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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Paralysis

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PARALYSIS.—In the NT the terms παραλυτικός (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12) and παραλελυμένος (Luke 5:17-26) are employed to designate the nervous affection variously known as paralysis or palsy. Palsy commonly denotes loss of motor power in a muscle or set of muscles, and is equivalent to motor paralysis. When the power of transmitting sensory impressions to the brain centres is lost, we have sensory paralysis. The affliction is due to disease of the cerebral centres or of the nerves, owing to injury or morbid changes. In some cases the paralysis depends on removable causes; most commonly, however, upon alteration of structure involving permanent loss of function. There are two forms of paralysis: hemiplegia, where one side of the body is affected; and paraplegia, where the lower limbs are rendered useless. In the instance above given in the Synoptics the term used by Lk. (παραλελυμένος) indicates that it was not a case of hysterical paralysis where a shock would be available to remove the trouble (Bennett), but that it was rather paralysis arising from serious nervous disease. All three Evangelists make prominent the impression of Divine power and majesty caused by this significant healing work of Jesus. And St. Luke prefaces his account with the additional reference to the power of God. ‘The power of the Lord was with him to heal’ (εἰς τὸ ἰᾶσθαι). All the accounts likewise record a mighty expectation of healing on the part of the friends, leading them to overcome all obstacles in the path to the great Healer—an expectation which we may believe energized also in the one to be healed. The combination of a vitalizing faith on the part of the people, and the activity of Divine power and healing purpose in Jesus, was precisely such as was most favourable to efficient curative action. St. Luke’s account may be placed side by side with his record of our Lord’s words ascribing His healing to the direct action of the Divine power (Luke 11:20), and the whole compared with the statement repeatedly ascribed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, that the source of all healing power (as of true wisdom) was in the Divine indwelling (see art. Miracles). For the question arising here as to the connexion between the infirmity and human sin, see art. Impotence.

The case of the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:2-10) is marked by one feature which is significant. The patient was ‘grievously tormented’ (δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος), where, however, the description is not given by Luke, but by Matthew. The indication may therefore not be medically so suggestive. Bennett (Diseases of Bible) inclines to regard it as a case probably of ‘progressive paralysis attended by muscular spasms and involving respiratory movements,’ while Macalister (art. ‘Medicine’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ), on the ground of Matthew’s description of the pain involved, prefers to regard it as one ‘possibly of spinal meningitis.’ The narratives are, however, not medical, and their central interest lies in the centurion’s ‘great faith’ so warmly eulogized by Jesus, and in his simple straightforward conception of the nature of the power and authority possessed by our Lord. He compares it to the authority conferred upon and exercised by himself—on the one hand being a power derived from the supreme source of all authority, and on the other being absolute in enforcing and obtaining promptest obedience. It is significant that our Lord accepts this conception, and commends in the fullest fashion the faith of which it was a part (see art. Cures).

T. H. Wright.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Paralysis'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/paralysis.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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