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Question: Why is it necessary to verbally forgive someone of their sins as indicated in these cases when Jesus' death and their faith should be enough? If verbal forgiveness is not necessary, why does he say that they are forgiven?

Jesus says "your sins are forgiven" twice that I've found:

The paralytic in Luke 5:

20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

21The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

And the sinner woman in Luke 7:

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The sacrificial system is very well established in the old testament that blood must be shed in exchange for forgiveness of sins. My understanding is that the death of Jesus is the sacrifice which fulfills this requirement.

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  • I think there are two questions here; one, regarding the sacrificial system, and forgiveness; and two, the significance of verbal declarations of forgiveness. If I understand this right, I will try to re-answer the question focusing instead on "the place of verbal declarations". May 27, 2015 at 18:48
  • I question the need for any elaborate reconcilation. He tells them because he wants them to know and be sure. It's as simple as that. Nov 6, 2023 at 11:55

6 Answers 6

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We may notice that Jesus 'saw their faith' and then said 'your sins are forgiven'. The interpretation that will not contradict the doctrines of scripture which has it that anyone with faith in Messiah is forgiven, can only mean this:

  • the words 'your are forgiven' are declarative of the condition that Jesus saw directly resulting from the fact that they had faith in him
  • the words are in no way required, or increasing that forgiveness that they are are declared to have obtained by their faith.
  • as Jesus was also God the words actually coincide with actual forgiveness beyond the mere recognition of that forgiveness

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.(ESV John 3:36)

Jesus could say to anyone that believed in him, on any occasion, 'Man/Woman you have eternal life, you have forgiveness'. He is simply acknowledging their faith in him and declaring their blessed state on that account. Jesus also saw those before his death under the old sacrificial system, if believing in his future coming, to also share in this same forgiveness and eternal life by the same faith. Even Abraham believed in Jesus from afar off and was forgiveness under the teaching of Jesus.

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (ESV Acts 10:43)

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (ESV John 8:56)

So we see the words are just a recognition of the sate of those who believed in Messiah and that condition would be unchanged if the words were not uttered.

Now the fact that the Son of man had the 'ability to forgive sins' means first, he is able to recognize and declare who believes in him without error, in addition, being one with the Father is at the same time actually forgiving those sins whenever faith is first directed to him. So althout we could declare someone's 'sins are forgiven' assuming their faith in Christ, only God can declare it without error and actually be the one who forgives it all in the same breath. So there is this extra dimension that appears to be the deeper trigger for your question, if I understand it correctly.

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  • Mike, (A.) You seem to be saying that faith alone, specifically in the Messiah, is enough to forgive sins--and that this is true under "both covenants". Yet even demons believe, and tremble, (James 2:19), but not forgiven. (B.) The Jewish point of view is repentance is also required, (in 1 Kings 8), which John the Baptist affirmed, (Luke 3:3), and Peter in Acts 2:38. (C.) How would your reconcile these passages regarding repentance? May 28, 2015 at 16:57
  • @e.s.kohen - yes you understand what my view is. Faith and faith alone in God's progressive revelation of mercy first commencing in the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, developing into Abrahams seed, then into a child born in Bethlahem etc. is what made people righteous from the beggining of history until now. But to believe this is to repent of all other views, so its the flip-side of the coin. So wether it was Abrahan or Rahab, outwardly righteous or not so appearing as so...simple faith in God's mercy no matter how vague it understood producing change.
    – Mike
    May 29, 2015 at 6:00
  • @Mike Except for the hooey about "as Jesus was also God the words actually coincide with actual forgiveness beyond the mere recognition of that forgiveness" your post was, in my always amazingly humble view, spot on, and actually impressive. I'd love to learn more about where you gained such a good understanding! Did you just do the digging yourself? We can take this to chat.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 10, 2017 at 0:52
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Question Restatement: How is Jesus' declaration, to forgive sins, reconciled with the previous sacrificial system.

If I understand this question, this question has multiple parts, (*I think):

  1. Was it necessary for Jesus to verbally state that they were forgiven, and if not, why did he do it?
  2. Jesus' authority to forgive sins;
  3. Whether the shedding of blood is required for forgiveness.

Why Did Jesus Publicly Pronounce Forgiveness?

Technically, forgiveness is a legal thing, (the cancellation of debt), and witnesses are needed for such acts.

2 Cor. 13:1, NASB - This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

However, this does not answer why Jesus didn't just say this to this man, with only his disciples present.

Answer, Part 1: The text states that Jesus knew exactly what was on their heart, and intentionally provoked them until there would be a "crux", a point at which there could be no resolution through debate, (whether he had authority to forgive sins)--and people would either believe, seeing the Power of God, or reject him, under the Wisdom and Traditions of Men :

Luke 5:20-26, NASB - 20 Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” 22 But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.” 25 Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. 26 They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

1 Cor. 2:4, NASB - and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power [δυνάμεως] of God.

John 10:38, NASB - but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

Reconciliation Jesus' Authority as High Priest

The Christian texts assert that forgiveness is officiated, by the Great High Priest, and the perfect sacrifice offered once and for all--no longer having to continue offering up imperfect Sacrifices.

Answer, Part 2 - From the Christian point of view, as the former law only "foreshadowed" this "heavenly/eternal" priestly service, Jesus' service as High Priest fulfills the Eternal requirements, and so would have authority, and fulfilled any temporal requirements reflected in the Law of Moses--which was only temporary.

Hebrews 8:1-6, NASB - 8 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 9:11-14, NASB - But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Sacrifice isn't Necessary for Forgiveness

The Jewish viewpoint is that there seems to be misunderstanding regarding the "previous" Sacrificial system--the way Jews today perceive it as well. See Atonement in the Absence of Sacrifices?

In exceptional circumstances, prayer was sufficient to find forgiveness, when the Temple/High priest were unavailable.

This is not at all incompatible with the Christian Point of View, that forgiveness was possible without blood sacrifice. John the Baptist preached the "Gospel"--repentance for the forgiveness of sins--even before Jesus began his ministry, (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 2:38).

In 1 Kings, 8:37, Solomon, very clearly, acknowledges that the Temple, and its sacrifices are unnecessary for forgiveness.

Answer, Part 3: If Jesus did know the heart of the person he was speaking to, he could legitimately say, and recognize, that they had been forgiven, under 1 Kings 8, and the "disaster of the Roman Occupation"--without the necessity of a sacrifice, or even looking forwards to him being the sacrifice.

1 Kings 8:46-50 - 46 “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; 47 if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly’; 48 if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; 49 then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, 50 and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them.

NOTE: Hebrews 9:23 seems to be the only exception in the New Testament, indicating that forgiveness cannot occur without "blood". But, this really should be addressed in another question. However, this passage can be reconciled in view of the passage/concept about the "Serpent being raised in the desert, (John 3:14)." Which speaks of "looking forward to," and beyond the "shadow/foreshadowing", etc; and also in view of the differences between purification, cleansing, and forgiveness.

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  • In regards to needing sacrifice for forgiveness, what about Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Surely if sacrifice is not necessary, then Jesus did not need to die? I'm contemplating asking another question to address this.
    – user640
    May 28, 2015 at 19:55
  • @Stacey, Christian texts state that it wasn't Jesus' "death", so much, that is significant, but his obedience unto death--even death on a cross, (Phil 1:8), and also that, obedience is better than Sacrifice. "*Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams, (1 Sam 15:22). Also, the issue of what happened "on the cross", is talked about here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/18632/… May 28, 2015 at 22:00
  • @e.s.kohen I disagree with your assertion. Surely, the Christus Victor atonement theory says what you assert, but I disagree about it being the best use of the word "Christian". I think the problem you have is that you read certain passages without looking through the lens of scripture, particularly Hewbrews 9:23. I would argue vociferously that the death of Christ was intrinsic to salvation, though not the entirety of what happened on the cross. If we allow Hebrews 9:23 to speak for itself, you can then interpret the other passages more fully and more correctly.
    – mbm29414
    May 29, 2015 at 2:43
  • @mbm29414 (A.) Hebrews 9:22 is significant, and its use of "almost" (B.) However, I think you are mischaracterizing what I said: certainly: "obedience to death, even death on a cross", is intrinsic, (Phil 2:8)--otherwise the analogy like "a lamb land to the slaughter," doesn't apply; (C.) Regardless of what we think about Hebrews 9:22, we cannot simply throw out 1 Kings 8, and every other statement in the Bible from the prophets emphatically stating that God didn't desire sacrifice. (D.) I am not certain how to pursue a discussion on this, (perhaps another question?), May 29, 2015 at 3:16
  • @e.s.kohen Perhaps chat is the best way, but I'll just make a small point here: 1. God's forgiveness is always based upon the shed blood of Jesus Christ, whether a text specifically mentions it or not. 2. God desiring obedience and not sacrifice clearly means that God prefers righteousness first (initial obedience) rather than righteousness restored (initial disobedience followed by sacrifice). I think you're trying to let each passage have its own say, as if that perspective is somehow unlinked from the perspectives of the other passages. Read them ALL together and it should become clearer.
    – mbm29414
    May 29, 2015 at 11:51
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It's a simple answer, so I'll be brief.

Clearly Jesus had not died yet, but as God's son, he had authority to do the work of God.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Acts 10:38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power

John 5:27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment

Jesus was in the transition period between the Old and the New- the new would soon be ratified at his death. In this time, God is speaking through Jesus to help them understand this changeover from the old sacrifices to the one perfect sacrifice.

Heb 1:1-2 Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. 2 In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son

Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Importantly, Matt 5:8 helps reveal who Jesus was.

Matt 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Only God forgives sins - AND those to whom He grants the authority to do so on His behalf. Jesus, the apostles and others - in Jesus name.

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Psalm 25:11, A Psalm of David

For the sake of Your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, for it is great.

"In the sacred words of Psalms, King David's heartfelt plea, 'For the sake of Your name, LORD, forgive my great iniquity,' encapsulates a profound request for divine forgiveness, anchoring itself on the significance of God's name. This passage reflects David's recognition of the enormity of his transgressions and his earnest entreaty for God's pardon. It serves as a poignant reminder of how God's name is intertwined with the quest for divine mercy and reconciliation."

  1. 1 Kings 8:35, 2. 2 Chronicles 6:26: 2 Chronicles 7:14: In these verses, a powerful message of repentance and reconciliation with God is conveyed. It suggests that if God's people, who are known by His name, humble themselves, engage in prayer, seek His divine presence, and renounce their sinful ways, then divine compassion will prevail. The verses underscore the vital importance of humility, prayer, seeking God's presence, and turning away from sinful conduct as prerequisites for God's forgiveness and the restoration of their land. Solomon's speeches in these passages impart a profound lesson about the interplay between sin, repentance, and God's response. They underscore the significance of God's name, the act of seeking His divine presence, and the necessity of turning away from sinful paths as crucial steps in obtaining God's forgiveness and the subsequent blessings of His grace.

Ps. 79:9 KJV

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake.

Psalm 79:9 is a heartfelt plea to the God of salvation. In this Psalm, the context is devastating: the Temple is defiled, and Jerusalem lies in ruins, preventing the execution of the Old Testament's sacrificial system for atonement of sins. In this bleak backdrop, the psalmist appeals for forgiveness of sins, not based on their own merits, but out of God's love for His own name.

In this verse, the emphasis lies in the glorious nature of God's name and His ability to forgive. The psalmist acknowledges the need for divine intervention for salvation and restoration, appealing to God's merciful character and His commitment to the holiness of His own name. The request for forgiveness is rooted in God's love for His own reputation and His willingness to provide redemption even in the face of desolation.

This Psalm encapsulates the tension between divine justice and mercy, highlighting the centrality of God's name in the people's history and faith. The psalmist seeks reconciliation and restoration, relying on God's compassionate nature and the supreme importance of His name in the pursuit of salvation.

In the New Testament:

Matthew 1:21

You shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.

This passage holds profound significance for several compelling reasons:

  1. The Name of Jesus: The name "Jesus" has its origins in Hebrew and means "God saves" or "Savior." This name was bestowed upon Jesus based on His mission to save people from their sins. Thus, the very name of Jesus carries the meaning of His redemptive role.
  2. Theological Significance: This passage highlights the central role of Jesus in Christian theology, as the Savior who offers spiritual forgiveness and redemption to humanity. It connects the name of Jesus to His mission of saving people from their sins, establishing the foundation for the core message of Christianity.

This passage is one of many that point to the mission and identity of Jesus Christ as the promised Savior in Jewish tradition and the centerpiece of the Christian faith. It underscores the importance of Jesus in the context of God's plan for humanity's redemption.

Another significant verse that emphasizes the role of the name of Jesus in the proclamation of repentance and the remission of sins is Luke 24:47. This verse is a commission from Jesus to His followers, instructing them to preach the gospel to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.

  1. The Name of Jesus: Jesus emphasizes that the proclamation of the gospel, including the message of repentance and the remission of sins, should be done in His name. Once again, this underscores the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian theology.

This passage serves as one of the foundations for the Great Commission, the mission given by Jesus to His followers to spread the gospel and make disciples of all nations. It also underscores the central role of the name of Jesus in the proclamation of the Christian message and the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Acts 2:38 KJV

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

This verse is part of Peter's discourse in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, marking a significant moment in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles.

Through the Name of Jesus: Once again, the name of Jesus is emphasized as the means through which the forgiveness of sins is obtained. This underscores the central role of Jesus Christ in Christian theology.

This verse is significant because it reinforces the idea that salvation and the forgiveness of sins come through faith in Jesus and the acknowledgment of His name as the means for this redemption. It highlights the continuity between the promises of the prophets in the Old Testament and the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ, making Him the way to reconciliation with God.

1 John 2:12 Little children, I write to you because through His name, your sins are forgiven.

The name of Jesus is central in Christianity. He is regarded as the Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God. The fundamental belief is that salvation and the forgiveness of sins come through Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. Therefore, the mention of Jesus's name in this passage underscores His centrality in Christian theology.

Matt. 10:22; 18:5, 20; 19:29; 24:5, 9; Mk. 9:37, 39, 41; 13:6, 13; 16:17; Lk. 9:48; 21:8, 12, 17; Jn. 14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-24, 26; Acts 9:15-16; 15:17; Rom. 9:17; Rev. 2:3, 13; 3:8

The recurring theme of "my name" in these New Testament verses emphasizes the profound significance of acting, praying, and enduring in the name of Jesus. These passages underscore the challenges and persecution that followers of Christ may face for His name's sake, but they also promise divine rewards for those who endure. The verses highlight the transformative power of compassion and kindness done in Jesus' name, the efficacy of prayer in His name, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit sent in His name. They caution against false messiahs exploiting Jesus' name and reinforce the notion that humility, faith, and endurance in His name are pathways to salvation and divine blessings.

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One does not exclude the other!

What does it mean to forgive a sin and even all sins? It is nothing else than healing of the invisible, most important aspect of our essence, which aspect is called traditionally "soul". Thus, forgiving is healing of the wounds self-inflicted upon our souls by us, which creates in us pain and pangs of conscience. This can be healed, i.e. forgiven, only by God, not by any angel or archangel, or super-duper-hyper-arch-arch-angel. When the Lord Jesus Christ forgives sins of humans with a sovereign authority, He plainly manifests His divinity and equal status with the Father, being the co-Judge with Him, for only God is the Judge.

The Lord clearly manifests that He heals the wounds and bruises of soul - i.e. forgives - by asking the handicap man whom He forgave authoritatively sins to stand up and take his own bed and go home, not just go home, but with his own bed on his shoulders (Matthew 9:6-13). He heals without saying, before saying even, because He says not "your sins are being forgiven while I am pronouncing those words" or "your sins will be forgiven just as soon as I will finish this sentence", but "your sins are forgiven", thus, they are forgiven already before the sentence is uttered. But it is uttered in order that humans know, the Lord Jesus Christ is God and authorized to forgive sins.

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The first thing to note here is that Jesus is God and has the power to forgive sin which is what he wanted to show to the Jews Secondly he was showing the connection between sin and sickness

The death of Jesus fulfills this but by this time Jesus had not died so their believing in Him could not deliver the full package, remember Roman 10:10,'with the heart man believe unto righteousness(so you believe and your heart(spirit) is made right with God), 'but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation", so benefits of salvation is obtained by the declaration of the mouth.

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  • This answer has nothing to do with the previous sacrificial system, nor is substantiated from the text. May 26, 2015 at 23:29

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