Only God Can Forgive Sins

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesMatt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:18-26)

(Dr. Zodhiates continues his exegesis of the Gospel of Matthew.)

[9:1] Jesus' "own (from dios [2398]) city," His "home" according to Mark 2:1 nasb, refers to Capernaum. Here friends brought to Jesus a paralyzed man, who was carrying a burden of sin on top of his wretched physical condition.

Mark comments that so many people were gathered together at the house that "there was no longer room, not even near the door" (Mark 2:2 nasb). Unable to approach Jesus, the man's friends literally "removed (from apostegzo  [648], to unroof) the roof" and lowered him on a pallet in front of Jesus (Mark 2:2-4).

[2] Matthew begins his narrative with "Behold" (ido [2400], the imperative of edon [1492], the aorist of horo  [3708], to perceive), calling attention to the extraordinary miracle. The Word made flesh was about to perform in accord with His purpose for coming to earth: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). The reader is alerted to this additional proof that Jesus Christ is the omnipotent Son of God. The greatest manifestation of the Son of man's authority on earth was His ability to forgive sins. To declare that a man's sins were forgiven was to claim to be God, a blasphemous contention to unbelieving Jews.

The Lord saw more than a paralyzed man lying on a bed. Both Matthew and Mark note Jesus' perception of the friends' persistence and creativity in bringing the paralytic before Him. The phrase "seeing their faith" translates the aorist participle ido n (from edon [1492]) and could properly be translated as "having seen their faith" or "when He saw their faith..."[cf. Mark 2:5, which uses the same phrase]. Faith, of course, is not seen physically; it is a spiritual reality, something beneath the empirical gaze of people and angels but not beyond the Son of God's knowledge. "Their faith" probably included the faith of the sick man himself as well as the ones who brought him to Jesus. The man was surrounded by faith in the Lord.

Jesus spoke immediately to the man's spiritual condition: "Son (téknon [5043], child), be of good cheer (from tharséo  [2293], to take courage); thy sins be forgiven (from aphe mi [863]) thee."

This was planned. Jesus could have healed the man first, if that had been His intention. But by telling the man his sins were forgiven and knowing that the scribes would object that He was usurping God's authority, He laid the groundwork for the proof of this authority that followed-the physical healing itself.

[3] Amazingly, the scribes did not outwardly contend with Jesus, some of them saying only "within themselves, This man blasphemeth." Even though they believed that Jesus blasphemed by claiming to do something only God could do, they feared the people of faith (previous verse).

[4] Jesus attested His deity not only by His forgiving sins but also by His knowledge of the scribes' wicked thoughts. "And Jesus knowing (ido n, the aorist participle of edon, the aorist of horo , to see and perceive) their thoughts (from enthme sis [1761] from en [1722], in, within; and thums [2372], passionate thought as, e.g., evil reasoning and intent) said, "Wherefore think ye (from enthuméomai [1760]; Mark uses dialogzomai [1260], to reason thoroughly) evil (from pone rs [4190], malevolent things; here, motives) in your hearts?"

Even though healing could be accomplished through secondary causes, only God could forgive sins (Mark 2:7). Jesus healed many, but this was not His primary ministry on earth. He became incarnate to save us from our sins. Healing was a subordinate, authenticating ministry.

[5] The manner in which Jesus handled the scribes' objection is fascinating. He had already claimed He had authority to forgive sins by pronouncing forgiveness over the paralytic. But forgiveness-a new relationship with God-is invisible by nature. He knew the scribes would never accept what they could not see, but they would accept physical data as proof. Accordingly, He asked: "For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?"

This question demanded more from Jesus than the question, Which is easier for Me to pray for (as a man)? There is no mention of His praying or depending on God at all. Jesus actually claimed to have the full decretive power of the Almighty Himself! The scribes probably already dismissed the idea that Jesus' prayers would be answered, since "God heareth not sinners" (John 9:31), and Jesus had just blasphemed in their thinking. But now Jesus implied that He did not even need to pray; He only declared!

Essentially, the question was this: Which is easier to decree (cause): forgiveness or healing? The man's sins were forgiven, but the scribes could not verify this. They could, however, verify a physical healing, especially of a paralyzed man. And they knew that only God could do this by commanding, "Arise!" If Jesus could not do this, He was exposing Himself to public ridicule.

[6] As usual, Jesus did not wait for His opponents to answer the unanswerable. No human can answer a question concerning the relative ease of two divine acts. Moreover, the notion "difficult for omnipotence" is contradictory. "Difficult" makes no sense to Omnipotence, since Omnipotence creates all forces out of nothing. Both healing and forgiveness are equally easy to a God who creates out of nothing.

"But ( [1161], i.e., "but regardless of how you may answer the question") that (hna [2443], in order that) you may know (from edon, the aorist of horo  {3708}, to see and comprehend) that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive (aphiénai, the present active infinitive of aphe mi [863]) sins (from hamarta [266]), (then said He to the palsied), Having arisen (egerthes, the aorist passive participle of egero  [1453], to rise up), take up (ron, the aorist active imperative of aro  [142]) your bed, and go to your house. (a.t.)

The present infinitive of aphe mi, "forgive," encompasses the entire time of Jesus' ministry on earth, but here His authority to declare forgiveness (given in the active voice) was proven immediately by the paralytic's obedient response to the imperative "Arise!" The One who forgives by decree heals by decree; and no one but God can do such things. The scribes believed that God in heaven could forgive and heal but not the "Son of man...on earth." This was a new truth they could not accept.

Sin means to miss the mark, God's mark of perfection (Matt. 5:48). Matthew develops his theme of the Messiah who came to earth to "save His people from their sins" from the very beginning of his Gospel (Matt. 1:21; 3:6; 9:2, 6; 12:31; 26:28). With one exception ("all manner [from ps {3956}, all] of sin" in Matt. 12:31), he uses the plural noun, "sins," compared with John who prefers the singular "sin" (John 1:29; 8:34, 46; 9:41 [twice]; 15:22, 24; 16:9; 19:11), referring to the quality of sin. John uses the plural only in John 8:24 (twice); 9:34; and 20:23.

[7, 8] The proof was incontestable to the majority, though nothing specific is said of the scribes' reaction: "And (the paralytic) arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men." Mark quotes the crowd as saying, "We never (oudépote [3763] from ou [3756], not; [1161], even; and poté [4218], at any time) saw it thus" (a.t.; Mark 2:12).

While this was the general response of the crowd to the novelty of this healing, we do not know whether the scribes joined them in glorifying God or just went away murmuring out of jealousy.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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