Am I Forgiving Sins Or Trespasses?

Q. In our Sunday service we say “the Lord’s Prayer”. The wording has been changed to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Is sin the same as trespass? I know that I must forgive others who do me wrong but am I forgiving sin or trespasses? Thank you for your help.

A. Here’s the simple answer. In the KJV version of Matt. 18:21 Peter asked how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him, and in Luke 17:3-4 KJV Jesus said that if a brother should trespass against us we’re to forgive him. Although the English word “sin” appears in Matt. 18 and in Luke 17 it’s “trespass”, the Greek word is the same in both places. This tells us that in common usage it doesn’t matter.

Now for the rest of the story. The Old Testament uses three words for sin, the other two being trespass and iniquity. The Hebrew word for sin means to miss the goal or path of right and duty. The word for trespass means to rebel or revolt. Iniquity means perversity or depravity, and comes from a root meaning to twist or distort.

After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated her husband’s death, he used all three Hebrew words in his confession to God, but then said, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” (Psalm 51:4)

The point is that sins are violations of God’s laws, so when we sin, we sin against Him. We may treat another person badly, we may wrong or offend or harm or even kill them, but when we do we’re sinning against God.

In the Lord’s prayer of Luke 11:2-4 Luke chose a Greek word most like the Hebrew for sin when he wrote “Forgive us our sins” but when he wrote the phrase we translate as “as we forgive those who sin against us” he used a word that literally means “who owe us a debt” and is not normally used in connection with sinning.

Matthew used a form of the same word in his account. (Matt. 6:9-13), simply saying “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.”

In my opinion, when they wrote the Lord’s Prayer Matthew and Luke were being faithful to the Old Testament concept that whenever we sin, no matter who the object of our action may be, we’re sinning against God, and must make things right with Him.

Forgiving a person who has wronged us is more on the level of forgiving a debt because only God can forgive sins. In other words, our forgiveness of others is an act of spiritual generosity, not spiritual restoration.

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