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John 9:37 New English Translation

Jesus told him, “You have seen him; he is the one speaking with you.”

Does the use of the past tense in the verse imply that the blind man literally saw Jesus before he was healed?

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    It means he has already seen him, bec his eyes were already opened during this discourse. It does not say you have had seen him long ago, days or months ago.
    – Michael16
    Dec 26, 2023 at 9:39
  • I edited my answer to address the past tense more clearly.
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 26, 2023 at 12:03
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    Bethos, the construction " You HAVE seen " is not in Past Tense, but rather in Present Perfect Tense, which is used to denote an event which is complete, and the effect of which is still there. For example we say " The sun rose at 6 am " or " It is now 6.10 am and the sun has risen " Dec 26, 2023 at 13:25
  • Why are you Asking any such thing, please? If the untranslated passages don't matter, why not say so? If the passages do matter, why not provide some useful detail? The past tense in the verse implies nothing about the blind man. Does Jesus saying, 'You have seen him; he is the one speaking with you…' add anything? The semicolon is rarely used to produce a smoother and more emphatic effect in English. How could either work here? Dec 26, 2023 at 22:45

5 Answers 5

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There are two matters in this question:

  1. See vs See

Koine Greek has two main verbs for "seeing". These are almost identical in meaning:

  • ὁράω (horaó) (with οἶδα serving as the aorist form in many cases) and opsomai serving as the future tense.
  • βλέπω (blepó) is used of physical sight (eg, Matt 11:4) as well as mental insight (eg, Matt 13:13, 14)

In Vine's "Expository Dictionary" under "See" he offers these helpful remarks:

Horao and Blepo both denote the physical act: horao in general, blepo, the single look; horao gives prominence to the discerning mind, blepo to the particular mood or point. ...

In John 9:37 the word is horao.

  1. Tense

Regardless of the above, Jesus was still correct - the ex-blindman had seen Jesus when Jesus found him again (V35); thus it was obviously true that Jesus could say that the now-seeing man had (past tense) seen Jesus.

Rather simple actually.

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  • Not understanding your post well. Are you saying that the man born blind, when his eyes were anointed, mentally saw Jesus or the characteristics of the son of God?
    – Betho's
    Dec 26, 2023 at 0:03
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    @Betho's - No. When Jesus found him, Jesus said that the ex-blind man had already seen Messiah (he was looking at Jesus) because it was the person speaking to him.
    – Dottard
    Dec 26, 2023 at 1:00
  • I’ve always read it this was as well.
    – bob
    Dec 26, 2023 at 4:37
  • Well explained,Dottard. Your version of ' seeing' is justified by Jn 9 :35-37 : Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Dec 26, 2023 at 16:20
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Commentators provide various explanations but the tendency is to understand "you have seen him" as referring to inner seeing. Here is a sampling:

  • Ellicott - here both the sense of sight and that of hearing are appealed to as conveying knowledge to the mind.

  • Henry - He had not yet seen him John 9:7, but he was prepared to acknowledge him when he did see him... This passage shows that he was disposed to believe, and had a strong desire to see and hear the Son of God.

  • Jamieson - Thou hast both seen him—the new sense of sight having at that moment its highest exercise, in gazing upon "the Light of the world."

The Expositor's Bible provides a minor exception, interpreting the passage not as referring to inner seeing by "seeing" (perceiving) with one's ears:

The blind man, with the quickened hearing of the blind, heard with interest the talk about himself; and a new awe fell upon his spirit as he heard that his blindness was to be the object of a work of God. He had learned to judge of men by the tones of their voice; and the firm, clear, penetrating voice which had just uttered these all-important words, “I am the Light of the world,” could not, he knew, belong to a deceiver.

Thus commentators tend to understand the passage as referring to spiritual sight. However in at least one case, "seeing" is understood as a kind of word play: the man has seen Jesus through hearing about him.

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It will be useful to see how John 1:48 involving a similar issue, is translated in different versions:

King James Bible: Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

New King James Version: Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

New International Version: Nathanael....Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

If one goes strictly with the rules of English grammar, one has to use the Past Perfect Tense to denote the first event and Simple Past Tense to denote the subsequent event ( be there only the difference of a second between the two!), when both the events are mentioned in a Complex Sentence. Here, Jesus saw Nathanael first under the fig tree and then Philip called him. So, the grammatically perfect presentation in English would have been : " I had seen you under the fig tree before Philip called you " . But then, most languages do not follow such nuances of grammar. They rather let the reader understand the chronology of events from the context. (See for example,Mk 6:16 :"When Herod heard of it, he said, “John, the one I beheaded, has been raised!” ) In Jn 9:37 the sentence " You have seen me " is grammatically right , but could have also been presented as " You have already seen me " . If Jesus meant to say otherwise, he would have said : " You had seen me before I healed you " .
Hope this explains.

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Contrast this statment:

Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” (John 9:37,ESV)

with the rest of the passage:

He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.  Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:38–41, ESV)

Note also the previous healed man's statement to the court:

Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. (John 9:32–33, ESV)

Also note Jesus' previous statement:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (John 6:26, ESV)

Also, note Jesus' statement:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (John 3:11, ESV)

And also;

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40,ESV)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:9–10, ESV)

We do not know if the healed man saw Jesus after he was healed, but before seeing Jesus at this time. But, Jesus did often use see to mean more than to see physically. He also used it meaning understand.

ἑώρακας is perfect active indicative 2nd person singular of ὁράω. The simplest meaning that he saw/understood Jesus and still sees/understands Jesus.

BADG gives one definition:

ὁράω ... ④ to be mentally or spiritually perceptive, perceive -- Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 720). University of Chicago Press.

See What did Jesus mean in John 6:26?

Part of the problem we have with how Jesus used see is he was probably using Aramaic heavily influenced by Hebrew. Note that the most common word for see in Hebrew has understand as the second most common meaning.

Figure 1. Generated using Logos Bible Software

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The Greek perfect tense (probably translating the Aramaic perfect tense but translated past tense in English) gave Jesus' statement a double meaning. Not only was the man looking at Jesus, but he understood the significance of the miracle. Thus, he sought Jesus' guidance and immediately reponded positively.

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The OP asks, “Does the use of the past tense in the verse imply that the blind man literally saw Jesus before he was healed?” The verb ὁράω (Strong’s 3708 meaning to see or perceive) is actually in the Greek perfect tense. While the use of the perfect does indicate past action, it also signifies the existence of an ongoing effect.

From blueletterbible.org, Greek Verbs: The Perfect Tense.

The perfect tense is one of the most important in the Greek New Testament. The action it indicates is action that is complete, but it has an ongoing state of being; i.e., a completed action with an existing result in the present time.

Based on the context and use of the perfect tense in John 9:37, Jesus is not referring to the man’s physical sight before he was healed, but to the spiritual insight he gained as a result of his having been healed. The fact of his being healed is the completed action, while the ongoing effect is his spiritual insight evident in the man’s response to those who sought to discredit Jesus.

John 9:30-33 NKJ

30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

In context, the concept of sight/blindness serves as a metaphor for the knowledge of Christ. Ultimately, the passage is about faith, what the man came to know and believe as a result of his encounters with Jesus.

John 9:35-39

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” 36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” 38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. 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.”

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