Study Guide

Gospel of Luke Sin and Forgiveness

Sin and Forgiveness

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. (NRSV 1:76-77)

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins. (KJV 1:76-77)

Zachariah has some high expectations for his baby boy Johnny. And since Zachariah is "filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:67), we better pay attention.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (NRSV 3:3)

And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (KJV 3:3)

And of course, John more or less lives up to his father's expectations from 1:66-67. Baptism is a kind of ritual-bath by which someone cleanses the BO of their sins.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus's knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (NRSV 5:8)

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus's knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (KJV 5:8)

Even one-time "sinners" will become the central movers and shakers in the early Christian movement. Luke argues that having the self-awareness to call yourself a sinner is the first mark of self-improvement.

When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you." Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the one who was paralyzed—"I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home." (NRSV 5:20-24)

And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. (KJV 5:20-24)

Does the text assume that the man's paralysis is the result of his sins? After all, Jesus sees a paralyzed man and tells him his sins are forgiven. Hmmm… how would that argument fly today?

The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." (NRSV 5:30-32)

But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (KJV 5:30-32)

When Jesus proclaims his purpose is for coming in a gospel, it's time to start taking notes. Missing that is like throwing away the directions for the one remote to your brand new entertainment center.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (NRSV 6:32-34)

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (KJV 6:32-34)

So "sinners" can still be at least somewhat decent people who love, do good, and loan money—just not to their enemies.

[…] the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (NRSV 7:34)

The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! (KJV 7:34)

The Pharisees rag on Jesus for hanging out with "sinners" in 5:30, 15:2, and 19:7. Just think of your local priest hanging out in the town's bar every day. Or imagine your pastor riding along with someone in his Mustang while he's doing donuts in the church parking lot. What would you say?

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner." […] [Then Jesus said to the Pharisee:] "I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" (NRSV 7:37-39, 47-49)

And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. […] [Then Jesus said to the Pharisee:] I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? (KJV 7:37-39, 47-49)

The woman's sins aren't specified, but really, how long is the list of potential sins in male-centered antiquity that could earn a woman this kind of reputation? In other words, they probably have to do with illicit sex. At any rate, Jesus is again criticized for forgiving sins (compare 5:21).

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. (NRSV 11:4)

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. (KJV 11:4)

The Lord's Prayer (11:2-4) is a short prayer. Everything that's included in it must be a big stinkin' deal. Asking God for forgiveness of sins makes the highly selective cut.

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?" (NRSV 13:1-2)

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? (KJV 13:1-12)

Jesus appears to accept the idea that Pilate was God's agent for punishing the Galileans. He adds that all Galilean sinners might likewise expect to perish. Yikes.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." (NRSV 15:1-2)

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (KJV 15:1-2)

The Pharisees just can't get over Jesus's party habits (check out 5:30, 7:34, and 19:7 for more examples).

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. […] Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (NRSV 15:7, 10)

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. […] Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (KJV 15:7, 10)

How do otherworldly beings party anyway?

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' (NRSV 18:13)

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (KJV 18:13)

Jesus offers this up as a model-prayer and it kind of echoes part of the Lord's Prayer (11:4). Self-awareness of your shortcomings is a key ingredient here as in 5:8 and 11:4. You only need six Greek words to do it right.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." (NRSV 19:7)

And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. (KJV 19:7)

Finally, we come to the last installment of this complaint. They're clearly deaf to Jesus's lengthy responses to the issue (5:31-32 and 15:3-32).

[…] the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. (NRSV 24:7)

The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. (KJV 24:7)

Those who try to condemn Jesus are called "sinners." Who are they, specifically?

Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (NRSV 24:16-17)

Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (KJV 24:16-17)

The disciples are supposed to carry forward the message of forgiveness. From John to Jesus to the disciples, these guys are all about consistency.