Does God Forgive Sin? No! God Forgives Sinners

Fellow Christians,

I believe there’s a strong theological argument to me made from the premise that God cannot or does not forgive sin . The fundamental tenet of my premise is that a sin cannot both be simultaneously forgiven and paid for. The argument is now plain to you, since the Lord Christ paid for our sins, our sins are not forgiven, they are propitiated.

The objection that will be raised is predicated on Scripture declaring that God forgives (our, my, your, Israel’s) sin(s) (2 Chronicles 7:14; Matthew 26:28; Acts 3:19, 10:43; Colossians 1:13-14). I posit the verb forgive is transitive and requires an object (me, you, them, they, etc.). This changes the exegesis from God forgiving our sins to God forgiving us (our sins)—that is, God forgives sinners, not sins (1 John 1:9; Matthew 6:14-15). Thus, the verses indicating the forgiveness of sins is a translational artifact and the forgiveness of the sinner is always implied. As a sanity check, what sin does God forgive that Christ hasn’t paid for? And if there is one, why did Christ have to die? Did His Father send Him to the cross w/o necessity/justification?

There are a plurality of profound implications of God forgiving sinners but not sins. One is a fresh understanding of the beginning of Christ’s passion in the garden (e.g., pleading with His Father to take the cup away if there was any other way—obviously there was not—sins had to be paid for, in blood).

Another reason to reject the notion that God forgives sins is the linguistic and logical contradictions implied. Specifically, if the sin is forgiven, what does that mean? If the sin is forgiven the sinner is not necessarily forgiven, both the sin and the sinner require explicit forgiveness under this scenario. As an example, the sin may be theft, so if God forgives the theft, does He also forgive the thief? Not necessarily, there is a distinction between the sin and the sinner, and what’s important here that sin or sinner is forgiven? Clearly, the sinner being forgiven is the only outcome of importance and merit. In fact, the concept of the sin being forgiven is a contradiction—the sinful act itself is a matter of historical fact and is incapable of being forgiven, a forgiven de facto condition is undefinable, only a person can be forgiven.

Your thoughts?

In my understanding, Christ paid for our Salvation if we belive in Jesus, not our sin. Think of how they thought about sacrifice for the forgivenss of sins in the OT. It was not stated that in the OT when they made a sacrifice that the sinner was forgiven, but the sins of the Israelites as a collective were forgiven. Christ ransomed for our salvation, but also endured God’s wrath of punishment for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 2:9 (ESV) Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

In this verse it captures Jesus ability to not only forgive us our sins, but to Save us as well. Jesus did both here as separate categorigories.

I will think about what you said. Would like to see how you respond.

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This idea is something I read in Frances Schaeffer’s commentary on Romans.

I think the idea of sins being paid for makes a lot of sense. Especially when it comes down to a sense of justice. If sin is simply forgiven what is the justice in that? However, Christ taking the punishment for our sin, and therefore paying the debt caused by sin, keeps in tact an ultimate justice.

God’s grace and mercy come into play by the fact that God took this upon himself.

I would be interested to hear the theological issues with this point of view if anyone disagrees.

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Hello Jesse,

Thank you for the insight, comments, and questions.

First wrt salvation, may I ask you what do you believe it is? I don’t want to comment on this until I know your perspective (thanks).

Second, the verse you cite is an excellent example. Mark 2:9 states per the ESV “… ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say…” Please note that the direct object of the verb forgive is cited (your). However, the KJ21 relates it as “… ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or to say…” In the latter translation, both direct and indirect objects of the verb forgive are cited (Thy and thee). It is true that most English translations omit the indirect object, but the original Greek manuscripts (mss) include it (more on this later).

Matthew and Luke also relate this same passage, worded slightly differently. Matt. 9:1-8 in the ESV states “… your sins are forgiven.” The KJV states it as “… thy sins be forgiven thee.” Thus, a similar mix of translations render the verse with and without the indirect object of the verb explicitly stated but all include the direct object. Luke 5:17-26 also relates this passage. Here, the ESV renders it as “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” So, even the ESV retains the indirect object of the verb in Luke’s rendering. The plurality of translations also yield a similar mix of renderings with and without the indirect object of the verb.

The grammatical question boils down to what receives the action of the verb forgive, sins or sinner? My first premise is that it’s meaningless to portend that sins receive forgiveness since sins are historical facts, mere abstractions, not entities (not objects). My second premise is that only the sinner, an entity and an object, and direct object of the verb forgive can receive forgiveness. My conclusion is therefore that God forgives sinners not sins. Thus, the deductive syllogism holds.

As a practical example. If person A stole $5 from person B, a sin was committed, theft. Therefore, person B suffered loss due to the actions of person A. Let’s further contend that person A felt remorseful and returned the $5 and gave a sincere apology to person B. Thus, person B suffered no persisting loss and the incident is in the past. So, the sin no longer exists in the present and the result of the sin (loss) no longer exists in the present. There persists (now, in the present and into the future) only the knowledge of the past state of sin. So, if God decides to forgive in this case, can He forgive the sin or only the sinner? How can God (or anyone) forgive that which doesn’t exist? How can God forgive an abstraction? What does that even mean? Yet, when we say God forgives the sinner, we know exactly what that means.

Now to the Greek, the Mark 2:9 passage is:
“
”

The Greek says, “are forgiven your sins” or equivalently “you are forgiven your sins.” Here,  (your) is the direct object of the verb. The indirect object  is translated by some scholars as you (other scholars omit it altogether as already discussed; but it is in the Greek texts). I posit that the double inclusion of the (direct and indirect) objects in the Greek reinforces that the recipient of the action of forgiveness is the sinner (not the sin). My Greek is far from “OK” (as is also my English), so I defer to those more learned in these matters.

The bottom-line is that, I believe, God forgives sinners not sins; sins are paid for, either by Jesus or by us. God’s justice is thus preserved while providing grace thru the atonement provided by Christ.

Hello Joshua,

Thank you for your propositions and the question.

First, I agree with your propositions, they are consistent with an orthodox reading of Scripture (in my opinion). Specifically, since evangelical orthodoxy holds that salvation consists as a progressive, substantially serial, process in three imperatives: 1) justification; 2) sanctification; and 3) glorification. In fact, there is one verse in the NT that contains all three tenses of salvation, 2 Cor 1:10, which, referring to Jesus as our deliverer says (KJV):

“…who delivered us from so great a death, and [a] does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us .”

This verse says (in some translations) that Jesus delivered (past tense), is delivering (present tense), and will deliver (future tense). Some theologians equate these three tenses with justification, sanctification, and glorification.

2 Timothy 1:9 is sometimes cited as indicative of justification. It states “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life…” The verse indicates both a past salvific tense and a call to live an obedient life which relates to deliverance from sin (e.g., we have been justified, therefore we must abstain from sin). 1 Corinthians 1:18 is oft quoted in reference to present salvific tense; it states “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This verse contrasts those who are perishing with those who are being saved; the implication is those who are being saved are being sanctified. Romans 8:30 is cited as an example of the future salvific tense and our future state of glorified redemption (the final state of the salvation process); it says “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So, salvation is the progressive serial process of justification (done deal), sanctification (WIP), and glorification (future state).

Second, a non-critical reading of the progressive serial steps in the salvific process seems to indicate that Jesus is central to the first and third steps (justification and glorification), and the Holy Spirit is indicated as central in the second step (sanctification). Your question asked for a discussion of the theological issues relating to the cost of salvation to God viz. the propitiation of Jesus. I believe, in accordance with your statement that the central theme is God’s offer of grace to sinners while simultaneously maintain His justice by taking upon Himself our guilt and the consequence thereof.

This leads full circle back to God’s offer of salvation while maintaining His justice. To instantiate this contradictory dichotomy, I posit, God forgives sinners not sins and He Himself pays our sin debt, simultaneously preserving and advancing both His love and justice.