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Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? (Mark 2:9 ESV)

I've always read this as a rhetorical question which insists that it is easier to say 'Your sins are forgiven' than ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’. But is this correct?

After he asks this question he continues with

"But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” (Mark 2:10 ESV)

Then Jesus tells the man to rise up and the man is healed.

It seems to me, especially from Mark 2:10, that it is equally difficult to forgive sins as it is to heal a paralytic, since only God can forgive sins. Jesus establishes his authority to forgive sins by healing the man. So the only way he could heal the man is if he were also able to forgive sins, thus making himself equal with God. Therefore it is equally difficult to say 'your sins are forgiven.'

So what is the implication of this question that Jesus poses to the scribes and to the crowd? Is there an implication that one of these is easier than another? Perhaps Jesus is implying that it is easier for a person to simply say (without any integrity) 'your sins are forgiven' since it would be quite difficult to find out if the sins were forgiven.

An analysis of the Greek would be highly appreciated.

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1 Answer 1

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The focus of Jesus' question is on which is easier to say: "Your sins are forgiven" or "Rise, pick up your mat, and walk." The first statement is easier to say since no one could possibly validate such a claim. There is no empirical test that a man's sins are indeed forgiven. But to say to a paralytic, "Get up and walk" - this sets up an easy test of the speaker's authority to say such things. Does the man get up and walk?

Here, too, we have an a fortiori argument, but this time it operates positively: if the more ‘difficult’ can be achieved, this guarantees the validity of the claim to do the ‘easier’. The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question must therefore be that it is εὐκοπώτερον to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’, since that is the point to be proved (v. 10), and it will be proved by the successful utterance of the ‘more difficult’ command to the paralytic to get up and go.

France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (p. 127). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

After having posed the question, Jesus then goes on to actually say the second thing; he tells the man to rise, pick up his bed, and walk. He does this, as you note, "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." In doing so, Jesus is inviting the skeptics to consider the hard evidence of the man's healing as evidence of Jesus' authority to forgive sins.

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