Luke 5:20

ESV And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
NIV When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'
NASB And seeing their faith, He said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven you.'
CSB Seeing their faith he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
NLT Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, 'Young man, your sins are forgiven.'
KJV And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.

What does Luke 5:20 mean?

At least four men (Mark 2:3) have ripped a hole of the roof of a house, and through it they have lowered their paralyzed friend. This drastic act is done in faith: knowing Jesus can heal him and trusting that He will. Jesus' immediate response to their faith is not what they expect: He forgives the man's sins. "Man" sounds formal in English but in the original Greek context it would have come across more like "friend." Matthew and Mark use "son" (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5); Luke is likely identifying him as an adult.

The "faith" these men exhibit is not saving faith, but it's in the right frame of mind. No one yet understands that Jesus is God the Son who will be crucified and rise again as atonement for sin. This is the same faith as the centurion, the sinful woman, and the woman with the issue of blood—three people Jesus highly praised (Luke 7:9, 50; 8:48).

Jesus' reaction is confusing for another reason. The four friends demonstrate faith, and presumably the paralyzed man does, too, but Jesus only declares the forgiveness of the paralyzed man. Translation from Greek removes some of the nuances. The tense is passive: leaving room to identify God as He who forgives. It's also in the grammar tense known as "perfect." That implies forgiveness as a state which the man now inhabits, not a one-time grace, even as specific sins are forgiven. The Greek term for "sins" here includes all transgressions: from a minor, unintentional offenses to sacrilege against God.

A person looking to parse Jesus' words down to that level might think all the man's sins would be forgiven. However, that's not the point of Jesus' statement, or of this passage. Jesus' goal is to show the Pharisees and scribes that He has the power to forgive sins. He verifies this power by healing the man. Questions about precisely what kind of faith the man has, what he understands, and what happens with the friends are irrelevant to Luke's point: Jesus has the authority and power to redeem the effects of the Fall, both spiritual and physical.

A side theme is that God honors the faith of those who seek to bring others to Christ. When we pray, we orient our attention toward the issue and watch for God to work. God performs mighty deeds that no one realizes. When are paying attention, however, we have the opportunity to be seized with amazement, filled with awe, and glorify God, declaring, "We have seen extraordinary things today" (Luke 5:26).
What is the Gospel?
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