The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE RETURN TO CAPERNAUM
CONCERNING THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
THE HEALING OF THE PARALYSED
(St. Matthew 9:1-8; St. Mark 2:1-12; St.
It is a remarkable instance of the reserve of the
Gospel-narratives, that of the second journey of Jesus in Galilee no other
special event is recorded than the healing of the leper. And it seems also to
indicate, that this one miracle had been so selected for a special purpose. But
if, as we have suggested, after the 'Unknown Feast,' the activity of Jesus
assumed a new and what, for want of a better name, may be called an anti-Judaic
character, we can perceive the reason of it. The healing of leprosy was
recorded as typical. With this agrees also what immediately follows. For, as Rabbinism
stood confessedly powerless in face of the living death of leprosy, so it had
no word of forgiveness to speak to the conscience burdened with sin, nor yet
word of welcome to the sinner. But this was the inmost meaning of the two
events which the Gospel-history places next to the healing of the leper: the
forgiveness of sins in the case of the paralytic, and the welcome to the chief
of sinners in the call of Levi-Matthew.
We are still mainly following the lead of St. Mark,1
alike as regards the succession of events and their details. And here it is
noteworthy, how the account in St. Mark confirms that by St. John2
of what had occurred at the Unknown Feast. Not that either Evangelist could
have derived it from the other. But if we establish the trustworthiness of the
narrative in St. John v., which is unconfirmed by any of the Synoptists, we
strengthen not only the evidence in favour of the Fourth Gospel generally, but
that in one of its points of chief difficulty, since such advanced teaching on
the part of Jesus, and such developed hostility from the Jewish authorities,
might scarcely have been looked for at so early a stage. But when we compare
the language of St. Mark with the narrative in the fifth chapter of St. John's
Gospel, at least four points of contact prominently appear. For, first, the
unspoken charge of the Scribes,3
that in forgiving sins Jesus blasphemed by making Himself equal with God, has
its exact counterpart in the similar charge against Him in St. John v. 18,
which kindled in them the wish to kill Jesus. Secondly, as in that case the
final reply of Jesus pointed to 'the authority' (exousia)
which the Father had given Him for Divine administration on earth,4
so the healing of the paralytic was to show the Scribes that He had 'authority'
for the dispensation upon earth of the forgiveness of sins, which the Jews
rightly regarded as the Divine prerogative. Thirdly, the words which Jesus
spake to the paralytic: 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,'6
are to the very letter the same7
which are recorded8
as used by Him when He healed the impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda. Lastly,
alike in the words which Jesus addressed to the Scribes at the healing of the
paralytic, and in those at the Unknown Feast, He made final appeal to His works
as evidential of His being sent by, and having received of, the Father 'the
authority' to which He laid claim.9
It would be utterly irrational to regard these as coincidences, and not
references. And their evidential force becomes the stronger, as we remember the
entire absence of design on the part of St. Mark.10
But this correspondence not only supports the trustworthiness of the two
independent narratives in St. Mark and in St. John, but also confirms alike
that historical order in which we have arranged the events, and the suggestion
that, after the encounter at the Unknown Feast, the authorities of Jerusalem
had sent representatives to watch, oppose, and, if possible, entrap Jesus.
1. The same order is followed by St. Luke. From the connection between St. Mark and St. Peter, we should naturally look for the fullest account of that early Capernaum-Ministry in the Second Gospel.
2. St. John v.
3. St. Mark ii. 6, 7.
4. St. John v. 27.
5. The A. V. mars the meaning by rendering it: 'power.'
6. St. Mark ii. 9.
7. So according to the best readings.
8. In St. John v. 8.
9. St. John v. 36; comp. St. Mark ii. 10.
10. It is, of course, not pretended by negative critics that the Fourth Gospel borrowed from St. Mark. On the contrary, the supposed differences in form and spirit between the Synoptists and the Fourth Gospel form one of the main arguments against the authenticity of the latter. In regard to the 5th chap. of St. John, Dr. Abbott writes (Art. 'Gospels,' Encycl. Brit. p. 833 b):
'That part of the discourse in which Christ describes Himself in the presence of the multitude as having received all power to judge and to quicken the dead, does not resemble anything in the Synoptic narrative' - except St. Matt. xi. 27; St. Luke x. 22, and 'that was uttered privately to the disciples.' To complete the irony of criticism, Dr. Abbott contrasts the 'faith of the Synoptists,' such as 'that half-physical thrill of trust in the presence of Jesus. Which enables the limbs of a paralysed man to make the due physical response to the emotional shock consequent on the word "Arise," so that in the
strength of that shock the paralytic is enabled to shake off the disease of many years,' with faith such as the Fourth Gospel presents it.
In another manner, also, the succession of events, as we have
traced it, seems confirmed by the account of the healing of the paralytic. The
second journey of Jesus through Galilee had commenced in autumn; the return to
Capernaum was 'after days,' which, in common Jewish phraseology,11
meant a considerable interval. As we reckon, it was winter, which would equally
account for Christ's return to Capernaum, and for His teaching in the house.
For, no sooner 'was it heard that He was in the house,' or, as some have
rendered it, 'that He was at home,' than so many flocked to the dwelling of
Peter, which at that period may have been 'the house' or temporary 'home' of
the Saviour, as to fill its limited space to over flowing, and even to crowd
out to the door and beyond it. The general impression on our minds is, that
this audience was rather in a state of indecision than of sympathy with Jesus.
It included 'Pharisees and doctors of the Law,' who had come on purpose from
the towns of Galilee, from JudŠa, and from Jerusalem. These occupied the
'uppermost rooms,' sitting, no doubt, near to Jesus. Their influence must have
been felt by the people. Although irresistibly attracted by Jesus, an element
of curiosity, if not of doubt, would mingle with their feelings, as they looked
at their leaders, to whom long habit attached the most superstitious
veneration. If one might so say, it was like the gathering of Israel on Mount
Carmel, to witness the issue as between Elijah and the priests of Baal.
11. Mymyl See Wetstein in loc.
Although in no wise necessary to the understanding of the
event, it is helpful to try and realise the scene. We can picture to ourselves
the Saviour 'speaking the Word' to that eager, interested crowd, which would
soon become forgetful even of the presence of the watchful 'Scribes.' Though we
know a good deal of the structure of Jewish houses,12
we feel it difficult to be sure of the exact place which the Saviour occupied
on this occasion. Meetings for religious study and discussion were certainly
held in the Aliyah or upper chamber.13
But, on many grounds, such a locale seems utterly unsuited to the
requirements of the narrative.14
Similar objections attach to the idea, that it was the front room of one of
those low houses occupied by the poor.15
Nor is there any reason for supposing that the house occupied by Peter was one
of those low buildings, which formed the dwellings of the very poor. It must,
at any rate, have contained, besides a large family room, accommodation for
Peter and his wife, for Peter's mother-in-law, and for Jesus as the honoured
guest. The Mishnah calls a small house one that is 9 feet long by 12 broad, and
a large house one that is 12 feet long by 15 broad, and adds that a dining-hall
is 15 feet square, the height being always computed at half the length and
breadth.16 But these
notices seem rather to apply to a single room. They are part of a legal
discussion, in which reference is made to a building which might be erected by
a man for his son on his marriage, or as a dwelling for his widowed daughter.
Another source of information is derived from what we know of the price and
rental of houses. We read17
of a house as costing ten (of course, gold) dinars, which would make the price
250 silver dinars, or between 71. and 81. of our money. This
must, however, have been 'a small house,' since the rental of such is stated to
have been from 7s. to 28s. a year,18
while that of a large house is computed at about 91. a year,19
and that of a courtyard at about 14s. a year.20
14. Such a crowd could scarcely have assembled there - and where were those about and
beyond the door?
15. This is the suggestion of Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' pp. 358, 359). But even he sees difficulties in it. Besides, was Christ inside the small
room of such a house, and if so, how did the multitude see and hear Him? Nor can I see any reason for representing Peter as so poor. Professor Delitzsch's
conception of the scene (in his 'Elin Tag in Capern,') seems to me, so far as I follow it, though exceedingly beautiful, too imaginative.
16. Baba B. vi. 4.
17. In Jer. Keth. iv. 14, p. 29 b.
18. Tos. B. Mets. c. iv. 2.
19. u. s., c. viii. 31, ed, Z.
20. Baba Mets. v. 2.
All this is so far of present interest as it will help to show,
that the house of Peter could not have been a 'small one.' We regard it as one
of the better dwellings of the middle classes. In that case all the
circumstances fully accord with the narrative in the Gospels. Jesus is speaking
the Word, standing in the covered gallery that ran round the courtyard of such
houses, and opened into the various apartments. Perhaps He was standing within
the entrance of the guest-chamber, while the Scribes were sitting within that
apartment, or beside Him in the gallery. The court before Him is thronged, out
into the street. All are absorbedly listening to the Master, when of a sudden
those appear who are bearing a paralytic on his pallet. It had of late become
too common a scene to see the sick thus carried to Jesus to attract special
attention. And yet one can scarcely conceive that, if the crowd had merely
filled an apartment and gathered around its door, it would not have made way
for the sick, or that somehow the bearers could not have come within sight, or
been able to attract the attention of Christ. But with a courtyard crowded out
into the street, all this would be, of course, out of the question. In such
circumstances, what was to be done? Access to Jesus was simply impossible.
Shall they wait till the multitude disperses, or for another and more
convenient season? Only those would have acted thus who have never felt the
preciousness of an opportunity, because they have never known what real need
is. Inmost in the hearts of those who bore the paralysed was the belief, that
Jesus could, and that he would, heal. They must have heard it from others; they
must have witnessed it themselves in other instances. And inmost in the heart
of the paralytic was, as we infer from the first words of Jesus to him, not
only the same conviction, but with it weighed a terrible fear, born of Jewish
belief, lest his sins might hinder his healing. And this would make him doubly
anxious not to lose the present opportunity.
And so their resolve was quickly taken. If they cannot approach
Jesus with their burden, they can let it down from above at His feet. Outside
the house, as well as inside, a stair led up to the roof. They may have
ascended it in this wise, or else reached it by what the Rabbis called 'the
road of the roofs,'21
passing from roof to roof, if the house adjoined others in the same street. The
roof itself, which had hard beaten earth or rubble underneath it, was paved
with brick, stone, or any other hard substance, and surrounded by a balustrade
which, according to Jewish Law, was at least three feet high. It is scarcely
possible to imagine, that the bearers of the paralytic would have attempted to
dig through this into a room below, not to speak of the interruption and
inconvenience caused to those below by such an operation. But no such objection
attaches if we regard it, not as the main roof of the house, but as that of the
covered gallery under which we are supposing the Lord to have stood. This could,
of course, have been readily reached from above. In such case it would have
been comparatively easy to 'unroof' the covering of 'tiles,' and then, 'having
dug out' an opening through the lighter framework which supported the tiles, to
let down their burden 'into the midst before Jesus.' All this, as done by four
strong men, would be but the work of a few minutes. But we can imagine the
arresting of the discourse of Jesus, and the breathless surprise of the crowd
as this opening through the tiles appeared, and slowly a pallet was let down
before them. Busy hands would help to steady it, and bring it safe to the
ground. And on that pallet lay one paralysed - his fevered face and glistening
eyes upturned to Jesus.
21. Jos, Ant. xiii. 5. 3; Bab. Mez. 88 a.
It must have been a marvellous sight, even at a time and in
circumstances when the marvellous might be said to have become of every-day
occurrence. This energy and determination of faith exceeded aught that had been
witnessed before. Jesus saw it, and He spake. For, as yet, the blanched lips of
the sufferer had not parted to utter his petition. He believed, indeed, in the
power of Jesus to heal, with all the certitude that issued, not only in the
determination to be laid at His feet, but at whatever trouble and in any
circumstances, however novel or strange. It needed, indeed, faith to overcome
all the hindrances in the present instance; and still more faith to be so
absorbed and forgetful of all around, as to be let down from the roof through
the broken tiling into the midst of such an assembly. And this open outburst of
faith shone out the more brightly, from its contrast with the covered darkness
and clouds of unbelief within the breast of those Scribes, who had come to
watch and ensnare Jesus.
As yet no one had spoken, for the silence of expectancy had
fallen on them all. Could He, and, if He could, would He help -
and what would He do? But He, Who perceived man's unspoken thoughts,
knew that there was not only faith, but also fear, in the heart of that man.
Hence the first words which the Saviour spake to him were: 'Be of good cheer.'22
He had, indeed, got beyond the coarse Judaic standpoint, from which suffering
seemed an expiation of sin. It was argued by the Rabbis, that, if the loss of
an eye or a tooth liberated a slave from bondage, much more would the
sufferings of the whole body free the soul from guilt; and, again, that
Scripture itself indicated this by the use of the word 'covenant,'23
alike in connection with the salt which rendered the sacrifices meet for the
which did the like for the soul by cleansing away sin.26
We can readily believe, as the recorded experience of the Rabbis shows,27
that such sayings brought neither relief to the body, nor comfort to the soul
of real sufferers. But this other Jewish idea was even more deeply rooted, had
more of underlying truth, and would, especially in presence of the felt
holiness of Jesus, have a deep influence on the soul, that recovery would not
be granted to the sick unless his sins had first been forgiven him.28
It was this deepest, though, perhaps, as yet only partially conscious, want of
the sufferer before Him, which Jesus met when, in words of tenderest kindness,
He spoke forgiveness to his soul, and that not as something to come, but as an
act already past: 'Child, thy sins have been forgiven.'29
We should almost say, that He needed first to speak these words, before He gave
healing: needed, in the psychological order of things; needed, also, if the
inward sickness was to be healed, and because the inward stroke, or paralysis,
in the consciousness of guilt, must be removed, before the outward could be
22. St. Matt. ix. 2.
23. In our A. V. it is erroneously Deut. xxix. 1.
24. Lev. ii. 13.
25. Deut. xxviii. 69 b.
26. Ber. 5 a.
27. Ber. 5 b.
28. Nedar. 41 a.
29. So according to the greater number of MSS., which have the verb in the perfect tense.
In another sense, also, there was a higher 'need be' for the
word which brought forgiveness, before that which gave healing. Although it is
not for a moment to be supposed, that, in what Jesus did, He had primary
intention in regard to the Scribes, yet here also, as in all Divine acts, the
undesigned adaptation and the undesigned sequences are as fitting as what we
call the designed. For, with God there is neither past nor future; neither
immediate nor mediate; but all is one, the eternally and God-pervaded Present.
Let us recall, that Jesus was in the presence of those in whom the Scribes
would feign have wrought disbelief, not of His power to cure disease - which
was patent to all - but in His Person and authority; that, perhaps, such doubts
had already been excited. And here it deserves special notice, that, by first
speaking forgiveness, Christ not only presented the deeper moral aspect of His
miracles, as against their ascription to magic or Satanic agency, but also
established that very claim, as regarded His Person and authority, which it was
sought to invalidate. In this forgiveness of sins He presented His Person and
authority as Divine, and He proved it such by the miracle of healing which
immediately followed. Had the two been inverted, there would have been
evidence, indeed, of His power, but not of His Divine Personality, nor of His
having authority to forgive sins; and this, not the doing of miracles, was the
object of His Teaching and Mission, of which the miracles were only secondary
Thus the inward reasoning of the Scribes,30
which was open and known to Him Who readeth all thoughts,31
issued in quite the opposite of what they could have expected. Most
unwarranted, indeed, was the feeling of contempt which we trace in their
unspoken words, whether we read them: 'Why doth this one thus speak
blasphemies?' or, according to a more correct transcript of them: 'Why doth
this one speak thus? He blasphemeth!' Yet from their point of view they were
right, for God alone can forgive sins; nor has that power ever been given or
delegated to man. But was He a mere man, like even the most honoured of God's
servants? Man, indeed; but 'the Son of Man'32
in the emphatic and well-understood sense of being the Representative Man, who
was to bring a new life to humanity; the Second Adam, the Lord from Heaven. It
seemed easy to say: 'Thy sins have been forgiven.' But to Him, Who had
'authority' to do so on earth, it was neither more easy nor more difficult than
to say: 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.' Yet this latter, assuredly, proved
the former, and gave it in the sight of all men unquestioned reality. And so it
was the thoughts of these Scribes, which, as applied to Christ, were 'evil' -
since they imputed to Him blasphemy - that gave occasion for offering real
evidence of what they would have impugned and denied. In no other manner could
the object alike of miracles and of this special miracle have been so attained
as by the 'evil thoughts' of these Scribes, when, miraculously brought to
light, they spoke out the inmost possible doubt, and pointed to the highest of
all questions concerning the Christ. And so it was once more the wrath of man
which praised Him!
30. The expression, 'reasoning in their hearts,' corresponds exactly to the Rabbinic wblb rhrhm, Ber. 22 a. The word rh@rh is frequently used in contradistinction to speaking.
31. In Sanh. 93 b this reading of the thoughts is regarded as the fulfilment of Is. xi. 3, and as one of the marks of the Messiah, which Bar Kokhabh not possessing was killed.
32. That the expression 'Son of Man' (Md) nb) was well understood as referring to the
Messiah, appears from the following remarkable anti-Christian passage (Jer. Taan 65 b, at the bottom): 'If a man shall say to thee, I am God, he lies; if he says, I am the Son of Man, his end will be to repent it; if he says, I go up into heaven (to this applies Numb. xxiii. 19), hath he said and shall he not do it?' [or, hath he spoken, and shall he make it good?] Indeed, the whole passage, as will be seen, is an attempt to adapt. Numb. xxiii. 19 to the Christian controversy.
'And the remainder of wrath did he restrain.' As the healed man
slowly rose, and, still silent, rolled up his pallet, a way was made for him
between this multitude which followed him with wondering eyes. Then, as first
mingled wonderment and fear fell on Israel on Mount Carmel, when the fire had
leaped from heaven, devoured the sacrifice, licked up the water in the trench,
and even consumed the stones of the altar, and then all fell prostrate, and the
shout rose to heaven: 'Jehovah, He is the Elohim!' so now, in view of this
manifestation of the Divine Presence among them. The amazement of fear fell on
them in this Presence, and they glorified God, and they said: 'We have never
seen it on this wise!'