I have been wondering lately if all Christians around the world have always had a duty to forgive all people throughout their lifetimes, then this doctrine should include members of terrorist organizations, who should be forgiven many times by Christians based on Matthew 18:21-22 [NIV].

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Based on Matthew 18:21-22, do Christians have a duty to continually forgive the members of terrorist organizations?

  • 1
    This is a great question for a Christian to ask, but it's one that you're bringing to the passage, rather than one that arises from the passage - there are no terrorists mentioned here. The best thing to do is to take the passage by itself, in its own context, and ask what it means, and how the original audience would understand it. That's the exegetical question, and then you've got a separate theological question that it may help you with.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 20:40

5 Answers 5


One needs to recall two things:

  1. Terrorism is based on the belief that Justice must be achieved by victims. Thus, any attempt to not leave justice to God and properly appointed authorities makes one a vigilante at least and terrorist at worst.
  2. God clearly says that, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30). This principle is repeated countless times in the OT, Isa 61:8, 65:9, Eze 7:3, 8, Deut 32:41, Rev 2:23, Hos 4:9, Jer 16:18, 51:24, Joel 2:25.

Indeed, we have the following pertinent texts:

  • Prov 24:29 - Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will repay the man according to his work.”
  • Prov 20:22 - Do not say, “I will avenge this evil!” Wait on the LORD, and He will save you.
  • Rom 12:19 - Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”

Now, let us be very clear about two more matters:

  • Human society is highly imperfect. However, that should not prevent us seeking justice where this is possible and practical and within legal and ethical means. However, we are all aware of many cases where the legal system has failed many people
  • Forgiveness simply means leaving the consequences to someone else - God in most cases. That is, forgiving someone does NOT mean that all is now OK; indeed, if someone defrauds us, they have broken trust and no longer deserve to be trusted and thus should be avoided.
    • If a child molester asks forgiveness, that does not mean he should be trusted around children in future.
    • If a kleptomaniac asks forgiveness, that does not mean he can now be trusted and must be removed from temptation and thus cannot be allowed count the offering/collection money
    • If a psychopath asks forgiveness, it is likely to gain advantage to repeat the previous crimes.
    • If a poor anger management person seeks forgiveness, that does not mean he is cured and can be trusted in stressful situations

The one who forgives should not be naive! Forgiveness is not a magic wand to suddenly transform human nature - that is the job of the Holy Spirit alone!

Lastly, let me observe three things about the Christian doctrine of forgiveness:

  • according to Luke 23:34, Jesus forgave his trained (expert) executioners without them seeking forgiveness. One could debate about whether Jesus was referring to (1) the Roman soldiers who were following orders, or, (2) the Roman governor, Pilate, or, (3) the Jewish leadership who demanded that Jesus be executed. It was probably all three. The OP's passage in Matt 18:21-23 does not even mention anything about asking for forgiveness!!
  • Jesus tells us to:

do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; 41and if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

  • According to Rom 3:23, 24 we are told:

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 this says two things about the "ALL":

  • all humans have sinned
  • all humans are freely forgiven/justified by Jesus' sacrifice

This is NOT to suggest that because all are forgiven that all will be saved - far from it. It simply means that all people are equally desperate and as fundamentally evil as anyone else, and all are equally needy of Christ's salvation. Many, despite God's forgiveness will reject God's grace and be lost eternally.


Out great God has told us:

"It is mine to avenge; I will repay," (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30). Out job as Christians is to forgive, avoid trouble, and leave the eternal consequences to God.

  • The Greek word translated as "forgive" has more than a few meanings. In this case would it be appropriate to consider it to mean "don't hate the person", "don't bear a grudge against them", etc.? That is, yes, remember what they are capable of, yes hope that they will repent and repay their debt, but no, don't damage your own peace by dwelling on it. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 21:57
  • @RayButterworth - the word ἀφίημι means "to send away". Thus, one ignores the action by sending it away, ie, forgive.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:54

The Christians do not have a duty to always forgive members of terrorist organizations solely based on Matthew 18:21-22. Here are the reasons for this conclusion:

  1. Ethnic Context: The forgiveness mentioned by Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 was primarily directed at "brothers" and "sisters" within the Jewish or Christian community. It did not automatically apply to individuals involved in terrorist actions or activities harmful to the community. Therefore, this context does not imply that Christians should automatically forgive members of terrorist organizations.

  2. Religious Brotherhood Context: Forgiveness among members of the faith community is an important practice, but it does not mean that Christians should extend this forgiveness indiscriminately to everyone, regardless of their actions. Jesus's teachings emphasize forgiveness among brothers and sisters in the faith, but it does not imply the absence of responsibility and consequences for serious actions, such as involvement in terrorist activities.

  3. Peter's Authority in the Ekklesia: The authority to "bind and loose" granted to Peter pertains to the administration of the Christian community, but it does not imply that the community should overlook justice or safety in situations where members are involved in terrorist activities. Church leadership has the responsibility to protect the community, and in certain cases, this may involve cooperating with civil authorities and law enforcement.

Therefore, Christians have a responsibility to balance the practice of forgiveness with the pursuit of justice and the protection of society. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean ignoring or excusing extremely harmful behaviors, such as involvement in terrorist organizations, which require a more complex and careful approach, including law enforcement and appropriate security measures.

  • +1 a thoughtful answer, especially "responsibility to balance the practice of forgiveness with the pursuit of justice and the protection of society." Would have appreciated biblical references in support of your points. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:15
  • I agree with you. I have a very secular view of the Bible, sometimes metaphorical.
    – Betho's
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 16:57

I always argue that this passage should be understood in conjunction with Luke ch17 vv3-4, which add the crucial condition "if he repents, forgive him" and "If he turns to you seven times and says 'I repent'".

The modern assumption that Christians forgive automatically as soon as an offence has been committed is not what the New Testament expects of us. it doesn't even follow on from "... as God forgives us."

Let us wait until the terrorists repent before we start forgiving them.

  • 3
    When Jesus forgave those who crucified him he did not wait until they had repented. Luke 23:34
    – David D
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:13
  • It was because "They know not what they do" (in not knowing who he was). Terrorist organisations cannot make that claim. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:16
  • So, as long as I don't understand the implications of what I do I should be forgiven?
    – David D
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:23
  • Up-voted +1. (Wish I could multiply that.) Let us wait until the terrorists repent before we start forgiving them.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 10:22

Let's make it clear: only the victims can forgive their offenders, and it is a personal matter. Christian organisations, churches, and individuals who are not victims must condemn terrorism and not encourage others to forgive this kind of evil act.

Matthew 18:21

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?

Why should Christian victims forgive those who sinned against them? It is not for humanity, nor is it to inspire terrorists to remorse, it is about faith in the Lord, believe in Him says "It is mine to avenge; I will repay" (Romans 12:19)

It is equally important not to give room to bitterness and anger in the mind, as they are seeds of sin.

Ephesus 4:30-32 NIV

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


No. The quote from Mt. 18:21-22 involves forgiving one's brother, not forgiving one who is engaging in mass murder and is trying to wipe Israel off the map. An instructive example is Jesus' attitude toward the money changers, who were not even terrorists but his fellow Jews, from John 2:

John 2:14-17 NABRE

14 He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. 15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, 16 and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” 17 His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

It is admittedly a challenging task to reconcile this passage with others such as the OP's example. However, in a situation involving terrorism and the potential of national annihilation, self-defense comes first; forgiveness comes later after the person has repented of his crimes and has become a brother.

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