Conceptions and Misconceptions in Studying the Gospels

In this episode, Dr. Gurtner and Tyler talk about the healing of a paralyzed man in Luke chapter 5. What is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or get up and walk? The Son of Man has the authority to do both. Take the time to slow down and read the Bible to really understand what the passages are trying to tell you.

Creators & Guests

Dan Gurtner
Professor of New Testament Studies
Tyler Sanders
Director of Communications
Courtney Robenolt
Digital Media Specialist

What is Conceptions and Misconceptions in Studying the Gospels?

Dr. Dan Gurtner takes on challenging passages and common misconceptions in the Gospels.

Tyler Sanders 0:03
Welcome to Conceptions and Misconceptions in Studying the Gospels with Dr. Dan Gurtner. Today we're looking at Luke five, the healing of the paralytic. It's a pretty famous story. I feel like this may be one of my oldest Bible memories from Sunday school. I think I've heard this one so many times, and I'm so familiar with it from when I was a young man. Dr. Gurtner, could you tell us a little bit about it, maybe give us some context for this narrative?

Dan Gurtner 0:29
Sure, yeah. I'm more familiar with the context in Mark's account, but we're in Luke now. And you'll notice Luke's account has it in chapter five. In Mark, it's much earlier. Mark has it in chapter two. But the story is essentially the same. And we can talk about a couple of similarities and differences. But we notice in Luke's account, there's a string of miracles. Jesus in chapter four, Jesus heals many, casts out demons, he heals many people, he preaches in synagogues. He calls his first disciples in chapter five, he cleanses a leper, and then we get to this healing of the paralytic. And in Luke's account, it doesn't really tell us where Jesus is. And we know from the other accounts that he's in Capernaum. And actually, if we backtrack earlier on in Luke chapter four, we see in Luke 4:31, that he's in Capernaum, and all this is taking place in Capernaum. So Capernaum, we're on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It's kind of Jesus' home base. So Jesus has just come from...lets look at the previous context, in chapter five verse 12, he was in one of the cities, there's a man full of leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell on his face, he begged him, "Lord, if you're willing, you can make me clean." And so this is an expression of faith. It's not, if you can, it's if you're willing. It's not a question of ability, it's a question of desire. So Jesus says, "I will and be clean." And then the man's clean, and word spreads about him. So that then Jesus withdraws to a desolate place to pray. And then Luke doesn't really tell us whether this is the next day, or if he's in the same place. He just puts the scene right next to each other. And of course, we know from looking at Luke 1:1-4, that Luke tells Theophilis that this is an orderly account. So for some rhyme or reason, he's putting these stories right next to each other. So, "One of those days, as he's teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee, and Judea, and from Jerusalem." So there's quite a following who's coming to hear something, presumably they're coming there for Jesus. And Luke loves to say things, and he leads off by telling us something about how this is going to end by the end of verse 17. "And the power of the Lord was with him to heal."

Tyler Sanders 3:52
Yeah, that's a very interesting detail to give us that the top, I think.

Dan Gurtner 3:55
Yeah. And he says the same kind of thing at the beginning of the temptation narrative. Like "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led into the wilderness." So it gives us an indication that Jesus isn't going it alone, that Jesus is going to be successful. I mean, readers already know that, but there's this indication that he's leaning into this, empowered for whatever lies ahead. And we get to the familiar scene, verse 18, "Some men bringing on a bed, a man who is paralyzed, and they're seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles in the midst before Jesus." So this is in Mark's account, it says, "There was no more room not even at the door." So I'm comparing Mark 2:1-12. "And Jesus was preaching the word to them. And they bring the paralytic carried by four men, they couldn't even get near Jesus." So what Luke tells us about all these crowds, these Pharisees and teachers of the law that were sitting there, coming from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem, Mark explains more in terms of the crowds.

Dan Gurtner 3:56
Yeah, just the sheer size.

Dan Gurtner 4:10
Yeah. Luke tells us more about who these people are. So they let him down, "And when [Jesus] saw their faith, he said, 'Man, Your sins are forgiven you.'" And so what do you notice here in verse 20?

Tyler Sanders 5:29
There's a couple interesting things here. So one, he says "their faith", which I think is a fascinating set up to the next verse that is to one person, to the paralyzed man. The other interesting thing-I guess really, it's the second part of this verse, too-is the setup here, because we have in verse 17, "The power of the Lord is with him to heal." And here are men bringing a paralyzed man to be in front of Jesus, and the verses before this passage are about Jesus healing a leper. I think the expectation is Jesus is going to answer by saying, 'You're healed'. But that's not what he says. So I think there's two interesting things in there. The "their faith" is an interesting point, and then there's a bit of-maybe not a twist, but it's not what I would expect Jesus to say right here.

Dan Gurtner 6:46
Sure. Yeah, you'd expect it to just go right to the healing. And he says, "Your sins are forgiven" rather than just, "I am willing, be clean" or "be healed". And then the scribes and the Pharisees bring out the question about what lies behind this. Not just the healing. But what lies behind this whole thing. And so I think this is what sort of gets to the heart of your important observation. Because we expect 'A', Jesus does 'B', and then he shows them 'A' anyhow. Meaning, they say, "Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" And what's important there is that Luke is underscoring this, coming right from the words of the scribes and the Pharisees. And he's affirming them. They are completely 100% Right.

Tyler Sanders 6:47
Oh, sure. Yeah, that's true.

Dan Gurtner 6:56
That the scribes and the Pharisees are right to say, "Only God can forgive sins." They're right. "When Jesus perceives their thoughts," so this is weird. Jesus knows what they're thinking. "He says to them," and you kind of wonder what's going through their heads now, whenever Jesus is reading their thoughts, "'Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'rise and walk'?'", which is easier for them to say?

Tyler Sanders 8:52
Right. Of course, it would be easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven', because there may not be any physical, visible proof.

Dan Gurtner 8:57
There's no physical proof. Then he says in verse 24, but I'm going to show you the proof that I can do both. I'm going to show you, "That you might know that the Son of Man", that is Jesus, has not just ability to heal, which is the part that you'd expect, but "the authority to forgive sins." Because you said, 'who can forgive sins, but God alone?' Meaning, who has the authority? That Jesus has this authority on earth to forgive sins. 'I want you to know that I have that authority. So that you might know this, I want to show you something.' And so this is what he says, then [Jesus] says to the man, "Pick up your bed and go home." And so there is the physical display of the spiritual reality of what Jesus just did. And then verse 25, the man gets up, "Immediately rose up before them all, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God." And then verse 26, "Amazement seized them all, and they glorified God, and were filled with awe saying, 'We have seen extraordinary things today.'"

Tyler Sanders 10:30
Now, that's interesting, in verse 26. It's a little more explicit in Matthew's account. But I guess we can assume whenever it says, "seized them all", that would be probably the whole crowd, right? We have a couple of groups of people we've been introduced to in this passage, because you have the friends who bring the paralyzed man, the scribes and the Pharisees, and then we know that there's this whole group of people-in Luke's account-were from Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. So is that all? Do you think that's referring to the whole crowd? Everyone who was there witnessed?

Dan Gurtner 11:08
My guess is that everybody who witnessed this responded in the same way. Because initially, you get a distinct response to Jesus' words. Like when Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven you." There you see the scribes and the Pharisees are distinguished by their response, because they say something. But whenever the man actually, physically gets up, all of a sudden, everybody is sort of thrown into the same boat, in the way Luke narrates it. It seems like all the distinction between these different groups is sort of leveled, and everybody's having the same response. But even to your point, looking at the responses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in Luke it says, "And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God, and were filled with awe saying, 'We've seen extraordinary things today.'" In Mark, it says, "They were all amazed and glorified God saying, 'We never saw anything like this.'" In Matthew, "The crowds saw it, and they (the crowds) were afraid. And they glorified God, who had given such authority to men." So Matthew gets a little more specific.

Tyler Sanders 12:43
Yeah. There's kind of two interesting details in there really. It's that they were also may be able to say, if someone is filled with awe, there could be a fear element to that. But it is interesting that Matthew says they're afraid. And then the that last little bit that, "They glorified God who had given such authority to men." I think that's an interesting little line there that we don't necessarily get in Mark and Luke.

Dan Gurtner 13:14
Right. Yeah, the authority that's referred to goes back to Matthew 9:6, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And this is an important point for Matthew, who's emphasizing for his readers, that Jesus as the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins.

Tyler Sanders 13:38
Right. Now, can we jump back up? I don't think we totally talked about this yet. In Luke 5:20, when [Jesus] saw [the friend's] faith, what's going on there? Because that's another interesting detail that's a little different from the previous narrative with the leper. It's just one man and Jesus. And the leper, like you said earlier, he kind of demonstrates that he he knows Jesus has the ability, but it's a question of of will. We don't exactly know...I think it's implied what these men are bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus for, but we don't have them saying anything actually. And then Jesus sees their faith. So what is that 'their'? Does that include the paralyzed man? Is it just the friends?

Dan Gurtner 14:28
Yeah. And that's the interesting thing. It doesn't really say, and how could...Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree, it all says, "their faith". The most natural reading is that "their" is the people carrying him. Matthew says, "Some people brought to Him a paralytic. And when he saw their faith..." Most naturally, "their" refers to the people carrying him. I mean, it doesn't necessarily exclude the man who's being carried. But certainly, Jesus is recognizing that these guys are making an effort to bring their friend before Jesus. And that when the means that they initially desired to get him there are not available to them, they don't give up and turn away. They resort to extreme measures. They ascend the roof, which couldn't have been easy task.

Tyler Sanders 14:28
Oh, sure.

Dan Gurtner 15:31
They disassemble the roof, which also couldn't necessarily have been an easy task. And they lower him through the roof. Which reminds me of the parable of the persistent widow, and just being persistent in prayer, of Jesus acknowledging and rewarding the persistence of somebody going that extra mile, to really come before him. to really express faith, to really say, 'I know you're capable of doing this. And I so believe that you're capable of doing this, that my friends and I are going to scale this building, disassemble a portion of the roof, and lower our friend down in front of the crowds.' Because remember, this is a place that's so crowded that they can't get to Jesus. So it's not like there's nobody there to witness this. So they're doing this in front of a big crowd of people, and they're making a scene to do this right in front of Jesus. So they're going to extremes and Jesus is acknowledging that. So it's a display of faith.

Tyler Sanders 17:06
Yeah, in a way it probably is similar to the previous narrative, and that by going through all those steps, that probably demonstrates that they do believe he has the ability to do this. It would be a really big bet, if you weren't sure Jesus could actually accomplish what you're going to take all the steps to try to do.

Dan Gurtner 17:30
Sure. And I think also in terms of just thinking about application, I mean, we don't need to physically bring somebody to Jesus for healing. We can pray for somebody who's on the other side of the planet, and pray for them now, but they're not deterred by obstacles. Whatever kind of obstacles those might be, whether it's time, that the healing or the need is not addressed when we want it to be, or the extremity of the need that it seems like, 'Gee, that's something that God can't do just because I've never seen it before.' They don't find these obstacles to be daunting. I don't know that I would have the creative forethought, or the creative thinking, to walk into a situation like that and come up with a problem solving solution to how I would get my friend to Jesus to get to this kind of need.

Tyler Sanders 18:33
Yeah, sure. Now, it's interesting, you're kind of talking about application. And this is probably related to that, one of the things I'm reminded by in this passage is an earlier passage we talked about when Jesus calms the storm, because everyone responds similarly, right? Like there's kind of this amazement and shock of, Who is this man that even the wind and the water obeys Him? And there's this amazement, and that's how this ends in Luke, there's this amazement. And what we kind of landed on in that passage was not only that Jesus calms the storm, but a lot of what the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are about is saying who Jesus is. And that seems very much the theme in this. So maybe it's less of an application but more of a theme, would you would you agree with that?

Dan Gurtner 18:45
I would very much agree with that. It is a theme, but it also, if you notice in this one, what comes after this is the calling of Levi.

Tyler Sanders 19:46
Oh, sure.

Dan Gurtner 19:47
So we see, if we follow the sort of logic here, Jesus is willing, he's both able and willing to heal the leper. He honors people who go to extremes, to take extreme measures to display faith to achieve the healing of a friend. And then when Jesus, this same Jesus...and that tells us what kind of God, Jesus is. He's compassionate and he's rewarding of those who display faith. And that Levi responds, and we as readers are to see what kind of man this is and respond in like manner to Levi. To Jesus the way Levi does.

Tyler Sanders 20:39
Yeah, in the same way that Levi does. Yeah, I've always found it to be a pretty moving passage. It's fairly short, isn't it? I guess in Luke it's a little bit longer, but when I first was picking up on that, it struck me as like an interesting little side narrative, But the more I thought about it, it's very moving how quickly Levi just follows gives everything up and he follows.

Dan Gurtner 21:14
Yeah, in Luke's account, and this is different from the others because Luke tells us that after this, in Luke 5:27, we get the impression that after this whole scene of the healing of the paralytic, Jesus went out and saw the tax collector named Levi. And then sitting at the tax collector's booth and he said to him, "Follow me", and leaving everything, Levi rose and followed him. So it is short, but I think in Matthew's account, and Mark's, we're not really sure whether it's sequential or not. It's kind of vague. But here we get the impression in Luke, that maybe the guy just got off the mat and he's dancing down the street carrying his mat and Levi is sitting there in his tax collector's booth, all wide eyed saying, 'Isn't that the guy who was just being carried right down the street on this mat?' We have no idea. But for our purposes as readers, it doesn't matter. We've seen what kind of Jesus this is, so that whenever Jesus says this to Levi, it's a no brainer. This is the kind of Jesus that Luke is calling us to follow.

Tyler Sanders 22:38
Yeah. It's similar to some of the parables we get of like a lost coin or treasure in a field. It's like, 'Oh, well, of course. Sell everything you have and buy this field because there's something more valuable in it.' The math is kind of obvious when you see it.

Dan Gurtner 22:59
Exactly, and if you really recognize the value of what is there, it's an easy decision. Yeah. Good point.

Tyler Sanders 23:10
Well, you know, I said earlier this is one of the oldest stories I know. I'm trying to think where I even know it so well from. I kind of want to say it was VeggieTales, or something like that. But there's something about this story that's just really emblazoned in my brain. But I'm glad we got to talk through it, because there are some complicated pieces in here. And I think if you take your time with this passage, just like we've been seeing in a lot of other passages, Jesus is surprising. There's a lot of things he does that you don't expect, necessarily.

Dan Gurtner 23:47
Yep. Jesus is surprising but at the same time, as we've seen in many other passages, everything that we need to know is right here. Meaning, we expect the scribes and the Pharisees to be the bad guys, which they are because they accuse Jesus of blasphemy, but at the same time, and Luke records them thinking the right answer; that only God can forgive sins. So in a sense, they're right, of course, they're right. So they're right but what's wrong with them? They don't recognize Jesus is God.

Tyler Sanders 24:27
Most of the pieces are there, but they can't connect to see the truth in a way.

Dan Gurtner 24:32
Right. But Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has given us everything we need to know, right here. And that's the beauty of studying scripture.

Tyler Sanders 24:43
Yeah, and I think that's what's encouraging about it is it's all here. You don't have to have a giant library or the latest book or the oldest book. You don't have to have all that, those things are very helpful and there's a lot of good in them but you can study the Bible, just the Bible, and really get the truth out of it.

Dan Gurtner 25:09
In fact, one of the things that I first teach to my students at Gateway Seminary is the skill of observation. And that is to just notice what's there. Oftentimes, when my wife and I have a misunderstanding between us, almost all the time it is because I know her so well, that I think I know what she's going to say and I tune her out. And because I think that I know what she's gonna say, so I just don't listen anymore. And I find out that's not what she said at all. And we do the same thing with scripture. We think we know it. And we think we know what it's going to say. And so we kind of tune it out sometimes. And so there's merit in just slowing down and seeing what's there and find out there's all kinds of things that even if we've grown up reading the Bible, slowing down and just seeing what's there, we'll find all kinds of beauty that we've never really noticed, or is right in front of our face all along.

Tyler Sanders 26:13
It's worth tuning into and putting the time and focus into it.

Dan Gurtner 26:18

Tyler Sanders 26:19
Well, I think this is about time to wrap up. This has been a great talk. I want to say thank you for your time and your insight into this and I'm looking forward to talking about the next passage.

Dan Gurtner 26:32
My pleasure.