Why was Tobias chastized? (Tobit 11:17)


After recovering his sight after a period of blindness, Tobias says (DRB):

[17] And Tobias said: I bless thee, O Lord God of Israel, because thou hast chastised me, and thou hast saved me: and behold I see Tobias my son.

What was his sin? Why was he punished? To the contrary, I thought the book made the point that he was living righteously, and that his suffering was inexplicable, like that of his son’s wife.

I would answer that it is either poetic language to refer to suffering in a way that affirms God’s sovereignty (not satisfactory), or that he is justifying his suffering as chastisement for inevitable venial sin (acceptable but unsettling: Why wouldn’t God give us sufficient grace to live without venial sin? cf. 1 John 1:8).

Is there a better understanding of this passage?


First off, just some background knowledge.

The book of Tobit exists in a variety of different ancient versions. All of them share the same basic story (Tobit becomes blind, Tobias travels with Raphael), but the actual text differs (sometimes to a huge extent) between each version - to the point that they could contradict each other on certain minor details.

Tobit was supposed to have been written in either Aramaic or Hebrew, with Aramaic being the more popular candidate. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls we have fragments of five manuscripts of Tobit (four of which are in Aramaic, one is in Hebrew) from around the 2nd-1st century BC; while these five texts are substantially similar to one another, at the same time there are also differences (especially between the Hebrew and the Aramaic), which shows that there was not one single version of the book.

In addition, you have Hebrew and Aramaic retellings or paraphrases of the book/story from Late Antiquity up to the Middle Ages; while the Jews never really accepted the book of Tobit as scripture, the story of Tobit remained popular enough to remain in circulation and be retold for centuries. St. Jerome’s translation of Tobit (the one contained in the Vulgate and the Douai-Rheims) was a rather free rendition of a late Aramaic paraphrase.

As for the Greek versions, there are at least three of them, two of which are important enough to be worth mentioning. There’s the shorter version found in most Greek manuscripts, and a longer one found only in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus (with huge gaps in the text, note) and partially in a couple other manuscripts. Of these two, the longer version is closer to the Semitic versions of the book as represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, leading scholars to think that the shorter version is an abridgment.

Most English translations of Tobit use either one of the two as their source texts: generally speaking, popular translations made from before the 1950s-1960s (which was when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered) such as the RSV use the shorter version, while most versions from the 1960s onwards such as the NAB use the longer text.

As for the Latin versions, aside from the Vulgate version you have earlier (Vetus Latina) versions of the book which are close to the DSS Tobit manuscripts and the longer Greek version - at times they’re even closer to the Semitic version than the Greek is. The version of Tobit used in the Nova Vulgata is one such text.

In addition, you have ancient versions of Tobit in other languages such as Coptic or Ethiopian or Syriac. Confused? I know; I am too. :stuck_out_tongue:


This is what Tobit says in the shorter Greek version (RSV):

Blessed art thou, O God, and blessed is thy name for ever, and blessed are all thy holy angels. For thou hast afflicted [literally: ‘flogged’] me, but thou hast had mercy upon me; here I see my son Tobias!

The longer version is, well, a bit longer:

Blessed be God,
and blessed be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his great name be upon us,
and may all the angels be blessed throughout all the ages.
For he afflicted [literally: ‘flogged’] me,
but behold, I see Tobias my son!

If you’re going to ask me, I don’t think there’s really anything that explicitly suggests from a third-person POV that Tobit’s blindness was due to some kind of sin. Tobit thinks that his blindness must have been caused by some sin he committed (3:3-6 “And now, Lord, be mindful of me and look with favor upon me. Do not punish me for my sins, or for my inadvertent offenses, or for those of my ancestors. …”), but the narrator dispels any such assumption by presenting him as blameless.

That’s actually the precise issue Jews struggled with: why do righteous people suffer? In fact, you can read the story of Tobit as an explicit reversal of the old, rather simplistic worldview where the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. Tobit’s blindness has an entirely natural cause; it isn’t some kind of punishment for some sin - it’s more like just an unfortunate accident. If Tobit has got any fault, it’s that he chose to sleep outside where the birds can poop in his eyes.

In fact, Tobit’s prayer in chapter 3 is rather strange. Actually, Tobit becomes a little strange once he becomes physically blind. It’s as if he also loses his spiritual vision when he lost his physical sight. His physical blindness results in paranoia and mistrust (cf. his treatment of Anna over the goat). His prayer towards God can be seen as a symptom of this spiritual / metaphorical blindness: Tobit completely misreads the situation by assuming that his blindness was a divine punishment (whereas we the readers know - via the narrator - that Tobit was an upright, blameless man). He’s clinging to the old worldview.


This seems to show the mindset of the ancient Hebrews that blindness or other affliction is the result of sinfulness. Remember in the gospel of John chapter 9, Jesus healed the man blind from birth and his disciples asked him who had sinned, the man or his parents, that he would be born blind.


I think that we must understand Scriptures in light of Scriptures… St. Paul was afflicted by what he called a thorn from Satan; though he prayed that it be removed no response came from God–the same Paul who was rescued from several imminent and fatal threats… so why would God not rescue one of His most prolific Evangelists? St. Paul finally got it:

9 And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

…it can be seen that this issue of God’s servant is not due to any particular sin; rather, God allows the situation to take place so that His Power and Mercy may be known and experienced while, simultaneously, His servant’s loyalty and Faith are tempered!:

11 And as he was sleeping, hot dung out of a swallow’s nest fell upon his eyes, and he was made blind. 12 Now this trial the Lord therefore permitted to happen to him, that an example might be given to posterity of his patience, as also of holy Job.

18 For we are the children of the saints, and look for that life which God will give to those that never change their faith from him. (Tobit 2:11-12, 18)

Maran atha!



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