Translating παραλυτικός in Mark 2:1-12: A Proposal -- By: Dwight N. Peterson
BBR 16:2 (2006) p. 261
Translating παραλυτικός in Mark 2:1-12: A Proposal
The man who is healed by Jesus in Mark 2:1-12 is denoted in the text by the word παραλυτικός, which is usually translated ‘paralytic’. The problem with this translation by transliteration is that it is by no means clear that the man in view was “paralyzed” in any modern sense of the word. A word study of παραλυτικός, along with related words παραλύειν and παραλύσις, in and beyond the NT shows the lack of etiological, diagnostic, and prognostic specificity that characterizes ancient medical language when compared with modern technical medical terminology. This means that in Mark 2, we do not know what was “wrong” with the “paralytic,” other than that he could not walk. The possible causes of his condition are numerous: stroke, head injury, twisted or badly broken legs that did not heal properly, severe arthritis, or even a psychosomatic condition, to name but a few possibilities. All of these conditions and many others could easily result in a situation in which a person “cannot walk.” A good translation of the word in this context, then, ought to be nonspecific and nontechnical by modern standards and ought not to draw attention to the cause of the man’s condition. I, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, suggest that the word ‘cripple’ fits the bill but provide alternative translation possibilities for those who cannot countenance the use of this word, which comes across as offensive to many people.
Key Words: paralytic, Mark 2:1-12
Mark 2:1-12 tells a story about the healing of a man who cannot walk. The man is carried by four friends to the roof of a house in which Jesus is “speaking the word” to a crowd so large that they have spilled out the door. The friends dig through the roof and lower the man on his mat through the hole they have just dug. Jesus promptly forgives the man’s sins, thereby setting the stage for a conflict with scribes who happen to be there and who question Jesus’ right or ability to forgive sins: only God, they think, is able to forgive sins. As part of the ensuing argument with the scribes, Jesus tells the man who cannot walk to get up, pick up his mat, and go home. The man, who now can walk, complies and leaves the house, to the amazement of all who witnessed the event.
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