Authority to Forgive Sin

Jesus healed a paralytic, demonstrating the authority of the Son of Man to discharge sins – Mark 2:1-12.

Waterfalls - Photo by Carlo Borella on Unsplash
This next story is part of the larger literary unit that extends from 
Mark 2:1 through 3:6. It is constructed of five stories that highlight conflicts between Jesus and the religious authorities associated with the Temple in Jerusalem, and primarily over issues of ritual purity and Sabbath regulations. There are parallels between the present story and the previous cleansing of the leper -[Photo by Carlo Borella on Unsplash].

In both stories, he dealt with the heart of the problem. Rather than “heal,” he “cleansed” the leper. Rather than proclaim the paralytic “healed,” he declared his sins “forgiven.”

And in both stories, “cleansing” and “forgiveness” occur apart from the Jerusalem Temple and its sacrificial rituals. In part, this explains the vehement objections of the “scribes.” Jesus “cleansed” impurities and “discharged” sins without resorting to the means provided by the Levitical code.
  • (Mark 2:1-5) – “And entering again into Capernaum, after some days it was heard say he is in a house. And many were gathered together so that no longer was there room even in the approaches to the door, and he began speaking to them the word. And they come, bearing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And not being able to get near him by reason of the multitude they uncovered the roof where he was, and having broken it up, they began letting down the couch whereon the paralytic was lying. And Jesus, seeing their faith, saith to the paralytic: Child! Your sins are forgiven!” – (Parallel passagesMatthew 9:2-8, Luke 5:18-26).
In Matthew, the story concludes with the additional comment, “When the multitudes saw this, they were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” In Mark’s version, the “scribes” criticize Jesus, but in Luke, it comes from the “scribes and Pharisees” - (Luke 5:18-26).

The roof of the typical Judean house was flat and accessible by an outside staircase. It was constructed of thatch and mud that could be easily broken open. Mark attributes the actions of the men to their “faith,” and Jesus responded to it. Genuine faith is not abstract knowledge or emotion, instead, it produces actions, decisions and deeds that follow genuine faith.

Jesus told the paralytic his sins were “forgiven” or “discharged.” The verb commonly rendered “forgive” is the same one used in the New Testament for “divorce.” It was applied often to the “discharge” of debts. The point of contention was not the miraculous healing by Jesus, but questions by the religious experts about his authority to discharge sins, especially apart from the required Temple rituals.

Jesus did not attribute all cases of a disease to sin, although sin is the ultimate cause of disease and death. He did not blame this man’s condition on his being guilty of any offense. Forgiveness is linked to physical healing because it is connected to making humans whole, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • (Mark 2:6-12) – “Now there were certain of the Scribes there, sitting and deliberating in their hearts: Why does this man speak thus? He is speaking profanely! Who can forgive sins save one God? And Jesus, immediately taking note in his spirit that they are deliberating so within themselves, said to them: Why are you deliberating these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, your sins are discharged, or to say, Rise, take up your couch and be walking? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to be forgiving sins upon the earth, he said to the paralytic: To you, I say, Rise, take up your couch and be going your way to your house. And he arose and, immediately, taking up the couch, went forth before all, so that all were beside themselves and were glorifying God, saying, Thus, we never saw it!
The scribes were offended because God alone has the authority to declare sins forgiven. Furthermore, this was done apart from the Temple rituals and without the participation of the priests. While the chief priest performed an act of national absolution on the annual Day of Atonement, not even he was authorized to proclaim sins “forgiven.” Christ’s words appeared presumptuous to the men from Jerusalem, if not blasphemous.

In response, Jesus asked which is easier, to say, “your sins are forgiven are your sins,” or, “Rise and walk?” Both statements were easy to say, and both were impossible to do without the authority of God. He did not ask which is easier to do but which is easier “to say.”

It is far easier to proclaim the forgiveness of sins since no one can evaluate the validity of your claim from observable evidence. To say the paralytic is “healed” is more difficult since verification of the claim is immediate and obvious. If Jesus could demonstrate his authority to heal, it validated his authority to proclaim the “discharge of sins.”

The Greek verb rendered “arise” is the same one used later for the “rising” of Jesus from the dead. The restoration of the body and the forgiveness of sin are related acts, two sides of the same coin. The “Son of Man” came to make the entire man whole so he could rise to walk in the newness of life. In the end, the goal of discharging the debt of sin is the bodily resurrection and new creation - (Mark 16:6, Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

This is the first instance of the term “Son of Man” in Mark. Jesus did not say, “I have authority,” but that the “Son of Man has authority” to forgive or “discharge” sins.

"Son of Man" is the self-designation used most often by Jesus in the synoptic gospels. It was in his capacity as the “Son of Man” that he was authorized to “discharge” the debt of sins. The term is derived from the book of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) - “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming. And he approached the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
By identifying himself as the “Son of Man,” Jesus indicated the source of his authority, the “Ancient of Days,” and his healings and exorcisms validated it. Later, he appealed to the same authority when he overrode certain Sabbath regulations - (Mark 2:28).

By rising and carrying his litter, the healed paralytic demonstrated the validity of Christ’s authority and the power of his “word.” By this healing, God authenticated his authority and identified him before all as the “Son of Man.”

Thus, Jesus demonstrated his authority to the crowds and to the religious authorities. Nevertheless, the latter group rejected him. And in Mark, this incident marks the start of the conflicts between him and the authorities from the Temple that led inexorably to his death on a Roman cross.



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