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John 9:31 God does not hear the prayers of the unrighteous. Then how can they call out to God?

John 9:31 - We know that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.

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    I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not (Isaiah 65:1). It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy (Romans 9:16.)
    – Nigel J
    Oct 25, 2022 at 8:38
  • They would not call to him, even if they do, God doesn't hear them. God accepts them after their repentance or submission.
    – Michael16
    Oct 25, 2022 at 11:17

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The quotation (John 9:31) is in the context of ministry and service. Those who are still in a sinful state cannot expect to minister or serve and to be heard of God in respect of public acts which form part of the testimony to God's work upon earth.

They must first repent and believe for their own selves, and be saved from their sinful state. And this is what the formerly blind man is pointing to in his statement.

But in regard to that repentance and faith it is clear from scripture that that is from God's initiative, not man's.

I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not [Isaiah 65:1 KJV]

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. [Romans 9:16 KJV]

Otherwise, none would be saved, did the initiative not come, first, from God himself.


The man's statement points to more than that, however, in regard to the Person of Jesus Christ, but that would be the focus of another question.

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Several things to consider from the context.

  1. This is quoting what the formerly blind man said, not necessarily requiring it to be true principal.

  2. The formerly blind man's argument was based on the belief of the Pharisees he spoke to.

  3. As reflected by translations using "listen" instead of "hear," ἀκούω can have the meaning of doing what one asks. Thus, the idea that God grants what one asks according to God's will (John 14:13-14; James 4:3).

The following quote reflects what many commentaries have.

9:31. This view reflects good Jewish piety: everyone taught that God heard the pious but rejected the prayers of the ungodly (cf. Ps 34:15; Prov 15:8, 29; 21:27; 28:9). This is the major premise in the healed man’s argument. -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 9:31). InterVarsity Press.

Consider also this passage that reflects praying according to God's will is more important that self-righteousness:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14, ESV)

Essentially, if God did not hear the prayer of sinners, he wouldn't hear the prayers of any person.

... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23, ESV)

The one man the blind man's argument fully fit was Jesus.

 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15, ESV)

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  • Excellent answer. +1. One might also suggest that God only hears to prayers of people because of His love and grace.
    – Dottard
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:06
  • I added a conclusion you may have missed.
    – Perry Webb
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:06
  • That is what makes your answer so very good. Many thanks for your deft use of Bible reasoning.
    – Dottard
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:08
  • "This is quoting what the formerly blind man said, not necessarily requiring it to be true principal." - how can this not 'be true principal' given what we find in Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; and Isa. 1:15?
    – agarza
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:51
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    @Perry Webb Your "The formerly blind many argued based" leaves me wondering if you meant "The blind man's argument was based".
    – C. Stroud
    Oct 25, 2022 at 9:48
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When one calls God not for the sake of God, that is to say, when his soul is not concerned about Godly and eternal things and interests, but, on the contrary, prays for ungodly things, then God not only does not but cannot hear such a man for He is completely deaf for sin.

How then can He hear the prayers of the unrighteous people? He will hear them if they utter them with a conscience of their unrighteousness, in repentance, like the tax collector from the famous parable of the Lord. But the one who utters such repentance-driven prayers, can hardly be already called "unrighteous man" and those prayers are already righteous prayers that God cannot not hear.

It is the similar thing, like when Socrates says that "it is impossible for a bad man to harm a good man", for neither deprivation of property, nor any bodily harm, nor even death will harm a good man, for his inner righteous essence will not be harmed by all those. Yet, if a bad man bends a good man towards something vile, then the bad man will indeed harm the good man, but the harmed one is no more a good man, thus, to reformulate Socrates: unless a good man ceases to remain a good man, it is impossible for a bad man to harm him. Similarly, unless an unrighteous man ceases to remain an unrighteous man, it is impossible for God to hear his prayers.

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The man who made that statement had only just encountered one who healed his blindness (from birth). He had not seen this person (Jesus) and could not identify him. Nor could he have known that prior to the miraculous healing, Jesus had said to his disciples that neither this man nor his parents had sinned, so as to account for him being born blind. Jesus chose to cause him to see so "that the works of God should be made manifest in him."

Before Jesus chose to do a work of grace in this man, and before his sight was given to him, Jesus instructed the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, to wash off the clay he'd put over his eyes. He was obedient and then could see for the first time in his life. Therein is a lesson as to how the Lord chooses to deliver sinners and takes the initiative!

The impact this had on everyone around him was the way in which the works of God became manifest in him. The man had not prayed to God for sight; there's no record of Jesus praying here either. But the man was brought before the Pharisees who were offended that the miracle had happened on the sabbath, which caused them to say the person responsible was "a sinner", and not of God. The man's parents were called, and they testified that this was, indeed, their grown-up son who had been blind from birth. The Pharisees became angry at the man who said, "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not; one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." Outraged, the Pharisees reviled him saying, "Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses; disciples", followed by the statement of the man, which you quote.

That man was not a disciple of Jesus. Later, once Jesus identified himself to him, he believed in Jesus. But at that point, the man only knew the Mosaic scriptures, and no doubt the account of Job, where the ancient belief was that God blessed the righteous but caused suffering and punishment on sinners. He was speaking in accordance with that. However, that was an incomplete interpretation of prayers to God. It did not take into account such verses as, "And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us because of our iniquities" (Isaiah 64:7). That was said of God's own people! Of them it had to be admitted, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (vs. 6). Even so, Isaiah could still believe that God meets those who rejoice and work righteousness, who remember God in their ways. And despite God's righteous anger at their sin, "we shall be saved" (vs. 5)

Given that we are all unrighteous, yet many people prayed to God and he then pardoned their sin (as the New Testament shows), that verse you quote does not give the whole picture. On its own it skews the matter of God hearing some prayers and not others, for it is only based on the pre-Christian era understanding of those in the old covenant. Many an unrighteous person has called out to God in prayer, aware of their sin and their unrighteousness, and that they are lost. God has responded to their prayer, and delivered them.

This means that understanding what "calling upon the name of the Lord" means is as important as understanding what the Bible means by all of us being unrighteous. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin, leading to their anguished cry to God for mercy that initiates everything. It is the sincere call for pardon that God triggers, even before a person is delivered from their sin so that they can then have God's righteousness 'cover' them, as it were.

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This particular verse is not a blanket statement that God does not hear sinners, but has to do more with the testimony of who Jesus was in the mist of the blind Pharisees.

There is a detail from one word that gives more depth to Jesus and who He who was. Truly the only one among them that worshiped God.

Except this Man were from God He could do nothing. John 9:33

There is only one time this word is used in the scripture, and rightly so since Jesus is the only one who perfectly worshiped God the Father who sent Him.

It has to do with the word, "θεοσεβὴς (theosebēs) — 1 Occurrence

◄ 2318. theosebés ►

from theos and seb 4576 sébomai – properly, personally esteem; to hold something (someone) in high respect; showing the reverence or awe (veneration) of someone who is devout. [4576 (sébomai) always occurs in the Greek middle voice in the NT, accounting for the deep, personal sense of veneration involved.]

This word is only used one time. It means one who is a worshiper of God. To revere, to show devoted deferential honor to : regard as worthy of great honors

And we have known that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone may be a worshiper of God, and may do His will, He hears him;YLT

This statement is in defense that Jesus is not a sinner as the Pharisees were saying, but the one before them truly worships God and is doing God's will. God is the one who wanted to heal the blind man and Jesus does the work of His Father.

As others have stated in their answers, God's ears are open to those that call upon Him as well as those who are not even seeking Him.

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