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The sequence of events in the text is:

  1. The woman "loved much"
  2. Jesus tells her her sins are forgiven

Did the woman know she was forgiven prior to "loving much"?

Was the woman forgiven before / at the point of her loving much, or only at the point when Jesus declared she was forgiven?

There is a related question on "Forgiven because or therefore forgiven in Luke 7:47"

5 Answers 5

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Ellicott summarizes the situation in Luke 7:47 quite well -

(47) Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.—Grammatically, the words admit of two interpretations, equally tenable. (1) Love may be represented as the ground of forgiveness, existing prior to it, and accepted as that which made forgiveness possible; or (2) it may be thought of as the natural consequence of the sense of being forgiven, and its manifestations as being therefore an evidence of a real and completed forgiveness. The whole drift of the previous parable is in favour of the latter explanation.

I agree. The latter half of the verse appears to confirm that forgiveness preceded love and one loves in proportion to the extent one senses God's forgiveness and Grace.

[Technically, this hinges on whether the conjunction, ὅτι, in this case means, "therefore" (#1 above), or, "because" (#2 above).]

That is, "We love because He first loved us." God's love for us is the well-spring of His grace and forgiveness.

Meyer is similar:

This ὅτι ἠγάπησε πολύ expresses not the cause, and therefore not the antecedent of forgiveness. ... Contextually it is right, therefore, to understand ὅτι of the ground of recognition or acknowledgment: Her sins are forgiven, etc., which is certain, since she has manifested love in an exalted degree.

The expositor's Hreek Testament is even more forthright:

... it is a case, not of a courtesan acting in character, as you have been thinking, but of a penitent who has come through me to the knowledge that even such as she can be forgiven. That is the meaning of this extraordinary demonstration of passionate affection.—αἱ πολλαί, the many, a sort of afterthought: many sins, a great sinner, you think, and so I also can see from her behaviour in this chamber, which manifests intense love, whence I infer that she is conscious of much forgiveness and of much need to be forgiven.—ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ: ὅτι introduces the ground of the assertion implied in πολλαί; many sins inferred from much love; the underlying principle: much forgiven, much love, which is here applied backwards, because Simon, while believing in the woman’s great sin, did not believe in her penitence.

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  • Thanks Dottard, I'm partial to this interpretation too. But how did the woman know she was forgiven prior to Jesus saying she was in v48? Also, V50 "go in peace" implies the woman was not at peace (& not sure of her forgiveness?) prior to v48
    – whiskey92
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 3:41
  • @whiskey92 - we are not told. However, there is an early tradition that this was Mary Magdalene (which cannot be confirmed). If this is true, then Jesus and Mary had a history stretch back some way involving casting out seven demons, etc.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 4:53
  • the question in my mind is: then why would Jesus have to tell her "you are forgiven", if she had already been forgiven (and "was conscious much forgiveness" too)?
    – whiskey92
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 12:35
  • @whiskey92 - we are still sinners even after being saved. No one is perfect and in a pharisee's house, she felt inadequate.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 19:20
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ὅτι

The entire thought unit hinges on what we do with ὅτι. It can be...

  • causal (her sins are forgiven because she loved much)
  • content (giving more details as to the how or why of the context)

In addition to this there are other, rarer uses. BDF helps us out:

  1. Causal conjunctions.

(1) The principal conjunction is ὅτι ‘because’, for which Lk and Paul (Heb, Ja, 1 P, Diogn, Herm) also use διότι (classical). Subordination with ὅτι and διότι is often very loose (cf. διό, ὃθεν §451(5, 6)), so that it must be translated ‘for’.

(2) A special use of ὅτι in the NT as in the OT is one which corresponds to Hebrew כִּי (§480(6)), e.g. H 2:6 OT τί ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος, ὅτι μιμνῇσκῃ αὐτοῦ, ἢ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, ὅτι ἐπισκέπτῃ αὐτόν; כִּי is consecutive here, but ὅτι seems more likely to have been felt as meaning ‘for what reason, why’ (§§299(4); 480(6); or as meaning ‘(I ask) because’) and is found already in pre-classical Greek: Hom., Od. 5.339f. τίπτε τοι ὧδε Ποσειδάων ... ὠδύσατ̓ ἐκπάγλως, ὅτι τοι κακὰ πολλὰ φυτεύει; (with an obvious reference to τίπτε); for which ἵνα may also be used §391(5).

(F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), 238.)

So ὅτι, in addition to being causal, can also be consecutive (this happened, and, as a result, this next thing happened). The Hebrews 2:6 passage is a good example of this: "What is man that as a result you are mindful of him?"

Before or After?

Here the proper understanding is that since she knew her sins were forgiven, she loved much. The whole context of this section of scripture supports this:

  • First, in the same verse, we read: “ᾧ δὲ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται, ὀλίγον ἀγαπᾷ” (Λουκᾶν 7·47 THGNT-T). The one who has been forgiven little, loves little. Forgiveness is what drives love.
  • At the end of this section, Jesus says: “ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε· πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην.” (Λουκᾶν 7·50 THGNT-T). The faith that, through his word, Jesus gave to her saved her. Notice in that context there is no mention of her love saving her.

Updated Translations

It has been nice to see translations picking up on these rarer, harder to pin-down usages. Take, for example, ...

  • “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”” (Luke 7:47 CSB17)
  • “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”” (Luke 7:47 NIV11-GKE)

That's much better than previous attempts at that passage:

  • “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”” (Luke 7:47 NIV-GK)

Whiskey, I offer up an apology. I answered one of your questions, but not the other.

As to the question, "did she know ahead of time about this forgiveness," we have no answer to the question. We only see the result of this interaction at the end. There are many times like this in the Bible, where we enter the event like someone watching a good mystery movie, wondering how the events will unfold. And detail by detail, we get more of the picture, until, at the end, all that we need is unveiled.

We have a similar example in the Syro-Phoenecian woman (in Matt. 15, and Mark 7). The woman, in desperation, goes to Jesus. And like here, he makes her wait. Like here, she clings to his mercy. And, like here, her sins are forgiven.

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  • Thanks! I'm partial to this interpretation too. But how did the woman know she was forgiven prior to Jesus saying she was in v48? Also, V50 "go in peace" implies the woman was not at peace (& not sure of her forgiveness?) prior to v48
    – whiskey92
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 5:02
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The OP question is similar to this one:

  1. Do Christians love Jesus and receive His grace, or
  2. do they receive His grace and then know to love Jesus?

Romans 4:4 NIV states, "Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation." This means that God's grace does not come from one's work, so argument(1) is not valid. This is verified by Jesus' claim in John 6:65 NIV, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them."

Regarding the account of the sinful woman anointing Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, we may be puzzled if she was sinful, why would the devil in her not able to restrain her from reaching Jesus and be forgiven? The answer may be that she had already been forgiven and thus the devil lost control of her. However, she would not have known she had been forgiven until Jesus explicitly declared it in Luke 7:48 NIV: Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”.

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Perhaps this is a textual issue. As I understand the following abbreviations, "for she loved much" is omitted in some manuscripts:

ὁτι ηγαπησεν … αγαπα] om. D. e. | Contra, Orig. Int. ii. 191b. 697f. Cypr. 328. vid. Iren. 213. | (quia cui multum remittitur multum diligit, quia multum dilexit, cui autem paululum paululum Arm.)

Tregelles, S. P., ed. (1857–1879). The Greek New Testament: Apparatus (p. 263). Samuel Bagster and Sons; C. J. Stewart.

If we accept that reading, then the ordering becomes a moot point.

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The Lord at all evidence says a fait accompli, that is to say, that the sins of this woman are forgiven due to her loving. The immediate sequel shows that there is a direct cause-effect relation between loving and forgiving, for more love implies the more of forgiving and less love implies the less of forgiving. If so, the very act of human loving of and longing for divine life and sanctity is immediately connected with the divine act of a repentant human being forgiven.

Let me give an analogy for a better understanding of this point: if a soldier Cranyo leaves his comrade in arms, Romario, during a battle due to a cowardice, but then, in fleeing remembers what a good person Romario is and how he loves him, and what a nasty thing is to leave him in peril, and how can he, Cranyo, continue living if Romario is killed? And with those thoughts Cranyo stops, turns back to the fight scene with all his might and stands next to his comrades in arms fighting valiantly. Some members of this platoon would grumble: "Why do we receive back Cranyo, this coward and traitor?", but the commander of the platoon would reprimand them saying: "Look how he loved us, and especially his friend Romario! His treason is forgiven because of his love!" The words of the commander describe the fait accompli, for Cranyo was already forgiven while returning back to the battlefield with a love-full resolve to fight with his comrades in arms.

But it is absolutely impossible to know when exactly, in exactly which momentum the sins are forgiven. For instance, Immanuel Kant would say that the very question is incorrect, because "forgiveness" (although he does not use this notion) is a matter of conscience, of us understanding the moral categorical imperative and embracing it at all costs. But this, even if outwardly happening in time and space in terms of a concrete action (for instance, the action of washing the Lord's feet with tears), is not happening in time and space at all so it is awkward to treat this thing in strictly temporal terms. It is the same as when somebody asks you: "When did you start loving this girl?" and normal answer would be: "Oh, I even do not know, somehow, suddenly I felt and realized it". That forgiveness is the divine action that transcends the dimension of time and space is evidenced in Lord's answer to the right robber on the cross: "today you will be with me in Paradise", here "today" implies the dimension of the eternality.

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  • Interesting perspective! In the parable, the moneylender (1) forgives the debt, (2) presumably informs the debtors, (3) the debtors respond with much/little love. How should we reconcile this with your interpretation, pls?
    – whiskey92
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 13:01
  • @whiskey92 Salvation and loss, being forgiven or not forgiven are not strictly absolute binary oppositions as physical life and death are, but rather there is a gradation, for even among the saved/forgiven there is a hierarchy and even among the perished/unforgiven there are versatile degrees of misery. Remember Dante’s hell, surely traitors suffer there more than gluttons, and in Paradise there also is a gradation of bliss and sanctity. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 4:30

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