When Did Jesus Heal the Paralytic in Capernaum?

Matthew records the following sequence of events:

  1. Jesus calms the storm (Matt. 8:23-27)
  2. Jesus delivers demoniacs in the region of the Gergesenes/Gaderenes (Matt. 8:28-9:1)
  3. Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic in Capernaum (Matt. 9:2-8)

Mark and Luke, however, record:

  1. Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic in Capernaum (Mk. 2:1-12 = Lk. 5:17-26)
  2. Jesus calms the storm (Mk. 4:35-41 = Lk. 8:22-25)
  3. Jesus delivers demoniacs in the region of the Gergesenes/Gaderenes (Mk. 5:1-20 = Lk. 8:26-39)

Thus, they switch the order of when Jesus forgave and healed the Capernaum paralytic.

The agreements in the accounts (as well as the lack of substantial reason to believe they are separate incidents), force us to conclude that all three writers refer to the same healing of the paralytic, and thus we must decide which ordering of the events is correct.

Who is correct?

To answer this, consider, first, that all 3 gospels record Matthew being called as a disciple immediately following the Capernaum paralytic’s healing. Thus:

  1. Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic in Capernaum (Matt. 9:2-8 = Mk. 2:1-12 = Lk. 5:17-26)
  2. Matthew the tax collector follows Jesus (Matt. 9:9 = Mark 2:13-14 = Luke 5:27-28)

Then, a little later in the gospels, we read about the official appointing of the 12 apostles (see Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16).  And after this Jesus teaches in parables by the sea (cf. Luke 6:17; 7:1, 11; 8:1ff).

Thus, we can establish the following chronological sequence (while allowing for other events in between):

  1. Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic in Capernaum (Matt. 9:2-8 = Mk. 2:1-12 = Lk. 5:17-26)
  2. Matthew the tax collector follows Jesus (Matt. 9:9 = Mark 2:13-14 = Luke 5:27-28)
  3. 12 apostles are appointed (Mark 3:16-19 = Luke 6:12-16)
  4. Jesus teaches in parables by the sea (Matt. 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18)

Going further, Mark tells us that event #4 (“Jesus teaches in parables by the sea”) happened the same day that Jesus crossed the sea to heal the Gergesenes/Gaderenes’ demoniac (Mark 4:35ff). Thus, we know emphatically that the 12 apostles were appointed before Jesus calmed the storm and the Gergesenes/Gaderenes demoniac was healed, and we can update our sequence accordingly:

  1. Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic in Capernaum (Matt. 9:2-8 = Mk. 2:1-12 = Lk. 5:17-26)
  2. Matthew the tax collector follows Jesus (Matt. 9:9 = Mark 2:13-14 = Luke 5:27-28)
  3. 12 apostles are appointed (Mark 3:16-19 = Luke 6:12-16)
  4. Jesus teaches in parables by the sea (Matt. 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18)
  5. Jesus calms the storm (Matt. 8:23-27 = Mk. 4:35-41 = Lk. 8:22-25)
  6. Jesus delivers demoniacs in the region of the Gergesenes/Gaderenes (Matt. 8:28-9:1 = Mk. 5:1-20 = Lk. 8:26-39)

This means that, since Matthew’s obedience to start being a disciple of Jesus clearly precedes his appointment as one of the 12 apostles (cf. Luke 6:13), Matthew’s calling must have happened before Jesus healed the demoniac in the Gergesenes/Gaderenes (see events #2 and #6, above).

Further still, since Matthew’s calling happened after the paralytic was healed (see events #1 and #2 above), we can confidently say that the paralytic was healed (event #1) before the calming of the storm (event #5) and the deliverance among the Gergesenes/Gaderenes (event #6).  In other words, Mark and Luke’s ordering of the events matches the actual ordering of events (not Matthew’s).

This should not trouble the reader or challenge the veracity of Matthew’s account.  Indeed, Matthew ends the story of Jesus delivering the demoniacs among the Gergesenes/Gaderenes by saying, “So He [Jesus] got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city,” (Matt. 9:2).  This matches Mark’s ending: “Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side,” (5:21), and Luke’s as well: “Jesus returned,” (8:40). 

Capernaum was Jesus’ home during His ministry (Matt. 4:13; Mark 2:1; see also John 6:24), thus it was, “His own city,” that He “returned” to, according to Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts.  Also, a map of Galilee shows that Capernaum was directly opposite the region of the Gergesenes/Gaderenes, and so Mark’s account that He, “crossed over again,” would also point to Capernaum.  When looking at all three accounts, it seems obvious that they end in the same manner.  Therefore, there is no reason that the reader of Matthew needs to insist that the ending of Matt. 9:1 leads into the healing of the paralytic in Matt. 9:2, since Mark and Luke end their accounts in the same manner, without connecting that ending with the beginning of the healing of the paralytic (which also happened in Capernaum).

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