At church yesterday the reading was about Doubting Thomas, but it included the line:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Although I don’t think that he said it directly, the preacher made me think that this passage may be interpreted differently to the way I have previously thought about it.

Previously I have read this as Jesus giving the disciples (and by inference the church and clergy) the power to forgive sins – or not.  This is slightly odd, as I believe that many of the “threats” in the Bible are nothing of the sort.  For example:

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

instead, I see them as a description, or a warning.  A little like when we say to a child don’t put your finger in the plug, or you will be electrocuted – we are not threatening a punishment, we are describing the way the world is.  Similarly I see many of the apparent “threats” in the Bible as descriptions of how reality is.  So taking the one above, modern psychology would agree – as would Philip Larkin (warning – profanity).

And so, I now see the option of reading the initial passage as a description – if you do not forgive then forgiveness is not given!  And yet this is very powerful as not forgiving usually hurts the person not forgiving.

Is this a clear answer?  Of course not, but it certainly gives food for thought.


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