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God Cannot Forgive Sin

To Plato, Socrates has been quoted to say, “It may be that God can forgive sins but I do not see how.” (H. A. Ironside, Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1928), 15.). 

Consider this, "Was Yeshua's (Jesus') blood poured out for our forgiveness or as payment for our sin?"

Forgiveness and payment are not synonymous. If payment is made then forgiveness not required. Conversely, if forgiven, then nothing remains to make payment against.

If sin could be forgiven then was Yeshua's blood payment necessary?

You know, I think the Bible may concur with Socrates. God cannot forgive sin. Let me show you.

To "forgive" means to release or cancel a debt without receiving payment or restitution for that debt. I don’t think God "forgives" sin as we define "forgive.” Conversely, if a debt is paid in full, then forgiveness is not necessary.

It is very clear throughout scripture that God does require payment for sin such as the blood of doves, sheep, bulls, or of His son, Yeshua. Speaking of Yeshua, John the Baptist said:

"Behold the lamb of God who (picks up the tab for) the sin of the world!" John 1:29 (rendition mine)

The Greek word airo has more subtle meanings. It is used in Jesus' words to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up (airo) your bed and go home." (Mat 9:6 NAU)

In our vernacular, when one "picks up the tab" they pay the bill that others have rung up. No one gets away without paying the tab.

Payment is mandatory:

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no [aphiemi]Hebrews 9:22 (the Greek word ἄφεσις, or aphiemiis wrongly translated as forgiveness)

This verse is a contradiction in terms when it combines payment with forgiveness. We see above that a blood payment is mandatory. Imagine some one saying to you, "I'll forgive the debt you owe me after it's paid in full!" That's ridiculous. If payment is made then is forgiveness not redundant? It's paid, what's left to forgive? 

Our problem, I think, comes out of a poor translation or rather interpretation. When the Greek word aphiemi is translated "forgive" it violates the principle of the congruity of scripture. 

Throughout scripture it is taught that there must be a blood payment for sin, be it by lambs, goats, bulls, etc. Logically then, if payment is made, there is nothing left to forgive

Why would we petition God, or anyone for that matter, for forgiveness of a debt that has already been paid in full?

As humankind we are obligated to forgive (pardon) those who sin against us, however, as relates to God it is different. The debt must be paid—with blood.

There are very few verses in the NT which, referring to God, aphiemi are translated (poorly so) "forgive." One such being the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:12) and another is 1 John 1:9:

"And aphiemi us our debts, as we also have aphiemi our debtors."

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to aphiemi us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (NKJV)

In this later example John is writing to the body of Christ, those who have already availed themselves of the payment and prepayment of their sin by accepting Yeshua's sacrifice. This represents one payment, for all their sin—past, present, and future—paid in full.

The same Greek word, aphiemi, translated as forgiveness above, is used in other places with a very different translation. 

In the following examples, compare the meaning by inserting the word "abandoned" or "abandon" and "forgave" or "forgive" as the tense may require:

  • Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, "So the woman aphiemi (forgive?) her waterpot, and went into the city" John 4:28.
  • when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow him we read, "Immediately they aphiemi (forgive?) their nets and followed Him." Matthew 4:20.
  • "Then the devil aphiemi (forgive?) Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him." Matthew 4:11
  • "in the same way also the men aphiemi (forgive?) the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men" Romans 1:27
  • "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not aphiemi (forgive?) this wife." 1Co 7:10-11

There are many, many, other verses with similar meanings where the one having a burden (the pot, the net, an objective, natural affection, a wife) left or forgot about these things and walked away without them. Other ways this word (aphiemi) has been translated and the number times it was used this way are:

Usage: abandoned(1), allow(5), allowed(2), divorce(2), forgave(2), forgive(23), forgiven(23), forgives(1), gave...permission(1), leave(7), leaves(2), leaving(8), left(38), let(9), let...alone(6), let him have(1), neglected(1), neglecting(2), permit(6), permitted(1), permitting(1), send...away(1), tolerate(1), uttered(1), yielded(1).  Strong’s Concordance

Strong’s Concordance lists the different meanings used—not necessarily what the word means. In this case the word left alone is used 38 times. The fact that Greek is an exacting language, unlike English, suggests that this number of different meanings is absurd. In fact, Greek is so precise a language that it has 5 unique words to differentiate between different types of loveself-sacrificing love (agapeo), brotherly love (philos), parental love (storgy), sexual love (eros), and lust (mania).

The word aphiemi comes from two root words, apo meaning from or away from and hiemi meaning to send. Put together we have "to send away” or "to send from.” This then should be the root concept for any English words used in translation of this word. I have highlighted in bold those words in Strongs that carry this meaning..

A better translation for aphiemi is, "to walk away" or "leave behind” or perhaps “abandon"  rather than "forgive" or "pardon" as we understand the word in the English language and culture? 

"If we confess our sins, He remains faithful and just to abandon our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (my translation)

This verse is about how God is able to remain just, as he deals with our sins and the sin nature. Our sins are never pardoned by God! Their debt is paid using Yeshua's blood!

If you owe me a debt and I forgive you the debt or if someone pays the debt for you, you can walk away free of the burden of that debt. It is forgiveness or payment in these cases—both are not required.

If forgiveness (no payment) were a viable option would Jesus’ blood sacrifice be required?

Hebrews 9:22 tells us the payment with blood is an absolute necessity in order to God to wipe our slate clean. Our sin debt must be paid. Either we pay it with our life blood or the Lamb of God, or some typology of that Lamb, must pay our debt with His or its life blood.

Before Yeshua, it was the life blood of animals that atoned, or covered, the sins of the people annually. Payment had to be made. In the case of of Yeshua, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, it is the quality of his life blood poured out as payment, once of all time, that makes it sufficient for the sins of the whole world. Anyone willing to allow Yeshua to make payment for them can then, "walk away" from, or "leave behind," or "abandon" that debt burden for all time. 

Thereafter, the periodic confession (acknowledgement with remorse) when we have sinned, enables God cleanse us of those subsequent unrighteous acts.

Since payment must always be made for sin(s), forgiveness (i.e. pardon) cannot be a theologically correct translation for the Greek word aphiemi. As pertains to the inter-relationships of humankind, the principle "abandon" is also correct since we are asked walk away from the wrongs other commit against us.

The Lord's Prayer then would read, "Our Father…abandon our debts, as we abandon those of our debtors.

I wonder how the gospel message would be accepted if it was made clear that God cannot forgive sin. Payment is mandatory. Either we pay that debt—with our life-blood—or we accept His payment of our debt with His life-blood. Which would they choose?

©2014, steven, a man.

All publishing rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article for personal use; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.

Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.


Without Prejudice. © 2012, Steven., house of bij de Leij., a man.