Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Does the New Testament Say About Forgiveness?

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I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. Today I am writing about what the New Testament says about Forgiveness. Other entries in this series:
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  1. Slavery
  2. The Apocalypse
  3. Women
  4. Violence
  5. Sexuality
  6. Obedience
  7. Fear
  8. Blasphemy
  9. Wealth
  10. Binary Thinking
  11. Faith
  12. the Afterlife and Free Will
  13. Suffering
  14. Family
The New Testament seems to be pretty clear on forgiveness, it seems that whenever this comes up the instructions are that we should forgive each other. Of course, we have a few verses (Ephesians 4:31-32 and Colossians 3:12-15) which are big lists of things and therefore a bit unfocused, but they do tell us that forgiveness is something that should be praised. In my opinion the more valuable verses are the ones that are much more direct, and we do have a few of those. 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 tells us that we should be quick to forgive those who have done us wrong, and Matthew 18:21-22 tells us that we should keep on forgiving those who do us wrong. This is a really good thing, I think holding a grudge is a bad thing on a few levels. First, holding a grudge against someone can be emotionally draining, if you instead forgive them and move on you will be better for it. Second, if you never forgive someone, you can get into long standing feuds and if you retaliate you can get into some pretty long cycles of violence. It's much better to forgive and move on.

There is one potential downside here, I honestly don't think it's a very good argument against the bible, but it is a potential argument someone could have so I think it's worth discussing. The one potential danger I can imagine here is someone taking advantage of you, or harming you in some way. If you keep forgiving them and then letting them harm you again and again that is obviously a bad thing. But I said this is a bad argument against the bible, notice the verses here don't say to forgive and forget. It's possible to forgive someone and not hold grudges against them, and yet still protect yourself from further harm. You can forgive them and still remove yourself from a situation where they would be able to repeat the offense, whatever it was. As I said, this seems like a potential argument someone might try to make, but I don't think it holds water.

My primary source for these summary posts is my list of verses which I picked out as I read the New Testament. Given that I only have 4 verses about forgiveness, I wanted to look a little bit deeper, so I did a search for the words forgiveness and forgive. I missed a few that would fit perfectly well into my first paragraph (Matthew 6:12-15, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37, Luke 11:4). There are also a few verses that don't seem quite so nice. Luke 17:3-4 seems to say that you should rebuke people if they sin, and only forgive them once they repent. I suppose the message is still that you should forgive them, but it does seem a bit different from what was said before. Also, in John 20:23 Jesus is telling his disciples that they have the power to forgive people of their sins, but they also seem to have the option to withhold that forgiveness if they wish. I'm honestly not sure what to make of that, but it doesn't seem too nice. The rest of the verses in those searches seem to be all about God forgiving us of sins.

Of course, simply searching for forgiveness is not quite enough to get a whole picture, we need to think of the other side of the coin, I suppose anger is a good place to start. On my list, I have 4 verses about anger (Ephesians 4:31-32Ephesians 4:26-27Colossians 3:8-9James 1:19), all say that anger is a thing to be avoided, which fits right in with the main message we are seeing here, so we have some consistency, that is good. The other thing that seems natural to look at here is violence. Looking back at my previous post on this topic, we are generally told not to be violent ourselves, but God is extremely violent. We've got a bit of a "do as I say not as I do" situation. I guess that is not too different from the message about forgiveness itself, we are told to forgive people over and over, but God is unwilling to forgive us for blasphemy, and he will only forgive our sins if we follow his rules exactly, otherwise we burn. Nevertheless, I think the overall message from the New Testament is that we should forgive people, and I definitely think that is a good thing.


  1. Great observation on the "forgive and forget" aspect. I've seen some arguments, and probably even made some myself, where these ideas are unnecessarily coupled together. You should be allowed to protect yourself from someone who has wronged you, even though you have forgiven them.

    On the other hand, the "turn the other cheek", don't ask for return of something borrowed from you, and give above and beyond what is taken from you messages (I highlighted in this post) do speak of letting yourself be abused thoroughly.

    1. That is an excellent point. In fact, now that you mention it I have made that point a few times in the past, for some reason that didn't occur to me while I was writing this. Your post is great by the way, love the title :)


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