Forgiveness of Sins (in the Bible)
FORGIVENESS OF SINS (IN THE BIBLE)
Sin, in the Bible, is a personal offense and a revolt against God. It makes man impure and excludes him from religious worship. By it the personal bond of the covenant is broken, so that man separates himself from God and provokes His wrath. see sin (in the bible). To reestablish this personal relationship and appease God's wrath, man offers God gifts and sacrifices and seeks forgiveness by the intercession of God's favored ones, by true repentance, and by interior submission to God.
In the Old Testament. Many Hebrew words are used to express forgiveness: sālaḥ, "to forgive" [always with God as subject (1 Kgs 8.30, 39; Is 55.7; Dt 29.19)]; nāśā', "to take away" [Ps 31 (32).5]; kipper "to cover, make atonement for" (if man is subject, Ex 32.30), or, "to forgive" [if God is subject, Ps 64 (65).4]; various forms of the root ksy, "to cover" [Ps 31 (32).1; 84 (85).3]; and māḥâ, "to wipe out" [Is 43.25; Ps 50 (51).3]. So also, sins are said to be blotted out, purged away, covered, remembered no more, cleansed, and washed. And it is God Himself who cleanses, washes, and, in fact, "creates" anew.
One way to win someone's forgiveness is to present a gift (Gn 32.21). Sacrifices, too, appease Yahweh. After the census that was considered to be a crime, David offered holocausts and peace offerings (2 Sm 24.25). see census (in the bible). The sin offering, prominent in postexilic times, atoned for a sin committed in ignorance (Lv 4.1–5.13). Yet in an early and primitive conception, no sacrifice could atone for deliberate sins (Nm 15.30–31). To expiate the sin of withholding dues from God or man the guilt offering or sacrifice of reparation was offered (Lv 5.14–26; 7.1–7; Nm 5.5–8). Annually on the Day of atonement (Yom Kippur) the covenanted people confessed their sins and atoned for them by expiatory sacrifices. The high priest sprinkled the blood of the animals on the covering of the ark of the covenant, because for the Israelites the blood was the seat of life, through which one made atonement [Lv 16.14–16; 17.11; see blood, religious significance of (in the bible)].
Also through the intercession of His favored ones, e.g., Moses, God forgave His people (Ex 32.32–34). The intercession of the Servant of Yahweh (Is 52.13–53.12) went beyond that of Moses. The Servant's giving up His life as "an offering for sin" (Is 53.10; see suffering servant, songs of) recalled the ritual of Leviticus ch. 16. Yahweh forgave directly, too. For example, David was absolved of the sentence of death after his humble acknowledgment of guilt (2 Sm 12.13), although he and his family were to be punished severely. The prophetic doctrine (Hos 14.2–7; Is 1.18–20; Jer 3.22–23) called for repentance, conversion, and return to the covenant of God in order to obtain forgiveness. Certain Psalmists extolled contrition as a means to forgiveness: "Should I offer a holocaust, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn" [Ps 50 (51).18–19; 24 (25).7–11, 18; 31 (32).1–6; 37 (38. 2–9, 18–19; 129 (130); 143 (144).1–2]. Psalm 102 (103) is a hymn praising God's compassion for contrite sinners.
Just as the Exile was the punishment for rebellion, so the restoration and the new covenant would entail a cleansing from sin, forgiveness, and, positively, a new spirit of fidelity to God [Jer 31.31–34; Ez 36.16–36; Psalm 50 (51)]. Pardon for sin was also very much emphasized by the consoling prophet who wrote Deutero-Isaiah (Is 40.1–2; 44.22; 53.4–7, 8d, 10–12).
In the New Testament. With the coming of the Kingdom of God, the messianic redemption, which consisted in pardon for sins through Christ's expiation (Rom3.21–26), created the new people of God, freed from sin and reconciled with God (Rom 5.1–11).
Forgiveness was proclaimed in the Gospels by Jesus Himself (Mt 9.1–7, 10–13; Lk 7.47–49; 15.1–32; see also Mt 6.12; Lk 11.4). The divine prerogative of pardoning sin was transferred to Jesus in His role as Servant of Yahweh (Mt 8.17; Lk 4.18–21; 18.31–34; Acts 2.23; 3.13, 18, 26; 4.27–38; 8.32–35). Like sin, forgiveness had taken on a personal nuance with Ezekiel (Ez 14.12–23; ch. 18;33.10–20) and was so represented in the parables of Christ (Mt 13.3–9, 18–23; 25.14–46). In the lord's prayer, divine forgiveness parallels the forgiveness that a man gives to those offending him (Mt 6.12). The Servant
of the Lord gave His life as a ransom for the multitude (Mt 20.28); His blood was poured out for the remission of sins (Mt 26.28). After His Resurrection, Jesus declared: "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24.47).
St. Paul often personified sin and described the sinner as a slave to this archenemy of God. Consequently he considered the pardon of sin as an emancipation. God not only pardons the sinner but transfers him into the resurrected life of Christ through Christ's death (Rom6.1–11; Gal 2.19–20). A man redeemed by Christ becomes a new creature (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15), a new man (Eph 4.22–24; Col 3.9–10), in contrast with the old man subject to sin. "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have our redemption, the remission of our sins" (Col 1.13–14). The motivation for this transformation is, simply, God's love (Rom 5.8–9).
Johannine theology speaks of sin in the singular as affecting all mankind. John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as "the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1.29). Because He was the light of the world and life itself, Christ could rescue man from darkness and death (Jn 8.12; 9.5, 39; 11.25–26; 12.35–36, 46–50). As a result of His glorification He gave the Spirit to His Apostles that they might forgive sins (Jn 20.23). Toward the end of his life, John the Evangelist repeated that Christ appeared in order to "take our sins away" (1 Jn3.5), that His blood was the source of pardon for sin (1 Jn 1.7), and that He continues to be the advocate and the propitiation for the sins of all men (1 Jn 2.1–2, 12).
So also in the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is described as the one who by offering His precious blood purifies Christians from every stain (Heb 9.14), saves man (5.1–10), and creates a way back to God (10.19–20).
See Also: guilt (in the bible); conversion, i (in the bible); expiation (in the bible); redemption (in the bible); sin (in the bible).
Bibliography: v. taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation (New York 1960). j. giblet, The God of Israel: The God of the Christians, tr. k. sullivan (New York 1961) 149–163. c. r. smith, The Bible Doctrine of Sin and the Ways of God with Sinners (London 1953). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 803–808. w. a. quanbeck, g. a. buttrick, et al., eds., The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 2:314–319. t. c. vriezen and k. stendahl, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 6:507–513.
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