To Plato, Socrates made the remark, “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.).
First read, this would seem absurd, of course God forgives sin! Does the Bible suggest otherwise?
Consider this, "Was Yeshua's (Jesus') blood poured out for our forgiveness or as payment for our sin?"
Forgiveness and payment are not synonymous terms. If payment is made then forgiveness not required. Conversely, if a debt is forgiven then payment is thereafter unnecessary. How would you respond if John announced that he has forgiven your debt, knowing that Jane paid your debt yesterday?
If sin could be simply forgiven, then would Yeshua's life-blood payment be necessary?
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, then is forgiveness 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 as the sacrificial lamb, John the Baptist said:
"Behold the lamb of God who takes away (airo) the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 NASB unless noted)
The Greek word here, airo, has more subtle meanings. It is used in Jesus' words to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up (airo) your bed and go home." (Matthew 9:6).
A world full of people have run up a sin debt. Jesus is offering to pay and take away that debt for any who ask.
No one gets away without paying the bill—someone must pay, the books must be balanced.
And according to Hebrews 9:22, referencing Leviticus 17:11, "...without shedding of blood there is no [aphiemi]." You may have expected to see the word, "forgiveness," at the end of this quote, but I chose not to use it as I find it to be a poor translation of the Greek word—aphiemi (pronounced 'a-fee-a-me').
In this verse payment, by means of shed blood, is mandatory. It's a contradiction in terms then to use payment with forgiveness, like announcing my debt forgiven after I paid it. That's ridiculous. If payment is made then forgiveness is redundant. It's paid! What's left to forgive?
The problem, I think, comes out of a poor translation, or rather interpretation. When the Greek word aphiemi is translated "forgive" it violates the congruency of scripture. The Bible has one primary author and He is always consistent and exact, therefore the translations/interpretations also always must be consistent.
Throughout scripture we are taught that there must be a blood payment, a cost, for sin, be it by the blood of lambs, goats, bulls, etc. Logically then, if payment is made, forgiveness is unnecessary.
Why would we petition God, or anyone else, to forgive a debt after it has been paid in full? Our prayers ought not to be "Forgive us our sins," but rather, "Thank you that our sins have been paid in full."
As His children, when others sin against us, we are obligated to deal with those sins in the same way as God does for us—because God does so for us. However, as relates to God it is different. The debt must be paid—with blood.
There are very few verses in the NT wherein, referring to God, aphiemi is translated as "forgive." One such being the Lord’s Prayer and another is 1 John 1:9:
"And [aphiemi] us our debts, as we also have [aphiemi] our debtors." (Matthew 6:12)
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to [aphiemi] 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—all paid in full.
The same Greek word, aphiemi, translated as forgiveness above, is used in other places with a very different (more accurate) translation.
In the following examples, compare the meaning by inserting the words "walked away from" or "forgave" as the tense may require:
* Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, "So the woman [aphiemi] (forgave or walked away from) her water pot, and went into the city." John 4:28
* when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow him we read, "Immediately they [aphiemi] (forgave or walked away from) their nets and followed Him." Matthew 4:20
* at the end of the devil's temptation of Jesus we read, "Then the devil [aphiemi] (forgave or walked away from) Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him." Matthew 4:11
* "in the same way also the men [aphiemi] (forgave or walked away from) 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 or walk away from) his wife." 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
There are many, similar verses where the one having something (in the examples above a water pot, a net, an objective, their natural affection, a wife) and walking away, leaving it behind.
This 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,” but not "forgive."
"If we confess our sins, He remains faithful, just, and enabled, to walk away from our sins and to cleanse us from the affects of that unrighteousness." (my translation)
This verse is about how God is able to remain just, as he deals with the sins of the world. Can a impartial God pardon the sins of some and not of others? Our sins are not pardoned by God, our sin debt is paid, using the currency of Yeshua's life blood!
If you owe me a debt, I could forgive that debt, or someone could pay that debt for you. Either way, you can walk away free of the burden of that debt. It is either forgiveness or payment—never both.
Hebrews 9:22 above tells us there must be a blood payment in order for God to balance the account. Our sin debt must be paid. Either we pay it with our life blood or someone pays our debt with their 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 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 for all time, that is sufficient for the sins of all who are willing to allow Yeshua to make payment for them—for all time.
Thereafter, the periodic confession (acknowledgement with remorse) when we have sinned, enables God to cleanse us of the consequences of that sin. The consequences of unconfessed sin is that it gives the devil an opening into your life:
BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Since payment must always be made for sin, forgiveness cannot be a correct translation for the Greek word, aphiemi. As pertains to the inter-relationships of people, the translation, "abandon," can also be correct since we are asked to walk away from the wrongs others commit against us.
The Lord's Prayer then would read, "Our Father…walk away from our debts, as we walk away from those of our our debtors." Walking away is possible because we are to consider their debt as being paid.
I wonder how the gospel message would be received if it was made clear that God cannot forgive sin. We all have eternal life. Where we spend it, heaven or hell, is up to us. Payment is mandatory. Either we pay our debt—with our life-blood—or we accept His offer to pay our debt with His life-blood. Which would you choose?
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