Monday, July 18, 2011

The Two Aspects of Forgiveness

Recently I have been defending the doctrine of divine forgiveness over at Antonio da Rosa's Free Grace Theology blog. Antonio has been writing a series of articles titled "God's Forgiveness" in which he argues for a new view of forgiveness that he learned from Zane Hodges. According to this view, forgiveness is never used in the judicial sense but only in the parental sense. In other words, Antonio believes that forgiveness is only for the purpose of fellowship, not justification. However, the Bible clearly teaches both aspects of forgiveness: judicial (Acts 10:43; Rom. 4:7-8; Col. 2:13-14; etc.) and parental (Ps. 32:5; James 5:15; 1 Jn. 1:9; etc.). Although I do not agree with Antonio's parental-only view of forgiveness, I have found the topic interesting and the dialogue helpful in understanding his position. But then in the middle of our dialogue something really strange happened and one of my comments suddenly disappeared without a trace! I am going to post the missing comment here to enable further discussion should Antonio choose for that to continue.

In the comment below I am responding to Antonio and arguing for the judicial aspect of forgiveness. In the first part of my comment I discuss Zane Hodges' exegesis of Acts 13:38-39. Then in the second part of my comment I note that justification has two sides: the positive side and the negative side. I explain that God's judicial forgiveness is the negative side of justification. Here's the dialogue:1

Antonio said...


I have responded to your point and answered your questions.

you asked:
Could you please explain to me Antonio how forgiveness of sins is not equated with justification in this passage?
I did this in the 3 part comment, and my last comment.

You said:
It seems to me from the text that forgiveness of sins is an integral part of justification. Furthermore, the language here is judicial. This seems to be a clear example in which forgiveness is used in the judicial and legal sense.
I responded to these points in my 3 part comment and the last comment.

As for your request for more information about Acts 13, check my answers out via any grammar. I don't think that I am unclear on it. If you have taken any koine Greek, you have the resources to verify my statements. Zane Hodges was a Greek Professor, and he didn't make the same connection that you do in Acts 13.

If there are points or questions that I have failed to answer or comment on, please bring those things to my attention. I believe that I have been quite responsive to your comments.

Please show how the context demands your interpretation. Please use the principles of biblical interpretation and the laws of reason and logic to present an argument from this text supporting your position.

I understand the wishy washy nature of the traditional understanding -- some say it is the same as justification, others say it is like justififation [sic]. You seem to have taken both positions in this comment thread.

Again, if I haven't been compliant to answer and respond to your questions and points, please be so kind as to let me know as to which ones you refer. 

Thanks for hanging in there. 


July 18, 2011 3:24 PM"

(Below is the missing comment.)

Jonathan Perreault said... 

"Hi Antonio,

I respect Hodges work on the Greek text, but in regards to Acts 13 I believe his exegesis is somewhat shallow. What do I mean? I am referring specifically to his article 'Justification: A New Covenant Blessing,' in which he uses the American Heritage Dictionary - an English dictionary (as opposed to a Greek lexicon) - in distinguishing between forgiveness and justification. He also bases his distinction/non-equation between the two terms on the word 'and' (Acts 13:39, NKJV), but even he admits that this word is only found in certain Greek manuscripts (i.e. only in the Majority Text). Hodges then says that even without the 'and' the passage in Acts 13:38-39 is broken down into two sentences, which apparently supports his distinction? (But if that is true, wouldn't the use of the word 'and' then disprove his distinction? The two arguments appear somewhat self-refuting.) It all seems so - to use your words: 'wishy washy'. Maybe Hodges has offered other exegetical insights on the passage that I am not aware of? I was asking you about these (if there was any?), and also about what OTHER Greek scholars have to say about the exegesis of the passage in Acts 13?

Now concerning the passage in Romans 4, when I asked you how forgiveness and justification are not to be equated, I was using your words, not offering a complete or blanket endorsement of that position. I felt that I was unclear on that, and that is why I offered my clarification saying that I don't think the two terms are EXACTLY equivalent, although I do believe that forgiveness is involved or inherent in justification (being the negative aspect of it). Justification involves forgiveness but goes beyond it to the actual imputation of Christ's righteousness (this is the positive aspect and full meaning of justification). Justification is not merely being without sin (i.e. forgiven), but it is being declared, in fact, righteous. We see both the negative and the positive aspects of justification in the passage in Romans 4. Using the example of Abraham the apostle Paul gives the POSITIVE aspect of justification, namely being declared righteous (Rom. 4:3,5). Then in giving the example of David "side by side with Abraham" (so says Godet) Paul highlights THE SAME POINT - justification by faith alone (see Rom. 4:6a where 'the conjunction of comparison kathaper is more forcible than kathos: it indicates an intrinsic and striking agreement: exactly as' - Godet) from the NEGATIVE aspect of justification, namely the forgiveness of sins, the covering of sins, and the non-imputation of sin (Rom. 4:7,8). Commenting on Romans 4:7-8 and the example of David, Godet summarizes: 'Here, then, is the negative side of justification, the evil which it removes; while in regard to Abraham it was only the positive side which was under treatment, the blessing it confers. Thus it is that the two passages complete one another.' (Godet, Romans, 172.) Anyway, I know you have a limit on the length of the comments so I will cut off my comment there, but these are some of the exegetical insights that I have come across in my studies. 



July 18, 2011 6:27 PM"

JULY 25, 2011 UPDATE: Antonio just sent me a kind e-mail to follow up on our online discussion and to clarify any misunderstandings. I will be continuing my dialogue on divine forgiveness over at his blog as time allows.


1 The entire discussion with the exception of the missing comment can be read in the comment thread of Antonio's post: "God's Forgiveness Part 2: A Working Thesis".
     For more information on the two aspects of forgiveness see the chart: "Two Aspects of Forgiveness" by George Zeller. Also see the article: "Forgiveness of sins: What is it?" by C. H. Mackintosh.


  1. I agree with you that there are 2 aspects of forgiveness. I find Hodges' view hard to fit into every use of the word. I have also thought of forgiveness as the negative aspect of justification. I prefer the word "remission."

  2. Jason,

    That's a great point. Thanks for sharing!

    Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, says something similar in his discussion of "FORGIVENESS...FOR THE UNSAVED." Chafer writes:

    "Of the many transformations wrought by God in response to simple faith in Christ, the remission of sin is but one. Hence it should be observed that the forgiveness of sin can never be claimed by itself on the part of those who are unregenerate. Forgiveness is provided for them to infinite completeness, but may be secured only as a phase of God's whole work in salvation. Though too often supposed to be the truth, remission of sin for the unsaved is not equivalent to salvation. Forgiveness connotes subtraction, indeed, whereas all else in salvation is glorious addition. It is therefore written, 'I give unto them eternal life' (John 10:28), and in Romans 5:17 reference is made, for example, to 'the gift of righteousness.'" (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., Vol. 7, pp. 162-163.)