2. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his
parents, that he was born blind?
[Who did sin, this man, or his parents?] I. It was a received doctrine in the
Jewish schools, that children, according to some wickedness of their parents, were born
lame, or crooked, or maimed and defective in some of their parts, &c.; by which they
kept parents in awe, lest they should grow remiss and negligent in the performance of some
rites which had respect to their being clean, such as washings and purifyings, &c. We
have given instances elsewhere.
II. But that the infant should be born lame or blind, or defective in any part, for any
sin or fault of his own, seems a riddle indeed.
1. Nor do they solve the matter who fly to that principle of the transmigration of
souls, which they would have the Jews tinctured with; at least if we will admit
Josephus as a just interpreter and judge of that principle. For thus he:
It is the opinion of the Pharisees that "the souls of all are immortal, and do
pass into another body; that is, those of the good only [observe this]; but those
of the wicked are punished with eternal torments." So that unless you will say that
the soul of some good man passing into the body of this man was the cause of his being
born blind (a supposition that every one would cry shame of), you say nothing to the case
in hand. If the opinion of the transmigration of souls amongst the Jews prevailed only so
far, that they supposed 'the souls of good men only' passed into other bodies, the very
subject of the present question is taken away; and all suspicion of any punishment or
defect happening to the infant upon the account of transmigration wholly vanisheth, unless
you will say it could happen upon a good soul's passing out of the body of a good man.
2. There is a solution attempted by some from the soul's preexistency; which, they
would pretend, the Jews had some smatch of, from what they say about those souls which
are in Goph, or Guph.
"R. Jose saith, The Son of David will not come till the souls that are in Goph
are consummated." The same passage is recited also in Niddah, and Jevamoth,
where it is ascribed to R. Asi.
"There is a repository (saith R. Solomon), the name of which is Goph: and
from the creation, all the souls that ever were to be born were formed together and there
But there is another Rabbin brought in by another commentator, that supposeth a twofold
Goph, and that the souls of the Israelites and of the Gentiles are not in one and
the same Goph. Nay further, he conceives that in the days of the Messiah there will
be a third Goph, and a new race of souls made.
R. Jose deduceth his opinion from Isaiah 57:16, miserably wresting the words of the
prophet to this sense, "My will shall hinder for the souls which I have made."
For so Aruch and the commentators explain his mind.
Grant now that what I have quoted might be sufficient confirmation that the Jews did
entertain the opinion of the soul's preexistence, yet what concern the preexistence of
souls hath with this place, I confess I have not so quick an apprehension as any way to
III. I would therefore seek to untie this knot some other way.
I. I would have that passage observed which we have in Vajicra Rabba: "And
the days draw nigh, in the which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them,"
Ecclesiastes 12:1. "Those are the days of the Messiah, wherein there shall be
neither merit nor demerit": that is, if I mistake not, wherein neither the good
deserts of the parents shall be imputed to the children for their advantage, nor their
deserts for their fault and punishment. They are the words of R. Akibah in locum,
and they are his application of that passage in Ecclesiastes, and indeed his own
invention: but the opinion itself, that there shall be neither merit nor demerit in the
days of the Messiah, is what is commonly received amongst the Jews. If so, then let me
a little enlarge this question of our Saviour's disciples, by way of paraphrase, to this
purpose: "Master, we know that thou art the Messiah, and that these are the days of
the Messiah; we have also learned from our schools, that there is no imputation of merit
or demerit from the parents in the days of the Messiah; whence then is it that this man is
born blind? that in these days of the Messiah he should bring into the world with him some
mark and imputation of fault or blame somewhere? What, was it his parents' fault? This
seems against the received opinion. It seems therefore that he bears some tokens of his
own fault: is it so, or not?"
2. It was a conceit amongst the Jews, that the infant, when formed and quickened in the
womb, might behave itself irregularly, and do something that might not be altogether
In the treatise last mentioned, a woman is brought in complaining in earnest of her
child before the judge, that it kicked her unreasonably in the womb. In Midras
Coheleth and Midras Ruth, cap. iii. 13, there is a story told of Elisha Ben
Abujah, who departed from the faith, and became a horrible apostate; and, amongst other
reasons of his apostasy, this is rendered for one:
"There are which say, that his mother, when she was big with child of him, passing
through a temple of the Gentiles, smelt something very strong, and they gave to her of
what she smelt, and she did eat; and the child in the womb grew hot, and swelled into
blisters, as in the womb of a serpent."
In which story his apostasy is supposed as originally rooted and grounded in him in the
womb, upon the fault of his mother eating of what had been offered to idols. It is also
equally presumed, that an infant may unreasonably and irregularly kick and punch in the
womb of its mother beyond the rate of ordinary infants. The infants in the womb of Rebecca
may be for an instance; where the Jews indeed absolve Jacob from fault, though ht took
Esau by the heel; but will hardly absolve Esau for rising up against his brother Jacob.
"Antoninus asked R. Judah, 'At what time evil affections began to prevail in the
man? Whether in the first forming of the foetus in the womb, or at the time of its
coming forth?' The Rabbi saith unto him, 'From the time of its first coming.' 'Then,'
saith Antoninus, 'it will kick in the mother's womb and rush out.' The Rabbi saith, 'This
I learned of Antoninus; and the scripture seems to back it when it saith, Sin lieth at
It appears from this dispute, whether true or feigned, that the ancient opinion of the
Jews was, that the infant, from its first quickening, had some stain of sin upon it. And
that great doctor, R. Judah the Holy, was originally of that opinion himself, but had
lightly changed his mind upon so paltry an argument. Nay, they went a little further, not
only that the infant might have some stain of sin in the womb, but that it might, in some
measure, actually sin, and do that which might render it criminal. To which purpose this
passage of the disciples seems to have some relation; "Did this man sin, that he was
born blind?" That is, Did he, when his mother carried him in her womb, do any foul or
enormous thing that might deserve this severe stroke upon him, that he should bring this
blindness with him into the world?
6. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and
he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
[He spat on the ground, &c.] I. How far spittle was accounted
wholesome for weak eyes, we may learn from this ridiculous tale:
"R. Meir sat, and was teaching in the evening of the sabbath day. There was a
woman stood by hearing him preach; after he had done she went home and found her candle
gone out. Her husband saith to her, 'Where hast thou been?' 'I have been,' saith she,
'standing and hearing the voice of a preacher.' Her husband saith to her, 'Thou shalt not
enter in till thou hast gone and spat in the face of him that taught.' After three weeks,
her neighbouring women persuading and heartening her to it, she goes to the chapel. Now
the whole matter was already made known to R. Meir. He saith therefore to them, 'Is
there ever a woman among you skilled in muttering charms over eyes?' [for he feigned a
grievous ailment in his eyes:] The woman said, 'R., I am skilled': 'However,' saith he,
'do you spit seven times upon my eyes, and I shall be healed'; which she did." Gloss:
"Whenever they muttered any charms over the eyes, it was necessary that they should
spit upon them."
II. It was prohibited amongst them to besmear the eyes with spittle upon the sabbath
day upon any medicinal account, although it was esteemed so very wholesome for them.
"They do not squirt wine into the eyes on the sabbath day, but they may wash the
eyebrows with it: but as to fasting spittle" [which was esteemed exceedingly
wholesome], "it is not lawful to put it so much as upon the eyelids."
"One saith, that wine is prohibited so far that it may not be injected into the
middle of the eyes; upon the eyebrows it may. Another saith that spittle is
forbidden so much as upon the eyelids."
So that in this action of our Saviour's we may observe,
I. That he does not heal this sick man with a word, as he did others; but chooseth to
do a thing which was against their canonical observation of the sabbath; designing thereby
to make a trial of the man, whether he was so superstitious, that he would not admit such
things to be done upon him on the sabbath day. He made an experiment not much unlike this
upon the man at Bethesda, as we have before observed.
II. Whiles he mingles spittle with dust, and of that makes a clay to anoint the
eyes of the blind man, he thereby avoideth the suspicion of using any kind of charm, and
gives rather a demonstration of his own divine power, when he heals by a method contrary
to nature; for clay laid upon the eyes, we might believe, should rather put out the eyes
of one that sees, than restore sight to one that had been blind. Yea and further, he gave
demonstration of the divine authority he himself had over the sabbath, when he heals upon
that day by the use of means which had been peculiarly prohibited to be used in it.
The connexion of this chapter with the former is such, that the stories in both seem to
have been acted on one and the same day. [Going through the midst of them, and so
passed by. And as he passed by, he saw a man which was blind.] If it be so, (which I
will not much contend about,) then do they bring the adulterous woman before Christ, yea,
and attempt to stone him too, on the sabbath day. Jesus hid himself; or perhaps the
sense is, he was hidden; that is, by the multitude that had a favour for him, and
compassed him about, lest his enemies should have wreaked their malice and displeasure
7. And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation,
Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
[ Which is by interpretation, Sent.] We have already shewn that the spring of
Siloam discharged itself by a double stream into a twofold pool; the Upper pool,
which was called the pool of Siloah; and the Lower, which was called the
pool of Shelah; Nehemiah 3:15. Now the pool of Siloah, plainly and properly
signifies Sent; but Shelah not so, as we have already noted. Probably the
evangelist added this parenthesis on purpose to distinguish which of the pools the blind
man was sent to wash in; viz. not in the pool Shelah, which signifies fleeces,
but in the pool of Siloah, which signifies Sent.
8. The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind,
said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
[That sat and begged.] This may be opposed to another sort of beggars, viz. those
that beg from door to door.
The words used by the beggars were generally these:
Vouchsafe something to me: or rather, according to the letter, Deserve
something by me; i.e. Acquire something of merit to yourself by the alms you give me.
O you whoever have a tender heart, do yourself good by me.
Look back and see what I have been; look upon me now, and see what I am.
13. They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
[They brought him to the Pharisees.] The Pharisees, in this evangelist,
are generally to be understood the Sanhedrim: nor indeed do we find in St. John any
mention of the Sadducees at all. Consult John 1:24, 4:1, 8:3, 11:46, &c.
The Pharisees have such a sway amongst the people, that if they should say any thing
against the king or high priest, they would be believed. And a little after,
"The Pharisees have given out many rules to the people from the traditions
of the fathers which are not written in the laws of Moses: and for that very reason the
Sadducees rejected them, saying, They ought to account nothing as law or obligatory but
what is delivered by Moses; and what hath no other authority but tradition only ought not
to be observed. And hence have arisen questions and mighty controversies; the Sadducees
drawing after them the richer sort only, while the multitude followed and adhered to
Hence we may apprehend the reason why the whole Sanhedrim is sometimes comprehended
under the name of the Pharisees; because the common people and the main body of
that nation were wholly at the management of the Pharisees, governed by their decrees and
laws. But there was once a Sanhedrim that consisted chiefly of the sect of the Sadducees,
and what was done then? R. Eliezer Ben Zadok saith, There was a time when they burnt a
priest's daughter for whoredom, compassing her about with bundles of young twigs. But the
answer is, There was not a Sanhedrim at that time that was well skilled. Rabh
Joseph saith, "that Sanhedrim was made up of Sadducees." It is worth our
taking notice of this passage.
22. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews
had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out
of the synagogue.
[He should be put out of the synagogue.] So chapter 16:2: Granting that this is
spoken of excommunication, the question may be, Whether it is to be understood of the
ordinary excommunication, that is, from this or that synagogue; or the extraordinary, that
is, a cutting off from the whole congregation of Israel.
"Whoever is excommunicated by the president of the Sanhedrim is cut off
from the whole congregation of Israel": and if so, then much more if it be by the
vote of the whole Sanhedrim. And it seems by that speech, they cast him out, verse
34, that word out, was added for such a signification.
But suppose we, it might be understood of the ordinary excommunication; among all the
four-and-twenty reasons of excommunication, which should it be for which this was decreed,
viz. that "if any man did confess that Jesus was the Christ, he should be put out of
the synagogue?" The elders of the Sanhedrim, perhaps, would answer, what upon other
occasions is frequently said and done by them, "It is decreed for the necessity of
28. Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses'
[We are Moses' disciples.] The man, as it should seem, had in gentle and
persuasive terms asked them, "Will ye also be his disciples?" as if he heartily
wished they would. But they as ruggedly, "Be you so: we are Moses' disciples."
"They delivered two disciples of the wise men into the hands of the chief
priest" [that they might instruct him about the rites and usages of the day of
expiation]; they were of the disciples of Moses. And who are these disciples of
Moses? it follows, the very phrase excludes the Sadducees.
The reader may observe, by the way, these disciples of Moses, with what
reverence they treat him.
"Moses was angry about three things, and the tradition was accordingly hid from
him: I. About the sabbath, Exodus 16:20: while he was angry he forgot to recite to them
the traditions about the sabbath. II. About the vessels of metal, Numbers 31:14: while he
was angry, he forgot to recite to them the traditions about the vessels of metal. III.
About the mourner, Leviticus 10:16: while he was wrath, the tradition was hid from him,
which forbade the mourner to eat of the holy things."
Did Moses think it unlawful for the mourner to have eaten of the holy things, when he
spake to Eleazar and Ithamar, while they were in the very act of bewailing the death of
their two brethren, "Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy
place?" Yes, but in his passion he forgot both the tradition and himself too.
Excellent disciples indeed! that can thus chastise your great master at pleasure, as a man
very hasty, apt to be angry, and of a slender memory! Let him henceforward learn from you
to temperate his passions and quicken his memory. You have a memory indeed that have
recovered the tradition which he himself had forgot.
34. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost
thou teach us? And they cast him out.
[And they cast him out.] I shall note something of this kind of phrase at
chapter 16:2. Thus doth this man commence the first confessor in the Christian
church, as John the Baptist had been the first martyr in it. He suffered
excommunication, and that from the whole congregation of Israel, for the name of Christ.
It seems something strange that they did not excommunicate Jesus himself: but they were
contriving more bloody things against him.