If No Unconditional Forgiveness, Then What About "Father Forgive Them"
If You Say There Is No Forgiveness Without Repentance In The Bible,
Then What About
“Father Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do”?
by Rev. Renee
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment and cast lots….
Luke 23-34 KJV
One of the fundamental teachings that we emphasize in our ministry is that there is NO biblical precedent for forgiving an unrepentant offender (see the article “No Forgiveness For The Unrepentant ” on our site). There is no such thing in the Bible as unconditional forgiveness. God has a prerequisite for forgiveness, which is that the offender must repent first. She must do this by showing true remorse for her wrongdoing, doing everything possible to make amends, and most of all, changing her life and turning to God and away from her sinful ways. The biblical formula for forgiveness is repentance FIRST, THEN forgiveness.
Sometimes this teaching leads to disagreement with those who seem to feel that abusers should be able to repeatedly cause pain for others, while smugly claiming that God forgives them and that their victims have to forgive them as well- even though they have done absolutely nothing to deserve forgiveness. And they are most fond of citing Jesus’ words to our Father God, asking for the forgiveness of those who persecuted him even though they did not repent.
Many times I have had this discussion, most recently in a chat group to which I belong. Some of the group members have also experienced abusers and enablers using this scripture to pressure them to forgive when no forgiveness is merited. The devil just loves to cause confusion. But the Lord has led me to clarify this point for the benefit of victims and survivors, and in this article I will share with you the response he gave to me. As always I pray for wisdom and understanding and urge you to do the same whenever you are trying to understand an apparent contradiction in scripture. The Holy Spirit will illuminate it for you and give you the insight you ask for. Thank you, Lord!
To begin with, it is interesting to note that the footnotes in the NIV, NLT, and NASB all state that many ancient manuscripts do not contain this sentence. Also, out of all four accounts of Jesus’ death in the four gospels, only Luke makes mention of this remark of Jesus’. It is interesting and perhaps relevant that none of the other apostles thought this was significant enough to mention in their otherwise meticulous recordings of Jesus’ teachings. If Jesus really said it, Luke might have included it simply to make sure his account of our Lord’s crucifixion was as complete as possible. The apostles who were there and witnessed Jesus’ death first hand were in a much better position to judge his intentions at the time than we are. They might not have all felt that this particular comment of our Lord’s was something he meant for them to document and pass down to us as a teaching. Therefore I believe we need to consider whether we might possibly be giving it more significance than Jesus intended. It is quite possible that he was simply admonishing the centurions in the way that we would say “God forgive you!” to someone who hurt us, and not intending it as a teaching for us after all. He could also have simply meant that they did not know they were killing the Son of God, and so could not understand the vast implications of that.
The question of whether or not Father God actually forgave them despite their unrepentance is left unanswered and remains unknown to this day. There is absolutely no indication that the Lord did indeed forgive them and no reason to assume that he did. This would be nothing but pure unsubstantiated speculation.
Another interesting point is that three of the gospels make mention of the centurion’s and others’ reactions when Jesus died, the rocks moved, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two:
“When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God.’”…Matthew 27:54.
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”….Mark 15: 39.
“The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.”…Luke 23:47-48.
Could we not take this to mean that at least one, if not some or all, of those who killed Jesus realized what they had done and did in actuality repent? It certainly seems as if at least this one man did feel regret and remorse, or even horror that he had helped to kill the Son of God. If in fact any of those who killed Jesus praised God as Luke says and repented, then we know they were forgiven- BECAUSE they repented!
But in my opinion much of this is too deep to get into with nonbelievers who challenge that repentance is a requirement for forgiveness. They’re just looking for an excuse to be entitled to forgiveness without changing their ways- they’re not looking for a complicated Bible study. I find I can only have discussions like this with other believers. Those whose eyes are veiled have no understanding and are just looking to debate everything in the Bible that is not completely spelled out so that they can pick it apart, twist it, and find flaws.
Rather than get into a long drawn out argument, I prefer to simplify it by pointing out that the key to this verse is that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.” He is saying that God does not hold you responsible for sinning if you don’t understand what you’re doing or know that it’s wrong, just like a child who has not yet reached the age of reason is not considered responsible for his actions.
I’m sure all of us have at one time or another overlooked an offense and forgiven, because we knew the person who hurt us really didn’t know what he was doing, made a genuine mistake, is not normally malicious, didn’t mean any harm, etc., etc.
However, no one who has been in an abusive relationship can say that an abuser doesn’t know what he’s doing. In fact, he knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. Abuse is intentional, deliberate, ongoing, and often planned out in detail and in advance. It is also repetitive in nature, and the abuser keeps doing it because it works for him. Deliberate malice or disregard for the feelings of others might be hard for some of us to absorb, but one great book that really helped my understanding of this is “Why Does He Do That?- Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft.
Even if we wanted to give an abuser or controller the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really doesn’t have enough sense to understand that his behavior is wrong, or to realize the harm it causes, once we confront or rebuke him and make this clear, now what’s the excuse? And what is his usual reaction? As we all know, it’s never an apology and change in behavior. Instead it’s more abuse in the form of denial, lies, blame, rage, etc., and the behavior we originally rebuked continues or even escalates. This pretty much removes all doubt that the abuser “doesn’t know what he’s doing”, because now he’s been TOLD what he’s doing, and he’s choosing to do it anyway.
In this particular verse, Jesus does not speak in generalities but is quite specific. He asked God to forgive those who did not have the ability to know what they were doing and to understand that it was wrong. But abusers don’t have that excuse. They are not innocent or naïve and therefore don’t qualify for forgiveness on the basis of not knowing what they are doing. If you have any doubts about your abuser's capacity to understand that his behavior is wrong, then just threaten to tell other people what he did and watch him go ballistic when he thinks you're going to expose him. If he really thought he didn't do anything wrong, then he'd have no problem with the whole world knowing what he did. In fact, he'd be PROUD of himself.
So for someone who has the ability to know what he’s doing and what he did wrong, repentance is still the Biblical requirement for forgiveness. As for those who killed Jesus and did not repent, the Bible never says that they were forgiven despite their unrepentance. So I stand by my statement that there is not one instance of forgiveness without repentance in the Bible.
This is one of those instances where abusers jump on what they think is an opportunity to use the Bible for their own benefit. They add their own thoughts, interpret it to their advantage, take it out of context, make assumptions and jump to conclusions that are not at all supported in Luke’s gospel. However, if we read this verse exactly as Jesus said it, it does not contradict our position that God requires repentance before forgiveness.
Wicked people and children of the devil love to use the Bible as an excuse to get away with evil and continue on in their mistreatment of others. Abusers who try to twist the Bible for their own purposes don’t like to be corrected, but if they’re going to attempt to use the Word of God for evil, it is our responsibility to our Lord not to allow it. So sometimes we have to remind them that we didn’t write it- we’re just repeating what it says and obeying what it says, whether they like it or not. EXACTLY what it says. No more, no less.
Sisters, never forget that the father of lies, disorder and confusion is Satan, and his children will try their best to lie and confuse us so that they can continue their wickedness unchecked. But whenever there seems to be a contradiction or confusion about something in the Bible, it helps to remind ourselves that God NEVER said anything and NEVER WILL say anything that would make it easier for an abuser to keep on abusing, or a sinner to keep on sinning. There is nothing in the Word of God that facilitates or supports evil in any way.
I pray that this explanation will be useful to you when you are confronted by an abuser who uses this misleading argument. Praise the Lord and thank you, Holy Spirit for your gift of understanding.
ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU; SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND; KNOCK AND THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED TO YOU….Matthew 7:7
WHY IS MY LANGUAGE NOT CLEAR TO YOU? BECAUSE YOU ARE UNABLE TO HEAR WHAT I SAY. YOU BELONG TO YOUR FATHER, THE DEVIL, AND YOU WANT TO CARRY OUT YOUR FATHER’S DESIRE. HE WAS A MURDERER FROM THE BEGINNING, NOT HOLDING TO THE TRUTH, FOR THERE IS NO TRUTH IN HIM. WHEN HE LIES, HE SPEAKS HIS NATIVE LANGUAGE, FOR HE IS A LIAR AND THE FATHER OF LIES. YET BECAUSE I TELL THE TRUTH, YOU DO NOT BELIEVE ME! CAN ANY OF YOU PROVE ME GUILTY OF SIN? IF I AM TELLING THE TRUTH, WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME? HE WHO BELONGS TO GOD HEARS WHAT GOD SAYS. THE REASON YOU DO NOT HEAR IS THAT YOU DO NOT BELONG TO GOD….John 8: 43-47
THE MAN WHO ENTERS BY THE GATE IS THE SHEPHERD OF HIS SHEEP. THE WATCHMAN OPENS THE GATE FOR HIM, AND THE SHEEP LISTEN TO HIS VOICE. HE CALLS HIS OWN SHEEP BY NAME AND LEADS THEM OUT. WHEN HE HAS BROUGHT OUT ALL HIS OWN, HE GOES ON AHEAD OF THEM, AND HIS SHEEP FOLLOW HIM BECAUSE THEY KNOW HIS VOICE. BUT THEY WILL NEVER FOLLOW A STRANGER; IN FACT, THEY WILL RUN AWAY FROM HIM BECAUSE THEY DO NOT RECOGNIZE A STRANGER’S VOICE….John 10: 2-5
HE REPLIED, “THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SECRETS OF THE
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