Some Were Born Eunuchs and Some Blind
“Healing of the Blind Man” by Carl Bloch (1871)
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson May 8–14: Matthew 19–20; Mark 10; Luke 18
In this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, Matthew 20:30-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43 all tell the story of one or two blind men, to whom Jesus gave sight. Two weeks ago, our Come Follow Me lesson dealt with another man whom Jesus healed. This man was “blind from his birth” (John 9:1). Rather than talking about the blind man, I chose to talk about the Feast of Dedication. This week’s lesson also talks about a person born a eunuch (Matthew 19:12). This week, I am going to discuss two birth defects: one a congenital “eunuch” and the other congenital blindness. Congenital means “from birth.”
Whereas there are a number of conditions that may result in congenital male infertility, the use of the term “eunuch” in Matthew 19:12, which implies removal of the testicles, suggests that there were no testicles in the scrotum at the time of birth. The medical condition for such a congenital defect is called undescended testes, or cryptorchidism. The incidence of cryptorchidism in full-term newborn males is around 1% to 3%, whereas the incidence may be as high as 30% in premature males.1 Sometimes, one or both testes may descend after birth, and in our modern world, the condition can usually be corrected surgically. However, two thousand years ago, such surgery probably would not have been performed – or even considered. The incidence of azoospermia (infertility due to the non-production of sperm) in unilateral cryptorchidism is 13%, whereas 89% of males with untreated bilateral cryptorchidism are infertile.2 Cryptorchidism is among the most common defects in newborn males and the most common cause of adult male infertility. This condition is not discussed further in the scriptures – other than the implication that being a eunuch was better than committing adultery.
On the other hand, the one case of congenital blindness, where the blind man was cured by Christ making “…clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam…” in John 9:1-7 is discussed throughout the entire chapter of John 9 and even into chapter 10.
The current CDC webpage under the heading Data & Statistics on Birth Defects: Eye Defects, lists only anopthalmia (no eyes) and micropthalmia (tiny eyes). The occurrence rate for both defects together is listed as 1 in every 5,243 births.3 Those defects are also commonly associated with other defects of the face or whole body. It is highly unlikely that the man described in John 9 had either no eyes or extremely small eyes, as Christ anointed his eyes.
The incidence of congenital blindness in British Columbia, and presumably in other parts of North America as well, decreased from 1 per 1250 live births in the late 1940s to 1 per 3,333 live births in 1984. The main changes were a decline in retinopathy associated with prematurity and prenatal rubella (German measles) infection, which can cause blindness due to congenital cataract.4 It is very likely that the rate of congenital cataract two thousand years ago was at least as grate as that reported for the 1940s. It is estimated that congenital cataracts account for 5% to 20% of all congenital blindness worldwide.5
Measles apparently was a common infection in the Middle East during Roman times. A plague in Rome dating from 165 to 180 AD, where up to 2,000 Roman citizens died every day, is thought to have been smallpox and measles, brought to Rome by armies returning from the Middle East.6 Women who were pregnant at the time of a measles infection could very likely have given birth to a baby with congenital cataracts. It is, therefore, likely that blindness from congenital rubella cataracts was even more common in the Middle East in Christ’s time than the 1 in 1250 births reported above. It is also likely that the man who had been blind from birth and whom Christ healed, had congenital cataracts from a prenatal rubella infection. If rubella was more common in Christ’s time than now, it is also likely that cataracts may have accounted at least 20% or more of all congenital blindness.
A substance called Compound 29, as well as lanosterol and N-acetyl carnosine, have all been associated in preliminary studies with possibly reversing the lens clouding associated with cataracts. However, at present, the FDA has not approved any medication to correct cataract. The only current technique for correcting cataract is the surgical removal of the affected lens and, usually, its replacement by an artificial lens.7
Is it possible that Christ’s spit, the clay made from the spittle, or the pool of Siloam contained some chemical that could have cured congenital cataract? It appears to me very unlikely that the cure was accomplished by any chemical application. After all, in the cases where Jesus healed other blind people; such as in Matthew 9:29-30, Matthew 12:22, Mark 8:22-23, Mark 10:52, Luke 18:42-43; nothing seems to have been employed other than Christ’s voice – and the person’s faith. These other cases were apparently not congenital. According to the CDC, the leading causes of blindness in adults are age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.8 In a modern context, none of these defects can be cured except by surgery, if at all.
From my perspective, giving a blind person sight is among the most difficult miracles performed by Christ to understand at a scientific level. I haven’t been able to even imagine the higher law or laws involved in giving a blind person sight. Perhaps, some day, hopefully, we will discover the higher natural law by which Jesus performed the miracles of giving sight to the blind. At present we must walk by faith, which isn’t a bad thing after all – see Hebrews 11:6.
Please join me for my weekly discussions of Where Science Meets Religion – The Infinite Creation – 6 PM each Thursday at the Century Ward meeting house Primary room (at 4th and Fredregill, Pocatello). Last week we discussed: The Rise of Birds and Mammals. This week we will discuss: Who is God. I also will be Zooming the sessions:Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka
Trent Dee Stephens
1. Chung, E, and Brock, GB, Cryptorchidism and its impact on male fertility: a state of art review of current literature, Can Urol Assoc J, 5:210-214, 2011.
3. cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/data.html; retrieved 3 May 2023
4. Robinson, GC, Jan, JE, and Kinnis C, Congenital Ocular Blindness in Children, 1945 to 1984. Am J Dis Child, 141:1321–1324, 1987.
5. Cataracts in Children, Congenital and Acquired American Academy of Ophthalmology eyewiki.aao.org/Cataracts_in_Children,_Congenital_and_Acquired; retrieved 4 May 2023
6. McVean, Ada, Measles: the plague that ruined Rome, McGill Office for Science and Society, 27 Jun 2018; mcgill.ca/oss/article/di; retrieved 3 May 2023
7. goodeyes.com/cataract/can-you-reverse-cataracts-without-surgery; retrieved 4 May 2023
8. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases, cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/index.html; retrieved 4 May 2023