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The Egerton papyrus has a version of Jesus's healing of the leper that adds further information at the beginning and end:

Egerton 1 recto (35)

And behold, a leper came, saying, “Rabbi
Jesus, I traveled with lepers and ate with them at the inn, and
then I became a leper myself.”

Mark 1:40 (WEB) -- A leper came to him, begging him, kneeling down to him, and saying to him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Being moved with anger,* he stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, “I want to. Be made clean.” When he had said this, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was made clean. He sternly rebuked him and imme- diately threw him out, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

Egerton 1 recto (47) 

“...and don’t keep messing up [my conjectural translation of Μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε].”

It's tempting to interpret the Egerton papyrus's prolog as preserving a record of a stage in the evolution in the understanding of disease, from the tanakh's idea that leprosy was a punishment from God to something more like our modern concept of infectious disease. (Assuming "anger" rather than "compassion" is correct, then on this reading, Jesus still has plenty of possible reasons to be annoyed with the leper.)

The Egerton papyrus's epilog is also consistent with this, since ἁμαρτάνω has the basic meaning of throwing a missile such as a spear and missing the target. This basic meaning can be expanded so that it means making a mistake in general, and I guess it's also the only word available in koine for expressing the notion of sin. So on my conjectural reading above, Jesus is simply telling the leper to stop making the mistake of exposing himself to a communicable disease, which the tanakh clearly warns is a bad idea.

This reading would become less tenable if phrases like "sin no more" and "your sins are forgiven" had clear Hebrew models in which a transgression was described using a different word than other kinds of mistakes.

Question: are there such Hebrew models (perhaps spoken by God) that are clearly the basis for Jesus's blessings and imprecations, making my reading untenable? Or are these two phrases characteristic of Jesus?

The latter phrase, e.g., in Mark 2:5, is ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι. Again we have a person who has been cured of what we would today think of as a physical affliction, and again Jesus cures the person and talks to them about sins/mistakes. Mark is consistent in both cases by not providing a case history of how the person came to be afflicted or having Jesus show any interest in what the actual sins/mistakes were. Interestingly, the verb ἀφίημι also has a basic meaning relating to missiles (LSJ) -- to launch a missile -- but by extension (when referring to an object) to drop it or get rid of it. So on a blind translation using just the first-listed LSJ definitions, ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι would be "your bad aiming of missiles is launched," which is obviously word salad. A more reasonable reading would be something more like "your mistakes are dumped in the garbage." LSJ does give a definition of ἀφίημι that is legal, meaning to drop a charge or punishment, so we could say "your mistakes are dropped, disposed of."

*WEB has "compassion."

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    I am not sure if this question even belongs here. The Egerton papyrus has so many questions surrounding it that that cannot be answered. All we do know at present is that (1) it is not part of the Bible, and (2) it comes from about the end of the 2nd century.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 20:48
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    What might "Hebrew models that restrict their interpretation" really mean, please? It's just-about not impossible that "sin no more" and "your sins are forgiven" could be acceptable translations of the same original. What reason is there to think it's not obvious that at least one of them is simply wrong… which would render the Question meaningless? Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 0:02
  • Ques like this should be closed as opinion based for being low quality
    – Michael16
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 4:39
  • @RobbieGoodwin I think s/he might be referring to idiomatic usages.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 18:48
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    @Ruminator That might be wholly true but then, what difference might it make? Again, how is it not obvious that something is simply wrong… which would render the Question meaningless? Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 21:03

3 Answers 3

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I think where this argument misses the mark, so to speak, is in asserting that the basic meaning of ἁμαρτάνω is what you say. It is true that it has an archaic meaning of missing a target, among other meanings as shown in the Lidell Scott Jones lexicon, but this is only one of seven different meanings shown. The LSJ lexicon is also for ancient Greek, not the Koine Greek of the New Testament. If you look through the references cited you will see that there is not a single reference to any New Testament writings, which must have seemed odd.

The connection to the ancient Greek word has not been lost on Christian commentators, but they did not thereby impute the meaning of “mistake” to sin. The late Orthodox Archbishop Dmitry Royster, for example, in his commentary on Romans wrote:

What does "being saved" mean? From what sins do men need to be saved? [Matthew 1:21]. Since sin in the Greek original is hamartia, literally "failure" or "missing the mark", we have to conclude that man's sin consists fundamentally in his missing the very point of his existence (although for some Christians, salvation has been reduced to nothing more than escaping the punishment of hell)*.


* St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary, p.33

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The Torah law about skin diseases, including leprosy, are contained Lev 13, & 14; see also Deut 24:8. Nowhere in these pivotal passages is sin mentioned as a cause. It simply had to be dealt with to prevent its spread.

Exactly the same was true of Naaman.

However, there were several famous stories of people who were punished by God for their sin by miraculously and instantly inflicting them with leprosy:

  • Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27) was afflicted with leprosy for the sin of greed and avarice
  • Uzziah (2 Chron 26:19) was afflicted with leprosy for the sin of presumption
  • Miriam (Num 12:10-15) was afflicted with leprosy for the sin of self-importance and racism

Thus, it appears that leprosy was viewed as a disease that occurred whose cause was unknown except by communication with other lepers, but it was dealt with using methods of hygiene. However, this did not prevent God from using the dreaded disease as a punishment on occasions. [Note that God used many dreaded things as punishment, not only leprosy.]

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The OP suggests that "Jesus is simply telling the leper to stop making the mistake of exposing himself to a communicable disease." It asks if there is an OT reference which negates this reading.

I cannot point to a reference that involves forgiveness or 'sinning no more.' However, the story of Miriam's being struck with leprosy could be one such example. There, her leprosy is clearly a punishment for sin, not a result of poor hygienic practices. God becomes angry with Miriam and Aaron for putting themselves on a par with Moses. He punishes Miriam with leprosy:

The anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam’s skin had become diseased, as white as snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam and saw that she was diseased... Moses cried to the Lord, saying, “O God, please heal her.” But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days... (Numbers 20)

This story tends to negate the interpretation that Jesus thought leprosy resulted from poor hygiene. The text is clear that he thought this particular case was the result of demonic possession. Mark is clear that he was possessed with an evil spirit, not a bacterial infection. The sin that might have brought this on is not specified. On the other hand, the episode with Miriam could support the OP's reading of Jesus being "angry" with the leper, since in Numbers, God was angry with Miriam when he punished her with leprosy. The problem here for me is that I would interpret Jesus' anger as being directed against the evil spirit, not against the sinner.

Miriam's punishment argues against the idea that Jesus was telling the leper in Mark not to expose himself to a communicable disease. To understand Jesus as advising to the leper to practice social distancing, it is necessary to deconstruct the passage more radically than the OP suggests.

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