Authority to Forgive Sin

SYNOPSIS - Jesus healed a paralytic, demonstrating the authority of the Son of Man to discharge sinsMark 2:1-12

Waterfall by Jess Aston on Unsplash
This next story is part of a larger literary unit that extends from Mark 2:1 through Mark 3:6. It is comprised of five stories that highlight the conflicts between Jesus and the religious authorities associated with the Temple in Jerusalem, primarily, over issues of ritual purity and Sabbath regulations. The present story follows the cleansing of the leper and there are several parallels between the two incidents. - [Photo by Jess Aston on Unsplash].

In both stories, Jesus dealt with the heart of the problem. Rather than “heal,” he “cleansed” the leper; rather than proclaim the paralytic “healed,” he proclaimed his sins “forgiven” or more literally, “discharged.”

 

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.


Sins Discharged

  • (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 unto them the word; and they come, bearing unto him a paralytic up-borne by four — 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 unto the paralytic — Child! forgiven are thy sins!” – (The Emphasized BibleParallel passagesMatthew 9:2-8, Luke 5:18-26).

In the gospel of 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; however, in Luke, the criticism comes from the “scribes and Pharisees” - (Luke 5:18-26).


Jesus heals the paralytic
The roof of a typical Judean house was flat and accessible by an outside staircase. It was constructed of thatch and mud, and therefore could be easily broken up. Mark attributes the actions of the men to their “faith,” and Jesus responded to it. Genuine faith is not abstract knowledge or an emotion, but instead, it produces actions - Decisions and deeds 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 on this day was not the miraculous healing by Jesus, but instead questions by the religious experts about his authority to discharge sins, especially apart from the required 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.


Scribes Scandalized

  • (Mark 2:6-12) – “Now there were certain of the Scribes there, sitting and deliberating in their hearts — Why doth this man thus talk? he is speaking profanely! Who can forgive sins save one God? And Jesus, straightway, taking note in his spirit that, thus, they are deliberating within themselves saith unto them — Why these things are ye deliberating in your hearts? Which is easier — to say unto the paralytic, Forgiven are thy sins, or to say, Rise, and take up thy couch and be walking? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath authority to be forgiving sins upon the earth, he saith to the paralytic: To thee I say Rise, take up thy couch and be going thy way unto thy house. And he arose and, straightway, 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. Further, 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.


Consequently, Jesus asked which is easier - To say, “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.”


In fact, it is easier to proclaim the forgiveness of sins since no one can evaluate the validity of such a claim by 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” in verse 9 is the same one used later for the “rising” of Jesus from the dead. The restoration of the body and the forgiveness of sins are not unrelated acts but 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, “The Son of Man has authority” to forgive or “discharge” sins. "Son of Man" is the self-designation used most often by him in the synoptic gospels, and almost always it is found on his lips. It was in his capacity as the “Son of Man” that he was authorized to discharge 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 came up to 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 which 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.” His healings validated that authority. He appealed later to the same authority when he superseded Sabbath regulations - (Mark 2:28).


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


Thus, Jesus demonstrated his authority to the crowds and the religious authorities. Nevertheless, the latter group rejected him. In the gospel of Mark, this incident marks the start of the conflicts that led to the death of the Messiah of Israel on a Roman cross.


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