John C. Poirier, «'Day and Night' and the Sabbath Controversy of John 9.», Vol. 19 (2006) 113-119
This article provides a new argument for an alternative punctuation of Jn
9,3-4, associating “the works of Him who sent me” with what follows rather
than what precedes. Rather than being allusions to his departure from this
world, Jesus’ references to working “while it is day” and not working “when
night comes” refer to a literal nightfall, formulated in a way that undermines
the pharisaic halakha of Sabbath observance (for which nightfall frees one to
resume working). This interpretation is supported by the fact that Jesus has
the blind man break the Sabbath as visibly as possible.
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116 John C. Poirier
The purpose of the present article is not to revisit my three earlier
supports for repunctuating Jn 9,3-5, but rather to provide an additio-
nal support for that position, based on narrative-critical considerations.
Those considerations revolve around the significance of the terms â€œdayâ€
and â€œnightâ€ in Jn 9,4. Understanding how those terms function within
the narrative, I believe, will show that the traditional punctuation of Jn
9,3-5 is most likely wrong, and that the idea of making the works of
God visible should be associated with the idea of working during daylight
hours rather than at night.
â€œWorksâ€ in the Context of the Sabbath Controversy
Scholars have often appealed to source theories to explain the fact that
the healing accounts in Jn 5,1-18 and 9,1-41 are called â€œworksâ€ (á¼”ÏÎ³Î±), in
contradistinction to the â€œsignsâ€ (ÏƒÎ·Î¼Îµá¿–Î±) found elsewhere in the Fourth
Gospel (4,54; 9,16; 11,47)7. In so doing, they have overlooked a narrativa-
lly more obvious explanation, which is that the term â€œworksâ€ was chosen
for its correspondence with the charge of Sabbath-breaking found in both
these chapters. Jesusâ€™ healing miracles in John 5 and 9 are labeled â€œworksâ€
because â€œworksâ€ are precisely what one may not do on the Sabbath8.
There has been a lot of speculation, over the years, about what â€œdayâ€
and â€œnightâ€ might mean in the context of Jn 9,4, usually settling on a
scheme in which the transition from day to night is marked by Jesusâ€™
departure from his disciples at the crucifixion9. Although a metaphorical
interpretation along those lines resonates with the style of Johnâ€™s theo-
logizing, I suggest that a more likely candidate for the meaning of â€œdayâ€
and â€œnightâ€ is not far to seek within the narrative: â€œdayâ€ and â€œnightâ€
refer to the literal transition of day into night, a transition that holds
significance for the ensuing Sabbath controversy, as it is precisely that
assuming human form. Berger overinterprets the evidence in his eagerness to unseat an
individualist understanding of personhood: however we understand the reappearance
of Elijah in Jesus and/or the Baptist, the phenomenon as such does not complicate the
individualizing of the person in the way Berger imagines, and the passage from Philo
implies nothing of the sort either.
E.g., L. P. Hogan writes, â€œThe use of either ÏƒÎ·Î¼Îµá¿–Î¿Î½ or á¼”ÏÎ³Î¿Î½ may reflect the source of
the accountâ€ (Healing in the Second Tempel [sic] Period [NTOA 21; GÃ¶ttingen 1992] 277).
See R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St. John (Herderâ€™s Theological Commentary
on the New Testament; 3 vols.; New York 1968) 1.518-21; X. LÃ©on-Dufour, â€œLes Miracles
de JÃ©sus selon Jeanâ€, in X. LÃ©on-Dufour (ed.), Les Miracles de JÃ©sus selon le Nouveau
Testament (Paris 1977) 269-86, esp. 276-81.
I doubt that the relative success of a signs-source hypothesis could impact this
E.g., see the studies cited in S. Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical
Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity (Rome 1977) 64 n.