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I pursue this study not because of minutia reasons, but I want to accurately understand the words as used in the context; as I seek to understand, I wonder if there is a peripheral connection with 1 Corinthians 13:10. Thus, in this study, I am exposing my method of reasoning to see if my approach is flawed or can be sustained. While my understanding of John 9:3-4 may not be negatively received, a possible relation to 1 Corinthians 13:10 is not obvious.

The English word works must be understood within its context; the context in John 9 is Jesus healing (miraculously) the man born blind, giving him sight. It is my contention the word works, as used by Jesus in 9:3-4, is best understood to refer to the miraculous, not to good deeds/works in general, which seems to be the general approach of most (if not all) expositors.

American Standard Version: Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works [ergon] of God should be made manifest in him. We must work [ergadzomai; NIV: we must do] the works [ergon] of him that sent me, while it is day [in relation to that which can be seen or done]: the night cometh [in relation to that which can’t be seen or done], when no man can work [ergadzomai]” (John 9:3-4). 

What are the works of God?

The English word “work” or “works” is used in John frequently (also translated “deed” in KJV). They are in the following passages: 3:19, 20, 21; 4:34; 5:17, 20, 36; 6:27, 28, 29; 7:3, 7, 21; 8:39, 41; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 33, 37, 38; 14:10, 11, 12; 15:24 and 17:4 (a total of 27x in John).

The Greek word translated “work” or “works” is ergon. In the Greek-English Concordance (NIV), the word is used 169x in GNT, translated variously: actions, assigned task, attack, deeds, did, do, does, done, everything, miracle(s), observing, practices, requirements, something, task, thing, this, ways, what he did, work(s). The Greek word has the basic meaning “to work, to be engaged on something” (NIDNT 3:1147). ergon: “in John’s Gospel the word group is specifically used to illustrate the unique activity of Jesus, which is inextricably bound up with the working of God, the Father, as, [for instance] Jn. 5:17…” “Jesus understands his working as the fulfilment of his divinely-appointed mission….Jesus’ miracles also serve this end” (NIDNT 3:1150).

Another word in John 9:4 is ergadzomai, used 8x in John. The word is in: 3:21; 5:17 (2x); 6:27, 28, 30; 9:4 (2x). In the Greek-English Concordance (NIV), the word is used 41x in New Testament, translated variously in John as: done, at work, working, work for, do. The KJV renders the word: work, wrought, labour for.

With the varied translations in the NIV or ASV, the word is multi-functional and is best understood by its use in the context.

CONTEXTUAL SETTING. A common teaching among the Rabbis was the physically impaired was the result of sin in one’s life, expressly conveyed by the apostles in their question to Jesus (9:2; cf. Luke 13:3, 5) and in the Rabbinic response to the blind man in 9:34.  Jesus said there was no act of sin involved in the man born blind; instead, he was born blind so that (Grk: hina, in order that) the works of God would be manifested (“might be displayed in him” NASV).[1]

The pronoun “we” plays a significant role in one’s understanding.[2] Is the “we” understood to refer to Jesus and His disciples or is it inclusive of all those who belong to the Lord in the remainder of this world’s history? I interpret “we” (NASV, ASV, ESV, NET, Charles Williams) as being correct in contrast to “I” (NKJV, KJV, WPNT); I interpret it as a reference to Jesus and the Apostles. If the word “we” is correct and understood to refer to Jesus and His apostles, the term “works of God” in this context can (should?) be understood narrowly, it seems to me.[3] In my estimation, the declaration “we must works of Him who sent me while it is day” presents “book-ends” (if you will) to the longevity (length of time) in which the miraculous will be (or has been) at work. “We” is then associated with the life of Jesus and His apostles.

Often, the words “day” and “night” are interpreted as “as one is alive” and “as one has died” respectively (“night” is the ceasing of works). Thus, with Jesus and His apostles, when they die, these peculiar “works of God” die with them. I understand and interpret the term “works of God” to refer to the miraculous.

If the “works of God” are of a general nature and the “we” applies to Jesus, Apostles, and Christians alike (as most expositors believe), then it is the case only that one in the “night” realm is the one who ceases to work (9:4). Consequently, any man still alive or in the “day” can do the same works Jesus did, which includes the miraculous. While it is “day” the works of God are to be done and, in fact, must be done. If “works of God” is broadly interpreted, room is left for one to understand the same works to include not only works of compassion and mercy but also the miraculous.

MY CASE FOR THE MIRACULOUS. It seems to me the word “works” is to be understood as miraculous, I would even say it is demanded,[4] but especially works peculiar to Jesus/Apostles. If that is not so, then “day” and “night” with a meaning of one’s life/death is problematic. Consider: if general good works are in view (which includes the miraculous), then the miraculous follows or is included in all those who in the “day” and can do the general works of God.[5] If general works of God is the correct interpretation, then no one in the “night” realm one can work when night (death) comes. At least for one, when physical life ceases to exist, it is imperative that all must “get after it” while they are in the “day.” If general works of God is understood to be the best understanding of the passage, then while it is day, all those works that appropriately fall under the category of “general works of God” (including the miraculous) apply in today’s context also.

On the other hand, if “works of God” is specific in application, what is the specificity? My view is the specific is in relation to the miraculous, and both Jesus and the apostles bring the miraculous to a close, when the terms day/night are used in their context, even including those the apostles passed the gifts on to. The words “day” and “night” refer to one’s life, we are told (not an unreasonable interpretation). Perhaps “day” and “night” can include a “window of allowable opportunity” in relation to the miraculous, since this is precisely what is in view with what Jesus intended to accomplish. The “works of God” were revealed in him (the blind man) and Jesus did the “works of Him who sent me” (NKJV).

American Standard Version: Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works [ergon] of God should be made manifest in him. We must work [ergadzomai; NIV: we must do] the works [ergon] of him that sent me, while it is day [in relation to that which can be seen or done]: the night cometh [in relation to that which can’t be seen or done], when no man can work [ergadzomai]” (John 9:3-4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] If his blindness was not the result of parental sin or his own, the question that follows then is this: why was he blind, and born blind? Jesus does not give attention to his blindness being connected with sin at all. Brother Lipe said it was not that God made the man blind in order to show His goodness later, but it was allowed for nature to run its course, thus the man was blind (p. 395). Hendriksen, on the other hand, said if a reason must be given to why he was blind, it was the sin of Adam (vol. 2, p. 73).

[2] The “we” (NASV) of 9:4 is attested in less than 1% of Greek manuscripts (WPNT), while “I” is attested overwhelmingly in the remaining (KJV, NKJV). Lenski, Comfort speak confidently of the plural pronoun, as does Robertson in his Word Pictures, while Pickering says on v. 4, “Perhaps half a percent of the Greek manuscripts, of objectively inferior quality, read ‘we’ for ‘I’ (as in NIV, NASB, LB, TEV, etc.). Virtually the same handful of manuscripts also has ‘Him who sent us’ (in this verse), but none of the versions mentioned goes along—a curious proceeding” (E-Sword).

[3] I have not “fleshed-out” how “I” would work in this context in contrast to “we.”

[4] An interesting comment from ICCNT (E-Sword): “Nor, again, is it in the manner of Jn. to report a mere maxim of experience, such as ‘We must all work while it is day’ would be. The force of [dei] goes deeper, for the words of Jesus here (vv.3, 4) express that Divine predestination of events which is so prominently brought out in Jn (see Introd., p. clii, and on 2:4). The man’s blindness had been foreordained in the Divine purpose [hina phanerōthē ta erga tou theou en autō (v. 3)]; and in like manner there was a Divine necessity that Jesus should do the works of ‘Him that sent Him’ (see on 4:34 for this phrase). The only reading that brings out the force of the passage and gives consistency to the sentence is the rec. reading ἐμὲ δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι τὰ ἔργα τοῦ πέμψαντός με. (I tired of transliterating, so I cut/pasted-RT)

[5] I anticipate a counter reply: “It is conceded the miraculous is involved in John 9:3-4, but ‘general works’ still hold sway because of the common understanding of the term. The miraculous cessation approach must be made elsewhere.”