“Sin no more…” These were the words spoken by Jesus to the man he encountered at the temple, the same man he had previously healed at Bethesda.1For the full account, please refer to John chapter 5, verses 1 to 18. This excerpt was a part of Lesson 7 in our year-long exploration of the Gospel of John with Bible Study Fellowship International.
The Gospel of John records Jesus’ statement as follows:
Ἴδε ὑγιὴς γέγονας· μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε, ἵνα μὴ χεῖρόν σοί τι γένηται.”(John 5:14b, Greek New Testament: NA28)
Note: I have sought to reflect in my translations the aspect, voice, tense, and mood of the koine greek verbs in the text.
“See, you have become healthy; sin no more, lest something worse befall you.”(My translation)
When taken in isolation, this passage might lead readers to conclude that sin invariably results in illness or that illness is always a consequence of wrongdoing.
In John chapter 9 versus 1-38 is another instance of a miraculous healing: Jesus giving sight to a man born blind. The story commences with a question from the disciples to Jesus:
“ῥαββί, τίς ἥμαρτεν, οὗτος ἢ οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ, ἵνα τυφλὸς γεννηθῇ?”(John 9:2b, Greek New Testament: NA28)
“Rabbi, who sinned, this (one) or his parents, that blind he was born.”(My translation)
“οὔτε οὗτος ἥμαρτεν οὔτε οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ’ ἵνα φανερωθῇ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ.”(John 9:3, Greek New Testament: NA28)
“Neither this (one) sinned nor his parents, but so that the works of God might be shown in him.”(My translation)
From these two accounts of miraculous healing, it can be inferred that sin and illness are not inherently linked. One is not necessarily a direct consequence of the other, nor vice versa.
From the text, the specific type of sin that Jesus cautioned the man against is not explicitly stated. However, it is evident that the New Testament adopted the term used by the ancient Greeks, “ἁμαρτία” (hamartia), to encompass actions, thoughts, or behaviors that deviated from what was deemed morally upright, virtuous, or ethically correct. New Testament text used this word was employed to signify actions that failed to meet God’s standards of righteousness.
Thus, within the text, we may seek indications of actions by the man Jesus healed that might be perceived as failing to meet the standards of righteousness, deviating from moral correctness, or falling short of what is considered virtuous within God’s sphere. However, it is important to refrain from inserting our own conjectures about the man’s potential transgressions into the text, a tendency too easily indulged. Sacred texts were deliberately crafted and meticulously structured, inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey a specific message. We should allow the text to convey its message without introducing our own worldview, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“ἀπῆλθεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἀνήγγειλεν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὸν ὑγιῆ.”(John 5: 15, Greek New Testament: NA28)
“The man left and announced to the Jews that it is Jesus who made him healthy.”(My translation)
Nothing else concerning this man was recorded.
Considering that Scripture text was intentionally composed to communicate a precise message, our focus should be on discerning the moral aspects within this text and refraining from introducing unrelated information designed to reinforce our preexisting beliefs.
There are at least two moral/ethical deviations communicated by the text:
Initially, the absence of gratitude directed towards Jesus is noteworthy. Such omission, at the very least, deviates from social conventions. In the Mediterranean cultures of the first century, expressions of gratitude held a paramount place, deeply ingrained in the fabric of social interactions. Gratitude and reciprocity played vital roles in shaping social norms and relationships during that era. It was customary to manifest appreciation and thankfulness in response to acts of kindness, generosity, or hospitality. Failing to do so represented a departure from the established social norms of that time.
Additionally, we observe a form of blame-shifting or scapegoating in this narrative. After being healed by Jesus, the man had faced inquiries from the Jewish authorities about potential Sabbath law violations. It’s important to note that disregarding Sabbath regulations could lead to legal repercussions. The Jewish authorities, including the Pharisees, were tasked with enforcing Sabbath laws and had the authority to impose penalties, such as fines, reprimands, or other sanctions, on those found in violation.
The man’s initial response can be described as a plea of ignorance. It’s conceivable that, as one who might have been among the blind (as mentioned in verse 3), he genuinely did not know the identity of the person who had healed him or instructed him to pick up his mat.
When the man eventually encountered Jesus at the temple, the text not only fails to mention any expression of gratitude, if there was any, but it also provides a rather clinical account (use of the aorist tense) of the man straightforwardly reporting to the religious leaders the identity of the one who had healed him.
In principle, he was under no obligation to disclose Jesus’s involvement. However, his action served to transfer the blame for violating the Sabbath law away from himself and onto someone else. This is precisely what occurred:
“καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐδίωκον οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι τὸν Ἰησοῦν, ὅτι ταῦτα ἐποίει ἐν σαββάτῳ.”(John 5:16, Greek New Testament: NA28)
“And because of this, the Jews continued to persecute Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.”(My translation)
What can we learn from this for today?
First, there is the socially accepted convention of expressing gratitude. This is always right.
Secondly, and with greater concern, we must acknowledge the regrettable trend of shifting blame, which has become increasingly prevalent. This is evidenced by the growing prominence of victimhood and its portrayal as a highly sought-after virtue. Victimhood often arises from a refusal to accept responsibility, and regrettably, such a cultural shift is taking place in our society today.
Were these two behaviors deviations from accepted standards of virtue and righteousness, potentially constituting sins? Arguably, yes.
Is it plausible that these actions were the very behaviors to which Jesus alluded when he uttered the words, “Sin no more…”? This interpretation aligns with the narrative’s trajectory. Furthermore, apart from these specific behaviors, the text does not provide any other instances that could be perceived as moral transgressions.
Adhering to the principle that the brevity of Scripture text (see for example John 20:30-31) implies the significance of its content for faith, it is prudent for us to contemplate the contemporary society’s preoccupation with blame-shifting and victimhood. Perhaps this presents an opportunity for us to revisit the fundamental value of personal accountability for one’s actions. Indeed, this principle may well be a vital element crucial for fostering social harmony.