Response to Dr. Mark Jones’ “Charleston: Forgiveness Without Repentance,” REFORMATION21.ORG”

Reply to an article posted: .

I basically agree with Dr. Mark Jones on the main points he is making, but I find his distinction between forgiving guilt and harm, and assertion that one can only sin against God to be a bit artificial, lacking in clear biblical support (e.g. Gen 42:22, 1 Sam 19:4, 5, Mat 18:21-35). That said on the main points, including the upright and loving way to respond to these grieving victims, I am in full agreement.

This topic of forgiving others who have not expressed repentance is one of the very few on which the late Rev. Charles G. Dennison (my former pastor) and I (once) disagreed, and on which he never persuaded me. He believed that we need not forgive others until they express repentance. I believed and still do that we must forgive others asap, not waiting for express repentance.

The verse Dr. Jones supplied at the end of his article, Mark 11:25, is clear enough on this to prove, to my thinking. Matthew 6, Jesus’ teaching on piety in the kingdom, clinches it. The Lord’s Prayer has a textual difference between the so called Alexandrian text form (NASB/NIV/ESV/NRSV) and the TR&Majority text (KJV/NKJV):

KJV: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

NAU: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

The difference is the tense of the verb, forgive: present (KJV) vs. perfect (NASB, etc.). The word rendered “as” by both translations, hos, means, ‘as’, ‘in the same way as’, or ‘in such a way as’ (Fribergs) or ‘according as’ (Liddell and Scott). It introduces an adverbial clause in such a way that the clause modifies the imperatival petition, ‘forgive [us]’. In other words, the petitioner is seeking to be forgiven in the same way as he has (already) forgiven his debtors (NASB) or in the same way as he (habitually) forgives his debtors (KJV) – presumably all of his debtors!

If the former is the correct textual reading, then every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer or every time we pray according to its pattern, seeking forgiveness, we are affirming to God that we have already (nuance of the perfect tense) forgiven (all of ) our debtors. If we have not really forgiven them, then we should not expect real forgiveness from God, since we are seeking the same sort of forgiveness that we have already bestowed upon others.

If the latter reading is correct, in the end there is little difference, since we are seeking the same sort of forgiveness that we habitually bestow upon those who have sinned against us. The result is perhaps not quite as clear as in the reading assumed by the NASB, but the difference is not substantial.

Whichever reading one takes, Jesus dots the ‘I’ and crosses the ‘T’ a few verses later when, harking back to this verse by means of the conjunction, ‘for’, He warns:

“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.”

To find wiggle room in this warning, one must read it in. Jesus places no condition on, “if you do not forgive others …”  Those who hold to the other interpretation must read in something such as, “… when they repent.” This is a precarious act. There is nothing in the verse, much less in the preceding context to which ‘for’ refers, to justify such eisegesis.  Matthew was written well before Luke.  Luke would presuppose his readers knowledge of Matthew, but not vice-verse.

My understanding of Gal 6:1-2 also requires this understanding, since I believe that the reference to the Law of Christ, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,” is to forgiving ahead of time (“bearing the sin as He bore ours”), before going to bring the miscreant to repentance.

The Luke passage, as written, is consistent with Matthew 6, as written, since it is talking about how to respond to the brother who sins against you over and over (even in the same day) and comes to you verbalizing repentance – something, humanly speaking, bordering on the irrational.  Rigorously speaking, “if he repents forgive him,” does not necessarily implicate, “if he does not repent, do not forgive him.”  Mat 6 and Gal 6 are teaching fundamentally about our heart’s posture, irrespective of whether or not we have yet spoken to the offender since the offense was committed. Luke is not setting forth necessary conditions for us to forgive in our hearts, but is emphasizing the limitless nature of the forgiveness we must offer to others. After all we certainly need such limitless forgiveness from God.

I join Dr. Jones in commending the godly, loving, Christlike response of the surviving Christian relatives of the nine martyrs of the Charleston massacre.


About woody lauer

Husband of Laurie, Father of 7, Grandfather of 5 OPC missionary at Kita Numazu RCJ chapel Adjunct Faculty at Kobe Theological Hall
This entry was posted in Ethics, Gospels, Gospels and Paul, Matthean Priority, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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