120 Forgiveness shared

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This page is part of the Jesus Database series and relates especially to 120 The Lords Prayer

For comments on specific petitions, see:

120 Abba/Father | 120 Your name be holy | 120 Impose your imperial rule | 120 Bread for today | 120 Forgiveness shared | 120 Save us from the time of trial



See 027 Forgiveness for Forgiveness

Gerhard Ebert does not indicate any awareness of the connection with harsh everyday realities in ancient Palestine, but he does pick up a similar theme to Crossan so far as "simultaneity and mutuality" is concerned:

Only here is the concise formula expanded by the addition of a further clause: 'as we also have forgiven our debtors.' That, especially in this literal translation in the past tense, might appear to be a condition on which the divine forgiveness depends -- or to put it in still sharper terms, an anterior achievement on man's part which obliges God to act in some way. But that would not accord with the facts with which we have here to do. Forgiveness is essentially pure grace, and there can be no question of its cause lying in some achievement which earns it. And even forgiveness between man and man would not be understood at all if it were placed in the category of an achievement. The man who really forgives from the heart has manifestly been liberated from the vicious cycle of action and reaction in which we normally find ourselves; he has made room for a totally different kind of action, which he himself has experienced as a gift. Hence it is not satisfactory to put the two in the opposite order either; as if our forgiving were merely something supplementary that is demanded of us as a result of our receiving forgiveness, For strictly speaking it is not a second step. The man who gratefully rejoices in forgiveness received cannot do anything else but let others also have part in it. (The Lord's Prayer in Today's World, 101f)


Joachim Jeremias [The Lord's Prayer, ch 3] interprets this petition as follows:

The second half-line, about forgiving our debtors, makes a quite striking reference to human activity. Such a reference occurs only at this point in the Lord's Prayer, so that one can see from this fact how important this second clause was to Jesus. The word "as" (in "as we forgive") does not imply a comparison; how could Jesus' disciples compare their poor forgiving with God's mercy? Rather, the "as" implies a causal effect, for, as we have already seen (p. 14), the correct translation from the Aramaic must be, "as we also herewith forgive our debtors." With these words he who prays reminds himself of his own need to forgive. Jesus again and again declared this very point, that you cannot ask God for forgiveness if you are not prepared to forgive. God can forgive only if we are ready to forgive. "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). At Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus even goes so far as to say that the disciple is to interrupt his presentation of the offering with which he is entreating God's forgiveness, if it occurs to him that his brother holds something against him; he is to be reconciled with his brother before he completes the offering of his sacrifice. In these verses Jesus means to say that the request for God's forgiveness is false and cannot be heard by God if the disciple has not on his part previously cleared up his relationship with the brother. This willingness to forgive is, so to speak, the hand which Jesus' disciples reach out toward God's forgiveness. They say, "O Lord, we indeed belong to the age of the Messiah, to the age of forgiveness, and we are ready to pass on to others the forgiveness which we receive. Now grant us, dear Father, the gift of the age of salvation, thy forgiveness. We stretch out our hands, forgive us our debts -- even now, even here, already today."

A little later in his sermon, Ebert explores the idea that we are creditors to others, who we have in our debt:

There is no such thing as a debt towards our fellow men in any serious sense of the word which would not also be a debt towards God. And there is no debt towards God which would not involve also our fellow men ... yet the fact is that we are here cited not as the debtors of our fellow men, but as their creditors. Why? ... Is it not a fact that from our painful experience of being deceived creditors we deduce the right to behave as little gods — breathing wrath and threats, as high and mighty judges? ... We are the image of God, according to Jesus’ testimony, not in being in the right and judging, but in suffering wrong and forgiving. That is what it means to be truly as God; not to imitate God in his majesty ... But to follow God in his humility, in his suffering, the incarnate, crucified God, to whom we appeal when we pray, 'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.' .. How precisely do we become so free from the power of debt that — precisely when we are in the right — we are not the minions of debt but actually free the debtor from his debts? Wherever it comes about that one man forgives another ... there a miracle happens. (pp. 103-06)


Hal Taussig (Jesus Before God, 89f) observes:

The core teachings of Jesus were very conscious of the realities of debt. A good number of sayings referred to persons at one stage or other of indebtedness (for example, Matt 18:23-24 and Luke 16;1-8). The parable of the shrewd manager who discounts debts owed to his master, Jesus' instructions about lending money, and the parable of the unforgiving slave all referred directly to the dilemmas of small merchants and peasant farmers who didn’t have enough money.

Interestingly enough these sayings do not reveal a consistent attitude of Jesus towards the variety of problems related to indebtedness. They do show a strong awareness that the problem exists, but they seem to resist consistently condemning either the debtor or the lender.
The sentence prayer "forgive our debts to the extent that we have forgiven those is debt to us" in Matt 6:12 addressed this critical socio-economic problem in Israel. Later versions of the prayer (beginning with Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer) have made it into a prayer about the forgiveness of sins in general. But Matthew clearly referred to debts, not sins, and thus appears to preserve the version closest to the historical Jesus.
This sentence prayer asked God for relief from debt, not to be forgiven for sins,. What an interesting double-take this occasions for pious Christians in our day to imagine that Jesus was in debt, and that he prayed to God to be somehow released from this indebtedness!

But, as with many of the core sayings of Jesus, this prayer had a twist to it. It not only sought forgiveness of debts, but committed Jesus and his friends to write off whatever anyone owed them. In effect, the prayer asked God to cooperate in doing away with the entire system of indebtedness.


Samuel Lachs (Rabbinic Commentary on the NT) suggests that behind Jesus' saying on forgiveness of debts lay the ancient Jewish tradition of the release of all debts in the year of Jubilee. This would fit with the way Luke portrays Jesus’ inaugural address in the Nazareth synagogue:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour." (Luke 4:18-19)