15 December 2014

Worship of Jesus by the man born blind: a case of blind faith?

This article is extracted from the article "The trial of Jesus" at http://thetrialofjesus.blogspot.com .

There are at least three passages in the Gospels occurring at a time before Jesus' trial in which Jesus allows or prompts others to worship Him. One of them is the healing of the man born blind in John's Gospel. The use of prosekyneo in this passage is very important because, in contrast with Matthew, John uses that word, both in his Gospel and in the book of Revelation, exclusively to mean worship directed to God. I will quote it verse by verse:

9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
9:36 He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"
9:37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you."
9:38 He said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

There are two textual issues with this passage: first, verse 38 is omitted in a few old manuscripts of Alexandrian text-type (P75, Sinaiticus, Washingtonianus). Second, in some of the manuscripts that do have verse 38, "Son of Man" in verse 35 is changed to "Son of God".  While some scholars [4] suggest that 9:38 was introduced later into the text for its liturgical use in the baptism of adults, so that the reading would culminate in the confession of faith in Jesus by the former blind man, there is a different view [5] which I find more plausible: that the original text was as quoted above, and both the omission and the change were introduced to solve, by different NT scribes and in different directions, the perceived challenge, even to the point of scandal, resulting from the man born blind worshiping a man who called himself "the Son of Man" and who, for all the healed man APPARENTLY knew about him, could be just a prophet. Faced with that challenge, some NT scribes decided to take out the worship verse, while other scribes decided to change Jesus' self-given title to make the case for worship by the former blind man epistemically more plausible from his APPARENT viewpoint.

The challenge presented by this passage is real and pressing, as in a first reading all the possible explanations of why worshiping Jesus was the right thing to do by the healed man at that time are less than satisfactory.  From acceptable to most unacceptable, they are:

a) The man born blind had a divinely-inspired intuition that the man who had healed him was God.  Good for him, but then his case is not transferable to less fortunate folks who have to rely on their reason. (*)

b) If a man has a) given sight to a man born blind and b) called himself "the Son of Man", then those concurrent facts prove that said man is God.

c) If a man has a) given sight to a man born blind and b) called himself "the Son of Man", then it is legitimate (or mandatory?) for the healed man (or for everyone?) to worship said man, no matter whether he is God or not.

I propose a hypothesis (in my view, plausible, and as far as I know, original,) that provides the key for an intelligent (inte-legere: read into) reading of the passage that avoids these explanations: the epistemic situation of the man born blind about Jesus, at the time of their second encounter, was much better than what can be assumed in a cursory reading of the passage, as noted with the "APPARENTLY"/"APPARENT" qualifications above. The passage offers three data items that make this hypothesis plausible:

1. Focusing on 9:35, we read that Jesus "heard that they had cast him (the former blind) out (of the synagogue)".  This brings about the subject of the relationship between Jesus' human intellect and the divine Intellect, which is not really different from the divine Essence. The divine Intellect was not permanently "direcly feeding" Jesus' human intellect with the kind of information on temporal matters that ordinary people acquire by ordinary means. Although such direct infusion of earthly knowledge did happen occasionally, it was the exception and not the rule. Acquiring such information in the same way as ordinary people do was part of Jesus' self-emptying or "kenosis", of his "taking the form of a servant" (aristotelian form, not just appearance, as the previous verse says that "he was in the form of God" (Phil 2:4-7)). E.g., in the episode of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years (Mk 5:25-34), Jesus really did not know who had touched his garments and He really was looking around to see who had done it. And in John's Gospel, Jesus sincerely asked where they had laid Lazarus (Jn 11:34). 

Thus, in the episode at hand, Jesus really learned that the Pharisees had cast the former blind out of the synagogue by hearing about the event from a third person, probably several hours after the event. And after hearing about the event, Jesus looked for the healed man in Jerusalem just as ordinary people look for someone. Therefore it is very likely that between the expulsion of the man from the synagogue and his second encounter with Jesus there was an interval of several hours.

2. In a previous passage in John, the officers whom the chief priests and Pharisees had sent to arrest Jesus (7:32) return to their bosses, who are gathered in one place, and are scolded by them for having let themselves be impressed by Jesus' words (7:45-49). The passage adds that Nicodemus, who according to Jn 3:1 was a Pharisee and "a ruler of the Jews", i. e. a member of the Sanhedrin, was one of the Pharisees present at that time (7:50) and that he spoke in Jesus' defense at the procedural level: "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" (7:51).

From this passage, it is likely that Nicodemus was present also during the argument raised by the healing of the blind man. Moreover, Nicodemus' presence at that event is not just likely but very likely, because the Pharisees that spoke in Jesus' defence at this occasion, not at the procedural but at the substantial level, were more than one:

Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" And there was a division among them. (Jn 9:16)

Since not many members of the Sanhedrin were likely to speak in Jesus' defence, it is highly probable that Nicodemus was one of those "others".

At this point, I ask the reader to place himself/herself in the shoes (or rather sandals) of Nicodemus.  You not only believe that Jesus is the Son of God but also have learned from Jesus the way in which we must live, his halakha.  You have learned that the essence of that way, regarding what you must do (**), is to love God with all your being and to love your neighbour as yourself, which is also the essence of the Law (Mk 12:28-33). You have also learned that, in Jesus' way, loving your neighbour goes beyond what is required by the Law, and involves feeling compassion for your neighbour and showing mercy to him (Lk 10:25-37), thus imitating the Heavenly Father who is "merciful and compassionate". Even more precisely, it involves loving compassionately your neighbour precisely because God loves him so, and being merciful to him because God wants you to be a sign and instrument of His mercy.  (This synthesizes the core of both Christian soteriology and moral: Jesus makes us "partakers of the divine nature" in Him (2 Pe 1:4), and this projects into, and at the same time requires, partaking of his feelings and actions.)

With that mindset, you see the man being cast out of the synagogue, and probably also being avoided by people. He is in good health and able to work, but since he was born blind he now has no clue about how to go on with his life, find lodging, find a job.  He could physically work in a workshop or in the field, but what are the names of those tools? And how are they used? And where are workshops and fields, anyway?  So you feel compassion for this man who is in such complete intellectual indigence and reach out to him and start teaching him the basic knowledge necessary to go on with his life.  While at that, it would be just natural that the conversation turns at some time to the subject of this prophet who healed him.  And you, being aware of the immense good that knowing Jesus is, start telling the man what you have learned about Jesus from Jesus Himself (Jn 3:10-21): that He is much more than a prophet, He is "the Son of Man" "who descended from heaven" and "who is in heaven" (***) (Jn 3:13) predicted in Dan 7:13. After a few hours, you lead the man to a lodging where he can take shelter and part ways, giving him some coins to get through the day.

3. At that point in time, Jesus finds the man. Now, let's recall that the man has never seen Jesus yet, because Jesus sent him to "wash in the pool of Siloam" (9:7) while he was still blind, and Jesus was no longer there when the man came back seeing. Thus, when Jesus found him and asked him: "Do you believe in the Son of Man?", the former blind had no idea that the man asking that question was Jesus. Therefore, when he answered: "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?", he was not meaning: "And what are the qualifications of the Son of Man (who I know is you), that I may believe in him?" but rather: "And which of the persons around is the Son of Man (whose qualifications I already know from my own experience and Nicodemus), that I may believe in Him?"

(*) That statement will probably place me under heavy friendly fire, so a clarification is required. In faith strictly defined, what moves us to believe some revealed truth T is not the fact that T appears as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason. Rather, we believe T because of the authority of God who revealed T, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. But God does not reveal that truth T directly to each person, but through a revelatory medium M. Therefore, in order to assent to the whole truth that God has revealed, the person must first identify the medium M through which God reveals (e.g. a prophet or God incarnate Himself, while any of them is alive on earth, and thereafter a book containing his teachings, in the Protestant and Karaite views, or a book plus a tradition with both interpreted by an authoritative magisterium, in the Catholic/Orthodox and Rabbinic views).  Clearly the strict definition of faith above does not apply to the identification of M as the medium through which God reveals, which is based on rational motives of credibility.  Otherwise, a person should have to identify M as the medium through which God reveals by an assent to the truth that God reveals through M based on the authority of God who revealed (through M) said truth (i.e. that He reveals through M)! 

(**) In the Christian way the first and foremost thing is what God does in us, the new creation (Eze 36:25-29; Jn 6:28-29; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10).

(***) The ending "who is in heaven" in Jn 3:13 is omitted in some old manuscripts of Alexandrian text-type (P66, P75, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Washingtonianus).  On the other hand, it appears in the works of early Christian writers such as Tatian's "Diatessaron" (c. 160-175) and Hippolytus' (170–235) "Against Noetus", and then consistently in the works of almost all Church Fathers. I share the view [6] that, just as it probably happened with the "worship" verse Jn 9:38, the ending was omitted by an NT scribe to avoid the challenge posed by Jesus telling Nicodemus that, at the same time that He was there talking to him, He was also in heaven!

In my view, it is perfectly likely that Jesus made such a clear and direct statement of his divinity to Nicodemus at an early time of his ministry if He knew, per his divine insight into minds and hearts, that Nicodemus was able to handle the challenge involved. After all, probably not much longer than a year later Jesus was telling "the Jews" in general that before Abraham came into existence, He was (Jn 8:58).


[4] http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/421747/AEJT11.35_Final_Formatted_Theophilos_An_Assessment_of_the_Authenticity.pdf

[5] http://www.bsw.org/biblica/vol-91-2010/m-steegen-to-worship-the-johannine-son-of-man-john-9-38-as-refocusing-on-the-father/456

[6] http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/gtj-nt/black-jn3-gtj-85.pdf

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