Forgiveness. We know we should do it. Christians (and many others) believe God has given it. But what is it? What does it mean to forgive?

Shedding Light on Translations

The Bible uses four Greek words that have various connotations of forgiveness. The one Jesus uses in the Lord’s Prayer (aphesis) is translated in a variety of ways in the New Testament. In the Lord’s Prayer, aphesis is rendered “forgive” and “forgiven,” but almost everywhere else, it is translated, “to leave; to have left.”

Delving into Biblical Words

This Greek word (aphesis) is used to translate its Hebrew equivalent (Yo’bel) that is usually rendered as “Jubilee” in English. It alludes to the Biblical Law that required periodic forgiveness of debt. The Hebrews were commanded to “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan” (Leviticus 25:10). The Year of Jubilee restored personal liberty to those who had become slaves, and full restitution of all property also took place.

Consider this in the light of forgiveness. It’s an action that leads to release, liberty, restitution, and Jubilee. It’s about leaving something behind. We’ll explore this in greater detail later in this blog.

Another picture of “aphesis” in the Hebrew Scriptures is the scapegoat as part of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). By sending away the scapegoat, the Israelites were symbolising the leaving behind of their sins.

What Forgiveness Isn’t

Before we start looking at what forgiveness is, let’s find out what it isn’t. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you will put yourself back into a hurtful situation. Jesus’ teaching on turning the right cheek isn’t about letting someone slap you on the left cheek repeatedly. You’re not called to be a doormat for Jesus.

Over the years, I’ve heard some second-rate teaching on forgiveness. Pastors have told women in an abusive marriage to submit to their husbands, “as the Bible teaches.” It should be remembered that submission in marriage is mutual and conditional. Husbands and wives are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). Submission is always based on love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” and “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” No man ever beats himself up, and he shouldn’t abuse his wife either. A woman in an abusive relationship needs to get out as quickly as possible and seek safety. This is not a matter of forgiveness but of self-preservation.

Also, forgiveness isn’t forgetting – only God can do that (Isaiah 43:25). I’ve heard people say, “well, just forgive and forget,” but people don’t have that ability. It’s a Divine prerogative to choose to forget, not a human one.

What Constitutes Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process rather than an event. Each of us has the choice of when and how we forgive. Don’t be guilty of communicating clichés to others like, “just forgive them,” “move on,” “it’ll be okay.” Real-life cannot be lived by platitudes or formulae.

Forgiveness has to do with release, liberty, restitution and jubilee. In its purest form, forgiveness is about releasing another from your right to get even. It means “to leave, or to have left, your desire to punish someone for their offense against you.” Unforgiveness says, “You hurt me, and I’m going to hurt you back.” Forgiveness says, “You hurt me, but I’m going to release you from vengeance.”

Forgiveness is a choice rather than a feeling. You may still feel hurt, angry, wronged, offended, and wounded. You may feel that way for a long time during which God and time can gradually bring healing and restoration. But these feelings don’t mean you have unforgiveness. If you have relinquished the temptation to get your own back, you have forgiven. When you forgive, you will begin to experience liberty and jubilee.

If you are the one who has hurt or offended someone, then forgiveness for you will be seeking restitution.

Zacchaeus, the crooked chief tax collector, is a beautiful example of this. When he encountered the grace of God through Jesus, Zacchaeus was so impacted that he made restitution with everyone he had offended, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Can you imagine how the forgiveness flowed towards Zacchaeus from people he had ripped off? If he hadn’t responded in this way, he would never have had this experience. People would have known that he was now a follower of Jesus, but they would forever have felt angry with him for the way he stole money from them.

Restitution caused release, liberty and jubilee. True forgiveness will always have that effect.



Last week I watched a segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report about domestic abuse in the church. [1]

While the reporting of some statistics by the ABC was not entirely accurate,[2] it seems there is still a level of domestic abuse in churches – including traditional, evangelical and Pentecostal ones  – and any abuse is inexcusable.

It was a sobering report and one that left me feeling sad and frustrated that abuse continues in some churches (and at the hands of some “Christians”) – often supported by an understanding of Scripture that contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible.  After all, “If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” [3]  Real love doesn’t abuse others, including one’s wife (or husband or partner or anyone else for that matter) in any way.

Using isolated Bible verses to justify verbal, physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse is unchristian.

One of the Bible verses used to rationalise domestic abuse is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  If you read these verses on their own, it seems pretty clear that wives are to submit to their husbands IN EVERYTHING.  It’s also clear how an abusive man could use this part of the Bible to justify his ill treatment.  However, if you read the verse before (Ephesians 5:21) it instructs husbands and wives to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, mutual submission is appropriate in Christian relationships.  The Apostle makes this general statement about submission and then proceeds to show how wives and husbands are to work this out by submitting to one another in their marriage.  Husbands are to love their wives deeply, give their lives for them and care for them.  Ephesians 5 does not authorise violence of any kind.

The other chapter of the Bible that is used as an excuse for abuse is 1 Corinthians 11.  The Apostle Paul begins this chapter by once again speaking about headship, but a few verses in he makes a statement that would have been considered very controversial in the patriarchal society of the first century: “woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” [4]  Some people accuse Paul of being patriarchal and considering women as inferior to men, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Thomas Cahill writes, “Equality … is Paul’s subject: what he is doing here is taking the Genesis account of the Creation, which was the aboriginal Jewish locus classicus on the inequality of women, and turning it on its head by subtly reminding his readers that even the Messiah needed a mother.” [5]  1 Corinthians 11:11-12 is one of the first Biblical references affirming sexual equality, as well as one of the first in any literature up to Jesus’ time.

The bottom line is this: if you ever encounter someone who uses the Bible to justify abuse of any sort against another human being, rest assured that person is not understanding or using the Bible correctly.

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, or counsellors recommending that women in particular are to stay with husbands or partners who physically, verbally or emotionally abuse them.  As we’ve already seen, the Bible teaches that submission is to be mutual.  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in any relationship, in any church or justified by any Scripture.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship separation is advisable (at least a temporary one).  Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counselling) but divorce may be unavoidable. [6] Whatever you do, don’t stay in a relationship where you are being abused in any way, and don’t allow others to suggest that you do!




[3] James 2:8; Cf. Romans 13:10

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

[5] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Anchor Books, New York, 1999, p. 141


With this in mind, in research that Bayside Church conducted last year, one of the “words” that we asked people to comment on was the word “priest.”  Fortunately many people still view priests in a positive light using adjectives like wisdom, good person, values, guiding, dedicated and devoted.  I dare say this describes the vast majority of priests.  But others used words like suffocation, rules, cover-ups and molestation.  How sad that any man or woman “of God” should ever be viewed in this light.  But that is the sad reality and the Roman Catholic Church worldwide now has to face the fallout from decades of abuse and cover-ups.

Sexual abuse of any kind is a great offense, but the abuse of children by those who are in a place of religious authority and trust has got to be the worst of the worst.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I can only begin to understand their pain and frustration with the church for their lack of justice with these criminals.

Decades of quietly moving abusing priests to another parish where they reoffend has finally caught up with the Catholic Church, and now it’s time to face up to the wrongs, apologise, admit fault, cooperate with authorities – do everything to try and right the wrongs and heal the hurts.

According to The Age newspaper, Professor Des Cahill, the intercultural studies professor at RMIT, told the current inquiry that the Catholic Church was incapable of reforming itself because of its internal culture.  He said the Church's Melbourne response abuse protocol had to go, and the state would have to intervene to achieve it.

In other key testimony, Professor Cahill:
• Called for priests to be allowed to marry.
• Described the Church as "a holy and unholy mess, except where religious Sisters or laypeople are in charge.
• Called for an "eminent Catholic task force" of lay people to work with the Church on reform and transparency.

Professor Cahill said child sex abuse had existed in all ages, cultures and religions, shrouded in secrecy and poorly responded to by religious authorities.  He said a church council in 309 AD was concerned about child sex abuse in monasteries.

And other religions are not immune from child sex abuse, including credible evidence of two incidents within Melbourne's Hindu community where the offending monks were "shipped back to the home country".  In Sri Lanka, child sex abuse is rampant in Buddhist monasteries, and more than 100 monks have been charged in the past decade.  Child sex abuse has been called "India's time bomb", especially the plight of street children, while many Muslim communities are in denial.  Melbourne Jewish groups are making their own submission to the inquiry.

The tragic thing about all of this – other than the lifelong pain that is inflicted on precious people – is that this behaviour gives people an excuse to think less, or not at all, about God.  “If that’s the way God’s people act then I don’t want to have anything to do with Him.”  The Bible addresses this in Romans 2:24, “No wonder the Scriptures say that the world speaks evil of God because of you.”

No one is perfect, not even the religious, but the sexual abuse of children is never acceptable and those who commit such heinous crimes need to experience the full force of justice – with no cover ups from the church or anyone else.

Social media has been buzzing over the past week with the story of Casey Heynes, the 15-year-old student who finally snapped after being bullied for most of his school life.  The video of him slamming Ritchard Gale (12) into a concrete path has had thousands of hits on YouTube and has been widely reported by the world’s media.  Click on this link to see the event that has been so talked about.

Casey has become an overnight hero with a Facebook page dedicated to him with over 170,000 fans. Why all of this attention?

Firstly I believe it’s because most of us have a sense of fairness and justice for those who have suffered from bullying – me included.  Casey was taunted for being overweight.  I suffered the same taunts at school for being skinny.  The old saying:”Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is so untrue.  Young people are affected by unkind words that are spoken over them and this – in extreme cases – can lead to depression and even suicide.  Casey Heynes said in an interview that he had contemplated suicide on several occasions.

Secondly, this event has received a lot of attention because it highlights a major problem.  Bullying most often occurs in our schools between children, but it also happens between adults in workplaces and at home.   Cyber bullying is also on the increase with children and adults being bullied via SMS, Facebook and email.

If you – or someone you know – are being bullied, the Internet has some very useful resources that can help you.  Try these three principles:

Ignore and avoid: Bullies usually harass their victims in order to get a reaction. If a bully is making fun of you, simply walk right by without responding to let him or her know that you don’t care what they say about you. Try and avoid them by engaging in an after-school activity, by using an alternative route home or by walking with friends.  If you’re the victim of cyber bullying change your email address or mobile number or block the person from Facebook.

Be confident: Bullies usually pick on people who they perceive to be weaker than them. Therefore, if you can demonstrate to the bully that you are strong and confident, they may stop picking on you.

Ask for help: Tell a teacher, your parents, or another trusted adult that you are being bullied.

Bullying is abuse. No one deserves to be bullied and the problem usually won’t go away without direct action.  Although I don’t agree with the action Casey Heynes took in slamming Ritchard Gale into a concrete path, I can understand it.  This young man had had enough.  If you’ve had enough of being bullied take action today!