2…Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This man blasphemeth.’ 4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? ~ Matthew 9:2-5 (Also in Mark 2:1-12 & Luke 5:17-26)
The scribes were the (Mosaic) Law scholars of Jesus’ day
The more highly esteemed the Law became in the eyes of the people, the more its study and interpretation became a lifework by itself, and thus there developed a class of scholars who, though not priests, devoted themselves assiduously to the Law. These became known as the scribes… the professional students of the Law. 1
When Jesus stated that the palsied man’s sins were forgiven, the scribes considered that Jesus (whom they thought of as only a man) had elevated Himself to equality with God and thereby blasphemed (cheapened God’s standing). Jesus responds to their (unstated) allegations by asking them a scholarly legal question:
Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? ~ Matt 9:4-5
The answer to Jesus’ question hung on the following two (related) points:
- For Jesus to have broken the Law by blaspheming, His declaration of the man’s sins as being forgiven would have to be shown as being contradictory to God’s will. In other words, if God was in agreement with Jesus, then clearly Jesus could not have blasphemed.
- To prove a violation of a law it was necessary to provide evidence of said violation.
However, the scribes could not argue either point legally. They could not prove (this was a loophole in their approach to the Law) whether God agreed with Jesus that the man’s sins were forgiven or not.
Therefore, there was no evidence that the law was violated. They could not verify if Jesus had the license to forgive sins. Thus, in essence, it was always easier to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (vv. 2, 5) since one cannot prove guilt without evidence.
For example, if someone went to the courts/police and said, “I just stole ten cars”, the police/courts could not prosecute that person without evidence of some sort to corroborate with the assertion.
Conversely, if Jesus had said “Arise, and walk” they could determine whether Jesus was a false prophet, or not, by examining the evidence (i.e., whether the man arose and walked, or not).
It is important to note, however, that Jesus was not philosophizing for fun. Rather, He was exposing a major weakness in the scribes’ (the legal scholars) approach to the Law. For them, the Law was an end in itself. If one did not break the Law, they then deduced such a person to be righteous. But they were wrong, dead wrong.
Although a person cannot be convicted of a crime without evidence, lack of evidence does not prove lack of guilt. However, lack of evidence to verify an allegation does not mean the allegation is false.
For example, an athlete’s drug use can be determined from tests of his/her bodily fluids. However, it is well known in sport that the tests can be fooled by using:
- A smart drug administration regimen,
- Masking agent(s), or
- Drugs for which tests have not yet been developed.
Therefore, even if they don’t show any drug use, the tests results only mean that there was no evidence of drug use, NOT that the athlete is clean (drug free).
Likewise, the Mosaic Law could only provide evidence by its contravention/breaking/violation: it could only reveal sin.
…by the law is the knowledge of sin. ~ Romans 3:20b
Lack of evidence only proves lack of evidence; it does not prove righteousness.
- The Law could not prove that a man’s heart was clean;
- The Law could not prove a man’s thoughts were pure,
- The Law could not tell if someone loved/hated God; the Law could not tell if someone even believed in God.
The Law, in the paradigm of the scribes, was loaded with loopholes. Righteousness is not proven by what you don’t do; it is not proven by what laws you don’t break. Righteousness IS proven by what you DO!!!
The Law was not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, it was designed as a tool by which man could recognize his sinfulness before a Holy God (Romans 3:23). One who recognizes his/her own sinfulness can seek Salvation supplied by God’s grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Evidence of a person’s Salvation would then be demonstrated in his/her actions:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit… Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. ~ Matthew 7:16-17, 19-20
Having stymied the scribes with His scholarly legal question, Jesus goes on to heal the palsied man miraculously:
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. ~ Matthew 9:6-7
By this action, Jesus validated his authority to forgive sins and PROVED conclusively that He was indeed the Messiah; He confirmed His legitimacy. That was evidence that the scribes could not deny.