I've already started reading the book of John and discovered some other, unexpected benefits to reading it in another language. Amazingly, I can understand it pretty well due to picking up the alphabet from majoring in math, learning words from English roots and word studies, and having the ESV translation in parallel. But whereas I'm an extremely fast English reader, not having studied Greek I read at about the painstakingly slow rate of a first-grader. But in the Greek, new things keep jumping at me from the text; sometimes in John I feel like I'm meeting Jesus for the first time at 23. I never knew how much I was missing reading the Bible in English until I stopped.
One chapter that made a big impression on me in Greek was the story of Jesus healing the man born blind (τυφλος) in chapter 9. Jesus approaches this man and his disciples ask if his blindness is due to his sin or his parents'. (After all, everything that's wrong in the world is because of sin, right?) Jesus rebukes them and explained he is blind so that "the works of God might be displayed in him." He then performs a rather strange miracle involving making mud with spit and washing the man's eyes with it before telling him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, where he is cured of his blindness.
Then people who know him ask him what happened and, when he explains himself, he is brought to the Pharisees. They immediately use the fact that Jesus healed him on the Sabbath to discredit him and refuse to believe his testimony that Jesus is from God, despite His miracle. Finally, Jesus reveals Himself as the Son of Man to the man and he believes; Jesus ends with the cryptic line, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."
Like I said, when I read this story in Greek, it forced me to slow way, way down and savor every verse (even every word) until I started noticing all kinds of things I'd always glossed over before. I was struck by how the Pharisees discredit the man and refuse to listen to him they have already made up their minds that Jesus is a "sinner" (meaning He doesn't conform to their strict interpretation of the Law) and can't possibly be from God for this reason.
Now, of course Christian teachers frequently look at the Pharisees as an example of what not to do--they are consummate legalists, they care more about the fact that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath than that He healed him of blindness, they have replaced the law of God with manmade laws that only they can live up to so they can look down on everyone else as "sinners", they are so pridefully focused on their own moralistic performance that they are blind to the works of God through Jesus among them, and so on.
But by only looking at the Pharisees along the works-versus-faith dimension, we miss something of crucial importance. We think that because we do follow Jesus and are justified by faith instead of trying to be justified by works as they did, that we've learned our lesson from them, when often we haven't. In fact, when we think such things, we are looking down on the Pharisees for being legalists just as they looked down on people for being "sinners". That was what made an impact on me in the Greek: how totally analogous the two situations are.
How often do we pray (or at least think) like the Pharisee in 18:11, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people--Pharisees, legalists, or the self-righteous." If we focus in on the Pharisees' legalism, we can totally miss the wider and more serious issue of their pride. Justification by faith instead of by works is no sure protection against boasting, as I often hear Calvinists saying or implying. It is possible to fully believe that you are justified entirely by faith apart from anything you have done and still be a proud, self-righteous prick--if, like the Pharisees, you divide people up into "us" and "them" categories by standing before God, whether "them" means "legalists", "the unsaved", or something else. It's ugly when Christians treat nonbelievers like this, using their sin as an excuse to discard their objections or specific situation and plow their gospel presentation straight through their defenses. It's even worse when Christians treat other Christians like this over theological disputes.
Jesus' final exchange with the man is interesting:
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”The word Jesus uses for "guilt" is αμαρτιαν ("hamartia"), which is normally translated as "sin". (You can imagine why translating it this way might cause theological problems) I think what Jesus is saying is that, by claiming to be able to see (that is, claiming spiritual insight or moral authority), the Pharisees have in fact blinded themselves to who Jesus is--in contrast to the man born blind, who took Jesus at His word and can now see Him with his eyes and as the Son of God. If we come to Jesus seeing, we are blinded to the glory of who He is, but if we come to Him blind, he opens our eyes to see Him.
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.
Let me try to apply this chapter as incisively as I can:
- Is there anyone you look down on--for personal, cultural, or theological reasons?
- Is there someone (or a group of people) that you disagree with but think you don't have to listen to or consider for some reason? (Maybe because they're "wrong" and you're "right")
- Do you claim to have spiritual "sight"? If so, does this responsibility terrify and humble you as it should?