In the previous two stories, Jesus demonstrated his authority over satanic powers. First, he calms the chaos of the seas and second, he commanded demons to leave two men who were living among the tombs. In both cases he is in “enemy territory” where Satan has the advantage. Now in 9:1-7 Jesus will demonstrate his authority over sin and sickness by healing a paralytic man. The one who silences the chaos of the seas and commands demons also has the authority to forgive sin. Matthew is making a clear Christological statement about who Jesus is as well as tracking a range of responses to Jesus, amazement, fear, and rejection.
The story appears in see Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18–26. As is usually the case, Matthew’s version of the story is brief compared to Mark and Luke. “Matthew’s narration is surprisingly slim at this point” (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 91). Matthew omits the situation (a large crowd in Peter’s house), the four friends who lower the paralyzed man through the roof, and the paralytic does not pick up his mat when he departs. An interesting addition is calling Capernaum “his town.”
Having returned to Capernaum, which Matthew calls “his own city” (ESV), a paralytic is brought to Jesus. In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus is teaching in Peter’s house and a crowd has gather which prevents four men from bringing the man to Jesus through the door.They are forced to dig a hole in the roof in order to lower the paralytic into Jesus’s presence. When Jesus sees their faith, he forgives the man’s sin.
It is possible the story was so well-known Matthew did not need to include all of the details since his focus is on who Jesus claims to be and the reaction of the scribes and the crowd. On the other hand, Nolland suggests the paralytic did not express faith (the other men who brought them did); since Matthew focuses on faith in Jesus as a basis of healing (see 8:10), he abbreviated the story to avoid the implication the healed man did not express faith (Nolland, Matthew, 380).
Paralysis was one of several impurities which would prevent this man from going up to the Temple to worship. The lame were not permitted to serve as priests or Levites (Leviticus 21:16-24), although they can eat from the offerings, they are not permitted to “come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings.” In the Rule of the Congregation (1Q Sa).
Deuteronomy 15:21 (ESV) But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.
1QSa 2:3-7 No man, defiled by any of the impurities 4 of a man, shall enter the assembly of these; and no-one who is defiled by these should be 5 established in his office amongst the congregation: everyone who is defiled in his flesh, paralysed in his feet or 6 in his hands, lame, blind, deaf, dumb or defiled in his flesh with a blemish 7 visible to the eyes, or the tottering old man who cannot keep upright in the midst of the assembly. (Martı́nez and Tigchelaar; see also those who are not permitted to participate in the final war in The War Scroll, 1QM 7:4)
Rather than healing the man, Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven. Jesus declares the sins forgiven even though there has been no sacrifice or other means of atonement made. If the man was struck with paralysis because of an illness, then his friends may have thought he was under the judgment of God for some sin he may have done. They should have begged God forgive the man gone up to the Temple to offer sacrifices on his behalf.
For Jesus to claim to forgive sin is to claim divine authority. Only God forgive sin in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:7; Isa 43:25-26) and the literature of the Second Temple period.
Exodus 34:7 (ESV) …keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Isaiah 43:25–26 (ESV) “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. 26 Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.
4Q398 f14–17ii Remember David, who was a man of the pious ones, [and] he, too, 2 [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven.
4Q417 f2i:14 Be like a humble man when you conduct a case […] 15 grasp. And then God will see, and his anger will turn away, and he will forgive your sins [f]or before [his] an[ger] 16 no-one can endure.
11Q5 19:12-14 When I recall your power my heart is strengthened, 13 and I rely on your kind deeds. Forgive my sin, YHWH, 14 and cleanse me from my iniquity.
In a similar situation, Jesus forgives the sin of a woman in Luke 7:49. He gets a similar reaction from the witnesses: they are shocked he claims authority to forgive since forgiving sin done through the sacrifices and only granted by God.
What is Jesus claiming in this story? Is there a difference between claiming to have the authority to forgive sin and claiming to be God?