What does this verse mean?

Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41, NIV)

Does it imply that spiritual blindness means not knowing God's Word?

  • Jesus said this to the Pharisees, who knew the scriptures extremely well. Dec 17, 2014 at 14:43
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    @DJClayworth yes they did, and no they didn't. There is knowing and there is knowing. Dec 21, 2014 at 14:20
  • @JackDouglas SO they we have to ask which kind of 'knowing' the question meant. Dec 21, 2014 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


John chapter 9 is, in its entirety, a commentary on the claim Jesus makes in John 8:12:

John 8:12: Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 9:41 should therefore be read in the context of chapter 9 as a whole. The chapter opens when Jesus sees a man blind from birth (John 9:1) and his disciples ask whether the man was a sinner or whether his parents were sinners. Jesus answers that they were not sinners but that the man is blind so that the works of God can be explained, repeating his words from verse 8:12: "I am the light of the world." Having spoken, Jesus uses moist clay to anoint the eyes of the blind man then says the wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam, which means 'sending forth'. There follows a long discussion on sin, with the Pharisees saying the man could not really have been blind, because Jesus is a sinner and sinners can not work miracles.

The man, who can now see says that if Jesus were not of God, he could do nothing, at which the Pharisees accuse him of being born a sinner, and cast him out. When Jesus next sees the man, he asks whether he believes on the Son of God:

John 9:35-38: Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

John then has Jesus give a short discourse in which the foregoing was an allegory for his mission in the world:

John 9:39: And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

And some of the Pharisees hear the words and querulously ask, "Are we blind also?" Which brings us to verse 41. Jesus tells the Pharisees they are not blind, because if they were blind they would be free of blame. They say they can see, and indeed they have seen and heard Jesus, and therefore they are sinners because of their unbelief. This is not spiritual blindness but about disbelief. Chapter 9 shows the Pharisees are not blind but they walk in darkness.

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    (+1) This is perhaps my favourite @DickHarfield answer I've encountered so far. Insightful, detailed, and concise: fantastic.
    – Steve can help
    Dec 14, 2016 at 8:35

Does Spiritual blindness mean not knowing Gods Word?

John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

In the context of the man born blind, Jesus was using blindness in a metaphor for his ministry.

John 9:39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

The Pharisees who were offended that they should be instructed wanted clarification.

  1. The Pharisees could be accused of committing a sin in the way they treated the man born blind, his family, and Jesus.

  2. Jesus says that if they were behaving this way because they were unable to understand, sin could not be charged to them.

  3. Jesus then told that that their presumption to speak for God (authoritatively) made them liable for their own sin.

Before the cross, sins were accumulated and needed to be repented of. When someone in the Old Testament died, their salvation status would depend on their faith. Those with faith will receive eternal life at their resurrection.

Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

After the cross, those who have faith get new life right away and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

An example of pre-cross spiritual blindness can be seen Luke;

Luke 18:9-12 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

The Pharisees of John 9 are similar to the Pharisee in Luke 18, both have faith in themselves and not God. This makes them distant from God and distant from truth.

Three things are called truth in the Bible, the Bible itself, Jesus, and God. It is our proximity to these that allows us to have spiritual discernment. Distance from them is spiritual blindness.

The Christian can approximate spiritual blindness in two ways. The first is retarded development;

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The other is carnality that quenches the work of the Holy Spirit;

Galatians 5:16-17 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

The Christian has the potential to be spiritually "sighted" because he has the Holy Spirit. However, the Christian can be effectively blinded because he has neglected his faith.

The unsaved are unable to understand the things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Christians who have not grown or who walk in the flesh are also unable to understand much of God's word. Christians are not blind because they they do not know God's word, they are blind because they have neglected Jesus, quenched the Spirit, become friends with the world, or otherwise remain distant from Him who saved them.