Thursday

07 January 2016

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (vv. 5-7)

Psalm: Psalm 4


Background

The Son of Man (verse 10) is a phrase used in all four Gospels by Jesus of himself. Only once (John 12:34) is it used by anyone else and then it is the crowd who are asking who this Son of Man is. Scholars have long debated what Jesus meant by adopting this term. Was it merely a way of saying 'I, a mortal', as it is when God addresses Ezekiel as 'ben adam' (Ezekiel 2:1)? Was he identifying himself with the one who comes at the end of time and who, after suffering, will govern the new order with the saints of the Most High (Daniel 7:13)? Was it a straightforward claim to be God's Messiah?

 

The appearance of this phrase, "Son of Man" in this story about forgiveness of sins makes the questions sharper. Is Jesus claiming that any person has the authority to forgive sins (verse 10)? Is Jesus thereby declaring himself to be God's Messiah - for who can forgive sins except God alone (verse 7)? Is Jesus claiming that, not everyone, but those with a vocation to be the saints of the Most High (like himself) have the power to forgive?

The weight of evidence is that Jesus was using this phrase to refer to himself as 'I' - but not as a Messianic claim - for whilst he goes to strenuous efforts to prevent people and demons from proclaiming him the Messiah (eg Mark 1:34; 8:30), Jesus is quite happy to this term of himself. However, it seems unlikely that Jesus' contemporary hearers could have heard the phrase, "Son of Man", without hearing in it the rich associations from Daniel 7 - a vision which was widely known at the time. In using such an enigmatic phrase, however, it seems that Jesus was not so much claiming a title, as evoking resonances of prophetic calling, of the mission of God's obedient people, of the possibility of suffering for the faithful, of final vindication, and that he was identifying himself within that tradition. At the same time, Jesus was adding a further resonance by his actions: that the mission of God's obedient people will from now on involve the work of setting people free from their sins.


To Ponder

  • The Church has long debated who has the power to forgive sins or to declare God's forgiveness of sins. Who do you think has the authority to do this?
  • What experience do you have of receiving forgiveness? What were the effects on you?
  • How might Christians be better at helping each other to hear the good news that our sins are forgiven?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jane Leach

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