“He speaks defaming words.” The Greek verb blasphēmeō (#987 βλασφημέω) is transliterated (not translated) from the Greek into English as “blasphemy.” In English, “blasphemy” is only used in reference to God. However, in Greek, blasphēmeō and blasphēmia (the noun) did not have to refer to God or a god, although they could, but were common words that were used of someone speaking against another. The primary meanings were showing disrespect to a person or deity, and/or harming his, her, or its reputation. In this case, the religious leaders thought it was insulting to God’s reputation that Jesus would forgive sins.
[For more information on blasphēmeō, see commentary on Matt. 9:3.]
“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The religious leaders thought that by forgiving sins, Jesus was harming the reputation of God, because they thought that only God was able to forgive sins. But the Bible never says that only God can forgive sins. The rabbis taught that, but that does not make it true: it was just their tradition. In truth, only God can forgive sins, but God’s representatives, to whom God delegates the authority to forgive sins, can forgive them, or more accurately, declare that they are forgiven if they get the revelation to make that declaration.
The religious leaders were used to prophets speaking for God, but not forgiving sins, although they should have been open to that. Nathan came very close when he said to David, “Yahweh also has put away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). Actually, given the author/agent aspect of the Hebrew language and culture, acting on revelation from God, Nathan could have said, “Your sin has been forgiven.” It should be especially clear to us that God delegated to Jesus the authority to forgive sins, because Jesus taught that very explicitly. “For the Father does not judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son….I am not able to do anything on my own. As I hear, I judge. And my judgment is righteous because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:22, 30). Note that Jesus could forgive sins against God, but it was only “as he heard” from God, and born-again children of God have that same privilege today.
Forgiving sins, or knowing that one’s sins have been forgiven, is essential to having a peaceful life. Great anxiety, and both mental and physical sickness, can come from feeling unforgiven and in danger of judgment. Jesus knew that, and loved the man in the record and told him his sins were forgiven, which opened the door for the man to be healed. Experience tells us that many times people are not healed because they do not think they are forgiven, or they do not forgive others. Christians should be quick to tell unbelievers that if they get saved their sins are forgiven and remind believers that if they confess their sins then the sins they have committed after their salvation are forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Jesus’ action in stating that the man’s sins were forgiven was not meant to prove that he was God, rather, it was to show that God “has given [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). Notice that the onlookers were amazed that such authority had been given to men. They did not conclude from what Jesus did that he must be God. They drew the simple conclusion that God must have given authority to this man to forgive sins. Elsewhere, Jesus delegates the authority to the apostles saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). If being given the authority to forgive sins means the person is God, then we should conclude the apostles were God also. But this is surely absurd. Instead, we should acknowledge that the authority ultimately comes from God, and he delegates it to people in certain situations.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”]