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John 9

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” 40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

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These words were spoken to the people in Israel at the time after Jesus had given sight to someone who had never seen before. There had never been a miracle like this. After he did this there was division among the people as well as the Pharisees as to who Jesus was, if He was the Christ. Many were bullied in fear from their Religious leaders, the Pharisees, because they did not want to be put out of the synagogue. That was probably the most important thing to most of the Israelites at the time.

This was like a test to see who would believe and who would not. In verse 39 Jesus said for judgment He came into the world...At that time the judgment was to separate those who believed in Him from those who did not. The blind man actually did see who Jesus was and the Pharisees thought they knew better because he broke the Sabbath And they called him many things but the Christ.

Judgment in a way here is like one who tests a cake to see if it's done, or when cooking something when one does different test to see when it's perfect.

God had given Jesus a work to do, and after he did it one can see if Israel is ready accept that Jesus is the Christ. The one who was born blind came to see that Jesus was the son of man as well as the Christ whom he later worshiped.

Looking at John chapter 15:23-24 Helps to interpret the scripture that was being asked.

2If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23He that hateth me, hateth my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Therefore their sin remained on them.

The test had revealed through not only healing a blind man but also from other miracles includes in raising a man from the dead after four days. They still did not believe in him… What more could he do at that time as the son of man to cause them to believe in him.

Darkness did indeed cover the nation as to who Christ was. But that blindness will not last forever.

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Jesus said that he came into the world so that those who are blind may see, and those who see may be made blind (Jn 9:39). Jesus healed the blind man by giving him sight, but for others, blindness may be the very thing they need in order to heal.

Jesus’ words in Jn 9:39 bring to mind the conversion of Paul on the way to Damascus, of how he was made blind by God’s divine light. The light of God blinded him to the things of this world but enlightened him to the things of God. God’s light helped Paul to see himself as he truly is and the true condition of his soul, while the mercy he received helped him to see God as he truly is and his true nature.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them in shackles to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. – Acts 9:1-9

Ultimately, the darkness of his divinely inflicted blindness helped Paul to realize his complete dependence on God's light. While the external manifestation of their healing was the exact opposite for each, the inner healing and light that the blind man and Paul received seem very much the same, and prepared them each for their respective roles as witnesses for Christ.

Returning to the OP’s question, if the Pharisees were blind, that is, if they could recognize and acknowledge their own blindness, that would mean they had been given the grace to see the truth and with it God’s forgiveness for their sins.

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What does Jesus mean by "if you were blind, you would have no sin?

John 9:39-41 NASB

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment, I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Those who were with Him from the Pharisees heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you maintain, ‘We see,’ your sin remains

39 And Jesus said,

“For judgment, I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

The Pharisees listening said to him.

“We are not blind too, are we?”

Pilate acted in ignorance, on the other hand, the religious leaders and the Pharisees were entrusted with the Law of Moses and so were informed about Jesus. Not accepting him as the Messiah might have been excused if they acted in innocence, but having full knowledge of the Law, the prophecies, and in view that he did so many miracles in their presence, not accepting Jesus as the Messiah was a serious sin.

Thus, Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you maintain, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

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Nicodemus admitted when he didn't understand; thus, was not guilty.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:9, ESV)

In John 9:39-41, Jesus' statement has subjunctive verbs. The rest of the passage is indicatives. Thus, the grammar is straight forward. Note the key is, "... but now you say, ‘We see.’"

The spiritual blindness of the Pharisees who listen to testimony of the man born blind was because their dogmatic traditions of how to interpret the Law of Moses (their claim to see) keep them from seeing the amazing evidence of the man born blind.

You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:28–34, ESV)

Also note Jesus' statement before healing the man bord blind.

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. John 9:5, ESV)

Jesus' statement meant If they were willing to admit their spiritual blindness, Christ would give them spiritual sight and lead them to forgiveness of their sins.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16–21, ESV))

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What does Jesus mean by "if you were blind, you would have no sin"?

The information under the heading "What is unforgivable sin?" in the topic "Sin, I" in the Insight on the Scriptures gives a clear understanding of Jesus' words:

Knowledge brings greater responsibility. Pilate’s sin was not as great as that of the Jewish religious leaders who turned Jesus over to the governor, nor that of Judas, who betrayed his Lord. (Joh 19:11; 17:12) Jesus told Pharisees of his day that if they were blind, they would have no sin, evidently meaning that their sins could be forgiven by God on the basis of their ignorance; however, because they denied being in ignorance, ‘their sin remained.’ (Joh 9:39-41) Jesus said they had “no excuse for their sin” because they were witnesses of the powerful words and works proceeding from him as the result of God’s spirit on him. (Joh 15:22-24; Lu 4:18) Those who, either in word or by their course of action, willfully and knowingly blasphemed God’s spirit thus manifested would be “guilty of everlasting sin,” with no forgiveness possible. (Mt 12:31, 32; Mr 3:28-30; compare Joh 15:26; 16:7, 8.) This could be the case with some who came to be Christians and then deliberately turned from God’s pure worship. Hebrews 10:26, 27 states that “if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”

As teachers of the Law, the Pharisees knew all about the coming Messiah and how he would be identified. And although they saw the miracles and signs performed by Jesus, they denied him as being the coming Messiah. So the Pharisees were blind in a spiritual sense because they refused to accept what the Word of God had already taught them.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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Of course, the metaphoric expression "to be blind" means to have sin. But, then why does the Lord say that "if you were blind you would not have sin"? Does He deny that they are blind? Yes, but only apparently, for in reality He asserts their blindness (Matthew 15:14). So, what then? It seems to me, one should distinguish two sins: a) epistemological/cognitive sin of ignorance (for instance, a person who does not know that habit of overeating is sin of gluttony, for nobody has enlightened him on that); and b) the very habit and inclination that is harmful for soul, like gluttony, pornography addiction etc.). The gist of the matter must be in relation between a) and b), that is to say, the modality a) of having sin b), namely knowingly, or unknowingly or “blindly” for that matter. I shall try to elaborate below:

The Lord says that until in their conscience there is nothing that would tell them that they are wrong, they are both “blind”, that is to say, ignorant, and in a certain way also innocent through this very ignorance; but if they possess in their conscience a vision of something better and greater, but behave not according to the latter, then they are neither blind, nor innocent any more, for the absence of ignorance. For instance, if I do not betray my wife with another woman but have no problem with looking at her lustfully, I may have no sin, for being blind I think I commit no adultery by this, for for me, and even my for my wife, the semantics of adultery is limited to just betraying my wife with another woman. But when the Lord tells me that even to look at woman, even at my wife, lustfully is an adultery, then I possess a vision of a greater thing and, thus am no more blind; yet, being neither able nor willing to change my former habits, I perceive those same habits already as being sinful habits and thus myself as living in sin, since I abandon not those habits. In this case I might long even for the times when I was blind and ignorant of the Lord’s new commandment, for at that time of blindness there was no sin upon me, or, to be precise, sin was there, ontologically speaking, but no guilt on my part, for I had no possibility to recognize the sin as sin.

Thus, when the Lord says that “had you been blind, you would not have sin”, must mean that “had I not shown you things and perspectives that only I could have shown you, then your limited visions and corresponding behavior and habits would still be, from divine perspective, sinful, but you would not be guilty for that.” Yet now, even after having listened to the Lord, they shut the ears and eyes of their minds and asserted arrogantly that they were sufficient in their knowledge, not needing any further enlightenment, and thus, not blind. Had they humbly and wisely acknowledged their blindness, i.e. the insufficiency of their knowledge, then they would have opened for themselves a perspective for spiritual development through letting the Lord to enlighten them.

Thus here is a nuance and two things can be distinguished: 1. Sin is not recognized as sin because of ignorance/blindness and then there is no guilt, because a blind is not conscious of his blindness; and 2. A blind is given a new perspective by Lord and he knows already this new perspective, but he does not like it and that's why turns a blind eye to it, or asserts that this new perspective is wrong, and he is still on the right side, and thus, not blind; thus, being blind he does not acknowledge this blindness as blindness; yet, already there has crept a sin of recalcitrance in his soul, for he knows in the deep recesses of conscience that he has not accepted a greater, albeit uncomfortable, truth from the Lord.

And the bonus 3rd point: a good heart who understands that his previous mindset, before the Lord's new revelation, was not correct, acknowledges it as "blindness", but since this is not easy to overcome, he opens up to God's graceful acting in him and gradually overcomes it in this salvific process; thus a person in a salvific process of God's grace working in him can be called as "not having sin" for even if he has sin in this process, this process eventually will eliminate it. A simile: I acknowledge my addiction to alcohol as sin and am no more blind, but sin of addiction remains in me, and I am in a process of overcoming this addiction through help of the Lord. Uh, difficult! Because, can we ever say that we fully understand what divine perfection is? No. And if so, every faithful Christian should be ready to acknowledge "blindness", that is to say, acknowledge that our grasp of divine perfection is limited and always subject to enlightenment from Above, the Giver of Light, only so can we be subjects of infinite growth in Lord, which is His purpose for us.

But I am not fully satisfied with this answer of mine, feeling that there loom some more paradoxical insights in it.

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The operative word here, τυφλός (tuphlos) simply means, "blind". It is used in two distinct senses in the NT (BDAG):

  1. pertaining to being unable to see, blind, eg, John 9:1, 18, 24, Acts 13:11, Matt 9:27, 11:5, 20:30, Mark 8:27, Luke 10:49, 51, etc.
  2. pertaining to being unable to understand, incapable of understanding, blind, eg, Matt 15:14, 23:16, 24, 26, John 9:40f, 2 Peter 1:9, Rev 3:17, Matt 23:17, 19, Rom 2:19, etc.

Clearly, the second meaning is metaphorical and the first meaning is literal. Jesus deliberately uses this in His explanation to the Pharisees in John 9:39-41. As Ellicott succinctly observes (on John 9:39):

That they which see not might see.—The force of these words lies in the fact that the phrases, “they which see not” and “they which see,” are to be interpreted as from their own point of view—“That they which think they see not might really see; and that they which think they see might really be made blind.”

Benson observes:

Jesus said, If ye were blind — Unavoidably ignorant, and not favoured with the means of divine and saving knowledge; ye should have no sin — In comparison of what you now have. But now ye say, We see — Are possessed of a high degree of discernment and knowledge, are more enlightened than the rest of mankind; therefore your sin remaineth — Without excuse, without remedy. It abides upon you with greater aggravations; and the conceit which you have of your own knowledge hinders conviction, and prevents the first entrance of instruction and true wisdom into your minds. They gloried that they were not blind, as the common people were, nor so credulous as they, but had abilities sufficient to direct their own conduct, and needed no aid in that respect from any one. Now this very thing which they gloried in, Christ here tells them was their shame and ruin: for, 1st, If they had been really ignorant, their sin would not have been so deeply aggravated, nor would they have had so much to answer for as now they had; for invincible ignorance, though it does not justify sin, excuses it in some measure, and lessens its guilt. 2d, If they had been sensible of their blindness, and had seen their need of one to guide them, they would soon have accepted Christ as their guide, and then they would have had no sin unpardoned, unconquered. They would have submitted to the righteousness of faith, and have been brought into a justified state. Those who are convinced of their disease, are in a fair way to be cured: but self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and self-righteousness, are some of the greatest hinderances of salvation.

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Jesus meant mentally blind to what sin was.

In an Adamic state, before he sinned.

This above is one of those Jesus sayings where this other one applies.

John 6 ; 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

Regards DL

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