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We see in Mtt 9 :2-5 (NRSVCE) Jesus posing a question to his critics:

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?

Jesus does not wait for an answer from the scribes, but goes about his business:

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” (Mtt 9":6)

A lay persons would not think twice before answering that it was easier to say "Your sins are forgiven ". The reasons is that its result i.e. forgiveness of sins, would not be physically visible, at least immediately. On the contrary, saying "Stand up and walk" to a paralyzed man would definitely put one in an embarrassing position if the cure does not take place. But then, claiming to have the power to forgive sins would be akin to stating that one is God himself , and thus putting one in great risk of being stoned to death for blasphemy ( Verse 3). That possibility makes the second proposition viz. "Stand up and walk" easier to give !

One is curious to know how the scribes would have answered Jesus' question, had the Lord waited for their reply . My question therefore, is: According to Bible scholars, what could have been the direct answer to Jesus' question posed to the scribes in Mtt 9: 5?

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    There is no doubt whatsoever that it is easier to say 'Thy sins be forgiven thee' as the outcome will not be known until the day of judgment. To say 'Arise and walk' demands an immediate effect (within seconds). I don't see the point of the question.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 16, 2023 at 7:30
  • Thanks, Nigel . See Verses 2 and 3 . Look at the reaction of the scribes to the words of forgiveness that the Lord said . Thy are accusing him , albeit not publicly, of blasphemy for the very words he used. Didn't the Lord foresee their reaction before curing the man's mind first and then the body ? Did he choose he easier method ? I doubt . Jan 16, 2023 at 8:04
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    Your take on the exchange is not valid. Jesus had already said 'Thy sins be forgiven thee.' Had Jesus asked that question first (before speaking to the man) then I might have agreed with you that the 'hard' part was risking murder (or incited execution) at the hands of the scribes.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 16, 2023 at 8:40
  • Thanks again, Nigel. I wish to look at Verses 3 and 4 as the outcome of Jesus' granting of forgiveness. Had he said "Walk home "to the man, the scribes would not have referred to blasphemy. By giving physical cure to the man, which came from the cure of his soul and mind, Jesus not only exposed the hidden thoughts of the scribes, but taught them a big lesson. Jan 16, 2023 at 9:42
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    The scribes already thought 'blasphemy' (within themselves) the moment Jesus uttered forgiveness. I still do not understand what you are trying to get at.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 16, 2023 at 10:17

2 Answers 2

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There could have been no direct answer from the scribes because they had been silenced by the shock of Jesus having just read their minds, without them speaking out aloud. That fact seems to be been lost in the translation you are using.

Two literal translations of the Greek text (as opposed to modern 'dynamic equivalence' ones) read like this, from verse 3:

"And lo, certain of the scribes said within themselves, 'This one doth speak evil.' And Jesus, having known their thoughts, said, 'Why think ye evil in your hearts?' (Young's Literal Translation, 1862)

"And lo, some of the scribes said in themselves, This [man] blasphemes. And Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, 'Why ye think evil in your hearts?' (The Englishmans Greek New Testament, Robert Estienne, using the Greek text of Stephens 1550)

Jesus' timing was perfect. His authority was supreme. He did not give those scribes who despised him a moment to try to justify themselves. He exercised his divine prerogative to prove that he had the power to forgive sins by healing the paralytic man instantly. His question was rhetorical. It was asked to set the scene for proof that he was, indeed, who he claimed to be which - in itself - silenced the scribes.

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The scribes and Pharisees believed that one's sins led to or caused or resulted in deformities, illnesses, and calamities.

Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins. Micah 6:13

Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Psalm 107:17

So, for them, Jesus was basically saying the same thing. Is it easier to do X (forgive sin) or to do X (forgive sin)? Is it easier to say X (stand and walk) or to say X (stand and walk)? Is it easier to do X (forgive sin) or say X (stand and walk).

Same difference. Jesus knew they couldn't answer anyway, so off He strode.

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