And Forgive Us Our Debts


“And forgive us our debts,”


Key Word Analysis

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν

The portion of the passage dealing with debts aligns with the “unending debt slavery” of the Israelite culture and history.[1]  The concept of debt was deeply embedded in the lives and cultural of the followers of Jesus of that day.  While this was a familiar concept to his listeners, Jesus quoted a rarely used form of debt in this passage.  This phrase, and forgive us our debts, only appears in the New Testament in this one passage in this complete-phrase form.  The components of the phrase would have been very familiar separately but unique here in how Jesus put them together.

And/ καὶ begins this portion, linking this phrase to the one previous.  It is one of the most common of all linking verbs in the New Testament, used hundreds of times to join commonly themed passages.[2]  Forgive/ ἄφες is not so common.  This form of the word is used to express an action of leaving, or sending away, of physically moving from one place to another.  It is not used exclusively for the release of an obligation but also the movement of an obligation or object from one place to another.  It is an active verb, expressing an intentional act.[3]

“Then the Devil left him”, Matthew 4:11

“Immediately they left the boat”, Matthew 4:22

“leave your gift in front of the alter”, Mathew 5:24

“And forgive us our debts”, Matthew 6:12

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing”, Matthew 6:14

“Your sins are forgiven”, Mathew 9:5

“released him and forgave him the loan”, Matthew 18:27

“we have left everything”, Mathew 19:27

“Son, your sins are forgiven”, Mark 2:5

“the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive”, Mark 2:10

“so they left the crown”, Mark 4:36

“so they left him and went away”, Mark 12:12

“Jesus said “Leave her alone””, Mark 14:6

“Your sins are forgiven”, Luke 7:48

Forgive/ ἄφες  applies not just to debts/sins or debts/money but to anything that should be left, sent away or pushed away.  The object of the verb, debts, was dealt with in the same way as anything that needed to be left behind, where a place, a person, a monetary obligation or a sin.  Jesus tells us here to ask God to send from our lives anything that is not of his kingdom.  This verb implies not just debts or sins, but anything, any place or any person that should not be in our lives as we seek to follow his will.  We are asking God in this passage to push from our lives all but Him!

Us/ ἡμῖν and our/ ἡμῶν are common forms of the same Greek word indicating the same plural pronoun known to English speakers.  Debts/ ὀφειλήματα is anything but common, used only twice in all of the New Testament.[4]  In our focus passage and in Romans, it refers to moral offense or a fault morally owed.[5]  In this first appearance of this word in the New Testament, Jesus indicates that these debts are unique in the life of the believer.  These are not financial or tangible obligations but moral offenses that need the forgiveness or excusing of a greater power.  There are moral offenses that need to be  pushed away from the life of the believer.

Jesus gives his followers in this phrase one that is completely unique in his ministry.  He would never before or after use this combination of words in a sentence.  The debt-object of the phrase is a completely unique word.  This is a part of the key passage intended to refer to a completely unique aspect of the life of a believer.

Historical Theology Analysis

An examination of the two key words in this passage, debt and forgive, will now be presented from an historical theology perspective.  The word combination of this phrase was unique to the disciples while their perspective on the key words would have been based on their training and experiences.  Understanding the perspective will give deeper insights into the passage.

Forgive is an action verb used in the Old Testament/Torah to express activity between people or people and God.  It is used to both express an actual activity or a desired activity.

“Please forgive, I beg you.”,  Genesis 50:17

“please forgive my sin only this once”, Exodus 10:17

“if you will, forgive their sin”, Exodus 32:32

“the Lord will forgive her”, Numbers 30:8

“the Lord will forgive her”, Numbers 30:12

“Forgive Your people Israel”, Deuteronomy 21:8

“The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him”, Deuteronomy 29:20

“He will not forgive your transgression”, Joshua 24:19

“Please forgive the transgression”, 1 Samuel 25:28

“hear and forgive”, 1 Kings 8:30

“forgive the sin of Your people Israel”, 1 Kings 8:34

“forgive the sin of Your servants”, 1 Kings 8:36

“forgive and act”, 1 Kings 8:39

“the Lord would not forgive”, 2 Kings 24:4

“hear and forgive”, 2 Chronicles 6:21

“forgive the sin”, 2 Chronicles 6:25

“I will hear from Heaven, will forgive their sin”, 2 Chronicles 7:14

“forgive all my sins”, Psalms 25:18

“ready to forgive”, Psalms 86:5

“Do not forgive their iniquity.”, Jeremiah 18:23

“O Lord, forgive!”, Daniel 9:19

“I would ever forgive them.”, Hosea 1:6

The forgiveness of a sin or debt, either requested or declared was a common Old Testament/Torah concept.  The Torah writers described the requests of forgiveness, the observation of forgiveness and the declaration of forgiveness.  This would have been a familiar and easily understood concept by the listeners of Jesus that day.

Debt or debts was also a familiar concept, but one much more deeply woven into Jewish culture.  To a Jew, debt was anything owed to another person such as goods, property or money.[6]  Biblically, righteous living is something one owes to God. Theologically, being in sin can be described as being in debt.

The Old Testament teaches the practice of debt.

“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you should not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother, but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”  Deuteronomy 15:7


However, it does not allow for the charging of interest, except for those outside of the believer’s community.

“He who increases his wealth by interest and usury, gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor.”  Proverbs 28:8


There is also clear guidance against the accumulation of debt.  It may be taken for a short term need, but is not to be held long term or allowed to build up.  Every seven years, all debts were erased to prevent the accumulation of these obligations.

“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.  This is the manner of remission:  every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed.”  Deuteronomy 15:1-2.


This aspect of Jewish life was very different than their history.  “Earlier legal traditions in Mesopotamia allowed for the voluntary sale of one’s dependents, whether offspring or a spouse, to creditors” to pay long term debt.[7]  Jews in the days of Jesus allowed for a complete overall forgiveness of all debt every seven years avoiding any long term build up.  To be in debt was completely acceptable.  To get out of debt, other than by repayment, required a public process that was humiliating. The “burning of debt records” was a public act to insure all knew of the release of that debt.[8]  The disciples would have understood the concept of debt and accepted that it could and should be forgiven.

Old Testament/Torah teaching was also clear that one could be a slave to their debts or helping others go into debt and this should be avoided.

“Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts.”  Proverbs 22:26

“Everyone who was in distress and everyone who was in debt…”, 1 Samuel 22:2

“The one who despises the word will be in debt to it.”, Proverbs 13:13


The listeners of Jesus that day would have had Old Testament/Torah perspective of both forgive and debts.  Forgiveness would come from the one who held the obligation.  The release or forgiveness of debts was an action sought by every Jew.  Debt may have been a normal part of Jewish life but the pursuit of forgiveness was also the norm.  The disciples had a clear image of the message Jesus was giving.  How we apply this portion of the passage is the real question for the modern day believer to answer.

Contemporary Theology Analysis

Jesus puts the request to The Father for forgiveness of debts right behind the request for daily food and nutrition.  He presented it as something that should be as natural to the believer as eating lunch!  We eat daily, gain bodily fuel for our activities, then move on to that day’s events to then start again tomorrow, ready for a new day.  We don’t look back on the previous day’s meals and evaluate them or their worthiness.  Yet our approach to our spiritual debts or sins is so very different.  Jesus presented here as approach that is far different than “the obsession we have with our past sins” what can be a major obstacle in our spiritual growth.[9]  What Jesus proposes is very unlike the “straightjacket” that many of us allow sin to become.[10]

The forgiveness of sins or shortcomings is a Godly act, “a divine prerogative reserved exclusively to God.”[11]  He carries away our debts and sins to never be seen again.  He “removes that straightjacket of debilitating guilt that the ego forces us to wear.”[12]  He allows us to start over every single day. The act of asking for forgiveness itself is also an act of obedience, following the words of Jesus in this passage.

The act of asking forgiveness is an ongoing, lifetime endeavor.  Jesus illustrates by asking “for our daily bread and forgive us our debts”, both daily tasks.  If the believer is forgiven of all existing sin at the time of conversion, perhaps the sins of their remaining life could be left to be dealt in our eternal home.  If a believer could live with the darkness of ongoing sin, asking for daily forgiveness would be unnecessary.  But sin is “a darkness, in which the very light in us is darkness, because passion has extinguished it.”[13] Those who choose to follow Jesus choose to live in light, not darkness!  “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;”  (1 John 1:6)  Just as we need daily bread and just as the new light of the sun shines every day, the forgiveness of sin can also be a daily event in the life of a believer.

Asking for forgiveness in the passage is implied indirectly by the connection to daily bread.  But Jesus also spoke of multiple instances of forgiveness in the life of a believer in other passages.  “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  (Mathew 18:21-22).  Clearly, the forgiveness of sin is not a singular occurrence in the life of a believer.


Jesus instructs the believer in this passage to seek the forgiveness or debt or sin as a daily occurrence.  Only God can give this forgiveness.  The focus of this forgiveness should now be defined.  He speaks of a debt or of sins.  His words go far beyond a financial debt, but “involves a moral dimension as well, i.e. it refers to actions regarded by God as against his will.”[14]  In modern times, we have no forgiveness of debts or general release of obligations every seven years as did the Jews of that day.  Here Jesus is clearly also speaking to both Gentiles of his day and to modern believers that would follow him centuries later.  He speaks to debts or sins or trespasses as shortcomings in our attitude or behavior toward God and toward others.  In this passage, Jesus does not suggest we ask The Father for forgiveness, but commands it.  “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  (Mathew 18:18)  When Jesus said pray then this way he was instructing and commanding.

Jesus also intends that his believers live a successful life and gives them this passage as one path to that success; a way to pray and to live.  To live successfully and free of any obligation to anyone but God is his intention for them and for us.  Any “indebtedness twists our good relationships into forces of destruction.”[15]  Gaining relief for sin or debt by just asking for it seems unlikely or even impossible.  “Yet salvation is the art of the impossible.”[16]  We must jus believe in the process.  The Apostle’s Creed states that “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”[17]  We show that belief in action by asking for that forgiveness.  We do so both because Jesus commanded it in this passage and because it is our only path to true success and freedom.


Chapter Summary

Jesus spoke to his believers in this passage on the familiar subject of debts, obligations or shortcomings.  As is today, this is a familiar concept to the listener or reader of the passage.  Jesus commands his followers to ask The Father to forgive or push away any obligations to the secular world or any shortcomings in spiritual life. While a familiar concept, Jesus used a combination of words here that were completely unique to his teachings.  He wishes us to daily work to push out of our lives anything that holds us to or reminds us of our lives before him.

Since the time context of the previous passage was daily and it was connected to this passage in the language used, we can take this as an everyday commandment.  While Jews of Jesus day would work to be debt free, there was an every seven year occasion of debt forgiveness.  It was public and not desired by any good Jew who worked to pay his own way in the world.  Jesus here offers the free and simple forgiveness of debts daily and privately with our Heavenly Father.  This pushing away of debt is presented in the passage as just as necessary for human life as the intake of nutrition on a daily basis.  He truly offers us the forgiveness of our shortcomings and mistakes as easily as eating a meal.  We need only ask.

While requesting this forgiveness is simple and commanded by Jesus to be done on a daily basis, it has a connecting phrase or action required to complete the process.  We must give this same blessing to anyone who has debt against us.  That is the subject of the next chapter.



















[1]Samuel L. Adams, Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea, (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014),  108.

[2]Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996),  315.

[3]Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville, TN:  Holman Publishers, 2010), 363.

[4]Ibid, 269.

[5]Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), 315.

[6]Samuel L. Adams, Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea, (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 108.

[7]Ibid, 78.

[8]Ibid, 180.

[9]Albert Haase, Living the Lord’s Prayer, (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Books, 2009), 156.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid,157.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Frederic William Farrar, The Lord’s Prayer:  Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, (London, England:  Isbister and Company Limited, 1895), 117.

[14] Barbara Frankel,  “The Lord’s Prayer:  An Exegesis of MT 6:9-13”, Master Thesis, College of Saint Benedict and St John’s University, 1986, 20.

[15]Telford Work, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, (Cambridge, UK:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007) 156.

[16]Ibid, 163.

[17]Ibid, 166.