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One Thing I Know: How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience toward Belief

One Thing I Know: How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience toward Belief

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One Thing I Know: How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience toward Belief

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Apr 29, 2015


This work employs multiple methodologies to analyze the story of the man born blind (John 9) in order to discern how this episode serves the greater purpose of the Gospel, stated in 20:31: "so that you may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through trusting you may have life." The analysis of linguistic patterns; narrative structure; cultural anthropology; and an analysis of irony, humor, and wit are each employed. These are all synthesized in the final chapter, which makes an attempt to discern how an ancient performance of John 9 might look, and how such a performance might sway an ancient audience toward trust in Jesus as Messiah.
Apr 29, 2015

Sobre el autor

Britt Leslie received his PhD from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and is currently an adjunct professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He also teaches Bible in the Pastors' Course of Study for the United Methodist Church in Ohio and Indiana.

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One Thing I Know - Britt Leslie

One Thing I Know

How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience toward Belief

Britt Leslie

For Tracey, my βοηθός

Figures and Tables

Table 1.1 Pattern of Verses 4–5 | 18

Table 1.2 Pattern of Verses 3–4 | 18

Table 3.1 Contrast of the Healed Man with the Pharisees | 81

Figure 3.1 Widening of the Healed Man’s Understanding of Jesus | 89

Table 3.2 Plot Tensions and Resolution in John 9 | 110

Table 5.1 How Humor Works | 156

Table 5.2 Shift from Proper to Improper | 157

Table 5.3 Reversal of Evaluation | 157

Table 5.4 Absurd, Abnormal, and Quirky Logic | 158

Table 5.5 Example of Irony using John 9:5 | 160

Table 5.6 Steps for Irony with example from John 9:5 | 161

Table 5.7 Irony, Giving Glory to God | 171

Table 5.8 Humor, Surely You Don’t Want to Become His Disciples | 174

Table 5.9 Pun, Here is a Sight to See | 174

Table 6.1 Formatted Modern-Style Text | 182

Table 6.2 Unformatted, Ancient-Style Text | 182


I wish to publically thank the following, without whom, none of this would be possible. Dr. David Rhoads professor emeritus from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) where I received my PhD, and Dr. Thomas Boomershine professor emeritus from United Theological Seminary (UTS) in Dayton, OH where I received both my MDiv and MA. As my dissertation advisor, Dr. Rhoads provided immense academic and personal support. As my MA thesis advisor Dr. Boomershine showed likewise academic and personal support and introduced me to the areas of study utilized in this work. He also introduced me to Dr. Rhoads who shares the same passion in these areas and cultivated mine. Of course I wish to thank the institutions LSTC and UTS themselves for providing the academically and spiritually nurturing environments in which I learned.

I wish to thank the members of my dissertation colloquy at LSTC who gave much needed advice and constructive criticism: Dr. Esther Menn, Dr. Barbara Rossing, and Dr. Raymond Pickett.

Additionally, Dr. Larry Welborn currently of Fordham University, professor at UTS at the time I was there, and Dr. Thomas Dozeman of UTS were both instrumental in nurturing my passion for exegesis. Thank you both.

I wish to thank Dr. K. C. Hanson my editor for valuable input and Wipf and Stock publishing for partnering with me in bringing my dissertation to print.

Finally, but certainly not least, I want to thank my beloved wife, the Rev. Tracey Leslie, for her undying love and support in so much more than my academic endeavors. Words fail where emotion runs deep.


One Thing I Know

How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience toward Belief

Copyright © 2015 Britt Leslie. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Write: Permissions. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401.

Pickwick Publications

An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers

199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3

Eugene, OR 97401


ISBN 13: 978-1-4982-0970-0

EISBN 13: 978-1-4982-0971-7

Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Leslie, Britt.

One thing I know : how the blind man of John 9 leads an audience toward belief / Britt Leslie.

xii + 208 p. ; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 13: 978-1-4982-0970-0

1. Bible. N.T.—John IX—Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Healing of the man born blind (Miracle). I. Title.

BS2615.2 L47 2015

Manufactured in the U.S.A.



The Question for Investigation

It is my thesis that the episode¹ of the blind man in John 9 is designed to evoke in hearers² a relationship of trust in Jesus as light and an experience of Jesus as light of the world. Light is thought of in antiquity as both a source of life and evidence of life. This is explicit in John where we see Jesus described as both light and life (John 1:3–5). This thesis about chapter 9 is in line with the overall stated purpose of the gospel of John, namely that the gospel was written so that (ἵνα) you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31 NRSV).

I wish to investigate my thesis by use of a synthetic multidisciplinary approach. My hope is that in combining the disciplines of narrative criticism, social-science criticism, discourse studies, and performance criticism, an analytical and interpretive benefit will be yielded which exceeds that of simply adding the individually yielded insights of each discipline.


The overall purpose of the Gospel of John is to elicit in the hearer trust (πιστεύω) in Jesus (John 20:31), a relationship that brings with it abundant life (ζωή) (John 10:10). Life in the Gospel of John is bound up with the concept of light (φῶς) (1:4). John 9, like the larger gospel narrative, seeks to elicit in the hearer, trust in Jesus and an experience of Jesus as light (= life) of the world. Specifically, John 9 accomplishes the characterization of Jesus by demonstrating (primarily showing rather than telling) the direct effects of this light on a man lacking inner light (blind) from birth. Such a person is the perfect subject to demonstrate Jesus’s effect as light of the world. Because he was born blind, any light (light = sight) that he acquires must have come from Jesus his healer.³

I shall attempt to demonstrate how the episode of the man born blind functions rhetorically to kindle in the hearer light, that is, a relationship of trust (πιστεύω) with Jesus as light of the world. Note that I have chosen the English word trust here for the Greek verb πιστεύω rather than the usual translation of believe (as in the above quoted NRSV translation). I think that trust more fully captures the nuance of the Johannine use of πιστεύω, which is relational.⁴ The modern English speaking Westerner, for the most part, can understand believe on the level of a purely mental exercise, where trust, in addition to mental assent, implies more of a relational investment.

In summary there are two parts to the above thesis. First, it is my thesis that John 9 asserts and demonstrates a statement about Jesus: Jesus is the light of the world who brings life. Second, it is my thesis that through John 9 the author attempts to elicit in the hearer trust in Jesus as light. The second part of this thesis goes a step beyond the first part from an assertion about Jesus to an attempt to elicit a response, namely a relationship of trust, between the hearer of John’s Gospel and Jesus.

In fact, John 9 seems to almost provide a template for the incorporation of a member of the Johannine community. It is the story of a person who receives his sight, both physical and spiritual, is then cast out from his own people for witnessing that his healer is from God. He is sought out by his healer, trusts and worships. The central figure of the Johannine community then pronounces that the representatives of the broader (expelling) community abide in sin.

John 9, and particularly the climactic scene vv. 35–39, functions within the rest of the gospel to accomplish that expressed goal of trust in Jesus in two ways. First, it removes the negative cultural consequences which come from trust, namely expulsion from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2) and being removed from one’s community. This is demonstrated when Jesus seeks out and elicits the trust of the healed man after his expulsion. Second, this initiation into the new community of Jesus the Good Shepherd (cf. 10:3–4) happens specifically through trust (cf. 9:35, 38) in Jesus. Furthermore, this is an initiation into a community where one will never be cast out (ἐκβάλλω, 6:37 cf. 934). The members of the synagogue community may well be cast out (ἐκβάλλω, 9:34) by their leaders, but those who are part of the community that Jesus establishes (John 6:37; cf. 1:12) will never be cast out (6:37) by their leader.

Previous Investigations

Historical Critical/Purpose of the Gospel


In History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel,⁵ Louis J. Martyn attempts to link the Fourth Gospel with the history and experiences of a particular community, the Johannine Community. Essentially Martyn sees John 9 as a kind of narrative autobiography of the Johannine Community. They are made to see who Jesus really is, come to belief, and are expelled from the synagogue because of their witness. He essentially sees three phases of the community’s development. 1) Prior to the 80s CE, those who believed in Jesus as Messiah continued living life as a Jew and engaging in synagogue worship. 2) Sometime after the 80s a middle period existed within the community where they were viewed with suspicion over the community’s claims about Jesus and eventually were expelled from the synagogue (9:33; 12:42; 16:2). The Brikat ha-minim was used as an instrument to enforce this. This is acted out in John 9 as an autobiographical drama. 3) The expelled community, gradually forming an identity apart from the synagogue and Judaism, began to address the Christian Jews who remained in the synagogue. They argued that there could be no middle road and one had to be a part of the Johannine community openly (cf. 12:42–43).


Raymond Brown traces out his theory in his Anchor Bible commentary on John, his book The Community of the Beloved Disciple, and also his Anchor Bible commentary on the Johannine Epistles (which contains much of Community).⁶ His reconstruction of the history of the community is more complex than Martyn’s. He sees four phases in the life of the community.

1) Prior to the writing of the Gospel, the community begins with the Beloved Disciple, an historical figure and ex-disciple of John the Baptist. He is a follower of Jesus from the beginning, but not one of the twelve. The Beloved Disciple links the historical Jesus with the Johannine community.

2) As the Gospel was being written, the community began to be in conflict with various groups: Jews, Jewish Christians with a lower Christology, followers of John the Baptist, and crypto-Christians. The conflict with the Jews may have been from the admittance of Samaritans into the community. An increasingly higher Christology developed and those who did not share this Christology were also considered to be in conflict with the community. The crypto-Christians, or Jews who believed in Jesus but did not confess openly, were considered to be in conflict with the community as well (cf. 12:42–43). We get the picture of a community with a high Christology that sees itself as not of this world and in conflict with the world. The community then takes a closed stance against outsiders.

It is during this phase that expulsion of Johannine Christians from the synagogue takes place. This has the effect of sharpening the isolation of the community. The community is therefore understandably very critical (12:42; cf. 9:22–23; 19:38) of those who believe, but because they do not confess Jesus as Christ, remain in synagogue life and community.

3) When the epistles were being written by a different author than the Gospel, there were internal divisions and splits. These grew from differing interpretations within the community of the Fourth Gospel itself. Brown sees the orthodox community⁷ now moving in the direction of the larger church and the secessionist (cf. 1 John 2:19) moving toward what would be known as docetism.

4) After the letters were written the orthodox community eventually merges with the larger church which has accepted the high Christology. Brown points to the writings of Ignatious of Antioch (around 110 CE) as evidence for this merge. The secessionists eventually become Gnostics. As specific as all this sounds (even more so in The Community of the Beloved Disciple), Brown himself acknowledges the highly tentative nature of the endeavor by saying that perhaps should be placed before each assertion.


While Brown and Martyn theorize that various parts of the Gospel can be attributed to various circumstances in the life of one group (the Johannine Community), George Richter⁹ theorizes that the work of various groups is reflected within the Gospel, there is the influence of several different groups that built progressively on the work of the other. Cullman¹⁰ theorizes that there were two groups of followers of Jesus, the twelve disciples from the Galilee in the North and those associated with the Beloved Disciple from the South in Judea. Langbrandtner¹¹ argued that the Gospel was originally written by someone with a Gnostic outlook and was reworked by an anti-Gnostic redactor. These two perspectives represented a major struggle within the Johannine Community for about 40 years.

The common thread in all of the above authors is that in one way or another, each seeks to use historical-critical analysis of the Gospel (and perhaps epistles) to discern a particular geographically located community or communities and then discern the circumstances of that community or communities in the working out (writing, redacting etc.) of the Fourth Gospel.

Sectarian understanding of the Johannine Community

Meeks¹² takes a sociological approach and analyzes the ascent/descent motif in John. He concludes that the Johannine community is sectarian¹³ and isolated. Of John he states, If one ‘believes’ what is said in this book, he is quite literally taken out of the ordinary world of social reality. Contrariwise, this can hardly happen unless one stands already within the counter-cultural group or at least in some ambivalent relationship between it and the larger society.¹⁴ Although not all scholars would use the word sectarian or sect to describe Johannine Christianity, Meeks’s conclusions of an isolationist society have greatly influenced theories of the Johannine community.¹⁵ This influenced Neyrey’s conclusions about the Johannine community as well.

Neyrey¹⁶ argues that the high Christology in John indicates a revolt against prevailing views. He uses Mary Douglas’s group/grid model to argue that the community revolted against the prevailing social system. The dualism found in John is used to create boundary markers that cordon off the community from other social groups.

Malina and Rohrbaugh both¹⁷ argue from the perspective of anti-language that the evangelist is writing to and for an anti-society, a society that exists outside the usual social constructs, is isolationist and close knit. anti-language serves to reinforce the value system and ideology of the anti-society.

Nonsectarian understanding of the Johannine Community

In opposition to the idea that the Johannine Community is sectarian (or at least wrought with isolationist tendencies) stands the work of Carson and Köstenberger. Carson argues that John 20:31 should be understood to mean, ‘that you may believe that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus.’ This is meant in the sense of coming to belief rather than continuing in belief as most would see it.¹⁸ Under the direction of Carson, Köstenberger¹⁹ argues in his dissertation that Jesus has been sent by the Father to accomplish a threefold mission: 1) To perfectly do his Father’s will, 2) to come from and return to the Father through obedience to death on the cross and resurrection, 3) to be shepherd/teacher who calls his followers to bear fruit (cf. John 15). He sees the disciples’ mission of the as similar but different. As Jesus is sent to do the will of the Father, so the disciples are sent to do the will of Jesus. This is done by demonstrating love and unity. He argues the Gospel’s primary purpose is evangelical because the disciples are commissioned by Jesus and sent into the world (20:19–23). He also argues that the Fourth Gospel is primarily concerned with the nature of Jesus and is therefore a missionary document.

Comparing the Philo community, the Qumran community, and the Johannine community, Fuglseth²⁰ concludes that the Johannine community is more of a cult than sectarian or part of the mainstream body of Christianity. He studies the Philo community and determines that it represents the kind of writing found in a parent body. The Qumran community, he concludes, is mort representative of an isolated or sectarian group. The Johannine community falls in between. Not totally or even mostly isolationist, but also not part of the mainstream of Christianity at the end of the first century. The proper understanding of the community, he argues, is that of a cult. This is a group that claims to have a special kind of revelation but is also not entirely cut off from the main group nor closed off to the inflow of new members.

Ling²¹ rejects the idea of sectarianism in favor of what he calls virtuoso religion. He says, the defining character of virtuoso religion is its ability to maintain alternative structures that present a reversed image of society whilst remaining within its ideological and institutional structures²²—a kind of in the world not of the world approach. He sees in the Fourth Gospel a very real concern for, and mission to, the poor in Judea. He notes, among other passages, John 9 as evidence of Jesus’s ministry to the poor and also 12:1–8 as evidence of a common fund kept at Bethany (house of the poor) for the poor.


Bauckham and his doctoral advisee Klink hold that the Gospels were written for a much larger audience than one particular community.²³ Since B. H. Streeter,²⁴ the predominate assumption in scholarship has been that the gospels were written for and by a member or members of self-contained and geographically specific groups of Christians with each group having a geographical and sociological distance from the other that accounts for the differences among the gospels. Bauckham challenges that assumption. He argues that written communication is for the purpose of communicating across distances and that stories by and for particular communities would prefer oral communication. He also argues that early Christian leaders were, according to Paul’s letters and Acts, highly mobile, thus making geographical separation between communities much less of an issue. He sees the gospels (including John) as ancient biography. As such they are designed to appeal to a wider, rather than a narrower, audience.

Klink adds to Bauckham by arguing for a relational model of community for the Gospel of John rather than a geographically localized one. In other words, the intended audience of the Fourth Gospel may exist in many geographical locations. Based on an examination of the kind of audience that the Fourth Gospel suggests, he argues that the audience was more like much of early Christianity and less like an isolated or sectarian community. As evidence he points to things like the word messiah being translated, the beloved disciple needing to be introduced to the audience, and the need for some geographical references to be explained.

Summary: open, evangelical and reinforcing

While I agree with Brown’s statement that perhaps should be inserted in every sentence of the above reviewed historical reconstructions of the Johannine Community, I also think the same perhaps should be inserted in the various theories that reject a single localized community. Klink has much to offer, however, in his redefinition of community as relational over against geographical. The presence of relational communities does not necessarily exclude geographical ones as well. For example, John may well be suited (as Klink and Bauckham argue) for a more general audience in a multiplicity of locations. I would cite statements such as all who come to me, whoever trusts in . . . , if anyone . . . , etc., as evidence of this (see John 1:12; 3:15, 33, 36; 6:35, 47, 51, 57; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 40; 7:17, 37; 8:12, 51–52; 10:9; 11:25–26; 12:26, 44–45; 13:20; 14:9, 24; 15:6, 23). However, specific references to being cast out of the synagogue and fearing the Jewish authorities, as well as the highly polemical speeches against the Jews and the Pharisees and even the antagonistic relationship with the world, also seem to imply some very specific historical circumstances of conflict with outsiders. I would argue that John’s Gospel contains too many invitations to trust and has too many examples of those who come to trust to be understood as entirely closed off or sectarian (cf. 1:39, 46; 4:23, 29, 53; 6:26–29; 35–40; 66–68; 7:37–39; 10:38; 11:42). At the same time this does not rule out specific conflict with one or more synagogue communities. One must also notice the abundant references to remaining/abiding/dwelling in . . . and being in, particularly in John 14–17 (cf. 8:31). These references would seem to indicate that the Gospel is intended for an audience who already trusts, written for the purpose of strengthening or at least maintaining that trust. The two options are not mutually exclusive. It makes sense, to use a Johannine metaphor, that a story designed to bring a sheep into the fold would also be designed to prevent that sheep from immediately wandering off!²⁵ I believe that the Fourth Gospel is both evangelical (seeks to elicit belief) and reinforcing (seeks to maintain existing belief). Also, while it is most likely the product of real historical issues of persecution and expulsion, the community is open (not sectarian or isolated). This will be the premise from which I operate in the remainder of the dissertation. I will seek to answer: how does John 9 work within the whole gospel story to elicit (not mutually exclusive with maintaining) belief?


There have been several undertakings that are either full narrative-critical investigations of the Gospel of John, or works that investigate a particular aspect of narrative criticism. I will outline ones that have significance for my investigation of John 9.

In 1970 David Wead authored The Literary Devices in John’s Gospel wherein he proceeds to investigate a number of literary devices that the author of John uses in order to fulfill his expressed purpose of trust (20:31). While this is not a full narrative-critical analysis, it contains many aspects of narrative-critical study that will be helpful to any investigation of John in general and John 9 in particular.

Wead begins the study with an analysis of the point of view that the narrator takes. This point of view is described as that of a post resurrection point of view. In other words, the narrator begins telling the story already knowing the end and knowing the implications of that end. This allows the author to break into the story at various points to explain the significance of an event in light of the end of the story. Because the narrator can share this point of view with the audience, it allows the author to paint the antagonists in

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