The Man Born Blind
Our draft of the first verses of John 9 looked quite a bit like many translations. I’ll quote the NIV, just for convenience:
9:2 – His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
9:3a – “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus.
9:3b – “But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
But, as always, there are “some issues” in these verses that needed some adjustment.
In 9:2, the disciples ask a question that reveals an assumption that was apparently current in Jesus’ day – and of course still is: that specific hardships in life are punishment for specific sins. The disciples speculated that maybe the man’s parents had done some evil thing, with the result that they were punished by having a blind child. Or maybe the man (somehow?) had done something wrong (or maybe, would do something wrong?) with the result that he was punished by being born blind. Either way, the premise of the question is false: Yes, general hardships in life are the result of sin in general, and many sins have natural consequences that make life harder. But specific hardships aren’t linked to specific sins as punishment.
So, how best to make Jesus’ answer mean, essentially, “None of the above; your whole question is flawed”? John 9:3a, as written, tries to do the job, but ends up making a statement that, taken out of context, is patently false – this man and his parents had obviously both sinned. The (implied but obvious) point of Jesus’ answer is that no one’s sin caused the man to be born blind. So that’s what we wrote. Our back-translation of 9:3a is, “This man is not blind because of his sins, nor the sins of his parents.”
Even more dicey, perhaps, is the second half of verse 3. The Greek particle ἵνα can indicate either purpose or result: “in order that” or “with the result that.” In v2, it clearly indicated result: “Who sinned (with the result) that he was born blind?” But many translations take ἵνα to indicate purpose in v3: “…this happened so that…”
Now, this puts us in an interesting place. Did God cause this man to be born blind in order that later he might display his power by healing him? God certainly could have done so. But the usual promise in Scripture is that God will work through our hardships to bring us blessing – not that God actually causes those hardships in the first place. Put another way, God allows bad things, and promises to work blessing in spite of them. Implying that God caused this man’s blindness in order to demonstrate his glory in curing him is a bit like me sneaking into your garage at night and disconnecting the spark plugs on your car, and then when you call me because your car won’t start I fix it easily – and aren’t I a great mechanic?
Maybe I’m reading a little too much into “so that” in 9:3b. But I’d rather prefer to think that Jesus is using the ἵνα in his answer the same way the disciples were in their question: to indicate result. So, taking the last two words from the disciples’ question in v2 and supplying them again as the first half of Jesus’ answer in 9:3b, we get, “He was born blind; as a result, the works of God will be revealed in him.”
With a few adjustments, then, we get roughly this as our Nsenga version of John 9:2-3 (note the consistent use of “because of” as the “result” translation of ἵνα):
9:2 – His disciples asked him, “Teacher, this man was born blind because of the sins of whom? His sins, or his parents’?”
9:3a – Jesus said, “This man is not blind because of his sins, nor those of his parents, no.
9:3b – “But, because of his blindness, God will show his glory in him.”
9:2 – Asambili ŵake emukonsha kuti, “Asambizyi, munthu wamene uyu evyalika mphofu cikomo ca macimo a ŵani? Macimo ŵake, keno ŵa vyazi ŵake?”
9:3a – Yesu eciti, “Uyu munthu alilini mphofu cikomo ca macimo ŵake, keno ŵa vyazi ŵake, yayi.
9:3b – “Koma, cikomo ca umphofu wake, Mulungu awoneshe nchito zake mwa yeve.”
What do you think? Is this a satisfactory exegesis/understanding of the verse? Or have we made a mountain out of a molehill?