Jesus and the authority to forgive sins

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold they were bringing to him a paralytic, laid on a bed. And having seen their faith Jesus said to the paralytic, “Have confidence, child, your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man blasphemes.” But having seen their thoughts Jesus said, “Why do you think evil things in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”—he then says to the paralytic, “Having risen pick up your bed and go to your house. And having risen he went away to his house. And seeing, the crowds were afraid and glorified the God who had given such authority to men.

This is one of the passages that is often put forward as “evidence” that the synoptic Gospel account already presents Jesus as both human and divine. The argument is that i) it is the prerogative of God to forgive sins, ii) in this story Jesus forgives sins, iii) therefore Jesus must be God. Added to this, it is sometimes supposed that Jesus demonstrates exclusive supernatural insight into the inner thoughts of the scribes who were so offended by his pronouncement. Neither of these propositions is correct.

Matthew does not explain why the scribes thought that Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness amounted to blasphemy. Mark and Luke, however, have the scribes ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Whether or not the rabbis at this time had explicitly formulated the dogma that only God can forgive sins, it is clear enough—if not self-evident—that according to both the sacrificial system and later eschatological narratives it is God alone who forgives Israel’s sin.

Jesus’ response is to claim that the authority (exousian) to forgive sins has been given on earth to the Son of Man. Behind this must be Daniel’s vision of a figure “like a son of man” who, at a time of national religious crisis, is given an “everlasting authority” (exousia aiōnios) (Dan. 7:14 LXX). Jesus certainly identifies himself with this symbolic figure, but what the figure represents is the loyal community of righteous Israel, which resisted pagan pressure to abandon ancestral worship. When Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, therefore, he identifies himself not with God but with a particular group in Israel—with those who will remain faithful during the impending eschatological crisis. What the vision asserts is that, in time, the pagan oppressor will be defeated (7:11), apostate Israel will be judged (cf. 12:2), and the suffering community of the “saints of the Most High” will be given “the authority and the kingdom and the magnitude of all the kingdoms, which are under heaven” (Dan. 7:27).

The reaction of the onlookers is to glorify “the God who had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8). Perhaps this reflects a misunderstanding on their part, but there is nothing in the text to suggest that this is the case, and it is completely congruent with Jesus’ claim that the authority to forgive sins has been given to the Son of Man. It is also consistent with the fact that Jesus bestows on his disciples—as the community of the Son of Man—the authority to forgive or to withhold forgiveness, to loose on earth or to bind on earth (Matt. 16:19; 18:18), because the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

It should be stressed, too, that at issue here is the forgiveness specifically of Israel’s sins—the paralytic is, in effect, a representative figure. The healing of the sick is a sign to Israel that a restoration from the margins, from amongst the dispossessed, is at hand. The forgiveness of the paralytic in defiance of the outraged scribes is a sign to faithful Israel—the Israel represented by the stretcher bearers—that its forgiveness is at hand. The connection between healing and forgiveness is given in Isaiah 53:4, which Matthew cited earlier to explain why Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons (8:17).

Finally, there is no suggestion of divine knowledge in the statement that Jesus “saw their thoughts”. Just as the “faith” of those who carried the paralytic was made visible by their action, so the “thoughts” of the scribes were made visible by the manner of their talking together. The statements are exactly parallel: Jesus saw (idōn) their faith and spoke; Jesus saw (idōn) their thoughts and spoke. Mark speaks of Jesus “knowing in his spirit that they thus questioned among themselves”, but this hardly points to divine knowledge.

This passage says something of central importance about the relationship of Jesus to God. It does not assert an identification of Jesus with God. It does not directly serve the interests of a later developed two-nature christology. What it says is that in a time of eschatological crisis God has exceptionally given to Jesus, as a figure who fulfils the symbolic function of Daniel’s “Son of Man”, the authority to do what otherwise only God himself can do, which is to forgive the sins on account of which the nation has incurred the wrath of God. It is the transfer of authority that is remarkable and a cause of wonder for the onlookers, not any confusion of identities. So the opening argument needs to be restated: i) it is the prerogative of God to forgive the sins of oppressed Israel, ii) in this story Jesus forgives the sins of a man oppressed by sickness, iii) therefore God has given to Jesus authority to forgive sins.

(There was extensive discussion of this passage in an earlier comment thread, which won’t all need to be repeated here.)

Mike Wilson | Mon, 05/16/2011 - 23:02 | Permalink

Interesting, I had heard that the Son of Man in Daniel should be seen as a corporate figure symbolized as a person, thats why he is like a son of man. I agreed with the proposal, it seemed more in fitting with jewish conceptions of the Day of the Lord, but thought that Jesus used it in a more individual messiah sense.  If the corporate sense of the term though was still around in Jesus' time, and it wasn't so long ago that the book was written, then it could well have been the sense that Jesus uses the term. It would clear up some mysteries, why Jesus seems to aplly the term to himself, and at other times uses it as if he is speaking of another person, and the it also removes what seems like a very arrogant self designation.

Hi, not really part of your discussion, But I was searching for some exegesis on this passage.  I've been thinking that to me this passage is saying something simple, that the pharisee got upset or couldn't understand Jesus here, because what he was doing was not replacing the law, or making himself God, but abolishing the law in this way:  by simply forgiving sins, the whole system of ritual sacrifice, or appeasement of wrath, is negated. 

I've been thinking that God's anger in the Bible is just that.  The so-called punishment of Israel was undertaken after long suffering forbearance.  God is illustrated as not desiring to punish until sin after sin built up.  When punishment finally takes place, it's with the hope of repentance, teaching how to think with a clean heart.  The illustration of  anger for anger's sake to me seems to be the human authors of the Bible relating the details of the experience.  The ones who seem to be wrathful and enjoy punishment for punishment's sake are the pharisee, the legalists in all the negative senses, the humans. 

What if another way of looking at Christ saw this.  With the foreknowledge of God, Christ abolished the law, the system of ritual sacrifice and legalism.  The New Testament says Christ removed our need to sacrifice to God in order to appease his wrath against our sins.  What if Christ removed the so called wrath by simply forgiving?  What if Christ was not killed to be our supposed needed sacrifice, but BECAUSE he abolished the need by simply extending forgiveness of sins.  Then it was the wrath of men that killed him. 

Even now this would seem crazy to us, because we think there HAS to be a penalty paid.  We can even say that for God, right?   That's how our world works.  Did anyone stop to think that perhaps all along that's what God has been trying to get across to us - that's not how HE works?  What did the psalmist say, and the prophet Isaiah say, as coming from God "do I delight in the blood of bulls?"  a contrite heart, and repentance and understanding is what they say God desires.  I believe sin is real.  I believe Christ forgives sin.  I believe God forgives sin.  It's us that desire punishment.

I believe it's time for western Christianity to grow.  Sin is indeed real, but I wonder if Christ did not suffer a substitutionary punishment, but in reality suffered the direct sinfulness of those who couldn't handle the audacity of simple forgiveness in the name of God, or just as bad for the killers, the reduction of their power and control of others. 


 Before discussing Saul’s conversion we need to establish a point of fact. You cannot become a Christian and have unforgiven sins. If your sins have been forgiven you are a Christian. If you are a Christian then your sins have been forgiven. It is impossible to separate forgiveness, from being in Christ. How could you say I became a Christian last night but my sins were not forgiven? By the same reasoning you could not assert that I had my sins forgiven last night but I am not a Christian.

What is true for us, was true for the apostle Paul.

Acts 9:3-6 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what to do.”

Saul obviously believed in Jesus at this point, yet he was still not forgiven of his sins; therefore he was not a Christian. Paul was not saved by “FAITH ONLY.”

Acts 9:9-11 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,

Saul believed that Jesus was Lord.

Saul repented.

Saul fasted and prayed for three days.

After three days on the road to Damascus Saul was still not forgiven of his sins. Saul was not saved by faith alone, Saul was not saved by repenting alone. Saul was not saved by praying and fasting. SAUL WAS NOT SAVED ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.

Acts 22:12-16 “A certain Ananias….13 came to me….16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

Saul’s sins were forgiven after he was baptized in water, not before.

Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized into Christ.

Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved……

Saul was not saved until he was immersed in water.

Acts 2:38…and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins….

Saul sins where not forgiven until he was baptized in water.

Paul was saved the way all men are saved. FAITH John 3:16–REPENTANCE Acts 3:19–CONFESSION Romans 10:9-19–WATER BAPTISM Acts 2:38




Saul converted to Paul was never a christian for he never heard of such an evil thing. He never attended a church nor did he ever see one for their was never one until the year 1611 when King James ordered it by edict.

The evil gentile church of evil christians does not exist except in the corrupted English Text. The word we get the church word is a verbal noun and not a proper noun and the verse in Matthew 16:18 ends in the female voice as the word auteen being the one of Adam in the female voice, she was the wife of Jesus being the ones invited out from among the evil gentiles where she had been scattered. She was never an it as in the corrupted English text. Acts 7:38 there was never a church in the wilderness and all of the remaining 116 words are wrong in every case.

Paul said that Jesus came for the Hebrew family that had been scattered see John11:52 The church created christians as something being sinners of the seed of Satan and having them to repent, something not found in the greek letter text. Paul was a hebrew of the family of benijamin of the house of Judah branch.

Jesus died for the other branch, the house of Israel

No gentiles no church no christians the message is entire wrong when you study the Hebrew text.

see my web page for more details

Jerry Collins

Jesus never came to save sinners for do to the evil translators the word amartia is changed to hamartia or several other forms of the word and called it sin. The word from the only testament is the word transgressions and the only transgressions Jesus came to remove were those of the house of Israel that had been scattered following the divorce in Jeremiah 3 when Jesus divorced his wife for her transgressions which God saw as adultery. the only reason he could divorce his wife. having divorced her the only way he could remarry her was to die willingly to annull the first marriage vows and make a new covenant with her.

The father scattered the children among the evil rejected gentiles along the trade routes of the great Sea. 10 times the father said he would convene out the house of Israel from among the heathen hated gentles

Jesus came to the children of the divorce wife Isa 50 telling them what he was going to do for only them, the ones scattered. He would die willingly for the right to remarry the wife because he love her enough to die for her and her children.

Jesus came as the one of Adam to rescue the ones of Adam and to remove the transgressions being the ones of Adam, no other listed in Matthew n1:21

Jesus preached to the ethnee in Matthew 6:32 being the sons of God, not gentiles as the English says for the seed of Satan has never had God as their Father. He died and bought back the wife, he being the price paid to get the wife and the childen. He dispatched his learners to the ethnee in matthew 28:19 same word as matthew 6:32

No gentiles were ever saved except in the evil gentile church and made evil christians of them. there has never been a seed of Satan converted to that of the seed of Adam.

See my web pages for more details on this and more.

Jerry Collins

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