by Sam Shamoun
Question: Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus had the sole ability to forgive sins. What are to be found are instances where Jesus says “you are forgiven.” This is no solid proof of his alleged ability to remove sins. One can interpret such instances as Jesus’ affirmation from God that the person’s transgressions are forgiven and it is not that he himself forgave the sinner’s sins. Besides, Jesus taught his companions a way to pray and in the prayer we are taught, “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” If the ability to forgive sins makes one God then the 12 disciples and everyone who believes in the “Lord’s prayer” are Gods too! If there are instances of Jesus apparently forgiving sins by saying for instance, “I forgive you,” then the disciples as well as all Christians who practice and recite the “Lord’s prayer” are gods. Why, then, still insist that this ability to forgive sinners proves that Jesus is God? (1)
Answer: Before proceeding with our response here is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer so that the readers can see what the Lord actually said to his disciples:
“He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”’” Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matthew 6:9-15
It is clear from the context that the Lord wasn’t claiming that his followers had the power to forgive sins in general. Rather, he was instructing them on the importance of forgiving anyone who had sinned against them; otherwise God would not forgive their sins if they refused to pardon those who had transgressed against them. This point comes out more clearly in the Matthean version which concludes this prayer with the following warning:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15
This is further seen from the following passage:
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.’” Matthew 18:21-35
However, it is vitally important to note that just because someone forgives a person who has sinned against him/her this doesn’t mean that God will necessarily forgive the offender. Nor does this imply that God will not forgive a person who has offended his family member or neighbor just because the offended party refuses to pardon their transgressor or debtor.
For example, suppose someone murdered an individual and is imprisoned. If the person truly repents and asks God and the victim’s family to forgive him/her the transgressor will be pardoned by God even if the family refuses to do so. However, if this same person is unrepentant and refuses to confess and acknowledge his/her sins to God then s/he will remain under God’s wrath even if the victim’s family decides to pardon him/her. What God will do is honour the family for not holding a grudge in their heart or for seeking vengeance. The Lord will bless them for entrusting their cause to God who always does what is right and just. As the Scripture says:
“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:16-21
And: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
It is vitally important to realize that all sins are committed against God, even those done to one’s neighbor since human beings bear God’s image:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27
Therefore, to sin against a human being is to offend and commit transgressions against God as the following passages demonstrate:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10
“For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” Psalm 51:1-4
David realized that his sin against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was ultimately a transgression against the infinitely holy and just God.
When we come to the issue of Christ forgiving sins it is evident that this was radically different from the way the believers were expected to pardon those who transgressed against them. In the contexts where Christ forgave transgressors there is no indication that he was pardoning individuals for some offense that they had committed against him during his earthly life or ministry. It is abundantly clear that Jesus is forgiving sins committed against God:
“And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ -- he said to the man who was paralyzed – ‘I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’” Luke 5:18-26 – cf. Matthew 9:1-8
And: “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and took his place at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘What is it, Teacher?’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Luke 7:36-50
As such, Jesus wasn’t pardoning people who had personally offended him… unless of course Jesus is God! In that case any sin committed against God would be an offense against Jesus himself.
To put this in another way, Jesus could only forgive sins committed against God is if he truly believed he was God. Otherwise, it would have been more than just a bit presumptuous for him (in fact, it would be blasphemy as the Jews rightly observed) to declare someone forgiven who had personally offended God, not him. It is like someone telling a person that s/he forgives him/her for offending somebody else!
This leads us to the other part of the objection. Not only did the Jews understand that Jesus was claiming to have the power to forgive sins, an exclusively Divine prerogative according to the OT:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19
The Lord never once corrected their understanding. He never once told them that he wasn’t actually pardoning these sinners but was merely communicating the revelation which he had received that God had forgiven them. Instead, Jesus went on to perform a supernatural healing to confirm that as the Son of Man he actually does have this Divine authority to forgive!
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . . He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” Mark 2:5-12
Jesus not only forgives and heals he also knows what people are thinking within their hearts! According to the OT these qualities and functions belong to Yahweh:
“then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men), so that they will fear you and walk in your ways all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers…When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.” 2 Chronicles 6:30-31, 36-39 – 1 Kings 8:39-40, 46-51
“When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, the LORD appeared to him at night and said: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-16
“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits -who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” Psalm 103:2-5
Moreover, by referring to himself as the Son of Man who forgives sins Jesus was clearly making himself out to be God since he wasn’t claiming to be just any ordinary son of man. Jesus was actually identifying himself as the very Son of Man whom the prophet Daniel had seen in a vision:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
What makes this particular Son of Man rather amazing is that he rides the clouds like God, reigns forever like God does, and is worshiped by everyone like God is (cf. 7:27; Isaiah 19:1; Psalm 68:33-34, 86:9, 104:3; Micah 4:7; Nahum 1:3)! In light of these factors it is evident that Daniel’s Son of Man is a fully Divine Person who appears as a man and happens to be personally distinct from God (i.e., the Ancient of Days mentioned in Daniel 7:9-10, 13, 22).
There is no doubt that Jesus believed that he was the One whom Daniel saw since this is what he told his accusers at his trial:
“But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’” Matthew 26:63-66 – cf. Mark 14:61-62; Luke 22:66-70
Thus, by referring to himself as Daniel’s Son of Man Jesus was basically claiming to be God in human flesh! In light of this fact should it come as surprise that Jesus taught that he could actually forgive sins?
Jesus further proclaimed that repentance and forgiveness of sins comes from believing and having faith in his name:
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” Luke 24:44-48
“Thus I journeyed to
Even God's very own angels testified that Jesus is the Saviour who comes to personally deliver his people from their sins:
“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:8-14
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1:18-21
The NT once again ascribes a function to Jesus which the OT says Yahweh performs!
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared… O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem
The risen Lord’s inspired apostles also preached this very message. For instance, Peter told the masses that everyone must be baptized in the name of Jesus in order to be forgiven:
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” Acts 2:37-39
Peter even performed miracles in Jesus’ name as a testimony that salvation and forgiveness are found only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ since he is the Author of Life and the Saviour whom God raised up to turn people away from their sins:
“The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old… When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Acts 3:13-21, 26
“The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in
“God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to
“And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’” Acts 15:7-11
Peter even believed that this was the message of all the OT prophets as well!
“And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in
The blessed Apostle Paul taught something similar:
“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the counsel of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw corruption; but he whom God raised up saw no corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:32-39
In one of his epistles Paul wrote that the reason why believers need to forgive one another is because the Lord Jesus has forgiven them:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord… Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord… Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:12-13, 17-18, 20, 22-24
The blessed Apostle further wrote that God forgives all true believers for the sake of Christ, because of what Christ has done for them on the cross,
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” Colossians 1:13-14, 19-22
“to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:6-7
“and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in [because of/for the sake of] Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
As if this weren’t amazing enough Paul proclaimed that Jesus is the Great God and Saviour who has redeemed a people for his own possession!
“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14
In conclusion, it is evident from our examination that the disciples did not have the ability to forgive sins the way the Lord Jesus did and continues to do. Nor was Jesus merely affirming that God (the Father) had forgiven the trespasses of these individuals, as opposed to pardoning their sins himself. Both the language and the context of these NT passages emphatically testify that Jesus himself forgave people their sins since he is the Divine Son of Man and unique Son of God who performs the very works that only God can do:
“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For JUST AS the Father raises the dead and gives them life, EVEN SO the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son JUST AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of
Amen! Come Lord Jesus, come! You are our great God and Saviour who forgives all our sins and redeems us from every lawless deed in order that we might live in such a way as to bring you glory, honour, and praise! We love and adore you, O risen Lord of glory! Amen.
(1) This particular objection was taken and adapted from this article.
The readers will find it under the entry listed as 3. Jesus is God because he forgave sins which is God’s exclusive prerogative. In another post the dawagandist raised this same objection, but this time he had to deliberately misquote the Lord’s Prayer in order to make his case!
Further more, have you forgotten the Lord’s prayer? Jesus taught his companions a way to pray and in the prayer we are taught,” Forgive our sins as WE FORGIVE the sins of others”. If the ability to forgive sins makes one God.. then the 12 disciples and everyone who believes in the “Lord’s prayer” are Gods too..are they? (Ibn Anwar, November 29, 2007 at 7:09 am)
As we already saw that is not what the Lord’s Prayer says. It is obvious that the polemicist was trying to do everything he can to weaken this rather strong case for Jesus’ Deity to the extent that he felt it necessary to twist the words of the Lord Jesus. In doing so the dawagandist has deceived his readers into thinking that Jesus claimed that his followers also had the ability to forgive sins in general, not just offenses committed against them, when in fact the Lord never made such an assertion.
The rest of this neophyte’s points have already been addressed and thoroughly refuted in our articles and rebuttals that can be found in the following links: