Did His Parents Sin?

Annibale Caracci, Healing the Man Born Blind, 1605-1606.




As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.”    John 9:1-7, 35-41


Encountering this man, the disciples ask: “Who sinned?”  I think this question is a deeply instinctive one: when something goes wrong, we want to know who to blame. For example, in a car accident: was it a drunk driver? were they wearing seat belts? Or if someone has lung cancer: were they a smoker? Especially if we believe that we deserve what we have, we want to believe that the world is a basically fair place.That’s why Jesus’s answer is so interesting: he doesn’t answer directly, and what he does say is somewhat mysterious. He acknowledges the seeming unfairness of this situation (‘neither this man nor his parents sinned,’) but this healing is a sign (the Gospel of John is full of such signs) that it won’t always be this way: “The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation” (Wright).

N.T. Wright points out how this story calls back to the Prologue of John’s Gospel, which itself calls back to the Creation story at the beginning of Genesis:

  • light: Genesis begins with light: God saying “let there be light.” In John’s prologue, he writes of Christ: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  And here Jesus reminds us of that by saying: “I am the light of the world.” The world is dark, but the light has come.
  • dust and mud: In Genesis, “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  In John’s Prologue, he says of Christ that “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” And here, Jesus heals the man with the dust of the ground and the spit of his mouth. After the first Adam fell, God sent a second Adam, so that we can be made new. This is what New Creation looks like.

Wright: “At the start of the book of Genesis, God was faced with chaos. He didn’t waste time describing the chaos, analysing it or discussing whose fault it was. Instead, he created light; and, following the light, a whole new world. So here, John wants us to understand, Jesus is doing ‘the works of the one who sent him’. A new chaos is on the way – the ‘night’, the darkness, when Jesus will be killed and the world will seem to plunge back into primal confusion. But at the moment he is establishing the new world of light and healing. After the chaos of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, he will bring the new creation itself into being with the light of the first Easter Day (John 20.1).”


In this story (the omitted section in between), the Pharisees investigate the healing and refuse to accept it or accept that Jesus is sent from God. So Jesus judges them as being spiritually blind. Whereas the blind man knows that he needs God’s grace, the Pharisees think they don’t, and hence don’t realize how blind they are.That is what Jesus is telling them: “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind… If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”


What happens when our children suffer? Or sin? Whose fault is it: theirs, or ours? Or…


References (by date)

  1. Bruce Grigsby, “Washing in the Pool of Siloam: A Thematic Anticipation of the Johannine Cross.” Novum Testamentum 27:3 (July 1985): 227-235.
  2. John Painter, “John 9 and the Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.” JSNT 28 (1986): 31-61.
  3. Mogens Müller, “‘Have you Faith in the Son of Man?’ (John 9.35)” New Testament Studies 37:2 (April 1991): 291-294.
  4. J. Duncan M. Derrett, “John 9:6 Read With Isaiah 6:10; 20:9.” EQ 66:3 (1994): 251-254.
  5. John C. Poirier, “‘Day and Night’ and the Punctuation of John 9.3.” New Testament Studies 42:2 (April 1996): 288-294.
  6. William M. Wright, Rhetoric and Theology: Figural Reading of John 9 (Walter de Gruyter, 2009).
  7. John Piper, “Why Was This Child Born Blind?” May 21, 2011, and “The Works of God and the Worship of Jesus” June 4, 2011.
  8. Daniel DeForest London, “September with Celidonius: Walk and See (Jn 9:1)” and other essays, Theodical Spirituality, Sept. 1, 2014.
  9. Daniel DeForest London, “Responding to the Question of Suffering: John 9-10 in Light of Mimetic Theory,” 2015.
  10. Matthew D. Montonini, “The Nosy Neighbors of the Blind Man (John 9:8-13),” in Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Literary Approaches to Sixty-Eight Figures in John (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, forthcoming).

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