Articles home page

What is "forgiveness" according to the scriptures?

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015, video added May 2017)

Click here to download or watch video on Vimeo instead of YouTube

This issue of "forgiving/forgiveness" has become a spiritually and emotionally loaded term in English.

The Greek verb/nown αφιημι/αφεσις (Strong's G863/G859, "aphiemi/aphesis," and LSJ "ἀπό") is constructed from a combination of αφ/απο (Strong's G575, "aph/apo"), which is the preposition or prefix for "off-from" or "away" (i.e. something positionally "off" something else, or "away" "from" it), and the verb ιημι (see LSJ "ἵημι", "iemi") which means let-go/send in an active sense. So you have the sense of let-send/go-off-from/away.

Besides "forgive/remit/pardon," in other places in the New Testament the word is simply translated "leave," or something similar to that.

For example, all these instances use that same word, yet are not translated "forgive":

"Immediately leaving the nets, they follow him." (Matt 4:20, Mark 1:18)

"Immediately leaving the ship and their father, they follow him" (Matt 4:22, Mark 1:20)

"Peter said, 'Behold, we leave all and follow you'" (Matt 19:27, Mark 10:28, Luke 18:28)

"Leaving the precept of God, you hold to the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8)

"And leaving him, they all fled" [from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane] (Mark 14:50)

"Jesus said [to them], "leave her..." [the woman who was anointing Jesus' feet with the expensive perfume] (John 12:7)

"Leave the little children and do not be forbidding them to be coming toward me" (Matt 19:14)
There are many other such instances in the Greek, if you do a search on the word. The verb form is used 146 times, the noun form 17 times, and it looks to be about 96 times that it is not translated "forgive/remit/pardon," where the scriptures talk about something or someone leaving, or letting something go.

In English it is best to think of the financial meaning and use of the word "forgive." If a financial debt is "forgiven," that means it is "let go" by the creditor, so that it isn't owed anymore.

It is regrettable that I can use the following familiar illustration, but the average consumer credit card debt in the U.S. is now cited as being around $15,000, depending on how you go about calculating the figure, and a lot of these people will never pay that debt. In America, as most know, it eventually comes to a head when the credit card holder and the credit card company come to some settlement that the credit card holder will pay some portion of that amount, and the credit card company will "forgive" the remaining debt, absorbing that cost, and close the credit card account.

(Note: In America, no one goes to jail, let alone becomes a slave, just for not being able to pay what he owes, after foolishly purchasing more than he can afford on a credit card. The cost is absorbed by the credit card company and passed on to the merchants as a whole in fees, and to other credit card holders in high interest rates, causing everyone to absorb the cost, while the borrower gets a bad credit rating. However, I am not considering all this in my analogy.)

Anyway, once that financial debt is "forgiven," it is written off, absorbed by the lender, and is no more. The lender can never come back, have a change of mind, and bring the borrower back to account for that money again.

So, this should help to define "forgiving" and "forgiveness." It is not a feeling, but a condition where you do not hold the transgression to someone's account anymore.

"Pardon" is a similar English word, usually used in a judicial context. If a person is guilty of a crime and then pardoned, then he is let off, and the crime can no longer be held to his account.

"Remit" in English can have either the meaning of canceling a debt/punishment, or sending in money as a payment (to pay a bill, which would be a debt for merchandise purchased, until the payment is received by the seller). So, the first definition would obviously apply.

Note that a "sin" cannot be reversed or undone, so it is different from an "affliction." There is no changing the history and fact that a person committed a sin. It is just a matter of whether that sin will be held to his account, and by whom.

Jesus paid for sins, so that they are considered remitted, forgiven, pardoned, and not held to our account. If we are "Christ"-ians, then we have the same mindset and conclusion about others, including those who sin against us.

In summary, forgiveness is not a feeling about people's sins. It is a matter of deciding to "leave it" and "let it go."

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.