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Let's look at John 9:2-4 to put v. 3 in context (NKJV):

2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.

The original Greek had no punctuation. With a comma after "sinned" in v. 3 and a period at the end of v. 3 (as above), Jesus is answering the question of the disciples with the idea that the man was born blind so that God's works should be revealed in him.

But with the punctuation reversed, Jesus doesn't answer the question but tells them that He must do the works of God. See the change below:

2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned[.] [B]ut that the works of God should be revealed in him[,] 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.

My pastor said it could go either way. When they read this in the original Greek, they had no problem understanding it. Why do most versions use the NLJV punctuation and not the latter version? Is the former version what the original Greek tense or parsing indicates is the more correct rendering?

3 Answers 3

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The short answer about the punctuation of John 9:3 is the presence of the conjunction ἀλλά (alla = "but") at the start of the second clause prevents anything but a comma between the first and second clauses.

More specifically, John 9:3, 4 consists of four clauses as follows:

  1. ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς Οὔτε οὗτος ἥμαρτεν οὔτε οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ [= Jesus answered, "Neither this man sinned, nor the parents of him]
  2. ἀλλ’ ἵνα φανερωθῇ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ [= but it was that the works of God should be displayed in him.]
  3. ἡμᾶς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι τὰ ἔργα τοῦ πέμψαντός με ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίν· [= It behooves us to work the works of the (One) having sent Me while it is day]
  4. ἔρχεται νὺξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐργάζεσθαι. [= night is coming, when no one is able to work.]

That is, the first clause is closely related to the second clause and should not be separated by a period. This is further strengthened by the fact that both the first and second clauses end with "him" referring to the blind man.

The third clause is not grammatically connected to the second clause; indeed, the third clause begins discussing "us" rather than "him" the blind man.

Thus, I believe that punctuation in most versions is correct such as the NIV, ESV, BSB, BLB, NASB, NKJB, etc, etc.

3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must carry out the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. (NASB)

Ellicott says this about John 9:3 -

But that the works of God should be made manifest in him.—They had sought to trace back the result of sin which they saw before them to a definite cause. He will trace it back to the region of the divine counsel, where purpose and result are one. Evil cannot be resolved into a higher good: it is the result of the choice exercised by freedom, and without freedom goodness could not be virtue. Permitted by God, it is yet overruled by Him. It has borne its fearful fruit in the death and curse of humanity, but its works have led to the manifestation of the works of God in the divine plan of redemption. It is so in this instance. The blindness of this beggar will have its result, and therefore in the divine counsel had its purpose, in the light which will dawn upon the spiritual as well as upon the physical blindness, and from him will dawn upon the world.

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  • Thank you for your extensive answer. In English, we do use periods before "but" at times. In your case, this "but" does not have a break before BECAUSE it implies an immediate connection with the previous phrase? I'm just aware that not all sentences in the Bible are clear-cut, and some are ambiguous, that's why this follow-up question.
    – Steve
    Aug 11, 2022 at 16:39
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Berean Interlinear:

John 9:3: “Ἀπεκρίθη (Answered) Ἰησοῦς (Jesus), “Οὔτε (Neither) οὗτος (this man ) ἥμαρτεν (sinned), οὔτε (nor) οἱ (the) γονεῖς (parents) αὐτοῦ (of him); ἀλλ’ (but) ἵνα ( it was that) φανερωθῇ (should be displayed) τὰ (the) ἔργα (works) τοῦ (-) Θεοῦ (of God) ἐν (in) αὐτῷ (him).”

No it doesn't, both means the same thing. The but clause is a part of continuous sentence, not a separate sentence. Even if you break the sentence which will be bad English, it doesn't change the meaning.

The hina ίνα word also shows the clause is of purpose, it means so that, in order to. You can understand by comparing better translations easily.

ISV John 9:3: “Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

NET John 9:3-4: “Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work.”

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Punctuation was added for the publication of the Bible in English. Punctuation is irrelevant in the original languages.

You can actually learn some wonderful things from the words on the page in the OT if you ignore punctuation.

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