more to relate the whole story, as it had already been told to the Pharisees. Thereupon a discussion arose respecting the Doer of the miracle. The sentiments of the board were divided: there were members present who were friendly to Jesus, or, at any rate, thought more reasonably about Him than the majority. Even His opponents were thrown into perplexity through the striking miracle which He had wrought; but they sought to embolden their own spirits again, and to dishearten the well-disposed in their body by bringing into prominence His desecration of the Sabbath,—for such was the construction which they contrived to put upon the work. ‘This man is not of God’ (they said), ‘for He keepeth not the Sabbath-day.’7 But those others who were better-minded answered, ‘How can a man who is alleged to be a sinner’ (i.e., one who sets at naught the law, and ought to be excommunicated) ‘do such great miracles?’ Thus there arose a division in the judicial board. Yet we plainly see from the result that the opponents of Jesus had decidedly the preponderance.

The deposition of the healed man placed them in a painful dilemma. If they would admit the fact, they would have, in conjunction with Jesus’ alleged violation of the Sabbath, to acknowledge also the great miracle which had been wrought; and they saw plainly enough that the effect of the miracle only too strongly outshone that slur of violating the Sabbath which they so skilfully endeavoured to cast upon Him. If, on the other hand, they chose to deny the miracle, then they would have also to give up the new charge which they were alleging against Him. In this embarrassment, they now, as it should seem, sought to give such a turn to the transaction, as that they should either hold fast to this charge, without however acknowledging the miracle, or be able to regard the whole matter as a criminal imposture framed by Jesus, or that, lastly, if other courses fail, at least the effect of the circumstance, operating so strongly in favour of Jesus, should be beaten down with the strong hand of power. To this end they instituted a succession of hearings.

In the first place, they resumed their dealing with the blind man (who, in all probability, had been made to withdraw),8 and asked him, ‘What sayest thou of Him because He hath opened thine eyes?’ The healed man, in whom we may recognize an honest, prudent, strong-minded, and spirited character, whose natural abilities have just at this time, with his healing, been brought out into new play and stimulated into unusual activity, answers boldly, ‘He is a prophet.’ ‘The Jews therefore,’ observes the Evangelist, with sharp emphasis, ‘would not believe concerning the man himself that he had been blind, and had recovered his sight, until they called the parents of him that had recovered his sight.’ It is indeed conceivable, that, in consequence of their unbelief, a real suspicion had arisen in their minds, after the healed man had declared that Jesus was a prophet, that there might be some deception in the business.

The parents were confronted with the man whose sight was restored. ‘Is this your son?’ they were asked; ‘and do ye affirm of him that he was born blind? How is he now in the possession of sight?’ They declared, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was horn blind; but how he has got his sight we know not.’ They then add, of their own accord, the significant words, ‘Or who hath opened his eyes we know not: he himself has the requisite age, ask himself; he will (can) speak for himself.’ From the manner in which they gave their deposition there appeared plainly enough the consciousness that they had to do with dangerous people in the bench before whom they stood. With extreme cautiousness they pointed to a man who had miraculously opened their son’s eyes; but they had no wish, and perhaps were not able, to say anything more definite concerning Him. Altogether, they did not wish to see themselves any further mixed up with the business. One might think that they were somewhat unamiably willing before the magistrates to leave their son to bear the whole brunt of this encounter; but, as it seems, they feel confident in his possessing an especial savoir faire or sagacity, such as would be necessary to get out of such an inquisition with success. John says expressly, ‘These things spake his parents for fear of the Jews;’ and adds the explanation, ‘For the Jews had already agreed in the resolution, that if any one did confess that He was the Messias, he should be thrust out of the synagogue.’ This resolution of the Sanhedrim was in perfect harmony with the despatching the officers to seize Jesus,—a measure which had been taken at about the middle of the feast.9 As soon as it was believed to be necessary to take steps against Jesus Himself, consistency would prompt a hierarchical government to warn also the people against Him. This was done by the prohibition of acknowledging Jesus as the Messias, under pain of excommunication from the synagogue. The hierarchs would feel concerned to spread the knowledge of this prohibition as widely among people as possible; it was therefore now already a matter of public notoriety.

Upon this, the healed man (who in the meanwhile had again been ordered to go aside, or to withdraw) was once more summoned before the court. The endeavour was now made to intimidate him, and in a shamefully hypocritical manner to lead him to depose something to the prejudice of Jesus. ‘Give God the glory,’ they said, as if they would bind him to the strictest truthfulness; but the object of their fanatical earnestness, even if they were not distinctly conscious of it, was falsehood. ‘We know,’ they then said, ‘that this man is a sinner.’ There now awoke in the bosom of the healed man a feeling of righteous displeasure, which, with a really noble superiority, began to unveil the badness of their proceedings in a sort of ironical banter. ‘If He is a sinner,’ he said, ‘I do not know it; but one thing I know, that I was blind, and now am seeing.’ With intended and pointed distinctness he opposes to their knowing-not and knowing, his knowing-not and knowing, and therewith already shows that he was not minded to bow to their authority against his own better knowledge and conscience. They, on the other hand, with increased inquisitorial strictness, revert once more to the question, what Jesus had done to him? how He had opened his eyes? Despising as he did their whole proceeding, there is at the same time decidedly conspicuous in his answer a spirit of humour. ‘I have told you already, and ye would pretend that ye did not hear it. Why will ye hear it again? Will ye too, I wonder, become His disciples?’ Now they went beside themselves, and began to rail on him. ‘Thou art His disciple,’ they said, ‘but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spake to Moses; but for this fellow, we know not whence He is.’ They are not here thinking of the question as to His earthly origin, but simply mean, that it is very much a question with them whether Jesus with His works originated with God or not. This point, however, the healed beggar tries to make clear to them. ‘There is something surprising,’ he says, ‘in this, that ye’ (the knowing ones, the great divines) ‘know not from whence He is, and yet He has opened my eyes. We know, however, that God heareth not sinners: but if any man is God-fearing, and doeth His will, him He heareth. From eternity it has never been heard that one has opened the eyes of one blind-born. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.

Thus did the healed beggar, in the hall of justice, with a tone of rebuke and displeasure, preach to the enemies of Jesus of the certainty of His divine mission. This was more than they could endure. They felt not the eminence of his position as over against themselves. ‘Thou wast born in sins whole and entire’ (ὅλος, not only in body, as being blind, but also in soul, as being heretical), ‘and wilt thou be teaching us?’ With these words they thrust him out of the hall. Therewith, however, was also, in all probability, accomplished in fact and deed his thrusting out of the synagogue.

Jesus heard of his being thrust out. It was a token to Himself how strong the hostility against Him was growing. It pained Him doubly, that the man should already have been excommunicated as His disciple, whilst he yet had not the joy and peace of believing in Him. Therefore, as soon as He found him again, He asked him, ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ The man turned on Him the animated counter-question, ‘And who then is that?’ declaring himself at the same time ready to believe in His direction where to find Him. That he, then, had recognized his Deliverer by the tones of His voice, and perhaps also by other signs is clear. Jesus meets his animation with answering animation, to give him, as it should seem, a gentle rebuke, that with all this vivacity he yet had not been more concerned about the person who had healed him. To his impetuous question, ‘And who then is that?’ He replied, ‘And thou hast (long ago) seen Him;10 and He that talketh with thee is He!’ With all the fresh and noble decision which marked his character, the man exclaimed: ‘I believe, Lord!’ and full of reverence, cast himself down before Him, adoring. Then the Lord uttered that deeply significant word: ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they who see not may see, and that they who see may be made blind!’ This judgment had even now in the most striking manner been accomplished.



1. On the source and the pool of Siloah, see above, p. 234; Robinson, i. 335. The pool is ‘a small, deep reservoir in the mouth of the Tyropœon, into which the water flows from a smaller basin (the well) excavated in the solid rock a few feet higher up.’ From the pool downwards goes ‘the little channel through which the stream is led off along the base of the steep rocky point of Ophel, to irrigate the terraces and gardens extending into the valley of Jehoshaphat below.’ As the well of Siloah stands in connection with the source of the pool of Bethesda, which lies higher, the two wells have the same qualities. Comp. Sepp, iii. 87.

2. On the different degrees of Jewish excommunication, see Lücke, 387; Sepp, iii. 91 [or Alford in loc.; or more fully, Jahn’s Antiq. p. 131]. That there were at least two degrees of excommunication among the Jews, is shown by the distinction between the excommunication of Christ and that which here befell the man who was restored to sight, and later, no doubt, also the disciples of Jesus. This distinction is, no doubt, the contrast between the excommunication of the synagogue and the exclusion by the Sanhedrim, through which a man was rejected for all Israel.11 As, then, the excommunication of the synagogue had several steps, so also, no doubt, had the great excommunication of the Sanhedrim, which was connected with a heavy anathema. First there came the maltreatment and execration of the individual on whom the sentence was laid (see Act 5:40): the punishment of death might be inflicted either later, or even at once (see Acts 7.)

It might well then lie in the nature of the case, that the supposed straying one should first be visited with the simple exclusion from the synagogue for thirty days. But when the punishment of excommunication was publicly denounced against an offence, no doubt the whole succession of the different degrees of infliction ensuing thereupon was held out to the view of offenders.



1) It is characteristic, that criticism could come to such a pitch of scepticism as to find a difficulty in the mention of the circumstance that the man had been born blind. Cf. Ebrard, p. 316.

2) See Lücke, ii. p. 372. [Lampe shows that there is no ground for supposing that the Pharisees believed in the transmigration of souls. Josephus speaks of the souls of the good passing into other bodies, but this refers to the resurrection. ED.]

3) [No Olshausen, Stier, Meyer, and Tench; on the other hand, Lücke, Tholuck, and Alford suppose an interval between the attempt at stoning and this miracle. ‘The difficulty in the arrangement adopted by the author is, that Jesus, leaving the temple in secrecy, Would neither immediately perform a miracle which was sure to attract attention, nor would so soon be rejoined by His disciples, Also the note of time in ver. 14 is decidedly against, and not in favour of this view. For the Evangelist has already (vii. 37) made us aware that the day on which the stoning happened was a Sabbath ; and if this miracle were performed on the same day, it was needless to intimate a second time that it was the Sabbath, When the author says, ‘Surely not yet a returning Sabbath,’ he overlooks that it night be next day when the weekly Sabbath came round, the former being only a festal Sabbath. "But the author's explanation of the calmness of the Lord and the question of the disciples must be allowed to be admirably skilful and instructive —ED.]

4) The referring of this day and night immediately to the contrast between bright times of salvation and gloomy hours in which the powers of darkness have their way, which several commentators (Baumgarten-Crusius, Comment, zu Joh, ii, 3, and others) have proposed, is surely not justified. We find that the contrast between day and night (chap, xi. 9; 10), in an utterance very kindred to the one before us, must be referred to the time of life and the hour of death, We grant, however, that the day of Christ’s life is His assigned duration of life proceeding from the continuance of a favourable time of salvation in the world, while, on the other hand, the night of His death tallies with the hour and power of darkness.

5) On the natural effect of this treatment, see Lücke, p. 876 ; Von Ammon, ii, 422. On the union of the miraculous power with the clay, see above, vol. i. p. 429, It is questionable how tar healing powers belonging to the water of Siloam may be taken into consideration as helping the cure. But, at any rate, the blind man's going in faith to the well of Siloah had to do with it—Tholuck, p. 248. [Tholuck thinks the washing was only to cleanse the eyes after the application had done its work ; but if this had been all, such prominence would scarcely have been given to it—ED.]

6) That שִֹילוֺחַ may mean the Sent One, is now, since this rendering has been cursorily called in question, generally acknowledged. See Hitzig, Comment. on Isaiah, p. 97; Ebrard, p. 317; Tholuck, p. 240; Baumgarten-Crusius, ii 4, Cp. Lücke, p. 880,

7) Some of the Jewish Rabbins even forbade a man to besmear his eyes with bare saliva on the Sabbath-day. See Tholuck, p. 250; Sepp, iii. 87 [after Lightfoot and Lauipe in loc.]

8) Comp. Acts iv. 7, 15.

9) See John vii. 32. Lücke remarks very justly, that the word of the Evangelist (συνετέθειντο, &c.) cannot be referred to a private determination of the Pharisee-party, but only to a measure formally passed in the Sanhedrim, such as was gene rally known and dreaded. Commentators are doubtful as to the occasion on which this measure was resolved on. But if we take into consideration the consequences of a public interference of a hierarchy with an individual, the required occasion is surely found in that which is above indicated.

10) This is no doubt the sense which the perfect ἑώρακας takes, from the animated character of the dialogue.

11) [It is to be remarked that it does not appear that there was any excommunication which prohibited access to the temple ; nay, a separate entrance was provided for the excommunicated, though this may have been for the use of those under the first excommunication.—ED.]