Who forgives sins? An intratextual approach to pronouncing vs. granting forgiveness in Luke-Acts

The logic of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ objection, “Who forgives sin but God alone?” (Luke 5:21) implies that the authority to heal demonstrates the authority to forgive (v 24). However, this causes difficulties in light of Luke-Acts’ depiction of the disciples who participate in the servant mission of the Messiah (e.g. Holly Beers, The Followers of Jesus as the Servant: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts (LNTS; Bloomsbury, 2015)). Since Luke depicts the disciples as being on the same Spirit-anointed forgiveness mission as Jesus (Luke 4:18-19), who do similar miracles as Jesus, does the logic of Jesus’ response imply the disciples’ too have authority to forgive? This paper argues that Luke would have his audience distinguish pronouncing forgiveness and granting forgiveness and that, while Jesus’ practice of both was unacceptable to the Pharisees, the authority Jesus grants the disciples (Luke 9:1) allows for pronouncing forgiveness but not granting forgiveness. The support comes in three stages. First, the inaugural Nazareth sermon demonstrates the importance of pronouncing forgiveness and the prophetic aspect of Jesus’ mission along with his disciples (cf. Jocelyn McWhirter, Rejected Prophets: Jesus and His Witnesses in Luke-Acts (Fortress, 2013)). Second, a brief redactional analysis of Mark’s version will show that Matthew has taken the pericope in a direction like the one we are suggesting (esp. Matt 9:8). Third, and most significantly, Luke’s purposeful parallelism between Luke and Acts invites comparison between this account and Acts 3-4, where Peter does a miracle strikingly similar to Jesus’ (Acts 3:7-8) but also uses this an illustration for the importance of salvation (Acts 4:9, 12). However, the Acts account particularly emphasizes that their authority is not from themselves (3:12), but from Jesus in whose name alone salvation can be found (4:12).

2 thoughts on “Who forgives sins? An intratextual approach to pronouncing vs. granting forgiveness in Luke-Acts”

  1. Forgiveness
    Distinguishes between the authority to grant and pronounce forgiveness. “Intratextual” is not the best term to use in the title since there is a clear appeal to how different texts interact with each other. The paper seems already to be well organized.


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