Formations 02.16.2014: Our Deepest Need

Mark 2:1-12

worry_2091282_lgI was struck by the subtitle of an article I recently encountered on psychosomatic illnesses. The article, by Roanne FitzGibbon, is titled “Psychosomatic Symptoms: You May Be Healthier than You Think.” The point of the article is that psychosomatic symptoms are a real thing. It isn’t just “in your head.” Rather, the mind—anxiety, feelings of guilt, depression, and the like—can take a genuine toll on the health of the body.

I wonder if the paralyzed man in today’s lesson was the victim of some kind of psychosomatic disorder. Something called “psychogenic paralysis” is, in fact, discussed in the medical literature. I can only speculate that that is the case, of course, and I certainly do not doubt that Jesus can heal physical illnesses.

I also know, however, that sickness in the soul is often far more difficult to heal than mere physical complaints. Doctors have become almost literal miracle-workers as they set broken bones, replace malfunctioning organs with healthy ones, and prescribe wondrous medicines to treat symptoms and drive disease from our bodies. But what about the afflictions of the mind—or the spirit?

The story that Mark tells us seems emphatic that the paralyzed man’s problems went deeper than his non-responsive limbs. Jesus first addressed an affliction of his spirit: “Child, your sins are forgiven!” The man’s four friends perhaps hoped for a physical healing, but Jesus shocked the crowd by instead pronouncing the man’s sins forgiven. That wasn’t what people expected Jesus to do. It certainly got the attention of the “legal experts,” who wondered at the propriety of Jesus making such a declaration. Therefore, they began to complain that no one could forgive sins but God.

Jesus saw a deeper need within this man, one that even a physical healing would not address. The problem at the core of his being was his sin. That was what Jesus chose to address first. Then, to prove that he indeed had the authority to declare the man’s sins forgiven, he also addressed his physical need for healing.

N. Chastan and D. Parain, “Psychogenic Paralysis and Recovery after Motor Cortex Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation,” Movement Disorders 25 (30 Jul 2010): 1501–1504

Roanne FitzGibbon, “Psychosomatic Symptoms: You May Be Healthier than You Think,” Liberty Voice


• When have you become aware of the connection between bodily health and the state of one’s mind or spirit?
• Which is easier: healing someone’s body or forgiving their sins? What might Jesus have intended by asking this question?
• Why do Christians sometimes focus only on outward, physical needs?
• Why do we sometimes focus only on the spiritual and neglect the needs of the body?
• How can believers minister to those whose deepest need is for spiritual healing?

Reference Shelf

The Human One?

The Common English Bible translates the Greek phrase ho huios tou anthrōpou, traditionally “the Son of Man,” as “the Human One.” In the CEB preface, the translators write,

People who have grown accustomed to hearing Jesus refer to himself in the Gospels as “the Son of Man” may find this jarring. Why “Human One”? Jesus’ primary language would have been Aramaic, so he would have used the Aramaic phrase bar enosha. This phrase has the sense of “a human” or “a human such as I.” This phrase was taken over into Greek in a phrase that might be translated woodenly as “son of humanity.” However, Greek usage often refers to “a son of x” in the sense of “one who has the character of ‘x.’” For example, Luke 10:6 refers to “a son of peace,” a phrase that has the sense, “one who shares in peace.” Another example: in Acts 13:10 Paul calls a sorcerer “a son of the devil.” This is not a reference to the sorcerer’s actual ancestry, but serves to identify his character. He is devilish—or, more simply in English, “a devil.” In short, “Human” or “Human One” both represents accurately the Aramaic and Greek idioms and reflects common English usage. Finally, many references to Jesus as “the Human One” refer back to Daniel 7:13, where Daniel “saw one like a human being” (in Greek, huios anthrōpou); using the title “Human One” in the Gospels and Acts, then, preserves this connection to Daniel’s vision.

The translators have also prepare this brief video to explain their rationale.

Finally, Bible Gateway has published a helpful summary of some responses from the scholarly community. This article ends with a very thoughtful postscript:

When the familiar, traditional translation of a word or phrase is inadequate, should the translators update it—and risk confusing readers—or leave it untouched? What about words that are correctly translated but have acquired social or denominational connotations that distract from (or even replace) the original intended meaning?

As this instance shows, this isn’t a simple issue to answer. But it’s one of many tough challenges faced by every Bible translation team.

Disease and Healing

The miracles of healing recorded in the OT are few compared to those of Christ in the NT. In the combined narratives of the four Gospels, well over twenty stories of healing of individuals occur. Immediate restoration of health was bestowed in cases where recovery appeared unlikely or problematic. Although related to his compassion for the sufferers, Christ’s miracles of healing were not fundamentally different in purpose from other miracles. The miracle stories frequently revealed a christological purpose (Mark 10:46-52; Matt 9:1-8; John 20:30-31). The restoration of the sick formed a pan of subsequent apostolic practice as evidenced by several accounts in Acts (3: 1 – I 1; 9:33 34, 36-41; 20:9- 12).

W. H. Bellinger Jr., “Disease and Healing,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 217.

Healing and Forgiveness

Sin and sickness were often linked together in Jewish theology, at least in its popular form. In the Old Testament sin could lead to illness (“some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction”; Ps 107:17), so healing and forgiveness are often closely associated. In the Gospel of John, Jesus warns the man whom he healed at the Pool of Bethesda, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14). When they pass a man born blind, his disciples echo popular assumptions when they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2), but Jesus healed the man, demonstrating that sin lay not in being born blind but in being willfully blind (John 9:39-41).

Jesus’ declaration, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5), can be taken either as a divine passive, meaning “God has forgiven your sins,” or as a statement on his own authority, meaning “I forgive your sins.” The divine passive was often used to avoid a direct reference to the divine name (see 2:20; 3:28; 4:12, 25; etc.). Only God can forgive sins (Exod 34:6-7; Isa 43:25; 44:22), but God’s prophets at times announced forgiveness: “Nathan said to David, ‘Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2 Sam 12:13). Even if Jesus used the divine passive, the scribes recognize the authority implied in his statement.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 78–79.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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