Forgiveness

The apostle Paul hardly ever talked about forgiveness in his letters. Why is that?

It is true, of the 159 times the Greek noun, “aphiemi” or its verb form, “aphesis” occur (as “forgive, forgiven, forgiveness, or forgiving”), Paul accounts for only seven of those uses (and even then, only three of those times is he referring to “forgiveness” of sins or iniquities) (Rom. 4:7; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). However, we cannot draw from this the conclusion that Paul cares little for forgiveness or that forgiveness plays no role in Pauline theology. For Paul, the idea of forgiveness is an argument from silence, as it were.

Just as the life of the historical Christ is a necessary presupposition in Pauline theology (he never mentions, and rarely alludes to, Jesus’ earthly ministry), so is forgiveness of sin(s). When Paul speaks of Jesus Christ, he almost exclusively speaks of Him in His resurrected state. For Paul, the life of the historical Christ is of no accord to the Gentiles since He was fulfilling the Jewish Law. Likewise, forgiveness of sin(s) came with the crucifixion, where the new life (because of that crucifixion and subsequent forgiveness) comes in the resurrection life. Certainly, in order to be resurrected, Christ died. In order to die, He must have first lived. By the same reasoning, then, the new resurrected life (that which is Paul’s concern) is a production of the forgiveness that came by His crucifixion. Thus, the sanctification (the new life) results from justification (forgiveness).

The Greek word “charizomai” and its sentiment appeal to Paul more than that mentioned above. Its root word is “charis,” which is “grace.” It is defined as, “to give freely or graciously as a favor” or “to pardon.”

Though he can speak concerning sins (Rom. 4:7; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), Pauline theology is far more about sinners themselves, rather than their sins, as being forgiven (2Cor. 2:6-7, 10; 2Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:32; Col. 2:13; 3:13).

We should not fail to mention a few other terms that Paul utilizes as well.

“Paresis,” or “passing over,” does Paul speak concerning God and our sins (Rom. 3:25). He also enlists the word “epikalypto,” “to cover,” when quoting from the Septuagint, to talk about our relation to the Law of Sin (Rom. 4:7). He uses “hilasterian” to refer to God’s work in Christ of “remitting” sins (Rom. 3:24-26).

So, the idea of forgiveness is very much a Pauline thought, though he expresses it differently than the other (and younger) writings of the New Testament. For Paul, forgiveness speaks volumes about God and His desire to live in proper relations with His creation. This speaks to something far more than removal of a penalty, but to God’s grace in the establishment of a personal relationship – with God, with one another, and with our own selves.

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