Another early miracle, the healing of the paralyzed man at Capernaum (KJV, “one sick of the palsy”), who was lowered through the roof by his friends, appears in all three Synoptic gospels (Mark 2:1–12; Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:17–26). The scene is set with Jesus teaching inside a private home, which overflowed with people who came to hear him. The only way that the paralyzed man’s friends could bring him close to Jesus was to tear up the roof of the house and lower him down through the hole. Jesus acknowledged their efforts as a sign of their faith, but before healing the man, he makes a pronouncement that causes contention with some of the Jewish scribes present: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). When the scribes began to think to themselves that Jesus’ statement was blasphemous, he perceived their thoughts and set the healing of this paralyzed man into a larger, more symbolic setting: “Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (Mark 2:8–11).
Taken by itself, the story of the restoration of the paralyzed man is one of several instances when Jesus healed those who were crippled, a promise associated with the coming messianic age (see Isaiah 35:6). While the setting of the story in Capernaum is known, reminding us of the historicity of the event, neither the paralytic nor his friends are named. Thus the emphasis remains on Jesus and his restoring the man’s strength, making being crippled a type of the disabilities, impediments, and infirmities that accompany our fallen state. In fact, when the King James Bible teaches that Jesus cured people of their “infirmities,” the Greek word translated is usually astheneia. While this is often translated as sickness, disease, or infirmity, it literally means “weakness” or “lack of strength.” This meaning connects such physical infirmities with the Book of Mormon teaching on weakness—a lack of power to accomplish anything good on our own that characterizes our mortality. Such weakness can only become strength through grace, or the strengthening and enabling power of Christ’s atonement (see Jacob 4:7; Ether 12:27).
Pairing the healing of the paralyzed man with the forgiveness of sins and a stress on faith connects it to more of the atonement than just its power to strengthen us and heal us from the inadvertent effects of the fall. Many in this period associated sickness or other ailments, such as blindness, with sin (see, for instance, John 9:2), in which case removing the cause of a disease would also remove its symptoms. But Jesus’ opponents did not focus on Jesus’ extension of forgiveness as a medically therapeutic technique. Instead they criticized him for taking a prerogative that they viewed as belonging solely to God. Further, Jesus’ response, asking which was harder, forgiving sins or curing paralysis, kept the disability and the issue of sin separate and raised a significant question: which one is, in fact, more difficult? While curing paralysis with a word seems impossible to us, to actually forgive a man’s sins—as opposed to perhaps forgiving any individual slights that he might have done to Jesus himself—required that Jesus take upon himself those sins, suffer for them, and then die for them.
In few other cases is a miracle of healing more directly and unambiguously connected to the atonement than in this story. Directly forgiving the paralyzed man’s sins is even more powerful than the spiritual cleanliness symbolized by the cleansing of the lepers. And just as the paralyzed man’s friends had exercised faith in bringing him to Jesus, so the man himself exercised faith when at the words “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go,” he immediately stood up and walked. So, too, it takes faith for us to come to Jesus, to allow him to heal our souls and forgive our sins, but so it also take faith for us to go forward from that point in faith and trust that he has, in fact, paid for our sins and made us clean.
See Matthew 8:17; Luke 5:15; 8:2; 13:11–12; John 5:5. For the root sense of “weakness,” see Schneider, “astheneia,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 1.170.
Bednar, “In the Strength of the Lord,” 76–78.
Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 64.
See Cotter, The Christ of the Miracle Stories, 91–101, for a discussion of the obstacles, both social and physical, that the friends of the paralytic actually needed to overcome to get him to Jesus.