The photo at the top of this post is the first Bible my Father gave me when I was a young teenager. Prior to this, I had been reading out of a King James Version that had previously been a pew Bible. I treasured this new Bible because it was much more readable and was mine. On the cover it said, “New American Standard.” Most of the passages I have memorized over the years have come from this translation. In fact, when I read another translation, I sometimes get tripped up when reading aloud because the New American Standard is ingrained in my memory. One of the features of the New American Standard translation is its use of italicized text. When the translators provide a word in English that is not in the original Greek or Hebrew (or Aramaic), they indicate it by rendering the word in italics. This is not the only translation that does this. The King James, New King James, and 1901 American Standard versions all use italicized text as well.
There is one text that has caused some people a little difficulty. We have always understood conditions such as blindness, deafness, and other physical features that depart from the usual pattern for what makes up an ideal human being as the result of sin. In other words, God did not design people to be crippled, blind, deaf, missing a limb, or have downs syndrome. In Genesis, before sin came into the picture, the world was an ideal place. In Heaven, there will be no sickness and dying. This is not the case in the between time. In fact, Jesus came to undo the results of sin, which is partially why many of his miracles can be characterized as assaults on the handiwork of sin, which includes blindness, lameness, and other conditions.
The text that has caused difficulty comes from John 9:1-4. “1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
The difficulty in this passage in obvious. Jesus seems to be saying that this man suffered from blindness from his birth because God did it to him. I have even heard people claim that those born with handicaps are not abnormal because God had a different template for them. They based their conclusion on this passage. In other words, handicaps are God’s design. I understand the desire to comfort a handicapped child and tell him that he is not “abnormal.” Every child is precious because they have the breath of God. Even though a physical body (as well as the inward man) might be distorted due to sin, the image of God and the breath of God still resides in every human being. However, it is simply bad theology to claim that a physical handicap is some sort of “alternative template.” It is not very different than telling a grieving child that God took her mother because he needed her more. Death is no more a part of God’s original design than any kind of illness, genetic or otherwise. Jesus came to ultimately set everything right. There will be no death or sickness in Heaven, which has to include physical deformities. To claim it is some other pattern of God’s for creating a human being flatly contradicts the rest of the Bible.
However, the difficulty of this text disappears when you read this passage in the original Greek texts of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
I reproduced the New American Standard translation rather than the New International Version because of the italicized text. Keep in mind that the italicized words were NOT in the Greek text, but were provided by the translators. Remove the italicized words, and you have the exact words in the Greek Text.
“1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents; but so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
Another thing to remember is that the earliest Greek manuscripts did not have punctuation or versification and were written in all capital letters. Punctuation did not appear in Greek Bibles until hundreds of years later and were not part of the original text. If you were to look at facsimile copies of Greek Bibles from the 3rd and 4th century, you can see this clearly even if you can’t read ancient Greek. Notice this page from Codex Siniaticus, a Greek Text from the fourth century.
|Codex Siniaticus, 4th century|
Punctuation was an addition to the texts long after they were originally written, probably to aid in reading the text. In fact, modern printed editions of the Greek text also includes punctuation along with lower case letters for the purpose of making it easier to read. In critical editions, there are footnotes that point out places in the text were a comma might be preferred over a period or vice-versa.
In nearly every passage of the Bible, the addition of punctuation did not affect the text. However, that does not appear to be the case in this text. Read the passage again as it was in the original Greek text in all capital letters WITHOUT the punctuation and versification .
“AS HE PASSED BY HE SAW A MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH AND HIS DISCIPLES ASKED HIM RABBI WHO SINNED THIS MAN OR HIS PARENTS THAT HE WOULD BE BORN BLIND JESUS ANSWERED NEITHER THIS MAN SINNED NOR HIS PARENTS BUT SO THAT THE WORKS OF GOD MIGHT BE DISPLAYED IN HIM WE MUST WORK THE WORKS OF HIM WHO SENT ME AS LONG AS IT IS DAY NIGHT IS COMING WHEN NO ONE CAN WORK”
When you read this passage aloud, there are natural pauses. This is where we put a comma or period in English. Instead of doing this, I will put a dash where you pause in reading.
“AS HE PASSED BY HE SAW A MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH -- AND HIS DISCIPLES ASKED HIM - RABBI WHO SINNED - THIS MAN OR HIS PARENTS THAT HE WOULD BE BORN BLIND -- JESUS ANSWERED - NEITHER THIS MAN SINNED NOR HIS PARENTS -- BUT SO THAT THE WORKS OF GOD MIGHT BE DISPLAYED IN HIM WE MUST WORK THE WORKS OF HIM WHO SENT ME AS LONG AS IT IS DAY -- NIGHT IS COMING WHEN NO ONE CAN WORK”
Reading this passage aloud, it appears that Jesus does not give a reason why the man was born blind. He simply states that it was neither his fault nor his parents fault. Then, he ceases to deal with the question as to why the man was born blind. Instead of focusing on why he was born blind, Jesus says, “But so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” Instead of getting bogged down in useless speculative questions and debate which do not do anyone any good, Jesus said that he and his disciples need to do the works of God before their time runs out.
The works of Christ give us hope. I Corinthians 15 teaches us that we will be transformed and changed in the twinkling of an eye. Our corruptible, weak, mortal bodies will no longer be as they were before. We will have a new, incorruptible, immortal body that is not of this earth. There will be no death, no sickness, no deformities, no handicaps, or other defects.