Promises and Secrets

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A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.



As well known as this passage is, it is often misunderstood to mean that we must always be passive and accepting of any treatment. Many will be surprised to know how the word is really used.


21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." - Matthew 18:21-22


Forgiveness does not mean only what the average person thinks.

Have you ever wondered about forgiveness? We have all heard about the forgiveness of a theft, forgiveness of a debt, or especially forgiveness of a sin. There are times when this seems to be the reasonable, Christian thing to do. But, what about those times when the offense is too great for us to feel genuinely forgiving? What if the person who committed the act is not sorry? You know, the extreme actions like you see in the movies where one or more loved ones is slaughtered right before your eyes. Sure, these movies are dramatic and designed to make money, but these things also happen in real life. However, if you watched someone deliberately shoot your child, whether supposedly for a good reason or not, would you be willing to forgive them? What does it mean to forgive?

Here's one view

The other day, while doing some research, I found a website that presented some intriguing ideas about this subject. No, not off-the-wall weird ideas, but some educated thought about today's misunderstanding of forgiveness. This website is not one I would seek out for worldly concepts about politics or even scientific knowledge, as it is decidedly based on radical left-wing philosophy. However, this article, written by Maria Mayo, Master of Divinity, Ph.D., is titled 5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible. Well, that got my interest.

Their presentation on the site seemed to present some definitions that do not match up with the ideas of the average person on forgiveness. That called for a definition. Not from just the English dictionary, mind you. This calls for a definition of the word used in the Greek from the New Testament. But first, let's see what the dictionary says (from Google):

Well, that sure clears it up(?). Let's go to the definition of one of the words used in that definition (from the same dictionary)

OK. This is somewhat closer to what the average person thinks when discussing forgiveness. If you have a problem with this, let us know what you think.

Biblical "forgiveness"

Now, let's look at the definition of the Greek word aphiemi () that is used in the New Testament. That's the word that is translated into many different English words, depending on the context and the situation described. However, they are all a form of the word aphiemi (such as aphiesin ("leaves", Matt 4:11), aphes ("permit", Matthew 7:4), and aphes ("forgive", Luke 23:34)). The following is from Blue Letter Bible (US), showing the different Biblical meanings applied to the word:

Outline of Biblical Usage
I. to send away
    A. to bid going away or depart
        i. of a husband divorcing his wife
    B. to send forth, yield up, to expire
    C. to let go, let alone, let be
        i. to disregard
        ii. to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic)
            a. of teachers, writers and speakers
        iii. to omit, neglect
    D. to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit
    E. to give up, keep no longer
II. to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person
III. to leave, go way from one
    A. in order to go to another place
    B. to depart from any one
    C. to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned
    D. to desert wrongfully
    E. to go away leaving something behind
    F. to leave one by not taking him as a companion
    G. to leave on dying, leave behind one
    H. to leave so that what is left may remain, leave remaining
    I. abandon, leave destitute

But, which one?

These are the ways in which the word is actually used in the Bible. Some of them are not even close to the commonly accepted usage in our English language, and do not even approximate the Google definitions given above. Another definition taken from Strong's Definitions given on the site at Blue Letter Bible (US):

This definition from Strong confirms the validity of the outlined definition above it. One thing demonstrated by this is a need for context. If you say to someone, "I forgive you." and walk away, did you just divorce them (I.A.i), absolve them of a debt (I.D), or wrongfully abandon them (III.D)? There is a broader context here than the accepted one of just telling someone that you no longer hold their sins against them.

Context matters

Similar to the discussion about "the law" on another page of this site, just saying we are "no longer under the law" does not give enough context to communicate the proper meaning. Without knowing if you are speaking of the law of gravity, the law about murder, man's law, or the Oral law of the Jews, how do we know what meaning was intended? In the same way, when the devil "forgave" Jesus in Matt 4:11:

Do we think that the devil "forgave" Him, even though that's the word used? The context is interpreted by the translator and we are given his words based on his understanding of the language, history, and culture of the times. In some demonstrable cases, the translators of the past have added words to some passages that were never in the original documents (Mark 7:19b
(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

) or have changed them to say something not intended by the original authors. We know this because of the monstrous contradictions caused by these mistranslations when compared to the entire Bible context.

Back to the topic at hand

Going back to the research about the 5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible, the site uses five examples of actions, many by Jesus Himself, that many people assume mean something that is not necessarily intended. The myths they list are:

1. Jesus teaches unconditional forgiveness.
2. Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
3. Jesus forgives his attackers from the cross.
4. "Turn the other cheek" refers to forgiveness.
5. Forgiveness sets you free.

Your first reaction to these being myths may well be, as mine was, "What are you talking about??" But, if you read the presented material and the related passages, you will see the point. We often surge ahead without making sure we understand the passage as it was written, add thoughts or meanings of our own, and come to some conclusion that is not warranted or correct. While this doesn't mean that all our conclusions are wrong, it demonstrates how easy it is to get onto the wrong path without being aware.

Let's take a look at each of these "myths" and see where we are in our own understandings of the issue.

1. "Jesus teaches unconditional forgiveness"

That this is a myth seems contrary to what most people think about forgiveness. As you will see if you read our Forgiven? page, what most people believe is a fallacy and a misunderstanding of the concept of Jesus' forgiveness. The best example from Scripture to support this statement is Luke 17:3:

3So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,'' you must forgive them."

There are conditions

Yes, we must forgive over and over. But this is not unconditional. Christ gave two different instructions. Rebuke them, and then wait for repentance before forgiving. I am assuming that these additional sins in one day are different from the first sin, but there is nothing here to confirm that. However, the opening phrase "So watch yourselves." implies not offending in return by condemning others. Just rebuke and see if they will repent so that you can forgive. No further action is recommended as it will likely be taken in the wrong way.

Repeated sins, true repentance?

If your brother or sister sins against you in the same sin on the same day, then there is a question as to whether they have truly repented of the sin in the first place. That is why the advice is to rebuke them for the sin first, including the apparent lack of repentance as a second sin on top of the first, and wait again for the response of repentance. This indicates to me that your forgiveness may not be required in this second case if their repentance does not appear to be genuine. However, the actual words in red say that all he or she has to do is say 'I repent.' and you must forgive. Further rebukes for repeated sins as well as for the apparent lack of true repentance should make it apparent to the offender that his or her position is untenable and is actually a lie, another sin.

If you disagree, please explain what Paul means by his statement in Hebrews 10:26
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, (NIV)

or better yet, the NLT version

26Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.

? Forgiveness is not unconditional and does not cover future sins.

Also, forgiving a person does not require further association with them until they correct the condition. If they did not repent, forgiveness is lost - otherwise, why would they feel the need to come back? In any case, in Jesus' own words the forgiveness does come with at least one condition, repentance, therefore is not "unconditional".

2. "Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery" (John 8:1-11)

The question of this myth is best explained in the words of Dr. Mayo, from the site:

Perhaps one of the best-known stories about Jesus comes from the Gospel of John, when Jesus confronts a crowd about to stone a woman who was caught in the crime of adultery. Jesus interrupts the melee, saying, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7
7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

). When no one moves to attack the woman, Jesus says to her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again" (John 8:11
11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."


This story is often cited as an example of Christian forgiveness. However, the Greek term most commonly translated as "forgive," aphiemi, does not appear in this story. Jesus' refusal to condemn the woman is not the same as an offer of forgiveness. Further, Jewish wisdom teaches that only a victim may forgive an offender. Since the woman has not done anything to Jesus, he has nothing to forgive her for. His refusal to condemn her is more a lesson to the crowd about judgment than it is an expression of forgiveness.

While I do not agree with her logic that "the woman has not done anything to Jesus, he has nothing to forgive her for [sic]", the key point here is that He did not forgive her - He simply does not condemn her at this time. It seems more likely that, as far as we know, the woman has not repented, so forgiveness is not forthcoming because she did not request it. Any sin would come from claiming to be a believer and follower of Christ, if she was, then acting in a worldly manner. Jesus forgives all of us for things we have not done against Him directly, but are an affront to our claim to Christianity. And, then only if we are truly repentant.

3. "Jesus forgives his attackers from the cross."

This one refers back to the section above about "unconditional" forgiveness. Remember that one of the conditions in Jesus' instructions was, "if he repents, forgive him"? That was one thing that never happened on that day when He was nailed up because they did not repent. By His own statements, he could not forgive them. So, He asked His Father in Heaven to forgive them, as their offense was against His commandments. (Luke 23:34
34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.


4. " 'Turn the other cheek' refers to forgiveness."

Dr. Mayo's explanation for this "myth" does take some liberties in explaining the meaning of the passages by not including the statements about your coat and shirt, but the verse in Matthew 5:40
40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

seems to make this the result of a legal matter than an issue of force, so it may not be connected to the striking on the cheek. She derails the context of the passage by saying that this is not telling people to be passive in the face of aggression. The problem with that advice is that the two verses (Luke 6:27-28
27But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

) immediately prior to the verses she "explains" say exactly that. However, her point is that this advice does not refer to forgiving your enemy, just don't escalate the aggression by resisting or being vengeful. The concept is better explained by Romans 12:20:

20On the contrary:

    "If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
        if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

Which is a rephrase of Proverbs 25:21-22:

21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.

In other words, treat aggression with kindness and the Lord will reward you. However, this can be taken too far. An example is someone approaching you or your family with a weapon clearly intending to do you or your family harm. That is not the situation being described by Jesus or Paul.

5. "Forgiveness sets you free."

This does not come from the Bible. While a psychological advantage may come from forgiving another, the Bible gives another, more practical reason for forgiving others in Matthew 18:35
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"

22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26"At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.'

30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

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

. If we do not forgive others, we will lose any benefit that we might have received from forgiveness we have already been given.

While this concept is not taught in many sermons, it is right from the words of Jesus. Many believe that they are already saved and headed for Heaven, but you can see that there are conditions under which this will happen. Contrary to the understanding of most of today's Christians, if you do not stay within the will of the father, your forgiven status can be revoked. If that happens, you will once again owe the penalty for those sins for which you were once forgiven. That is not what I would call free.

Forgiveness is available, but...

Too many Christians today are mixing paganism with their Christianity, ignoring God's Sabbath day, and eating things that God calls detestable. These are all sins against God. This kind of activity cannot be considered as thanking Him for the forgiveness He has offered to us through Christ, nor is it staying within His will. In fact, it seems more like slapping Him in the face for His gracious offer (Hebrews 10:26
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, (NIV)

or better yet, the NLT version

26Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.

). We need to act with gratitude and obedience to show Him that we really do appreciate His Son's sacrifice for us.

You cannot be forgiven for a sin you commit for which you have not yet repented. Identify your sins, confess those sins, and then repent. Only then can you be truly forgiven.

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