Controversy seemed to follow Jesus wherever He went during His earthly ministry. We have seen, for example, the division that arose when Jesus taught in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths. Some Jews began to believe that He was the Christ, that is, the Messiah, while others disagreed. The division centered on His identity (John 7:40–44). But today’s passage tells us that it was not only the common people who were divided regarding the identity of Jesus. After Jesus healed the man born blind, even the religious leaders were divided regarding who He was.
In John 9:8, the man has just been healed and John reports on how the news has started to spread among his neighbors. Apparently, some of the neighbors find the healing so astounding that they believe it really has not happened, that the man who can now see is like the blind man they know, but he is not the same man (vv. 8–9a). The man, for his part, insists that he is the same one who was born blind and that the man named Jesus healed him (vv. 9b–12).
To sort these things out, they bring the man to the Pharisees, and commentators note that this is probably not done out of malice, as if they are looking for the man to be accused of a sin. They go to the religious leaders because they are confused about the sign and want to know what it all means. At this point, division arises among the Pharisees regarding Jesus (vv. 13–17). Some of them suggest that He is a sinner because He has not kept the Sabbath, for He healed the man on the Sabbath day. This charge of breaking the Sabbath comes from His not waiting until the next day to do a work of healing, but it might also be related to the tradition that kneading dough is a work that cannot be done on the Sabbath. After all, Jesus mixed saliva and dirt to make mud, which would have involved a type of “kneading” (vv. 6–7). Other Pharisees, however, doubt that Jesus really is a sinner (v. 16). Clearly, these Pharisees are not enslaved to their oral traditions but are willing to reevaluate them when new evidence presents itself.
The Pharisees need more information to settle what has happened, so they call some witnesses who will know for sure who the man is, whether he was born blind, and who healed him: his parents (vv. 18–19). Unlike their son, however, they are afraid to say too much, preferring to let the man answer for himself. They fear the religious authorities and being kicked out of the synagogue for showing any belief in Jesus and His works (vv. 20–23).