September 10th, 2008 by Sean
In discussing the biblical doctrine of unitarianism (or simply put, that Yahweh alone is God), often people bring up, as evidence for Jesus’ deity, the fact that he forgave sins. No one, to my knowledge, has better expressed this argument than C.S. Lewis in his classic, Mere Christianity. Here is what he said:
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (NY: HarperCollins, 2001; originally published by The MacMillan Company in 1952), pp. 51-52.
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
It sounds pretty reasonable. Fred cheats Bob and so if Fred wants forgiveness he must seek it from Bob. But, even if Bob were to forgive Fred for cheating him out of his money, there is still the vertical aspect of the sin–Fred has not only sinned against Bob but also against God who says to be honest at all times. Though, in the moment, it may seem more important to Fred that Bob forgive him, ultimately the chief concern of Fred should be whether or not his God will forgive him. So, the first point to be made in response to C.S. Lewis’ elegant prose is that there really are two offenses found in every sin (at least those committed against other people). The first offense is against God and the second is against the person. Thus, Jesus is not forgiving Fred for Bob but rather on God’s behalf. But, before we go any further, let’s first refresh our minds concerning the actual account we are speaking about: the healing of the paralytic.
Jesus had just gotten back to his home in Capernaum several days earlier and already there were so many people wanting to see him that there was no room for a certain paralyzed man who desperately wanted to be healed. Those carrying him took it upon themselves to climb up the outer stairs to the roof and dig their way through it and let down the pallet on which the paralyzed man was lying.
Upon seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic something that nobody expected:
5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The scribes were shocked that anyone would dare presume the authority which is God’s alone to forgive sins. Who did this Rabbi think he was? Only God can forgive this man’s sins! Jesus, never in a hurry to put his interlocutors at ease, answered them by saying,
9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk ‘? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
Both statements are just as easy to say, yet one can easily pronounce people’s sins forgiven but who would know if they really were forgiven. However, if a paralyzed man is healed then there is no question that the words have power behind them. It is important to catch the point Jesus was getting across to these scribes by healing the paralytic: it was so that they would know that the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins. This is the punch line, the core of what Jesus wanted to get across to his accusers. Note the response of the Jewish crowd to this event:
Matthew 9.8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The people got the point and glorified the God who “had given such authority” to Jesus. Please note that they did not glorify Jesus as God. In fact, no one interpreted this event in terms of Jesus proving his deity whatsoever. Typically when Jewish people saw a healing or miracle they would conclude that God was at work through the human prophet or holy man. This contrasts with the typical mentality of the non-Jewish observes (for example in Acts [14.7-18]) who would interpret the event as gods coming down in the likeness of human flesh.
Be that as it may, we might benefit by asking if there is another place in which the Bible talks about authority being conferred to the Son of Man. Fortunately, a good portion of John chapter five addresses this very topic. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus had just healed another man who had been lame for thirty-eight years. He was lying next to the pool called Bethesda hopelessly waiting to be healed. Jesus asked him if he would like to be made well.
The man replied in the affirmative so Jesus healed him. The wrinkle in the story comes in when we are told that it was the Sabbath on which Jesus told the man to “pick up his pallet and walk.” As usually happened, there were a number of people who were upset that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (not to mention that he told the guy to carry his pallet on the Sabbath). This is where we will pick up the story in the Gospel of John:
16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But he answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working.” 18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
They were upset with Jesus because he healed this man on the Sabbath. I’m not sure that what Jesus did should really be considered as work. After all, how much effort does it take to say, “get up, take your bed, and walk?” Even so, Jesus decided rather to take refuge in the fact that his Father was working (apparently in and through Jesus). This infuriated the Jews who found murderous thoughts boiling up within them. In their minds he was breaking the Sabbath and making himself equal with God (by saying that he had a right to break the Sabbath because God still worked on Saturdays).
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when those seeking to establish the deity of Christ stop at John 5.18, close their Bibles, and say, “Well, obviously Jesus claimed to be God. After all, that is what the Jews understood him to mean.” First of all, this line of thought overlooks the fact that Jesus’ opponents regularly misunderstood him. In fact, this is one of the major themes throughout the Gospel of John. If Jesus and his enemies are found to be arguing in the Gospel of John, there is probably a misunderstanding somewhere lurking in the background–a misunderstanding that we as readers can detect pretty easily. The second reason why John 5.18 makes a lousy proof-text for the notion that Jesus claimed to be God, is that Jesus himself clarifies the situation in the next verse–the verse many do not like to read.
19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20 “For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom he wishes. 22 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
Firstly, it is important to note the phrase, “The son can do nothing of himself.” Jesus is not the source of power and healing, he is the conduit, the agent, the human through whom God does the remarkable. Secondly, Jesus, like any son, imitates the Father with regard to the things his Father shows him (remember the context is about “working” on the Sabbath). In fact, if they thought healing a lame man on the Sabbath was something, they should just wait to see what the Father will have Jesus do in the future! Then, Jesus goes into an explanation of just what the Father will confer upon him to do in the future. Two actions are listed: (1) God has given his son the power to raise the dead and (2) God has given all judgment to the son. In respect to these two we should honor the son even as we honor the Father who has conferred these immense responsibilities on the son. But, it’s this next section that really drives home the point and makes the connection to the healing of the paralytic.
24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 “For just as the Father has life in himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in himself; 27 and He gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
Those who hear Jesus’ words and believe have life in the age to
come and will not be judged. In fact, right now, in the present, one could even
say the person has already passed out of (spiritual) death into (spiritual)
life, which means that on the last day, when the resurrection occurs, the same
person will pass from (physical) death into (physical) life forever. The
[spiritual] dead are now already hearing the voice of the son of God
and those who hear (i.e. listen and believe) will live (now and in the last
day). Now for the punch line: the Father (who has life in himself) has given the
son the power of resurrection and the authority execute judgment, because he
is the Son of Man. Since Jesus is the Son of Man, he has
the authority, to resurrect and judge on the last day. Since he has that
authority on the last day, in his own day, during his ministry, he brought
forward that authority when he forgave sins. In other words, since God
had conferred upon Jesus the role of Son of Man, Jesus was fully authorized to
forgive sins on God’s behalf or to pronounce judgment on people.
(For more on the end-time role of the Son of Man, see Daniel 7.13-14).
Thus, when Jesus forgave sins, he was not, as C.S. Lewis suggested, either crazy or divine, rather, he was the one who had been divinely appointed to function in this role. Perhaps in light of this knowledge we can again read the account of the paralytic with fresh eyes:
2 And they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk ‘? 6 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “– then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he got up and went home. 8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The point is so simple and yet so profound.
to forgive sins on God’s behalf
God has authorized Jesus
because he is the Son of Man.
The above article was taken from KingdomReady.org's Blog