Scripture often employs the imagery of blindness to describe the spiritual condition of persons who are either unable or unwilling to perceive divine revelation. The things of God are perceived not by observation and inquiry, but by revelation and illumination ( Matt 11:25-27 ; 1 Cor 1:21 ; 2 Peter 1:19-21 ). It is the Lord who "gives sight to the blind" ( Psalm 146:8 ; Isa 42:16 ).
The figure of blindness is a favorite device of Isaiah, who repeatedly announces to rebellious Israel that God has afflicted them and their apostate prophets, priests, and rules with blindness (43:8; 56:10; 59:10). Zephaniah reveals that this condition is divinely imposed upon the hardhearted (1:17). Appropriately, then, the Messiah's ministry would be marked by opening the eyes of the spiritually blind ( Isaiah 42:7 Isaiah 42:16 Isaiah 42:18 ). At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus lay claim to the messianic office by revealing that he would fulfill Isaiah's prophetic promise to proclaim "recovery of sight to the blind" ( Luke 4:18 ).
Some of Jesus' strongest outbursts were directed at the Pharisees, who masqueraded their superficial conformity to Jewish ceremonial laws as sincere and sufficient righteousness in the sight of God. Jesus follows the form of Isaiah in castigating the Pharisees as "blind guides of the blind" ( Matt 15:14 ; 23:16-26 ; John 9:39-41 ). He announces that he will impose judgment on these self-righteous legalists, "so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" ( John 9:39 ).
Paul tells the Corinthian believers that blindness aptly describes the spiritual state of pagan unbelievers. He points out that this blindness is inflicted by the "god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" ( 2 Cor 4:4 ). The New Testament reveals that believers are subject to spiritual blindness. Peter deems those who fail increasingly to exhibit diligence in pursuit of spiritual virtue as blind or nearsighted ( 2 Peter 1:9 ). And the exalted Lord of the church views the lukewarm but haughty Laodicean church as wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked ( Rev 3:17 ).
Spiritual blindness, then, refers in some instances to the inability of unbelievers to comprehend spiritual truth, specifically failure to recognize the true identity of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. It is vital, therefore, to conduct all Christian witness in dependence on the Holy Spirit, who works to counteract the cataracts of Satan and to reveal the truth of God. But spiritual blindness can also afflict believers who fail to perceive their true spiritual condition. To avoid the plague of spiritual blindness and escape the condemnation of leading others into spiritual ruin, believers must be quick to appropriate and obey the Word of God.
Ralph E. Enlow, Jr.
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is extremely common in the East from many causes. Blind beggars figure repeatedly in the New Testament ( Matthew 12:22 ) and "opening the eyes of the blind" is mentioned in prophecy as a peculiar attribute of the Messiah. ( Isaiah 29:18 ; 42:7 ) etc. The Jews were specially charged to treat the blind with compassion and care. ( Leviticus 19:14 ; 27:18 ) Blindness willfully inflicted for political or other purposes is alluded to in Scripture. ( 1 Samuel 11:2 ; Jeremiah 39:7 )
blind'-ness (`awar, and variants; tuphlos):
The word blind is used as a verb, as John 12:40, usually in the sense of obscuring spiritual perception. In reference to physical blindness it is used as a noun frequently or else as an adjective with the noun man. There are 54 references to this condition, and there is no reason to believe, as has been surmised, that blindness was any less rife in ancient times than it is now, when defective eyes and bleared, inflamed lids are among the commonest and most disgusting sights in a Palestine crowd. In the Papyrus Ebers (1500 BC) there are enumerated a number of diseases of the eye and a hundred prescriptions are given for their treatment. That the disease occurred in children and caused destruction and atrophy of the eyeball is testified to by the occurrence of a considerable number of mummy heads, in which there is marked diminution in size of one orbit. The commonest disease is a purulent ophthalmia, a highly infectious condition propagated largely by the flies which can be seen infesting the crusts of dried secretion undisturbed even on the eyes of infants. (In Egypt there is a superstition that it is unlucky to disturb them.) This almost always leaves the eyes damaged with bleared lids, opacities of the cornea, and sometimes extensive internal injury as well. Like other plagues, this disease was thought to be a Divine infliction (Exodus 4:11). Minor forms of the disease destroy the eyelashes and produce the unsightly tender-eyes (in Genesis 29:17 the word rakh may mean simply "weak").
Blindness from birth is the result of a form of this disease known as ophthalmia neonatorum which sets in a few days after birth. I have seen cases of this disease in Palestine. Sometimes ophthalmia accompanies malarial fever (Leviticus 26:16). All these diseases are aggravated by sand, and the sun glare, to which the unprotected inflamed eyes are exposed. Most of the extreme cases which one sees are beyond remedy--and hence, the giving of sight to the blind is generally put in the front of the mighty works of healing by our Lord. The methods used by Him in these miracles varied probably according to the degree of faith in the blind man; all were merely tokens, not intended as remedies. The case of the man in Mark 8:22 whose healing seemed gradual is an instance of the phenomenon met with in cases where, by operation, sight has been given to one congenitally blind, where it takes some time before he can interpret his new sensations.
The blindness of old age, probably from senile cataract, is described in the cases of Eli at 98 years of age (1 Samuel 3:2; 4:15), Ahijah (1 Kings 14:4), and Isaac (Genesis 27:1). The smiting of Elymas (Acts 13:11) and the Syrian soldiers (2 Kings 6:18) was either a miraculous intervention or more probably a temporary hypnotism; that of Paul (Acts 9:8) was doubtless a temporary paralysis of the retinal cells from the bright light. The "scales" mentioned were not material but in the restoration of his sight it seemed as if scales had fallen from his eyes. It probably left behind a weakness of the eyes (see THORN IN THE FLESH). That blindness of Tobit (Tobit 2:10), from the irritation of sparrows' dung, may have been some form of conjunctivitis, and the cure by the gall of the fish is paralleled by the account given in Pliny (xxxii.24) where the gall of the fish Callionymus Lyra is recommended as an application in some cases of blindness. The hypothesis that the gall was used as a pigment to obscure the whiteness of an opaque cornea (for which Indian ink tattooing has been recommended, not as a cure but to remove the unsightliness of a white spot) has nothing in its favor for thereby the sight would not be restored. The only other reference to medicaments is the figurative mention of eyesalve in Revelation 3:18.
Blindness unfitted a man for the priesthood (Leviticus 21:18); but care of the blind was specially enjoined in the Law (Leviticus 19:14), and offenses against them are regarded as breaches of Law (Deuteronomy 27:18).
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