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Jan 16, 2017

Welcome to this Joy of Translating podcast, covering the first half of Mark chapter 2! This is the podcast where I invite you collaborate with me to create a new Bible translation that faithfully communicates the meaning of the Biblical text in clear and natural English. There’s nothing that helps you dig deeper into God’s Word than trying to translate it so that it doesn’t sound like a translation. Let’s make a translation that promotes the enjoyment of God’s Word, and one that can be understood by children and podcast listeners. In reaching toward this goal,we’ll definitely be standing on the shoulders of others who have created good Bible translations.

The Scriptures were written in everyday language. The original readers of the New Testament did not have to struggle with understanding centuries-old classical Greek. No, Koine Greek is Common Greek, everyday Greek. Therefore, a Bible translator making a meaning-based translation desires to produce the same reaction in the minds of readers as was experienced by the original readers. Did the original readers feel encouraged to stand fast in the face of persecution? That’s how I want my translation’s readers to feel! Did they rejoice (when reading some other passage) because of wonderful promises? I want my translation’s readers to rejoice just like that! There is one reaction that the original readers almost never had, it is this: “Huh? I don’t get that. Why did he say that?!”

Today we’ll discuss one of the most difficult passages to translate in Mark’s Gospel. I can’t go deeply into this, but I encourage you to think deeply about this.


Jesus heals a paralyzed man

(Mat. 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)

1 After several days, Jesus returned to Capernaum. News of his return spread quickly through town, 2 and many people came to hear Him teach.1 The house was packed and there wasn’t even room to stand near the front door. 3 Meanwhile, four men came to Him carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4 But because there was such a crowd, they weren’t able to carry him inside to Jesus. So they took him up to the flat roof of the house and made an opening right above where Jesus was. Then using the mat, they let the paralyzed man down in front of Jesus. 5 Jesus could see that the men fully believed that he had power to heal the paralyzed man. Jesus said to the man lying before him, “Young man, I forgive your sins.2

6 But there were some experts in the Law of Moses sitting there who inwardly grumbled when they heard Jesus say that, thinking, 7 “He can't say that! Saying that amounts to insulting God! No one can forgive someone's sins except God Himself!”

8 Right away Jesus knew just what they were thinking, so he confronted them, saying, “So what's behind the way you are criticising me in your hearts right now?! 9 In the case of this paralyzed man, I don't think you'll find it easy to accept anything I could say!3 You're not happy that I told him, ‘I forgive your sins.’ It will be just as hard for you to accept if I say to him, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and go home’! 10 But now, in order to prove to you that I, as the Son of Man,4 have the right to forgive people’s sins, hear this!” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home!” 12 And he got up! Then with everyone staring at him, he simply picked up his mat and left. Everyone was amazed, and they praised God saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

Jesus calls a sinner: Matthew

(Mat. 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32)

13-14 When Jesus was again on the shore of Lake Galilee, he attracted a large crowd. After teaching them, Jesus was walking away from there when he saw a government tax official sitting at his tax office.5 He was Matthew (who was also called Levi),6 the son of Alphaeus. As Jesus was passing, he said to him, “Follow me!” Matthew stood up and followed Jesus.

15 Later Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Matthew’s house. Matthew’s fellow tax officials, and other people who were also considered to be sinners,7 were eating there. At that time, many such people often followed Jesus. 16 But some experts in Moses’ Law who were also members of the religious group called the Pharisees8 noticed Jesus and his disciples eating with such people and weren't pleased. They said to his disciples, “How come your teacher eats with traitors and other low life?”

17 Jesus heard their complaint and said to them, “Healthy people don’t need to go to a doctor. Sick people do. I'm like a doctor. I came to call sinful people to repent, not to collect people who think they are righteous!”


 1 + 2:2 teach Literally, "speak the word."

2 + 2:5 I forgive your sins This is a divine passive and can either be translated as in either present or past tense. It seems better to not use passive in English, because this helps the reader take Jesus' statement in the same way that his critics understood him in verses 6-7.

3 + 2:9 In the case … Literally Jesus used a rhetorical question, “Which is easier, to say …” Note that Jesus started speaking to them with the rhetorical question in verse 8, and added another one here. Neither question is meant to be answered. Here Jesus' questions function to both rebuke and teach. By asking “Which is easier to say,” he is of course not talking about the relative difficulty of pronouncing words, but of the kind of reaction that the words will have.

4 + 2:10 Son of Man Jesus often spoke of himself “Son of Man.” This term, which Mark literally translates in Greek, really is an idiom from the Hebrew Old Testament. In Hebrew, ‘son of man’ means ‘normal human being’. Jesus called Himself that to remind His listeners about what the Prophet Daniel had witnessed in a vision of the King of Salvation. (Dan. 7:13-14) Daniel saw Jesus in heaven in the form of a ‘son of man’, meaning in the form of a ‘normal human being’, when God appointed Him King over everything. Note that when Jesus speaks of himself in the third person in Greek, this translation will always make it clear that he is speaking about Himself.

5 + 2:14 collect taxes At this time, Israel had already been conquered and colonized by the kingdom of Rome. Jewish people who became tax collectors for the Roman government were considered traitors to their own people. They were also hated and considered sinners because they liked to collect more taxes than the actual amount due. (Luke 3:12-13) That is how tax collectors became so rich.

6 + 2:14 Matthew/Levi Mark wrote only “Levi.” His other name is given in the text because he is much better known today by that name, as he is called in Mat. 9:9-13 and 10:3.

7 + 2:15 also considered to be sinners All tax collectors were considered to be sinners. See the footnote for verse 14.

8 + 2:16 the religious group called the Pharisees a group of Jews who maintained that all of Moses’ Law and all the commands added by the Jewish forefathers had to be strictly followed. They prided themselves in their devout devotion to all the Jewish Laws and traditions. Because of this, many of them didn’t like Jesus, because He didn’t join their group. And they were jealous because many people followed Him. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee group along with the Law experts in Mat. 23, because they just pretended to be good people.


In the ESV: 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts?
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven, ' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?

Jesus used two rhetorical questions to confront the experts in the Law of Moses who were sitting there. Rhetorical questions are not normal questions for information. They are used for various purposes. The first question Jesus asked is used with the most common purpose. Jesus is rebuking them.

The way the ESV translates it, Jesus’ question might be taken as a request for information, “Why do you question these things in your hearts.” I translate that, “So what's behind the way you are criticising me in your hearts right now?!”

Jesus often used rhetorical questions to begin a teaching. I believe that this was common practice among Jewish teachers of the age, and probably goes back much earlier. Someone please check that out and let me know. But one thing I do know: There are languages in the world which do not use rhetorical questions at all, and many more languages in the world which do not use rhetorical questions for setting out the topic of a teaching. Where a local language doesn’t use questions in that manner, translating Jesus’s questions literally will not be understood properly, so Bible translators translate such questions as statements. That’s what I have done here. Although one can begin a teaching by dramatically giving the topic with a question, it is rarely done in English.

I translate, “In the case of this paralyzed man, I don't think you'll find it easy to accept anything I could say! You're not happy that I told him, ‘I forgive your sins.’ It will be just as hard for you to accept if I say to him, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and go home’!”

Literally, Jesus said, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?”

First of all, the easiest misunderstanding would be to think that Jesus was asking which statement was easiest to pronounce. Both sentences are easy to say/pronounce.

One can take the word ‘easy’ in the sense of how easy or hard it would be for Jesus to prove them. There are some who reason that it would be harder to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” because it would be embarrassing if the man didn’t/couldn’t do it. On the other hand, “Your sins are forgiven” would be easy to say, because no one could tell if it happened.

Such thinking is very short-sighted, in my opinion. Jesus did not need to worry about whether he could work miracle or not! In my opinion, it is a shame that there is an English Bible translation that bases their translation on that interpretation.

Jesus did not say the ‘easy’ thing first! His question was not about the ease of Jesus’ proving his two statements, but is about the effect of his statements upon the listeners. He was teaching! He purposefully put the hard statement first. He knew that the critics present would not accept his telling the man that he had forgiven his sins. (He used a divine passive, actually. See my footnote in the episode notes.) Jesus knew that he would die on a cross to provide forgiveness for this man, and for all of us. Yes, he put the harder question first. And he cooly did it in order to teach everyone there. Then he proved his right to say that thing by the miracle. Both statements to the paralyzed man require God to say them.

The teachers of the Law were right, by the way. Only God can forgive sins. In many languages of the world, a human cannot say, “I forgive your sin.” We English speakers talk about forgiving people all the time, so let me explain. In Orya, the first language we translated for, two words are used cover the concept of ‘forgive’. The first is ‘finish’. Only God can ‘finish’ a person’s sin. By ‘finish’ it means that there are no further consequences. But a person only has the power to ‘forget’ someone else’s sin. A person doesn’t have the power to ‘finish’ another person’s sins, to release him from his sin’s consequences at the judgment day.

It turns out that we are all paralyzed. We can do nothing to remove our burden of sins. Weighed down, we look up and hear Jesus say, “I have taken the penalty for your sins.” We get up, get rid of that dirty, smelly mat, and follow him.