Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Posts are in reverse chronological order.


Yesterday I attended my regular Tuesday “kick-start” men’s Bible study at 6:30 am. We got into a discussion about forgiveness. Amazingly we got into a debate on whether we must forgive those who sin against us. We agreed on two points:

  1. If someone who has sinned against us comes to us with a contrite spirit, we must forgive.

  2. We can forgive someone who is unrepentant or simply unavailable (e.g., a parent, now dead, who abandoned you), and while the forgiveness is not efficacious, it very well may be (a) therapeutic for the forgiver (to prevent bitterness) and (b) a good witness (if done graciously) (Question: is this forgiveness or just an emotional release?)

Surprisingly we did not agree on the answer to the following: Are we as believers obligated to forgive those who have sinned against us but do not repent. And is the answer different depending on whether the transgressor is a believer or not?

Some of the verses (with parallels in other Gospels) that seem to favor blanket forgiveness are:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15, NASB)

My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:35, NASB)

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22, NASB)

The first of these, unlike the remaining two, does not say “brother”, which normally signifies a fellow believer. Maybe it is implied. None of these say anything about the transgressor having a contrite heart. But maybe that is assumed.

Another interesting verse which would seem to support the broad view of forgiveness is Jesus’ plea, on the cross, for the soldiers:

But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. (Luke 23:34, NASB)

It seems manifest that they were not all believers with a contrite heart. Yet Jesus asked the Father to forgive them.

Narrow View

On the other hand, arguing for a more narrow policy, we read

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4, NASB)

This, in some sense, is the most straightforward statement. It seems to state clearly that you must forgive a brother (fellow believer) if he repents. But first he should be rebuked! What does this mean? Are “brothers” held to a higher standard, so that repentance is required of a fellow believer before forgiveness is mandated? Are we to forgive the heathen even if they do not show repentance? Or are we not even obligated to forgive unbelievers at all?

Asked differently, is this verse a summary of how we are to forgive or just instruction for dealing with other believers?

I dinna ken

This business of forgiveness seems like a simple question that should have an obvious answer. At the start of the Bible study I thought I was clear about this—but now I am quite confused. Help would be appreciated.

For some reason it reminds me of something from my days as a professor. The best student comment I ever saw on a course evaluation was: “This is a good professor. I learned more than I had intended.”

Another Messianic Prophesy—Christ’s Ministry begins in Galilee

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
(Isaiah 9:1-2, NASB For fulfillment, see Matthew 4:13-16)

Something Completely Different

From the Physicists-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands department, look here. On the other hand, for a refutation, look here.

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