Friday, May 6, 2011

The Origin of Paralysis

This is another Gospel story with different precursors. Matthew: Jesus calms the storm and casts demons into swine. Mark: Jesus prays alone, and then travels throughout Galilee, preaching and exorcising, and finally cures a leper. Luke: Jesus gathers fishers of men and then cures a leper. John: No comment. Despite different origins, the Gospels all come together for this next anecdote. All but John, that is.

The Origin of Paralysis
Every so often, a piece of ancient text will reveal a detail which ties it to the epoch in which it was written. Some details are blatant, like mentioning the nation of Persia. Others are a little more subtle, requiring special attention to draw out from the text, but the extra effort can be rewarding in more clearly revealing the beliefs and customs of the time. For example, take the story of Jesus healing a paralytic man.

Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26 all record the story about how four men delivered their paralyzed friend on a mat to Jesus. Jesus tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. Some teachers of the Law, and possibly some Pharisees too, either began to talk amongst themselves or think to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming. Jesus detects their thoughts, and asks them which is easier to say: “'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk.'” Jesus then heals the paralyzed man to show them all that Jesus can forgive sins, and then tells the man to get up and leave. Everybody is impressed by the miracle.

That is great, but there are several issues and revelations which need closer scrutiny here.

When did this happen? Matthew 9:1 records that this event happened right after Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, which was right after He sent demons into swine. The demons-into-swine trick was also recorded in Mark 5:1-20. Yet Mark 2:1 records that the healing of the paralyzed man happened a “few days” after Jesus healed a leper in Mark 1:40-45 (which is also recorded in Matthew 8:2-4). There is no way to reconcile this timeline.

Next, this is one of the passages in the Gospels in which Jesus confirms a few things here:

Jesus retained at least some supernatural powers of God, and God can read minds. That is nothing new, but debate often plays out in Christian circles about exactly how much Godly power, if any, did Jesus give up when becoming a man. (Bonus Question: How did the Gospel authors know what Jesus knew about the Law teachers' thoughts?)

Jesus can forgive sins. Let me repeat: Jesus can forgive sins; as in Jesus can forgive sins without being crucified. That is, Jesus can heal the rift between man and God without a sacrifice. That is, the crucifixion was not essential or mandatory to re-unite sinful man with Holy God.

As mind-blowing as the revelation above is to Christian doctrine, there is another one which catches my attention even more. When Jesus observed the four men bring in their paralyzed friend, He “saw their faith,” but Jesus did not forgive the sins of all of these men. Instead, Jesus only forgave the sins of the paralyzed man, despite being impressed with the faith of all of these men (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20). Why would that be? The answer is Biblical...

Back in those times, people who were afflicted with disease were thought to be punished by God for their sins. As was covered in a previous study, if you were sick, you were guilty. This fact is also revealed right in this episode in a subtle manner. First, as noted, Jesus only forgave the paralytic man. Second, when Jesus asked if it was easier to say that sins are forgiven or that to tell the paralyzed man to get up and walk (Matthew 9:5, Mark 2:9, Luke 5:23), He was not really asking which sentence is easier to speak. No, instead Jesus was asking which of these acts is easier to actually do, with Jesus' implicit answer being that they are equally difficult because the punishment for sin (paralysis) would require God's forgiveness to be healed.

This was the custom of belief at the time, the custom defining how people knew that God interacted with them. If they were sick, God was punishing them. If they were wealthy and healthy, God was happy with them. This same belief, and one of its associated issues, is echoed elsewhere in the Gospels, in John 9:1-2:
As [Jesus] went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" NIV
Remember the next time you are sick, or you get paralyzed, or you get cancer, that, from a Biblical perspective, it is either because God is punishing you for your sins or because (in the example from John 9:1-38) the healing of your ailment will bring glory to God. So if you happen to die with your disease, I guess you will die knowing that God was punishing you. Oh, and God is Love. ;-)

Instead, I recommend aligning your beliefs with reality, and recognize that the “Truth” of the Bible is not really all that true. God's word is not eternal. Rather, it is outdated.


  1. TWF said:

    "Remember the next time you are sick, or you get paralyzed, or you get cancer, that, from a Biblical perspective, it is either because God is punishing you for your sins or because (in the example from John 9:1-38) the healing of your ailment will bring glory to God. So if you happen to die with your disease, I guess you will die knowing that God was punishing you."

    I guess it would also be a comfort to know that if you die in your affliction it means God hasn't chosen to forgive you of your sins. *drips with sarcasm*

  2. Yeah, D'Ma, that hits the nail on the head. :-)

    Although, as I have been told by apologists, how you suffer and die (by God's wrath) in this life would not necessarily translate to your eternal status. This position has been used as a defense for the many people God slays in the OT, that they would not necessarily go to Hell. I can somewhat understand this position too, as Moses was effectively killed by God as punishment.

  3. It's funny how apologists appeal to the OT when it suits their purpose, but when it flies in the face of their presuppositions it's, y'know, the OT, so it doesn't count. :)

  4. I could not have said it better myself. Amen to that, sister! :-)

  5. Excellent points as usual. I'd never realized the crude reality that Jesus thought people became sick due to sin. Preachers only highlight the fact that he healed them. They never outright say the reason is sin, even though it is so clearly the case.

    But of course, as you said, they do have it covered. When it isn't sin, it's because either god is testing you or wants to glorify himself in your life.

    But what a brutal joke, eh? To be a Job for god. Heavens, that's so not loving.

  6. Thanks Lorena! It is a brutal joke, indeed. It is hard to think that God is really that loving with that kind of methodology.

  7. Hmmm. By fundamentalist Christian standards, I'm quite the sinner (being a nonbeliever and all), but the only illnesses I've had since my deconversion have been occassional migraines and flu. Maybe I'm not sinning enough for God to notice and strike me down with paralysis.

  8. Maybe God is getting soft in His old age, Ahab. :-) Or maybe just bored. Or maybe you are not as bad as you think you are. ;-)