“as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Key Word Analysis
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν
These words end one of the most interesting and often discussed phrases of the passage. The “and forgive-as we” petition has been called the “terrible petition” of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a continuation of the previous phrase and uses much of the same language while changing the ownership of the needed action.
The words paint a clear picture, using common language of the day. As/ὡς connects the two phrases, a common word used almost a thousand times in the Greek New Testament indicating when, like, even, unless, as soon as, even as or after that. It connects two ideas to create one.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites”, Mathew 6:5
“Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” Matthew 6:29
“it was restored to normal, like the other.” Matthew 12:13
“unless you are converted and become like the children”, Matthew 18:3
“It is like a mustard seed”, Mark 4:31
“Mary stayed with her about three months then returned to her home.” Luke 1:56
“For while you are going”, Luke 12:58
“When he approached Bethphage and Bethany”, Luke 19:29
The two ideas or actions connected by this word are dependent on each other for their meaning. One is not complete without the other.
We/ἡμεῖς is a personal pronoun used only forty times in the New Testament. It shows a consistency in the passage as it is the same word used in the first phrase, Our Father. It means our, mine, I, my, myself, me or we. Jesus used it to communicate thoughts and actions around himself, the Heavenly Father or Israel as a people. Its use here gives a very personal tone to this part of the passage, pulling Jesus and his believers close together in applying the same actions to their lives.
“Our Father”, Matthew 6:9
“everyone who hears these words of Mine”, Matthew 7:24
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine”, Matthew 7:26
“I myself”, Luke 9:9
“for a friend of mine”, Luke 11:6
“I myself and working”, John 5:17
“I myself will raise him up the last day”, John 6:40
“then you are truly disciples of mine”, John 8:31
“I have sent them myself”, Acts 10:10
“the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”, I Corinthians 1:2
The next three words are repeated identically from the first part of our two part passage. Also/καὶ, have forgiven/ἀφήκαμεν and our/ἐγώ are the same words used in And forgive us our debts. The language continues to create one idea or action from the two passages. The last word of the second part is a new word to the passage.
The last word, debtor/ὀφειλέταις is used only seven times in the New Testament to communicate one who owes another, identical to the contemporary use of the word. It can refer to a literal or moral debt. It does not speak to the past but indicates a current, unpaid obligation.
“one who owed him ten thousand talents”, Matthew 18:24
“worse culprits than all the men”, Luke 13:4
“I am under obligation”, Romans 1:14
“we are under obligation”, Romans 8:12
“they are indebted to them”, Romans 15:27
“he is under obligation”, Galatians 5:3
The word choices of Jesus blended the two part passage into one powerful theme in And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. The historical context of that day for these words, or how the disciples would have heard these phrases will now be examined.
Historical Theology Analysis
As most of the language is identical to the first part of this passage on debt and debtors, the analysis from an historical perspective is also the same, covered in the previous chapter. Only two words are unique to the second part of the passage, as and debtor. The disciples perspective on the remainder of as we also have forgiven our debtors would have been the same as in And forgive us our debts.
As or As-we was a common thought, used several thousand times in the Old Testament, connecting two actions or thoughts. The disciples would have heard it as a phrase connecting the two parts of this passage just as this phrase had been used in many Old Testament examples.
“just as we have not touched you”, Genesis 26:29
“as we did to Shiloh”, Deuteronomy 3:6
“Just as we obeyed Moses in all things”, Joshua 1:17
“as we have sworn to each other”, 1 Samuel 40:22
“As we have hoped in you”, Psalms 33:22
“As we have heard, so we have seen”, Psalms 48:8
The historical concept of connecting two actions or thoughts to achieve a goal would have been familiar and comfortable to the disciples that day. The context of debtor would have been a bit less common or comfortable.
While the Old Testament deals in detail with the concept of debt, it has less to say about debtors. The overall context is to avoid this status, to avoid debt. Most of the teachings and discussions are about the debt itself and the resolution of it. The closest Hebrew form of debtor only appears twice in Old Testament teachings.
“And the people will be like a priest, and the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor.” Isaiah 24:2.
“if a man does not repress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge”, Ezekiel 18:7.
The Old Testament refers to the debtor indirectly many times. The debtor delivers a pledge in Deuteronomy 24:10. Both the debtor and the creditor seemed to be cursed in some examples.
“I have not lent, nor have men lent money to me, yet everyone curses me.” Jeremiah 15:10
To avoid being either a debtor or creditor was the goal of a good Jew in that day. Both sides of that relationship invited conflict. The words of Jesus to both ask for and give forgiveness at the same time would have been easily understood by his listeners. To avoid the conflict with The Father, first the disciples must forgive others. This implication that receiving God’s forgiveness was dependent on the believers giving forgiveness to others would have been a new idea to those listeners. Jesus was teaching that to receive his forgiveness, an action on the part of the believer was necessary at the very same time or in advance. This is not a one way, from God only, transaction. This would have been new theology at that time. It has the same implications then and now as the next section will explore.
Contemporary Theology Analysis
This part of the passage does not deal only with receiving the mercy or grace of God but puts our fate solely in our own hands. Here the believer asks God to deal with him or her exactly as he deals with others. Our forgiveness of others is directly related to God’s forgiveness of us. In praying or following the passage, we are asking God to treat us the way we treat others.
Charles Spurgeon put it plainly. “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” To receive this forgiveness, we must first forgive. If we chose not to obey, we condemn ourselves to spiritual death. One of John Wesley’s most famous quotes came when a great leader of his day, General Oglethorpe said to him “I never forgive.” Wesley famously replied, “Then I hope, sir, you never sin.”
Jesus is clear in this passage and in those that follow.
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Mathew 6:14-15
This portion of the passage has very different application than prior portion. While give us this day our daily bread states a complete dependence on God that is to be renewed daily, as we forgive our debtors puts the obligation of the shoulders of the believer, not on The Father. While God takes responsibility for our bodily needs if we ask him, He puts the responsibility for the cleaning of our soul on us. He commits to insure we are bodily fed as his unconditional blessing to us, but to be continually forgiven of new sins requires action on our part. “As bread is the first need of the body, so forgiveness for the soul.” While the blood of Jesus has given us access to forgiveness, “only what is really confessed is really forgiven.” We must confess our sins as/ὡς forgive others. To fail to do so is the sign the personal death warrant Spurgeon described.
And, just as we must eat daily, we must confess and forgive daily as well. The words of Jesus linked bread and forgiveness to this day. This was not the only time Jesus spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation in his ministry. He did it many times.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven time, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 19:7)
Just as there is no limit to our lifetime of need for bread, there is no limit to our need for forgiveness or of the need that we forgive others. It is not an action, but a way of life. “As many times as it takes, we are to forgive!” Jesus is calling us to forgive and to be forgiven, as often as is necessary.
This is not just an aspect of Christian living, but of living as a human being on this planet. “We were created to be in relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.” Unresolved conflict, spiritually known as sin and humanly known as hurt or distrust, destroys or prevents the building of relationships. We need to be at peace with God and with each other.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so thet we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
To fulfil our goal of being Christ-like and to bring him to others, we must be at peace both with him and with others. And our lives must be full of forgiveness for two additional reasons. First, Jesus forgave. Second, our forgiveness from God depends on our forgiveness to others as the passage indicates.
The beginning thesis of this work is that the central passage is not about prayer, but about life.
“This work will present the idea of applying this passage not just to prayer, but for the challenge of successfully living daily as a Christian. The Lord’s Prayer is not just about prayer, but also a “summary of Jesus’ priorities” for Christian living.”
No part of the passage more clearly illustrates this thesis. Just as we need ongoing nourishment to thrive or even to survive, we need forgiveness. To get that ongoing forgiveness we must forgive others in the same manner. Forgiving another is not something you can do quietly to yourself as in a prayer. It is an act that requires communication to that person in an action. It is not prayer-like but life-like.
This portion of the passage also creates a requirement for Christian living that is not dependent only on The Father. We must create this life-of-forgiving-others in our daily walk. It does not come to us through the grace of God but through our intentional application of that grace to others.
This portion of the key passage continues to show the prayer and life model that Jesus didn’t just preach but lived. His words here offer us “direct insight into the kinn of prioritizing” necessary for the Christ-like human life. It is our role to accept and follow it all, both the portions that call believers to follow and seek the grace and mercy of God and those portions that outline our personal responsibilities in that process.
The believer who prays and seeks to live the words of Jesus does so at their own risk. This portion of the passage asks The Father to forgive us as we or only if we forgive others. The believer must be aware of the words they seek to pray and live. These are not casual words or casual objectives for a Christian life. The next portion of the passage shifts back to requests to The Father that depend entirely on his grace and not the believer’s life or actions.
R .Kent Hughes, Abba Father: The Lord’s Patter for Prayer, (Westchester, IL: Good News Publishers, 1986), 77.
Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), 680.
Frederick William Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 275.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons24.iv_1.html, Accessed 06/12/2016.
R. Kent Hughes, Abba Father: The Lord’s Pattern for Prayer, (Westchester, IL: Good News Publishers, 1986), 79.
Curtis Rose, The Lord’s Prayer: A Collection of Historical Writings on the Lord’s Prayer, (Castle Rock, CO; reNew Publications, 2014), 146.
Tyrone D. Gordon, Living the Lord’s Prayer, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 49.
Derek Shannon Melanson, “Karl Barth’s Understanding of The Lord’s Prayer”, Master Thesis, Acadia University, Spring 1998, 80.