We concluded our series from the book of John yesterday with an exploration of the story of healing of a man who was blind from birth. Our primary focus was on the conversation between Jesus and His disciples’ in John 9:1-5.
This story is an absolutely amazing encounter with the healing grace of our Lord and it is written in more detail than most of the other stories in the book of John. It highlights the tension that is occurring between Jesus and the Pharisees, and this passage contains one of the biggest misunderstandings of Scripture in the Bible.
What conclusion can we draw from this text? At first glance, it appears that God made this man blind so Jesus could come along and heal him. We are going to explore the language of this text and see if we can reveal how this misconception occurred.
If we begin to apply the basic principles of Biblical interpretation, a different picture unfolds.
It is important to remember that our oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are in Greek. They are hand written, they are written without punctuation or spaces between words, and they contain very few capitalizations.
When scholars work with these texts, they not only have to translate the words, but have to determine where sentences begin and end as well. Sometimes it is their subjective opinion that determines the location of periods and commas.
And the placement of a period or a space can make all the difference in the world!
Let me illustrate the point. Imagine a man came home to see this letter scribbled on a note card and lying on the kitchen table.
How can we perceive this note?
Hey, Honey dinner is on. I love you just a little. Trip to the store.
Or, is it possible she is telling him:
Hey Honey, Dinner is on. I love you. Just a little trip to the store.
We look at those options and consider this very easy to interpret: We conclude that she loves him, they have plans for dinner, and she has gone to the store.
Our conclusion is based on our assumption of a healthy relationship. But what if they had just had a fight? What if her ex-boyfriend works at a store? What honey is she having dinner with? What exactly is a honey dinner anyway?
Remove capitalization and punctuation from the text and things can get complicated in a hurry.
Here is another illustration.
What do we have in this text?
When you take a confusing situation, add a language barrier and throw in about two thousand years of time, it is possible that you could misunderstand what Jesus is communicating.
I believe it all boils down to the placement of a period — and the unnecessary addition of words for clarification.
Let’s look again at the text. We are reading from the New American Standard Bible, one of the most literal translations available.
You may notice that some of the words are in italics. The preface to the NASB reads, “Italics are used in the text to indicate words which are not found in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek but implied by it.” The italicized words included in this literal translation of the Scripture are an attempt by the translators to increase readability and understanding of the text. When translators cross the line of adding “implied words,” they have moved from the function of translation and take on the role of interpreting the Scripture.
A certain level of interpretation from translators of the Scripture is to be expected, but the interpretation will always pass through the filter of human bias and understanding.
So, literally, the words in italics are not found in the original language. You could cross them out of your Bible and not be altering the Word of God.
Let’s try it —
This is very interesting. When we take out the words that don’t exist in the Greek we are left with an incomplete sentence in verse three. What do we do with that?
We realize that the conclusion of verse three is found in verse four.
You may ask, “Why are you making such a big deal out of this one verse?”
It is because this verse deals with one of the foundational lies that is attacking the church: the belief that God causes sickness in people so that He can be glorified.
And it almost looks like you can find it in the Bible. But, when you look at the text, you realize it is grammatically incorrect to make that assumption, and it is spiritually incorrect to assume it as well.
It is theologically inconsistent for God to afflict people and for Jesus to heal them. They would be working against each other, which could lead to the incorrect conlusion, “But God afflicted them, so that Jesus could heal them.”
The truth is God doesn’t have to afflict people. There is enough brokeness in the world without the creator and sustainer of life hurting people.
Another essential aspect of Biblical interpretation is allowing the Bible to interpret itself. It is important to allow the Sciptures to bring clarity to difficult concepts contained therein.
Let’s look at what else the Bible says about the relationship between Jesus and God concerning healing and the source of brokeness.
Question: According to this passage, who did Jesus heal?
Answer: All who were oppressed by the devil.
Question: Where is God according to this passage?
Answer: God is with Jesus.
It does not say Jesus went around healing those who were oppressed by God. Jesus healed those who were oppressed by the devil. The reason Jesus appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
When you see Jesus — you see the perfect revelation of the heart of God.
The confusion occurs because all of us have seen situations where someone we know or love has come through a tragic situation and drawn closer to God on the other side.
Our natural deduction is to assume God did that to them so they would learn to depend on Him. That is where the lie creeps in —- but, the truth is that God cannot give what He doesn’t have. God doesn’t have sickness. He doesn’t have disease. God is not poor or broken or ashamed. He doesn’t give that junk away.
We live in a broken world, and people get broken because of the brokenness of sin. But, God is not the one breaking, He is the one healing.
It is important to understand this today so we can learn to trust the heart of the Father and know His intention of goodness toward us.
The key to the confusion in John 9:3 really comes from the fact that the disciples are asking the wrong question. They are wanting to know “Why?” Why is he blind? Why did it happen to him? Why aren’t I blind? Did sin cause this? If so, whose sin?
We hear the disciples question, and we want to know the answer, too.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there hurting, hunger, and brokeness in the world.
Why? Why? Why?
The fact is: Jesus doesn’t often answer the why question.
He doesn’t feel a need to justify Himself or your circumstances to you. Rarely, if ever, do we discover why.
When we look to John 9:3 for the answer to “Why?” of course we get confused, because Jesus is not answering “Why?”
Jesus is telling us “What now?”
The key to moving forward in life isn’t found in asking “Why?” The question we must consider is, “What do I do now?” Jesus will lead you through that question.
(Blogger’s Note: A special thanks to Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California, for first introducing me to this remarkable truth from John chapter 9.)