Forgiving the Unrepentant
This teaching is designed to bring repentance and forgiveness forward in a Hebraic light, not according to what is usually taught in Christianity. Christian forgiveness is often taught as automatic, even insofar as the offending person does not need to repent for us to forgive him. The Hebraic perspective is different in that it requires repentance before forgiveness can be administered.
What is forgiveness?
Definition of forgiveness
Verb meaning forgive, forgave, forgiven, forgiving.
…to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
…to give up all claim on account of; remit or cancel, (a debt, obligation, etc.).
What is the most common Greek word for ‘forgive’ that we will find in the New Testament? It is ‘aphiēmi’. It means to send forth, in various applications including to “lay aside”. ‘Aphiemi’ is related to sixteen Hebrew words, one of which is ‘kaphar’ (H3722).
Kaphar is the root of ‘kippur’, as in Yom Kippur. ‘Kaphar’ means to cover, to wipe away, to expunge transgression and restore the status of holiness to individuals, a group, holy object or holy place or region. Expunging means to make the sin as if it was never committed.
There are two other Greek words used occasionally. ‘Aphesis’ and ‘apoluō’.
‘Aphesis’ means to release from bondage or imprisonment, a pardon of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), and remission (cancellation) of the penalty.
‘Apoluō means to set free, to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer), give liberty to depart and even to send away, as in divorce.
The Greek word definitions are closely alike and there is no ambiguity in the Greek or Hebrew regarding what forgiveness means. Questions arise over what to forgive, when and how. This will be the examination here.
What to forgive?
Crimes (sins) against the Torah and offences one of which is ‘skandalon’, plain old misbehavior, in the Greek of the New Testament.
Leviticus 4 begins YHVH’s instructions on how crimes (sins) are to be forgiven.
Two categories of crimes (sins): Crimes (sins) committed through ignorance; deliberate crimes (sins) (crimes committed with full knowledge AKA rebellion).
A crime (sin) requires repentance and repentance requires sacrifice.
YHVH’s criminal justice system for His Kingdom is extensive. Volumes have been written about it. Ultimately, we must understand that our crimes and uncleanness create a barrier between ourselves and YHVH. The remedy is repentance which requires sacrifice so that we can be forgiven.
This same process of repentance and forgiveness is to be practiced between brethren, as well. But there is one caveat for people in this process that is not like the requirement for YHVH. When we repent to a person, we do not bring an animal sacrifice, although restitution is required. The restitution becomes our sacrifice to the person.
Conversely, when we accept a person’s repentance, we don’t require that they bring an animal sacrifice. We accept their restitution, instead.
When to forgive?
The consideration as to WHEN to forgive others is found in Luke 17. Yeshua said:
Luke 17:1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences – skandalon – will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!
Luke 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass – hamartanō – against thee, rebuke him; and IF he repent, forgive – aphiēmi – him.
Luke 17:4 And if he trespass – hamartanō – against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive – aphiēmi – him.
Here we see Yeshua making our forgiveness of others conditional on their repentance to us. This is in accord with the requirements of the Torah. In the Torah, one must repent before being forgiven. People’s unrepentance is one reason for YHVH’s wrath.
When the person speaks the words ‘I repent’ and pays his restitution (if such is required), no matter how often these words are said to us, we are to forgive him. That means we grant the person pardon for and remission (cancellation) of the offense, debt, etc.); we absolve (declare the person guiltless) and give up all claim of hurt or damage regarding his crime, debt or any other obligation to us.
Notice that our forgiveness comes upon the condition of our having 1) rebuked, or spoken to the offender about the offence, and 2) that person speaking the words “I repent”.
Forgiveness is not automatic without first the one offended attempting to correct the situation by going to the offender (Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3). This is how YHVH operates with His people and we are to follow His example. He lays on our hearts, through our conscience, our sins against Him so we know what to repent of. We are to do the same for our brethren who may not understand he has been offensive or sinned against us. Thus, we, like YHVH, extend the mercy of telling him so he has opportunity to repent. The righteous will always repent when it is explained to them.
YHVH ties forgiveness from Him to our forgiving of others.
Mat 6:12 And forgive us our debts – opheilēma, as we forgive our debtors.
‘Opheilema’ is something owed, something due, a debt.
In Matthew 6:14, Yeshua ties peoples’ debts, their ‘opheilema’ in verse 12, with trespasses – paraptoma – in general. There is nothing we should not forgive someone for when asked. Only YHVH reserves the right to not forgive crimes (sins) against Him.
SIDE NOTE: Yeshua, referencing debts – opheilēma, was likely including the Shmittah and Jubilees for His Jewish audience. They had been cast out of Israel for not obeying. See Jeremiah 34 starting at verse 8.
Yeshua had declared the Jubilee, the “Acceptable Year of the LORD”, when He read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue. No doubt He always had the Shmittah and Jubilee years of total forgiveness of debts, crimes and sins in mind when He taught the LORD’s Prayer, as well as the annual Yom Kippur which is also the time of national forgiveness.
How to forgive?
First, we should identify with the person who sinned against us. We must remember that we have, ourselves, sinned against YHVH the same way we are now sinned against. So, we put ourselves in that person’s shoes so we approach him the way we would like to be approached and told something unpleasant.
Second, do not talk about a person’s crime (sin) to anyone but the person who committed the crime (sin). Temptation to talk about an offender to someone other than the offender is the sign that the offender needs to be talked to. So, the first step is to simply speak to the person.
What if the offender refuses to repent?
Mat 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Mat 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Mat 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
If your brother won’t reconcile, won’t hear your complaint about his crime (sin) against you, there is to be distance between you. This distance will happen naturally, but Yeshua instructs us to put distance between ourselves and the unrepentant.
Distance, as in non-fellowship, but not forgotten. But distancing is often not enough for our spirit to be at ease. Something more is required.
Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
As we pray for our enemies, the pain in our heart eases and we guard against the bitter root. Instead, we remain, as YHVH does, in constant readiness to forgive should the offender desire to repent later.
“Blessing them that curses us” has the same effect within us that we would have received if the offender had repented. Our modern terminology is “letting it go”, “moving on”, “releasing it”. We use different terminology today, but blessing those that curse us and letting go of the problem is the same thing.
Sadly, offenders do not realize that unwillingness to repent and be reconciled is a rejection of both the person they offended and of YHVH, also.
Some describe this internal process of “letting go” as ‘giving it to the Father’, but for some people this idea does not describe HOW it is given to the Father. It seems that “blessing the enemy” looks different to each individual. I think this is how it is supposed to be. We deal with ourselves and others before our Father in fear and trembling as we work out our salvation. And each of us does this differently because individually we have different needs.
My personal process is to imagine a room that is situated in the cross-over space between this earthly realm and the heavenly one. It has a shelf where I place a gift-wrapped box with the forgiveness of the person’s offences inside it. This is a “blessing box”.
I am only permitted to put the gift-wrapped box in this room and nowhere else. I can’t ever carry it with me because that destroys the definition of the box for me. It is a “blessing box”, after all, and is full of forgiveness for the offending person. I also can never remove the box from the room once it goes in there. Only the Father can take the box out of the room. Only He can now deal with the offending person. It is out of my hands.
In my personal process, I only know that I have put the box in the room, but I never know if the other party has repented and YHVH has given him my gift-wrapped box of forgiveness because once the box goes on the shelf in that room, it is out of my control. It is as if I can no longer see the box.
Oddly, when I place a “blessing box” on one of the shelves in the room, the room is always empty. However, I never know if YHVH is keeping me from seeing all the other boxes I’ve placed there or if He has taken those boxes of forgiveness and given them to the people who need them once they have repented.
Our readiness, and even eagerness, to forgive also is a balm to the hurting soul.
After we go through our personal process, we should be able to retain the memory without the pain of the incident. We know we have succeeded when this is true.
When we fail to work for two-part reconciliation, our illusions of blithely overlooking the wrongs done to us by others, will only increase the pretense and [problems] of our relationships with others. The so-called “Christian nice” has a cost of being fake. Our bitterness will become unbearable; our wounds will drive many of our relational dynamics. We will see no reconciliation with others and we will fail to experience the power of the gospel in our daily relationships. Time will not heal in the sense of “harmony [being] restored.” While we might think “God gives me the ability to forgive him” when there has been no repentance, our thinking this way is foolish fantasy to do what not even God does.
Good article: https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2017/can-there-be-forgiveness-without-repentance-part-1 and https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2017/can-there-be-forgiveness-without-repentance-part-2