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The text at hand:

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭23‬:‭34‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Many English translations still say “forgive”.

The definition of the Greek word that Jesus used for forgive (Jesus likely spoke Aramaic of course) is listed below:

ἀφίημι (aphiēmi)

Gloss: to forgive, pardon, remit, cancel; to leave, abandon; to allow, permit, tolerate

Definition: to send away, dismiss, suffer to depart; to emit, send forth;, τὴν φωνήν, the voice, to cry out, utter an exclamation, Mk. 15:37; τὸ πνεῦμα, the spirit, to expire, Mt. 27:50; to omit, pass over or by; to let alone, care not for, Mt. 15:14; 23:23; Heb. 6:1; to permit, suffer, let, forbid not; to give up, yield, resign, Mt. 5:40; to remit, forgive, pardon; to relax, suffer to become less intense, Rev. 2:4; to leave, depart from; to desert, forsake; to leave remaining or alone; to leave behind, sc. at one's death, Mk. 12:19, 20, 21, 22; Jn. 14:27

Source: https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/aphiemi

If an interpreter of the Bible comes across this verse and they are familiar with the implications of the atonement, it sounds as if Jesus is asking God to forgive people who may not have already placed their faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins, since they are in the process of crucifying Him.

To compare Acts with Luke, we read the comparative text:

“Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭7‬:‭60‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Jesus didn’t say: “Father, do not charge them with this…”

Now back to Luke, was Jesus saying:

“Father, forgive them…”?

Or

“Father, tolerate them…”?

Because to be forgiven is to have your particular sins cleansed and completely removed from your account (cf. Romans 4).

Q: Has the English translation misused the Greek word in this context for “forgive”?

Similar questions:

Who were "them" in Luke 23:34 when Jesus forgave "them" on the Cross?

How to ascertain that Luke 23:46 is the last words of Jesus on Cross and not John 19:30?

Forgiveness of Christ

What did Jesus mean when he said, Forgive them "for they know not what they do"?

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  • Forgive and dont charge their sins means the same thing. You are trying to twist the meaning of the word forgive by insinuating or speculating Aramaic, and saying it sounds like to you that hes asking forgiveness for not believing in him, instead of their doing of the sins as the text says. The question is opinion based mixed with meaning of the verse which is already a question, hence duplicate.
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 8:50
  • @Michael16 I don’t believe there is evidence of a duplicate. I checked the alternate links. Furthermore, “twist meaning”? “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭4‬:‭7‬-‭8‬ ‭how can the Lord cover a man’s sin if they are crucifying Him, especially since the text doesn’t say anyone near Jesus was pardoned or believing in Him(excluding His followers) except for the thief on the cross.
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 17:22
  • The duplicate is the "What did Jesus mean when he said, Forgive them "for they know not what they do"?; you are trying to reinterpret it by not seeing that he asked for their forgiveness as a man, he was not himself forgiving them. Just like Stephen.
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 18:18
  • @Michael16 Again, you are incorrect, he says on that question: “The focus of this question, however, is on the latter part: "for they know not what they do."…”. He was asking about the age of accountability and culpability, not forgiveness.
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 19:18
  • It (ignorance) is the reason for not charging their sins. Nothing about accountability. The other question must have included these points or some other questions.
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 3:18

6 Answers 6

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There are two significant questions here that should be dealt with separately:

ἀφίημι (aphiēmi)

Indeed, ἀφίημι (aphiēmi) can be translated (inter alia) as "forgive" or "tolerate". More specifically, BDAG provides this list of meanings for this common NT verb:

  1. to dismiss or release someone or something from a place or one's presence,
  • (a) with personal object: let go or send away, eg, Matt 13:36, Mark 4:36, 8:13, etc
  • (b) with impersonal object: give up or emit, eg, Matt 27:50, Mark 15:37, etc
  • (c) in a legal sense: divorce, eg, 1 Cor 7:11ff
  1. to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon, eg, Matt 18:27, Luke 11:14, 1 John 1:9, Matt 6:14, Luke 23:34, etc
  2. to move away with implication of causing a separation, depart from, eg, Matt 4:11, 8:15, 26:44, Mark 1:20, etc
  3. to leave something to continue to remain in place, leave standing/lying, eg, Matt 22:22, 4:20, Mark 1:18, etc.
  4. to convey a sense of distancing through an allowable margin of freedom, leave it to someone to do something, let, let go, allow, tolerate, eg, Matt 15:14, Mark 5:19, 11:6, 14:6, etc.

Thus, according to BDAG, "forgive" is the correct translation in the case of Luke 23:34.

Universal or Particular Forgiveness?

The other part of this questions concerns the theology of forgiveness - is forgiveness dependent upon confession? Put another way, are only confessed sins forgiven by God?

Before answering this question we should pause to observe that as sinful humans, we are not even aware of the full extent of our sinfulness (Rom 3:10-18) and thus have no human hope of being able to confess every sin.

The usual answer to this question is to distinguish between what is described as extrinsic vs intrinsic forgiveness.

Extrinsic forgiveness is, according to the NT, universal. That is, on the basis of the great atonement provided by Jesus on the cross, all people and all sins have been forgiven as taught in many places such as: Luke 23:34, John 1:29, John 3:16, Acts 7:60, 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:9, Heb 2:9, 1 Tim 2:3, 4, Rom 3:23, 24, 5:8, 10, 15, 18, 2 Cor 5:18, 19, Titus 2:11, Isa 53:6.

Note the clear statement in Rom 3:23, 24 -

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Note that the "all" applies equally to the people that sinned (all people without exception) and is also the subject of the other verb, "freely forgiven".

This does not imply that all people will be saved - far from it!!

Intrinsic Salvation: On a personal level, such "extrinsic" forgiveness has no effect until the person is converted and accepts Jesus' forgiveness. That "effect" of Jesus' salvation transforms the person: saving grace is transforming grace (ie, becomes intrinsic) but only when it is accepted by the believer:

1 John 1:9 - if we confess our sins, He is faith and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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This is an appendix to Dottard's answer, looking from a different direction. What words does the New Testament use for forgiveness?

Figure 1. Words in NA28 translated by the ESV to Forgive (generated by Logos Bible Software) enter image description here

So, ἀφίημι (aphiēmi) and its noun are the primary words meaning forgive.

An individual example:

   καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν ⸂τὰ ὀφειλήματα⸃ ἡμῶν, 
  ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ⸀ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· 
                           (Matt 6:12, NA28)

        and forgive us our debts, 
  as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
                           (Matt 6:12, ESV)
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There were a lot of questions in your post, but the one in bold is Has the English translation misused the Greek word in this context for “forgive”?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word "forgive" itself can mean several things:

  1. To grant pardon or remission for an offence or debt; to give up claim to requital or punishment for. Also, to remit (a sin). Now rare exc. in to forgive sins.

  2. To grant pardon to (a person); to cease to feel resentment against or harbour ill-will towards (a person) for an offence or wrong committed; to cancel or remit the punishment or penalty due to (a person) for an offence.

  3. To excuse or overlook (a fault or offence); to regard or treat leniently; to pardon or overlook without demanding reparation.

  4. To abandon or give up resentment against (a thing or person).

  5. To restore or heal (a damaged or broken relationship or connection); to reconcile or become reconciled with (a person).

So you can see the ambiguity: one could object to ἀφίημι in Luke 23:34 being translated in the sense of "forgive" meaning to forgive sins based on their particular tradition, but on the other hand it still may be perfectly proper to translate it as "forgive" in some other sense.

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The saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is not found in the oldest surviving copy of Luke. Papyrus 75 (P75) Also in P75, verse 47 aka The Great Commission (Jesus appears to his disciples) has the phrase “repentance for forgiveness” instead of repentance “and” forgiveness. For or And create quite the difference in this context.

The actual meaning of the phrase “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is a later invention of theology (interpolation) supported with the other change mentioned “repentance and forgiveness” to lead away from the Judaism theology of repentance for forgiveness. The later Christian meaning, manipulation is one can be forgiven without the act of repentance, hence the whole grace concept, and further develops a false distinction between repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.

So, the overall meaning creates a question of theology. Can forgiveness be without repentance? If you answer Yes, then P75 is not going to be a choice text to support the yes stance.

Here is a source for P75, Luke 24:47 and the ESV.

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  • Interesting take. It reminds me that Jewish law made a distinction between sins committed intentionally and those committed unknowingly. In that context, Jesus seems to ask God to withhold harsh punishment. Commented Apr 29 at 18:48
  • Yes, intentional sins could lead to the death penalty. Animal sacrifices were intended for the ignorant sins, unintentional. And also, forgiveness and salvation were more literally being spared from God killing them. I know it’s like a official church law nowadays not to blame the Jews anymore the murder of Jesus, but anyways, in this verse “for they know not what they do” would fall into the ignorant sin category. And lastly the category of presumptuous sin, (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Numbers 15:30) these are likely a reason, amongst others that the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus executed.
    – user64483
    Commented Apr 29 at 23:09
  • Should mention that some say P75 is a forgery anyways created to support the Codex Vaticanus legitimacy, I have no way of knowing the truth anyways.
    – user64483
    Commented Apr 29 at 23:12
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Jesus is the Lamb

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29, KJV)

And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! (John 1:36, KJV)

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8, KJV)

The Lamb was Typified in the Sacrifices

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:8, KJV)

And unto the children of Israel thou shalt speak, saying, Take ye a kid of the goats for a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for a burnt offering; (Leviticus 9:3, KJV)

The Sacrifices were for Sins of Ignorance

15If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering. ... 18And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 5:15,18, KJV)

No Sacrifice for Willful Sin

There were no sacrifices for willful sins--sins not committed in ignorance.

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10:26, KJV)

Conclusion

Jesus died for sins of ignorance. Only sins of ignorance are to be forgiven. The question one might ask is what happens when someone sins knowingly. Well, the answer seems to be that the descendants of Adam do not have a perfect knowledge of God and are not capable of sinning knowingly. The "sins of ignorance" is a highly symbolic part of the atonement, specifically distinguishing between human sins and those of the devil and his angels, for whom no plan of redemption was enacted.

On the cross, Jesus' words "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" were highly symbolic, and they fulfilled the sacrificial Type. This was all about forgiveness, and had nothing to do with mere toleration, nor with allowance.

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  • +1 - You bring out an important point - that sins committed in ignorance are punished less harshly that those done intentionally, whether Jesus was thinking of the sacrificial law or merely of human and divine justice. Commented Apr 29 at 18:54
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This is perhaps the central moment in Jesus' course, in which he offers his life up to God. These words, in fact, encapsulate his basic teaching, in which forgiveness is a major theme. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and at the final moment, that is what he himself did. Indeed, Matthew's gospel makes forgiveness the sine qua non of God's relationship to us and our relationship to God.

Matthew 6

12 'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors' ... 14 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions

Luke's version of Jesus' great sermon (on the plain) clarifies the issue. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. For Matthew, loving one's enemy is the standard of perfection to which we should should strive. And where Matthew reports Jesus as directing us to strive for perfection, Luke quotes him as speaking of "mercy":

Luke 6:35-37

35 Love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Conclusion: considering the ways in which Jesus used the concept of forgiveness in this and other key passages of the scripture, we should rule out "tolerate" as a synonym for "forgive" here. A better choice is "pardon." Better still would be "show mercy." As far a translations go, "forgive them" is not broken. Don't fix it.

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    not everyone is forgiven by the atonement, or else universalism would be true, but universalism is not true, hence the question.
    – Cork88
    Commented Apr 29 at 23:15

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