Authority to Forgive Sin

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

The present literary unit consists of five stories that highlight Christ’s authority and the conflicts between him and the religious authorities, primarily over issues of ritual purity and Sabbath regulations. There are parallels between the present story and the preceding one about the cleansing of the leper.

In both stories, Jesus deals with the heart of the problem. Rather than “heal,” he “cleanses” the leper. Rather than proclaim the paralytic “healed,” he declares his sins “forgiven.”

And in both stories, “cleansing” and “forgiveness” occur apart from the Jerusalem Temple and its rituals, and that explains the vigorous objection of the “scribes” to his words and deeds.


Jesus “cleansed” impurities and “discharged” sins without resorting to the means provided in 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 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 passages: Matthew 9:2-8, 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 easily be broken open.

Mark attributes the actions of these men to their “faith.” Genuine faith is not abstract knowledge or emotions. It produces concrete actions and decisions.

He told the paralytic his sins were “forgiven” or “discharged.” The verb commonly rendered “forgive” in English translations is the same one used elsewhere for “divorce” and the “discharging” of debts.

The point of contention is not the miraculous healing, but the presumed authority of Jesus to discharge sins, especially when done apart from the required Temple rituals.

Jesus does not attribute all cases of disease to sin, and he does not blame this man’s condition on any offense done by him. Here, forgiveness is linked to physical healing because it makes a man whole – physically and spiritually - (Mark 2:6-12).

In the narrative, the scribes are offended because God alone can declare sins forgiven. Furthermore, Jesus did this 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 individual sins “forgiven.” Christ’s words appear presumptuous to the men from Jerusalem, if not blasphemous.


In response, Jesus asks which is easier, to say, “your sins are forgiven are your sins,” or, “Rise and walk?”

Both statements are easy to say, and both are impossible to do without the authority of God. He does 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 is immediate and obvious. If Jesus demonstrates his authority to heal, it validates his authority to proclaim the “forgiveness 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 newness of life - (Mark 16:6, Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

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

The term "Son of Man" is the self-designation used most often by Jesus in the synoptic gospels. In his capacity as the “Son of Man,” he is authorized to “discharge” the debt of sins. The term is found first in 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, which will not pass away, and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

By identifying himself as the “Son of Man,” Jesus indicates the source of his authority, the “Ancient of Days,” and his healings and exorcisms validate that identification. Later, he will appeal to the same authority when he overrides certain Sabbath regulations.

By standing up and carrying his litter, the healed paralytic proves Christ’s authority and the power of his “word.” By this healing, God authenticates his status as the Messiah and the “Son of Man” before the religious leaders of Israel.

Yet the priestly authorities will continue to reject him. And in this gospel account, this incident marks the start of the conflicts between him and the Temple that will lead to his death on a Roman cross.


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