Discharging Sins

The literary unit in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Mark includes five stories highlighting the authority of Jesus as the “Son of Man.” It also shows the growing conflicts between him and the religious authorities based in the Jerusalem Temple, especially 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 dealt with the heart of the problem. Rather than “heal,” he “cleansed” the leper, and rather than proclaim the paralytic “healed,” he declared his sins “discharged.”

River of Life - Photo by kazuend on Unsplash
[Photo by kazuend on Unsplash]

In both stories, “
cleansing” ritual impurities and “discharging” sins occurred apart from the Temple and its rituals, which explains the vigorous objection of the “Scribes” to the words and deeds of Jesus. He “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. The passage attributes the actions of these men to their “faith.” Genuine faith is not abstract knowledge or emotions. It produces concrete actions and decisions.

Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were “forgiven,” or more accurately, “discharged.” The verb commonly rendered “forgive” in English translations is the same Greek word used elsewhere for “divorce” and for the “discharging” of debts. The point of contention was not the miraculous healing, but the presumed authority of Jesus to discharge sins apart from the required Temple rituals.

Jesus did not attribute all diseases to sin, and he did not blame the paralytic’s condition on any offense done by him. He linked this physical healing to forgiveness because it made the man whole – physically and spiritually - (Mark 2:6-12).

The Scribes were offended because God alone could declare sins forgiven and the associated penalties discharged. 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 an individual’s sins “forgiven.” Christ’s words appeared presumptuous and arrogant to the men from Jerusalem, if not blasphemous.


Jesus then asked which is easier - To say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Rise and walk?” Both statements are easy to say, and both are impossible to do without the authority of God. He did not ask which was easier to do but which was easier “TO SAY.”

It was easier to proclaim the forgiveness of sins since no one could evaluate the validity of the claim from observable evidence. To say the paralytic was “healed” was more difficult since verification would be immediate and obvious. If Jesus demonstrated his authority to heal, it would validate his authority to proclaim the “forgiveness of sins.”

The Greek verb translated as “arise” in the passage is the same one used later for the “rising” of Jesus from the dead. In this story, the restoration of the body and the forgiveness of sin were related acts, two sides of the same coin, for the “Son of Man” came to make the entire man whole so that the people of God could rise and 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 the Gospel of Mark. Jesus did 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 was authorized to “discharge” the debt of sins. The term is 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 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 that will not be destroyed.”

Alone at Sunrise - Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash
[Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash]

By identifying himself as the “
Son of Man,” Jesus indicated the source of his authority, namely, the “Ancient of Days.” His healings and exorcisms validated that identification. Later, he appealed to the same authority when he overrode certain Sabbath regulations.

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

Yet the priestly authorities would continue to reject him. This incident marked the start of the conflicts between Jesus and the Temple authorities that led inevitably to his death on a Roman cross.

  • Son of Man - (The one like a Son of Man in Daniel’s vision is the source of Christ’s self-designation as the Son of Man authorized to rule the Kingdom)
  • Authority over Satan - (Jesus demonstrated his authority over Satan’s domain by driving his forces out of the children of Israel – Mark 1:21-28)
  • Authority over Ritual Purity - (The touch of Jesus cleansed a leper, and the forbidden physical contact failed to render him unclean – Mark 1:40-45)



The Word Made Flesh

Language of the New Testament