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In John 9, Jesus performs the miracle of healing the blind man in a rather unorthodox manner. He first creates some mud or clay out of the dirt and his saliva, then he "anoints" the man's eyes, and then he tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. After Jesus gives these instructions, John goes out of his way to point out that the name of the pool means "Sent."

Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

John doesn't explain every name in his gospel. So why would he point this one out?

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Mark gives us a similar story, but it seems to be a different man. The detail about the translation of the name of the pool is important and unique. Interesting observation and question. –  Jon Ericson Dec 5 '12 at 17:24
I would suggest re-wording the title to ask why John points that out. The way it's worded sounds like you're asking why Jesus sent him to that pool, which seems like less of an exegesis question and more of a theological question. Just my two cents. –  Jas 3.1 Dec 6 '12 at 20:18

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It seems to me that 'sent' is a wordplay here that reminds the reader that Jesus is sent by the Father and that the blind man was sent by Jesus. It also seems significant that the water in this pool was used for Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).

Daniel Wallace, in his commentary on the NET translation, notes:

The pool’s name in Hebrew is shiloah from the Hebrew verb “to send.” In Gen 49:10 the somewhat obscure shiloh was interpreted messianically by later Jewish tradition, and some have seen a lexical connection between the two names (although this is somewhat dubious). It is known, however, that it was from the pool of Siloam that the water which was poured out at the altar during the feast of Tabernacles was drawn....

[which is translated “sent”]: This is a parenthetical note by the author. Why does he comment on the meaning of the name of the pool? Here, the significance is that the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the man born blind. The name of the pool is applicable to the man, but also to Jesus himself, who was sent from heaven.1

According to InterVarsity Press' Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament,

It is not clear whether “Siloam” meant “sent,” but Greek teachers as well as Jewish teachers from Philo to the rabbis commonly made arguments based on wordplays, which were often based on fanciful etymologies.

Although Siloam was used as a water supply and for baptizing converts to Judaism, it has more direct significance here. This was probably still the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2, 37), and the water of Siloam was the sacred water used for this feast (see comment on 7:37–38). Here Jesus employs the ritual water (cf. 2:6; 3:5), but it works only because the man is “sent.”2

Some early Church fathers made the connection concerning the wordplay as well as linking the event to the sacrament of baptism. For instance, St. Augustine wrote:

He sent him to the pool which is called Siloam. But it was the evangelist’s concern to call our attention to the name of this pool; and he adds, “Which is interpreted, Sent.” You understand now who it is that was sent; for had He not been sent, none of us would have been set free from iniquity. Accordingly he washed his eyes in that pool which is interpreted, Sent—he was baptized in Christ. If, therefore, when He baptized him in a manner in Himself, He then enlightened him; when He anointed Him, perhaps He made him a catechumen. In many different ways indeed may the profound meaning of such a sacramental act be set forth and handled; but let this suffice your Charity. You have heard a great mystery.3

Concerning the word 'sent' itself, the Greek word (ἀπεσταλμένος) literally means "sent out/away."4 The Hebrew word being referenced by the Greek word may refer to a "flowing out (of waters)." According to Vincent,

The Hebrew word means outflow (of waters); missio, probably with reference to the fact that the temple-mount sends forth its spring-waters. Many expositors find a typical significance in the fact of Christ’s working through the pool of this name. Thus Milligan and Moulton, after noting the fact that the water was drawn from this pool for pouring upon the altar during the Feast of Tabernacles; that it was associated with the “wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3); and that the pouring out of the water symbolized the effusion of spiritual blessing in the days of the Messiah, go on to say: “With the most natural interest, therefore, the Evangelist observes that its very name corresponds to the Messiah; and by pointing out this fact indicates to us what was the object of Jesus in sending the man to these waters. In this, even more distinctly than in the other particulars that we have noted, Jesus, in sending the man away from Him, is keeping Himself before him in everything connected with his cure. Thus, throughout the whole narrative, all attention is concentrated on Jesus Himself, who is the Light of the world, who was ‘sent of God’ to open blind eyes.”5

It should be noted that this definition is somewhat disputed. The word in Hebrew may also only mean "sending away."6

Ultimately, the wordplay seems to be the best explanation.


1 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jn 9:7.

2 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn 9:7.

3 Augustine of Hippo, "Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John", trans. John Gibb and James Innes, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VII: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 245.

4 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 120.

5 Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), Jn 9:7.

6 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 1019.

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These questions don't necessarily have a definitive answer. But here is a thought on this question. John chapter 9 is an EXTREMELY important chapter in the gospel of John. This particular incident was really a turning point in Jesus' ministry. The receiving of sight for the blind was a miracle reserved for the Messiah (Isa 61:1,2) This is evidenced by the fact that not one time in the OT was this miracle performed, save the temporary blindness God used to save Elijah from the Syrian army.

Curing of blindness was the signature miracle of the Messiah, and that is why the incredulity, and perhaps even fear, manifest in the religious authorities regarding this notable miracle. For a prophet to cure blindness was to say that that prophet was THE prophet. It was, to cite the Isaiah passage, not just restoring sight to the blind, but declaring the acceptable year of the LORD.

Siloam does not just mean "sent" it means gushing forth. So here the miracle of the man cured of his blindness was truly a gushing forth of God's redemption to mankind. Why here and not elsewhere? Because this miracle was carefully examined by the religious authorities, even calling the parents to verify, and was consequently an undeniable proof that Jesus was not a fraud, a man not deserving of their contempt and punishment, but of their genuflection. The miracle was a clear indication that the sent one had gushed forth into the world, and the acceptable year of the LORD was on hand.

I'll try to tidy up this response later, I am running from memory here.

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In addition, John makes a point that Jesus came specifically to be light. See John 1:4-9. Healing this man was a clear metaphor for bringing light into the world for individual people. –  Jon Ericson Dec 6 '12 at 20:41
+1, the connection of Sent/Gushing Forth is very critical to the story. Jesus chose this location purposefully, not just for healing but for declaration of who He was. –  davidethell Dec 7 '12 at 18:21

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