Articles home page

The man born blind in John 9:3

(Garth D. Wiebe, Dec. 2019)

In John 9:3 we have the account of the man blind from birth who was healed by Jesus. Most English translations are quite sloppy, if not biased, such that you would think that the blindness was meant for God's glory, which is ridiculous. For example, here are the two most popular translations in use today:

NIV (2011):

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
KJV:
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
First let's note the period at the end of the sentence. That is English punctuation. The original Koine Greek has no punctuation. So, punctuation is not God-breathed, but a matter of the decision of the translator.

With the period there, that leaves the reader to read the next two sentences as a separate thought:

NIV (2011):

"As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
KJV:
"I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Now, let's up back and look at the original text.
απεκριθη ο ιησους ουτε ουτος ημαρτεν ουτε οι γονεις αυτου αλλ ινα φανερωθη τα εργα του θεου εν αυτω εμε δει εργαζεσθαι τα εργα του πεμψαντος με εως ημερα εστιν ερχεται νυξ οτε ουδεις δυναται εργαζεσθαι οταν εν τω κοσμω ω φως ειμι του κοσμου
In the original texts of the earliest manuscripts, that would be rendered in all capital letters with no spaces between the words, besides the fact of no punctuation.

Let me re-translate that as close to word-for-word as possible, adding punctuation a bit differently:

Answers the Jesus, "Neither this one sins nor the parents of same; contrariwise, in order that may be revealed the works of God in same, it requires me to work the works of the sending me until it is night. Night is coming when no one is enabled to work. Whenever in the world I may be, I am light of the world."
So, although translating it so literally makes it read very awkwardly in English, now you see that with different English punctuation it reads very differently. Now the situation with the blind man present requires Jesus to do the work of God.

On top of that, the NIV takes the liberty of adding "this happened," as in "but this happened so that..." But there is no pronoun "this" in the original text, and no verb "happened." That was added in by translators. If the scriptures had meant to say that, then it would have been easy. Translating "this happened" from English back into Greek, we would have,

τουτο εγενηθη ινα φανερωθη τα εργα του θεου εν αυτω

"this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
You see how easy it would have been for the original Greek to say this, but it didn't!

Next there are two conjunctions in the text to consider.

The first is the conjunction αλλ, which I translated "contrariwise." It is a coordinating conjunction that contrasts the first clause with the next one. It is not a subordinating conjunction that would make one clause dependent on the other. Then, after αλλ, ινα is a subordinating conjunction ("in order that..." or "so that..."). So, the second clause is subordinate, but to what? Especially in the KJV, with the existing punctuation, "but that the" makes the second clause a dependent clause explaining the first one, given where they placed the period. Yet the KJV actually works well if all you do is just replace the period with a comma:

KJV (with comma in place of period):

Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him, I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Otherwise, what does ινα make the following subordinate clause subordinate to? Is it "neither this man nor his parents sinned"? That wouldn't make sense. The works of God are not revealed because of the man and his parents having not sinned. That is why a person's mind is led to go further back to the statement about the man being born blind, if you put a period at the end of the subordinate clause. But, if so, why is Jesus then changing the subject, interjecting some statement about how he must work the works of the one who sent him? Of course he has, is, and will be working the works of the one who sent him! This ought to have already been obvious; why restate it?

So, the subordinate conjunction, ινα, after the coordinating, contrasting one, αλλ, makes for an incomplete thought until it is completed by what follows: "it requires me to work the works of the [one] sending me..." Now, put together, "in order that the works of God may be revealed in him, it requires me to work the works of the [one] sending me." That is the completed thought, which contrasts (αλλ) the notion that someone sinned such that he would be born blind.

Now, there are two levels of bad ideas about John 9:3, one worse than the other. The worse one is that his blindness is the work of God such that the blind man somehow reveals God's glory by being blind.

"but [he was born blind] such that the works of God [blindness] would be revealed in him"
If that is the case, then why does Jesus then talk about how he must do the works of God? Will Jesus go on to make someone else blind to further display the works of God, since he is speaking of the works of God being the man's blindness? And why does he need to do anything with this man, since the man is currently displaying the works of God?

The lesser of the two bad ideas is that he was born blind so that Jesus could come along later and heal him. If so, then the NIV would be correct, and the words should be added to the original Greek text, as I mentioned before:

τουτο εγεννηθη ινα φανερωθη τα εργα του θεου εν αυτω

"this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
Or maybe Jesus should have said it more explicitly:
τυφλος εγεννηθη ινα φανερωθη τα εργα του θεου εν αυτω

"he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
But that is not what scripture recites. It doesn't say that, even though you can see how easy it would have been for it to just come out and say that. Yet it didn't.

The bottom line is that sickness is never to God's glory, nor does God make people blind from birth all the way to adulthood just so that someone can come along to heal them later. Jesus was confronted with a case of a person afflicted with blindness, which necessitated him ("εμε δει," translated, "it requires me") to act accordingly.

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.