Jesus, the Paralytic and the Trinity

Jesus Returns to Base

After John the Baptist’s arrest, Christ has spent his time in the highways, hedges and synagogues of Galilee.1 Now, He has returned to His home base in Capernaum (cf. Mt 4:13). He will not stay anonymous for long.

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. (Mk 2:1-2)

Nobody knows where His “home” was. It may have been Peter’s house, or perhaps Jesus had His own residence.2 Wherever He was, the word went out and the people came. And it wasn’t just the rubberneckers; “there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem” (Lk 5:17).

They’d heard of this man from Nazareth; His fame had “gone viral” (Mk 1:28, 45). We don’t know if the scribes and Pharisees were merely curious, or if they harbored the same sinister motives they’d later have (Lk 6:6). However, we do know the character of the blasphemous, legalistic system the Pharisees stood for. It was in absolute contradiction to the Old Covenant and to Jesus’ own teaching. Their presence was not a positive development. Jesus, never one for apologetic tap-dancing or supple velvet gloves, did not care. He preached “the word” (i.e. message) of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the crowd.

The Paralytic Cometh  

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay (Mk 2:3-4).

Many commentators assume the man came to be healed. There is no good reason for this. The man was healed because of his faith. To be sure, the man probably wanted to be healed, but he came primarily to hear Jesus preach “the word.”3

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 1:5)

Jesus saw that the man and his four friends all had faith (τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν).4 As He beheld their faith5—faith that drove them to carry their friend to Him, to even lower the poor man through the roof to hear Jesus proclaim the Gospel—the Messiah spoke to him. He called him “son,” a term of endearment and affection. Then, He did something extraordinary. He forgave the man’s sins, and He did so as He spoke the very words recorded and preserved for us in the Scripture. Jesus spoke, and it was done.6

This is truly an extraordinary thing to say. Yet, Jesus said it. Even more remarkably, He said it in front of a very large group of Pharisees and scribes from the legalistic centers of Jewish life; Judea in general, and Jerusalem in particular. Jesus boldly declared that He Himself forgave the man’s sins, on account of His faith.

Some commentators object. They believe Jesus was speaking for God, and saying, “God has forgiven your sin.”7 One scholar huffed, “[t]he reaction of the scribes does not imply they would have understood otherwise. They object to Jesus’ conviction that he can speak for God.”8 This objection is madness. The scribes understood Jesus to be claiming divine prerogative (2:7), and Christ Himself insisted He did have the authority to forgive sins (2:9-10).

Blasphemy!

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 1:6-7).

The scribes were correct. They understood Jesus correctly. Only God could forgive sins (Ps 103:3; 130:3-4). The entire sacrificial system was built on this premise (cf. Lev 16:29-30). What, then, will they make of this man from Nazareth?9

  • Yahweh declared He would come to lead His people from exile, to shepherd them to the Promised Land—and Jesus came instead (Mk 1:2-3; cf. Isa 40:3ff).
  • The Baptist proclaimed Jesus was the One who would baptize the Israelites with the regenerating water of the Holy Spirit of the New and better Covenant (Mk 1:8; cf. Eze 36:24f; Heb 8). God said He would do this, but Jesus came instead.
  • He preached that the time had been fulfilled and commanded all people to “repent and believe the Gospel,” for the kingdom of God was at hand (Mk 1:14-15).
  • The very demons He created cowered in terror, fearful of their own destruction, and proclaimed Him as God’s Holy One (Mk 1:23-26).
  • He went “throughout all Galilee” (Mk 1:39) preaching this message in the synagogues.

They must answer the question “what think ye of Christ?” and Jesus wasn’t being subtle. By making His bold claim, Jesus claimed to be equal with God. More than that, He claimed to be God—for only He can forgive sins.

Thou Knowest the Heart

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’”? (Mk 2:8-9).

Realize that Jesus read their thoughts. This is a divine activity. It is only Yahweh who “searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chr 28:9). It is God who weighs and measures a man’s spirit (Prov 16:2) and heart (Prov 21:2). King Solomon confessed long ago, “thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kgs 8:39). He discerns our thoughts from afar (Ps 139:2). No darkness can hide us from His sight (Ps 139:11-12). Indeed, as David wrote,

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! (Ps 139:7-8).

And yet, Jesus now performs this divine work and reads the scribes’ thoughts as they were “questioning in their hearts” (Mk 2:6). This isn’t the only time Jesus does this:

  • He read a Pharisee’s thoughts (Lk 7:39-40).
  • He ignored those who falsely claimed to believe in Him, “for he himself knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25).
  • Christ knew from the very beginning who would believe in Him, and who would betray Him (Jn 6:63-64; 13:11).
  • The writer of Hebrews begged his readers to not fall prey to the same disobedience shown by those who fell in the wilderness (Heb 4:11); “before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13).

The Son of Man Forgives Sins

Astonishingly, Jesus does not retreat in the face of covert opposition. He attacks.

“But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mk 2:10-12).

Jesus doesn’t just repeat His assertion—He ups the ante. Now, He specifically identifies Himself as the “Son of Man.”10 This is a direct reference to the great prophesy from Daniel, where this “Son of Man” is presented as a distinct, divine being who is crowned in Yahweh’s very presence, and who will be “given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). Jesus later said He was both the Messiah and the Son of Man, who would return to establish this promised kingdom (Mk 14:61-62).

Jesus can forgive sins, and He can do it because of who He is—the Son of Man! He is the One whom God will install on His holy hill of Zion (Ps 2:6). He will rule in the midst of His foes (Ps 110:2). He is the servant descended from David, appointed “to be the shepherd of Jacob his people, of Israel his inheritance” (Ps 78:71). To prove the point, He miraculously heals the man and commands Him to get up and be on His way.

Conclusion

The Messiah did many things in this short account which support the doctrine of the Trinity:

  • In response to a man’s saving faith, He spoke the word and the man’s sins were forgiven. This was a divine work. Jesus is equal to the Father. Even the scribes recognized the significance of this act.
  • He read His enemies’ thoughts, and countered their objections with logic of His own—even before they could speak the words! Only God can do this, yet Jesus is on earth and God in heaven. Jesus is divine.
  • “I can forgive sins,” Jesus declares, “for I am the Son of Man!” This divine figure, distinct from the Ancient of Days, will rule and reign over all creation.
  • Finally, He performed yet another miracle—one which caused the crowd to exclaim, “We never saw anything like this!”

J. Gresham Machen wrote that the passages which teach Christ’s deity are “natural fruits of a fundamental conception which is everywhere the same.”11 The Trinity is everywhere in the Bible. To be sure, some passages shine brighter than others, but there are small gems and faint glimmerings which await the watchful eye all throughout its pages. Who shall we compare Him to (cf. Isa 40:25ff)?

Notes

1 Mk 1:14, 21, 39. For a good chronology of Jesus’ ministry, organized by Gospel passage, see Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1978; reprint; New York, NY: HarperOne, 1991), 7-8.  

2 See comments by William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 86.  

3 For some more of my own comments on this, see my short article here.  

4 There is no reason to assume the paralytic’s faith is not included, especially given the rest of the account. A.B. Bruce (The Synoptic Gospels, in Expositors Greek Testament [London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910], 351) disagrees, for some reason.

5 Most English versions translate the adverbial participle ἰδὼν as an adverb of time (“when”). But, given what Jesus said next (“your sins are now forgiven”), the participle could be causal, in which case the sentence would read, “and because Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic …” This would clearly tie the pronouncement of divine forgiveness to the man’s faith. This translation is just as defensible as the traditional “when.”

6 The verb in the phrase ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι is a performative present, which means Jesus accomplished this forgiveness by uttering the words (cf. William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 94, fn. 9). Matthew has the same Greek construction. Luke has a perfect tense-form. See Richard A. Young (Intermediate New Testament Greek [Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994], 112-113) and Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 517-518 for grammatical examples, including Mark 2:5.

7 See Lane (Gospel of Mark, 94, fn. 9).

8 Lane (Gospel of Mark, 95-96).  

9 Hendrickson observed, “But now the thinking of the scribes arrives at the fork in the road, and they make the wrong turn,” (Gospel of Mark, 90).  

10 William Lane suggests v.10 is Mark’s commentary to the Christian reader, and that Jesus does not actually speak until v.11 (Gospel of Mark, 97-98). He sees an issue with Jesus openly declaring Himself to be the Son of Man so early in this account. This confession is at odds with His insistence on the so-called “Messianic Secret.” This is an intriguing suggestion. It’s worth pondering.   

11 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York, NY: Loiseaux Bros, 1923; reprint, CrossReach, n.d.), KL 1483-1484.

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There are 3 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

It's easy to over-emphasize either Jesus' humanity or His deity at the expense of the other. In the case of reading thoughts, I believe that--having set aside the independent use of His uniquely-divine abilities (Php.2's kenosis)--He could only "read thoughts" in one of two ways:

  • He exercised great wisdom in observing carefully and making sound deductions about what people were thinking
  • He was empowered by the Spirit to perform a miraculous reading

This view ends up being pretty much necessary to account for all of what's revealed in the gospels.

  • He does not know the time of His own return (Matt. 24.36)
  • He is sometimes surprised (Matt. 8:10)
  • He plainly says He doesn't do His works in His own power (John 5:30, 7:17, 14:10)

The miracles are not primarily intended to prove His deity, but to support the authority of His message (Deut.18:22) as the promised Prophet (John 6:14).

So ... much of the extraordinary works He does reflects the prophetic office, but more--the office of the Messiah specifically. I'm not sure how to harmonize "authority to forgive sins" with His statements in John. Is this authority "His own" as exception to the general principle, or does He intend to say that also is delegated to Him from the Father?

(To be clear, I don't doubt that the Son has this authority Himself, but there was much He handed over to the Father's administration temporarily as part of becoming a man and living as a man among men.)

TylerR's picture

This touches on another point, Aaron. Jesus deliberately veiled His glory, power and status in the incarnation (I.e. He emptied Himself), therefore it is difficult to distinguish between what He did in His own power and what He was enabled by Father and Spirit to do. If you place too much emphasis on the latter, you can eventually end up with some version of adoptionism. Too much on the former, and you impugn the incarnation. Tricky balance.

Even in this passage, Jesus perceived their thoughts "in his spirit;" and you could even argue to understand the dative as "by his spirit." I should probably review the Christology sections of a few systematic theologies as a refresher!

The difficulty with writing anything on Christology is that you feel the need to constantly clarify and caveat everything! I wish I had more room to expand in the article, but hopefully people get the point. I was thinking the same thoughts you were, Aaron - I just wasn't reading them . . . !

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

I was blessed by this article. And I sympathize w/the challenges of communication on these topics. When we produce a non-infinite study (i.e., 100% of our studies!), we always have to choose an emphasis. The shorter the communicative/teaching chunk, the more selective we have to be. ... and then there are rhetorical purposes that define that, too. If we try to get a perfect balance in each case, we end up killing every point by the proverbial "death of a thousand qualifications."

We can learn much from Jesus about this, too. Looking at His dialogs, discourses, and short exchanges, we find that sometimes He says "extreme" things--"hard sayings" (I believe John 6 is a great example... the whole chapter, but epec. when everybody starts leaving!). Full understanding requires looking at everything He and His apostles (and His prophets before that) had to say, but on particular occasions, there's a goal that demands a specific emphasis--and requires that statements not be "balanced."

So in John 6 He's saying you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood or there's no hope for you... And lots of people go "Huh?!" and walk away.

But it had to be said.

All that to say balance in emphasis isn't always the right goal on a particular occasion.

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