Forgiveness in the New Testament

Lochrie, John S (1975) Forgiveness in the New Testament. Master of Theology thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In the nature of things it is right that Christian thought should be much concerned with forgiveness. The aim of this study is to discover just what the New Testament teaches in this respect. Right at the beginning one important principle is set forth - that in our approach to the New Testament we must set aside all preconceived ideas and allow it to speak for itself. But if it is to speak at all clearly we must come to it with some understanding of its background. We must begin with forgiveness as set forth in the Old Testament and Jewish thought. The Jew recognised that forgiveness was only possible because of the mercy of God, but it was not earned on merit, but freely given in return for true repentance. The New Testament took over the Old Testament idea of repentance, and while it places greater emphasis on the moral content, seeing repentance more as a 'turning' to God than sorrow for wrong-doing, the New Testament idea is not materially different from that of the Old. By his teaching Jesus aroused much opposition from the religious authorities. He defined his position in his parables where he set forth a picture of God and showed that what he did and said was in accord with His will. Not only does he claim to be doing God's will, but that he was sent for this very purpose. Jesus did not only proclaim God's forgiveness, but went on to show how man could receive it. In the Lord's Prayer one of the main conditions is illustrated, that to be forgiven we must be forgiving. The Prayer also shows that man has a need for forgiveness and that human and divine forgiveness are closely related. But if forgiveness is always available, albeit conditionally, where does this leave the Unforgiveable Sin (Mark 3:28-30)? In fact it is not the sin but the sinner that is unforgiveable and this is because he has refused to recognise God's Spirit and has become incapable of repentance. For St. Paul the concept of 'justification' takes the place occupied by forgiveness in the other New Testament writings. His doctrine of justification restates Christ's gospel that God accepts even the sinful. There is no question of the sinner being made righteous, it is that because of faith he is brought into a new relationship with God in which he is treated as though he were righteous. A study of the language used by Paul makes this point very clear. In this faith, man's attitude to what God has done for him in Christ, is crucial, for justification is offered as the gift of God which can only be accepted through faith. If man has found this right relationship with God then he has also found reconciliation. Christian teaching acknowledges the gulf between man and Good, but goes on to show how in Christ that gulf is bridged. In the process of reconciliation God is always the reconciler and not the reconciled. The death and resurrection of Christ play an important part here. They show the love of God in its limitlessness and so remove the need for man's hostility and take from him his hopeless conviction that he has forfeited the love of a holy God, so making possible his return to fellowship with God. Out of the close link that Christian theology has seen between forgiveness and the death of Christ has come the idea of Atonement. The Church has wisely not laid down any definite statement of the Atonement, for this is something that requires restating by each generation in its own terms. Despite the varying concepts used, all the New Testament writers seek to convey the same basic idea that Christ's death was 'for us'. Jesus too seems to have understood his death in vicarious terms. The vicarious nature of the cross is stressed in many of the theories of the Atonement that have been developed. Though they are all deficient in some way, their fault is that they are the expression of men's experience and so must be inadequate in some way. The one point on which all agree is that the Atomement is the supreme revelation of the love of God. The problem is to explain the necessity of the cross. The basic idea behind the Atonement is reconciliation. Sin, which is basically an offence against love, results in separation from God. This can be overcome by a new flow of love between man and God. The cross shows God prepared to go to any length to accomplish this. In the end Atonement is possible because Christ becomes completely one with man in his situation. Despite the emphasis we put on the place of forgiveness in Christian thought, the references to it in the New Testament are comparatively few. One thing is made clear. Nowhere is forgiveness equated with remission of penalty. The basic problem is one of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation. The suggested separation between the two is one which can be maintained in theory, but which does not seem to be borne out in practice. Forgiveness is nowhere related directly to the death of Christ though there is a close connection understood to exist between them. The basic New Testament message is not that Christ died that we might be forgiven, but that forgiveness is freely offered to all through grace as the gift of God. The conclusion finally reached is that any attempt to maintain distinctions between forgiveness, reconciliation and justification is a purely academic exercise.

Item Type: Thesis (Master of Theology)
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Theology, Biblical studies
Date of Award: 1975
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1975-78714
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 14:59
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 14:59

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