Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mark 2:6-7

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (ESV)

6 And some of the scribes were sitting down there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this one thus speak blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins except one -- God?"  (ABP)


There are several points of interest in these two verses.  We'll go bit by bit and look at each thoroughly.


[Gk. γραμματεων - grammateus =`a clerk, scribe, secretary, recorder']  (Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Grammateus". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon". . 1999.)

Luke, in his gospel account, refers to these as "lawyers".  The idea being that they were experts in the Old Testament, the authorities on application of the law.  A scribe was one who copied the law, and was an authority on interpreting that law.  They were a kind of half attorney, half theologian; experts in biblical law, not secular law.  John MacArthur give us this helpful definition:
"The scribes were scholars and authorities on the law, who had spent their life studying the Old Testament. In fact, one scribe, Ezra, had even memorized the entire Old Testament so that he could sit down and write it down from Genesis to the very end from memory. Some of the scribes joined the Pharisees because they were literalists and legalistic fundamentalists, who believed in everything the law said. On the other hand, some of them joined the Sadducees because they were liberals, who denied scriptural truths such as resurrection and angels. So, those were the two theological parties--the fundamentalists and the liberals of that day--and both of them had their scribes. But regardless of what party they were in, they were forever challenging Jesus, trying to trap Him in His words. By the way, the scribes later became known as rabbis. However, a rabbi today is not somebody in the Levitical priesthood line, because no one is able any longer to trace their lineage to a particular tribe." [source]


[Gk. διαλογίζομαι - dialogizomai = 'to reason, revolve in one's mind, deliberate']  

One translation says 'reasoning', another says 'questioning'.  After some time looking through Greek-English reference books, I think it leans toward 'reasoning' myself.  Then I looked up where else a form of this word is used in Mark.  Besides this chapter, it is in chapters 8:16-17, 9:33, and 11:31.  In chapter 8, the disciples are seen reasoning amongst themselves.  In chapter 9, again it refers to when the disciples were reasoning amongst themselves about who was the greatest.  Finally, in chapter 11, we see the chief priests and scribes reasoning amongst themselves.  In each instance, the context involves a discussion of sorts, either in their hearts & minds or verbally, whereby they are considering more than one point of view or reason.


So, the picture painted here is the experts on Law witnessing Jesus Christ forgiving a man's sins and then questioning in their hearts & minds whether He has the authority to do this.  Our final consideration is verse 7 when they reason, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  Where are they getting this?  Does Scripture support this?

This involves a brief study of sin.

First off, a couple of definitions:  1. Sin is anything (whether in thoughts, actions, or attitudes) that does not express or conform to the holy character of God as expressed in His moral law.  2. Rebellion against God's rule, missing the mark God set for us to aim at, transgressing God's law, offending God's purity by defiling oneself, and incurring guilt before God the Judge.

OK.  But what does God's Word say about it?  Well, it turns out that there are at least eight words in the Old Testament for sin and a dozen words in the New Testament.  In the O.T., the two words used most often to express this concept are chata [חטא] and ra [רע].  Respectively, their meanings are "to miss the mark" and "breaking up or ruin, calamities or evil".  Chata carries with it the implication that not only has the mark been missed, but that another has been hit.  Hence, focus cannot only be given to the passive missing of the mark, but consideration must be given to the active hitting of the other.  Then, ra can indicate not only something that is calamitous but also something that is morally wrong.  

There are a handful of other words in the O.T. that mean sin, but let's now look at New Testament words. 

The most frequently used word for sin in the N.T. is hamartia [ἁμαρτία] which, just like chata in the O.T., derives its meaning from ἁμαρτάνω = "missing the mark". 

The "mark" being the standard set by God in His Law, which is based on His attributes and character.  Therefore, when we fail to conform to that standard, be it purposefully choosing to disobey, or merely letting down our guard and falling into it, we effectively thumb our noses at God, expressing our complete lack of reverence and respect for what He has expected of us.  Which bring us to the point that all sin, whether committed as an offense toward another human being (such as adultery, murder, theft, etc) is ultimately committed against our Creator; and that offense against God far out-weighs the offense to your neighbor.  It doesn't absolve me from asking forgiveness from my neighbor, however, most importantly I must realize the offense I've committed in the presence of The Holy God.

In 2 Samuel 11, we read of the account of adultery committed by David with Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder and lies (cover up).  In chapter 12, when Nathan confronts David about his sin, David replies, “I have sinned against the LORD.
Sin is always and ultimately related to God. While sin has devastating societal, relational, and physical ramifications, the central problem of sin is that it offends and incurs the wrath of God. David demonstrates this understanding in his confession of adultery and murder: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). This is not to minimize his sin against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, or the people of Israel, but rather to recognize that, relatively speaking, it is God he has ultimately offended, and it is to God alone that he must finally answer. Sin is a personal attack on the character and ordinances of God.  (ESV Study  Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008)
All of this to bring us to the point: who has the authority to forgive sins?

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
The short answer:  God alone forgives sin. 

Greek Lexicon pictures(Liddell, H.G. and Scott, R. and Passow, F. and Drisler, H. "A Greek-English lexicon". "At the Clarendon press, sold by Macmillan and co.". London. 1870.)

1. The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008
2. The Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries, 2005