Point of Reference
by Fred Price
The Bible uses several terms to describe our shortcomings in adhering to God’s will, the Lord’s Prayer illustrating the nuances of particular words alluding to that sin. Luke’s account of this prayer includes our asking forgiveness for our sin, with the caveat that we must be likewise willing to forgive those who sin against us.
Matthew’s account of the same prayer describes our “shortcomings” as debt, asking forgiveness of them as we forgive our debtors. The idea of trespass has been used as well in characterizing our having “missed the mark” of perfection, first by William Tyndale in his English translation of the New Testament in 1526.1
So which is it? And how have we come by these different – however similar – descriptions of a concept so central to an understanding of our condition in relation to God? Scripture relates Jesus consistently going to a private place – alone and with his disciples – to pray, contemplate, explain parables and delve deeper into ideals critical to ministry. Not the least of which was the separation from God we suffer as a result of sin and the cure for that condition.
To better comprehend the nuances of these terms fosters a more complete response to Jesus’ command for us to not judge or condemn others, but rather “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” In the process being forgiven – if we are forgiving. ( Luke 6:36,37)
Luke’s use of the Greek word for sin is hamartia – an archery term for missing the mark either by falling short of the target, over-shooting or going left or right of it. And since there is indeed a “target” for how we are meant to live, it is absolutely appropriate that this word became the primary designation in the New Testament for sin.
Matthew uses the Greek word for debt, opheilemata, referencing the owing of something such as service or money, to another person or being. In relation to God, it refers to our “debt” owed God for salvation; incurred by sins of omission – good deeds He expects of us that we fail to accomplish, and sins of commission – things we do we shouldn’t. The, “…wages of sin (being) death,…” Romans 6:23a But because of his great love for us, “God sent his son,… so he could redeem those under (the penalty of the) law,… Galatians 4:5 The cancellation of debt referring to the redemption of worth, making the one paying the debt our redeemer. “…the gift of God (resulting in) eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23b
The word Tyndale translated as trespass is paraptometa, indicating a falling away or misstep; similar to hamartia’s going down a path we are not meant to traverse. Thus we have three different ways of saying the same thing, covering all the bases and removing all doubt as to how God views our violation of the rules of “engagement” with Him – and through him – others. Again, Matthew 6:14,15 directly linking the grace we seek to the grace we bestow on others.
Grace, however, never excuses bad behavior, or eliminates consequences; forgiveness is always associated with the sinner repenting of their sin and giving practical evidence of that repentance by “turning around” their lives – the Greek meaning of the word repent. Expressed not only with an ‘I’m sorry’ but with genuine attempts at righting the wrong as best we can. (See Luke 13:3; Acts 13:30 & 26:20) The term forgive coming from the word aphiemi – to release; allowing God to become the final arbiter and judge of the sin, sinner and victim of sin.
In this way we will, “…not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21 In part accomplished by, “Lov(ing) your enemies and pray(ing) for those who persecute you,…” Matthew 5:44 Patterning our lives on the model of Christ, “Be(ing) kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
1My use of the Greek words and their translation comes from a book by Adam Hamilton titled, The Lord’s Prayer – The meaning and power of the prayer Jesus taught .
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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