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The Synoptics on Forgiveness

Jesus' Practice of Forgiveness

Luke 5:20  When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
Luke 5:21  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Luke 5:23  Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?
Luke 5:24  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

Luke 7:47  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
Luke 7:48  Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
Luke 7:49  The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

Luke 23:34  Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.


Authority to Forgive
The forgiveness of sins involves a restoration of a broken relationship. There are two categories of such relationship - that which is between people, and that which is between a person and God. It was this second category that Jesus was dealing with here of which it was reckoned to be the exclusive right of God to forgive sins.  God affirmed that Jesus had the authority to forgive such sins through the miracles he performed. 
Ac 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know."
Reason to Forgive
Having the authority to do so, Jesus can arbitrarily forgive sins as he sees fit. But what was it about the three situations above that motivated him to exercise such forgiveness.
  • When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
  • Her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much.
  • "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
It appears that the first two he chose to forgive because of their application oriented faith. Whereas for the third he actually forgave unbelievers for their particular act of murdering him because of the degree of ignorance they were acting under.

The Gospel of Forgiveness

Mark 1:4  And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 1:77  to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
Luke 3:3  He went into all the country around the Jordan, 
preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 24:47  and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Matthew 26:28  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.


Notice the correlation between repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This is also consistent with the basis of Jesus forgiveness of the paralytic and the prostitute given above. Repentance requires conviction of sin and an application oriented faith which qualifies one for the forgiveness of their sins. But this is not salvation by works. It was Christ's death on the cross which actually paid the penalty for the sins of the world. But having done so, the demands of justice were satisfied, and as such God could now freely forgive people of their sins. He could have forgiven people unconditionally, but instead he decided to require people to be qualified to receive such forgiveness, and thus although such forgiveness is free for those who are qualified, it is not unconditional. It is conditioned upon faith (alone!). Having believed, and thus been saved, the saved person will go on to apply his faith in such acts as repentance and forgiving others.

Forgiveness and Judgment

Matthew 6:12  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:14  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Matthew 6:15  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Luke 6:37  "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Matthew 18:35  "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."


I think the parable of the unforgiving servant of Matthew 18 best clarifies this need for reciprocity of forgiveness. As the parable indicates, it is not so much that the forgiving of others who sin against us which should be viewed as a condition for our being forgiven. Rather it is the lack of such a forgiving attitude that reveals that one has not accepted God's gift of forgiveness with the right attitude and thus such a person is not qualified to receive it. As I said, the forgiveness of sins is free but not unconditional.

Another thing to note is the figure of speech that Jesus is using in the case of Luke 6:37. Does this teach that everyone who doesn't judge others will automatically be saved? For doesn't it say "Judge not and you shall not be judged"? This is part of the Sermon on the Mount and as I pointed out in that study Jesus is using a proverbial figure of speech, the sense of which is "Generally speaking if you judge others they will judge you, and if you condemn others they will condemn you, and if you forgive others they will forgive you." This is really descriptive rather than proscriptive, as it describes normal human relationships in a proverbial form.

Repentance and Forgiveness

Luke 17:3  So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
Luke 17:4  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."
Matthew 18:21  Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"


One thing to note here is the condition for forgiveness which is often overlooked in practice. "If he repents". Yes, just as Jesus forgave those who crucified him there are times to forgive sins committed against us done in ignorance, but for those of which were done consciously, it is appropriate that repentance be required before granting such forgiveness. For in doing so we are forgiving just as God has forgiven us - freely but not unconditionally.

There is a reciprocal relationship between our concept of God's forgiveness of our sins and our practice of forgiving others. For if we think we can sin so bad that no degree of repentance will allow God to forgive us, this may also affect how we place inappropriate limitations on our forgiving others - and the converse as well. Those of an Arminian theology should particular beware of this type of thinking. For there is no limitation on the forgiveness of sins for the repentant, regardless of whether it means us forgiving others or God forgiving us. 

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Matthew 12:31  And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
Matthew 12:32  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven , either in this age or in the age to come.
Mark 3:28  I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.
Mark 3:29  But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."


But as for sinning against the Holy Spirit, this is a slightly different matter as I see it. It is in cooperation with the Holy Spirit that we are led to faith in Christ. He affirms God's word through miracles. He opens our eyes and ears to understand the message. But if we cut him off, there is simply no other mechanism in place which would lead us to faith in Christ, and thus we are lost eternally. As such I infer that such a sin applies only to those who have yet to be born of God, as being born of God changes one's nature to a degree and one receives the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit - as opposed to merely its paraclete role in coming along side those who are being led to faith in Christ. However this is not to say that those who assume they have been born of God can or should necessarily allay such fears of sinning against the Holy Spirit. For how do you know whether you've actually been born of God, or whether the Holy Spirit is still in the process of developing salvific faith in you? Let us walk in the fear God being fully assured that what God had promised he is also able to perform, but perhaps not presumptuously confident that we ourselves 
necessarily qualify for the promise to be applied to us.

Verses quoted from the NIV version
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 23,2020