What does Luke 5:21 mean?
ESV: And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
NIV: The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'
NASB: The scribes and the Pharisees began thinking of the implications, saying, 'Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, except God alone?'
CSB: Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, "Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? "
NLT: But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, 'Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!'
KJV: And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
NKJV: And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Verse Commentary:
Four men (Mark 2:3) have ripped a hole in the roof of a house Jesus was teaching in and lowered down their paralytic friend. They believe wholeheartedly that Jesus can and will heal him. In response to their faith, Jesus does the unimaginable and forgives the man of his sin (Luke 5:17–20). At the time, Jews thought specific sins caused paralysis (1 Maccabees 9:55) and the man is still unable to walk. The scribes make the connection between Jesus' claim and the man's continued state and have two questions: "Who is this?" and "Who can forgive sin?"

The scribes also make a judgment call: "This is blasphemy." This is the core of the theological charges Jewish religious leaders hold over Jesus. In their eyes, He claims spiritual authority He does not actually hold. In so doing—they think—Jesus commits a capital offense against God. It will be the justification behind their push to have Jesus crucified (Luke 22:66–71).

This is the first time in the gospel of Luke where the Pharisees meet Jesus. Yet this is the second strong indication Jesus gives that He has the spiritual authority of God, beyond the power to heal. The first was in Nazareth. While speaking in the synagogue, He read—and claimed—the Messianic passage found in Isaiah 61:1–2. The audience immediately reduced Him to the boy they had watched grow up and tried to throw Him off the cliff (Luke 4:16–30). The Pharisees in Capernaum are more subtle but no less horrified.
Verse Context:
Luke 5:17–26 records Jesus' second miracle after the first call of His disciples. He has already touched a man with leprosy (Luke 5:12–16). Now, He declares a paralytic's sins are forgiven. The scribes and Pharisees question Jesus' authority; even after Jesus heals the man, separation between His followers and His detractors continues to grow. Luke follows the pattern of connecting Jesus' provocative actions with His calls to His disciples until all twelve are chosen (Luke 5:27—6:16). The healing of the paralyzed man is also in Matthew 9:1–8 and Mark 2:1–12.
Chapter Summary:
Luke 5 continues Jesus' Galilean Ministry (Luke 4:14—9:50). The passage alternates calls to discipleship with miracles and teachings which demonstrate what discipleship entails. Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, and their business partners, James and John, to follow Him and make more disciples. Then Jesus makes a man with leprosy ceremonially clean. He forgives the sins of a paralytic. After He calls Levi to follow Him, Jesus celebrates instead of fasting. This draws critical questions from the crowd. The religious leaders consider Jesus' actions blasphemous. His message of forgiveness, faith, and repentance cannot be contained by their tradition.
Chapter Context:
Jesus has already proved He can expel demons, heal ailments, and reveal the kingdom of God (Luke 4:31–44). In this chapter, He begins to separate His followers from His detractors. This begins with calling the first five disciples and emphasizing faith and repentance over religious tradition. He will drive home the point by treating the Sabbath as a blessing rather than a burden (Luke 6:1–11). After formally inviting the Twelve to follow Him, Jesus will explain to a crowd what discipleship looks like and invite them to build their lives on Him (Luke 6:12–49). In chapter 7, Jesus champions Gentiles and the marginalized.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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