A response to

Who can forgive sins?

One of the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that no one can erase his own sin through good works. There are several reasons why this is so, but two reasons stand out above the others:

1. The vast majority of good works are not good in the same way that sins are bad, and thus cannot--even in principle--cancel out any bad works. Whenever we sin, we violate the commands that God has given us; we fall short of His standards. In principle, therefore, if you wanted to pay for your violations, you would have to balance them out by EXCEEDING God's standards in other areas. Most of what we call good works, however, do not exceed God's standards, but are simply a matter of doing what commands.

Some people believe, for example, that the act of praying can balance out sins. But how can it balance anything? When we pray we are not exceeding God's commands, we are merely doing what is expected. Likewise, some people believe that bearing trials and suffering with patience can cancel out sins. But how can that be when we are merely obeying God's commands? The answer, of course, is that it can't. Those who hope to save themselves through their own good deeds should be warned that there are far more ways to fall short of God's commands than there are to exceed them.

2. Another reason that our own good works cannot save us is that even the smallest sin is serious beyond reckoning. The seriousness of a sin is determined not only by the command that has been broken, but by the One Who gave the command.

Imagine, for example that a friend of yours, equal to you in every respect, came to you one day and said, "Friend, get me a glass of water." Would you be subject to any great punishment if you refused to get him a glass of water? Of course not. He's just your friend.

But what if you are in the military, and a general tells you, "Soldier, get me a glass of water." Would you be in trouble if you refused? Yes indeed. In f act, the offense is so outrageous that any soldier who witnessed your refusal would be aghast.

If disobeying a general - a mere mortal - can be such a serious matter, how much more serious is it when a human disobeys the commands of The High and Lofty One! How can a mere speck of dust, such as you or I, ever atone for such an offense? When we break the law of God, we break something that is infinitely beyond our ability to pay for.

Thus, it is not only incorrect to think that we can pay God back for our sins, it is an insult. To understand what an insult it is, imagine that you are a poor man who has been granted an audience with a great and powerful king. As you enter the royal palace, you are briefed on how you must act when you see the king. You are also told how to conduct yourself while in the palace, which includes not touching anything that is not offered to you.

You agree to the rules and are then escorted toward the king's audience chambers. Your path takes you through a wonderland of treasures and art. The beauty of it all is so enchanting that you momentarily forget the warnings, and reach out to touch a beautiful vase. Just as your hand reaches the vase, you are startled by a shout from your escort and knock the vase from its perch. It shatters into a hundred pieces on the marble floor.

"What have you done!" cries your escort. "That vase is three thousand years old. There is none like it in all the world!"

Calmly, you reply, "No problem, I can pay for it."

You reach into your pocket and pull out all the money you have. "Here's three dollars."

Is that not a breathtaking insult? But what is that compared to the insult we offer God when we claim that we can pay our debts to him? Far from atoning for our sin, we are only deepening it.

Once you understand the true gravity of sin, you can then understand how extraordinary - indeed, how shocking - it would be for anyone to claim they could forgive sins. Yet this is exactly what Jesus claimed. In Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 9:2-8; and Luke 5:19-25 we see three accounts of an incident where Jesus not only healed a paralytic man, but claimed the authority to forgive sins.

Some people, of course, dispute that Jesus ever made such a claim. For example, in a dubious work of scholarship titled, The Five Gospels, it is claimed that "Stories of Jesus curing a paralytic are found in all four narrative gospels, The Johannine version (John 5:1-9) differs substantially ... The controversy interrupts the story of the cure - which reads smoothly if one omits vv. 5b-10 (Mark 2) - and it is absent in the parallel of John ... Scholars usually conclude, on the basis of this evidence, that Mark has inserted the dispute into what was originally a simple healing story ... If the words are to be attributed to Jesus, v. 10 may represent a bold new claim on Jesus' part that gives the authority to forgive sins to all human beings...The early church was in the process of claiming for itself the right to forgive sins and so would have been inclined to claim that it's authorization came directly from Jesus."

An examination of the scriptures in question reveals that the authors of The Five Gospels are correct about one thing: the Johannine account is substantially different from the others. In fact, it's a different story entirely. Here's the account from Mark:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

--Mark 2:1-11

And now the account from John:

John 5:1-9 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."

Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.

--John 5:1-9

When one examines these two accounts, it is obvious that they describe two different events. In fact, contrary to the authors of The Five Gospels the invalid in John's account is not even identified as a paralytic.

What is more, the circumstances are entirely different. In Mark, we see him establishing his claim publicly before the Jewish ulama of his day. In John, on the other hand, we see him healing an incapacitated man by a pool and then (as you can see if you read past verse 9) quietly disappearing into the crowd. So the fact that Jesus said nothing to the man by the pool about forgiving sins is absolutely irrelevant to his claims in Mark's (or Matthew's or Luke's) account.

But let us assume for the sake of argument that the incident described in John is the same one that Matthew, Mark and Luke describe. If that were so, how do we know that Matthew, Mark and Luke added something that Jesus didn't say? Isn't it equally possible that John left something out? More than likely, the reason Mishaal Al-Kadhi favors the first interpretation is because it is consistent with Muslim beliefs. If that is the case, however, Al-Kadhi's argument is circular:

Of course, as we have already seen, it is pointless to ask which account is correct because John describes a different event than that found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Now, if someone wanted to push the issue, they might point out that John contains absolutely no account of Jesus forgiving anyone's sins. Nowhere in John does Jesus say anything like "your sins are forgiven." But this proves nothing, because John makes it very clear throughout his gospel that he considers Jesus to be God.

What's more, although John recounts no instances of Jesus forgiving anyone's sins, he records something even more astonishing: In John 20:21-23, we see Jesus granting his disciples the authority to forgive sins. It is thus very clear from reading John that Jesus not only has the authority to forgive sins, but he is also able to grant that authority to his disciples!

Who but God can do that? No one. Jesus (SWT) is Lord.

Faruq al-Dhimmi

The Rebuttal to "What Did Jesus Really Say?"
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