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Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins & Heal the Sick (Mark 2:6-12)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Healing People

Jesus Healing People

    6 But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
    10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
    Compare: Matthew 9:1-13; Luke 5:17-32

Jesus Forgives Sins

If God is the only one with authority to forgive people’s sins, then Jesus assumes a great deal in forgiving the sins of a man who came to him to have his palsy healed. Naturally, there are a few who wonder about this and question whether Jesus should do it.

Note that the scribes don’t actually say anything — they are thinking it. Jesus perceives what they are thinking — or, more likely, he knew that his actions would be questioned, knew what some people must have been thinking about him, and addressed his response to the most likely candidates in his midst.

Already in the second chapter we are encountering Jewish authorities accusing Jesus of blasphemy. This is the charge upon which they would convict him at the end of Mark’s gospel, so the theme is being established by the author early on. Of course, if it were true that Jesus were blaspheming, why doesn’t anyone do something about him right now? Why didn’t they do something about John the Baptist who, according to Mark, was also forgiving sins — or at least taking action that caused people’s sins to be forgiven?

It is strange that Jesus should react so negatively to people questioning his authority to forgive sins. He should have expected it — and now he has the perfect opportunity to explain that he is God and therefore has the authority to forgive sins. For some reason he keeps quiet about this. On the other hand, John the Baptist seems to have gone around forgiving people’s sins, so maybe it wasn’t strange for people to claim the authority to do that.

Notice here the basis upon which Jesus does assert his authority to forgive sins: his power to heal the sick. Perhaps there are good reasons for Jesus not to assert his divinity at this point and to these people, but why claim that the authority to forgive sins is demonstrated through the ability to heal someone? Lots of people were going around at the time healing people and exorcising demons — did they also have the authority to forgive sins? John the Baptist isn’t depicted as healing people, so on what authority did he baptize people for the remission of sins?

This was a time when people believed that the sickness and disability were signs of sin — either your own sin or the sins of your forefathers being visited upon you. In this context, maybe the connection between the forgiveness of sins and healing sickness is not so strange after all. By healing palsy, Jesus is showing he is able to eliminate what many would have regarded as a physical manifestation of crimes against God — and how might one do this without also having the authority to forgive those crimes?

This also puts the faith of the man’s friends in a different light: if they had faith that Jesus could heal, perhaps they also had faith that Jesus could forgive. We cannot be certain about this because the connection is tenuous, but it is a real possibility.

This is where Jesus first refers to himself as the “Son of man” — note that it is not the “Son of God.” The two titles are not the same. In Aramaic, Son of man is an honorific which means something akin to “human being” and confers no divine significance. It is important to keep in mind that in the earliest of the four gospels, Jesus does not refer to himself during his ministry as the Son of God or as being divine in any way, even when given the chance.

At no point in the gospels are we told what Jesus meant by the title “Son of man” — it’s possible that he had in mind something other than the usual sense. That, however, would have made matters rather confusing for early listeners and readers of the stories. After all, they couldn’t be expected to read “Son of man” the same way unless it was used in its normal, casual sense.

Historically, Christians have treated the title “Son of man” as having more significance and, therefore, this passage has more theological weight than it may seem For Christians, it signifies Jesus’ fate of suffering, dying, and being raised again. This has been read as creating a link between Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and his eventual resurrection.

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