The act of pardoning an offender; ceasing to feel resentment toward him because of his offense and giving up all claim to recompense. The Hebrew verb sa·lachʹ (forgive) is used only with regard to God’s pardoning a sinner. The Greek term a·phiʹe·mi literally means “let go off.”
According to God’s law given to the nation of Israel, in order for a person who had sinned against God or against his fellowman to have his sins forgiven, he first had to rectify the wrong as the Law prescribed and then, in most cases, present a blood offering to Jehovah. (Le 5:5–6:7) Hence, the principle stated by Paul: “Yes, nearly all things are cleansed with blood according to the Law, and unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.” (Heb 9:22) Actually, though, the blood of animal sacrifices could not take away sins and give the individual a perfectly clean conscience. (Heb 10:1-4; 9:9, 13, 14) By contrast, the foretold new covenant made possible true forgiveness, based on Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice. (Jer 31:33, 34; Mt 26:28; 1Co 11:25; Eph 1:7) Even while on earth, Jesus, by healing a paralytic, demonstrated that he had authority to forgive sins.
Jehovah forgives “in a large way,” as is indicated by Jesus’ illustrations of the prodigal son and of the king who forgave a slave a debt of 10,000 talents (60,000,000 denarii, or c. $40,000,000), whereas that slave was unwilling to forgive a fellow slave a debt of but a hundred denarii (c. $70). (Isa 55:7; Lu 15:11-32; Mt 18:23-35) Nevertheless, Jehovah’s forgiveness is not prompted by sentimentality, for he does not leave notorious acts unpunished. (Ps 99:8) Joshua warned Israel that Jehovah would not forgive apostasy on their part.
God has a required way for seeking and receiving his forgiveness. A person must acknowledge his sin, recognize that it is an offense against God, confess it unqualifiedly, have a deep heartfelt sorrow for the wrong done, and have a determination to turn from such a course or practice. (Ps 32:5; 51:4; 1Jo 1:8, 9; 2Co 7:8-11) He must do what he can to right the wrong or damage done. (Mt 5:23, 24) Then he must pray to God, asking for forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice.
Moreover, forgiving others for personal offenses, regardless of the number of times involved, is a Christian requirement. (Lu 17:3, 4; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13) God’s forgiveness is not extended toward those who refuse to forgive others. (Mt 6:14, 15) However, even when serious wrongdoing leads to expulsion of “the wicked man” from the Christian congregation, that person may in due time be accorded forgiveness if he proves that he is truly repentant. At that time all in the congregation can confirm their love for him. (1Co 5:13; 2Co 2:6-11) However, Christians are not required to forgive those who practice malicious, willful sin with no repentance. Such become God’s enemies.
It is proper to pray for God’s forgiveness in behalf of others, even for an entire congregation. Moses did so respecting the nation of Israel, confessing their national sin and asking forgiveness, and he was favorably heard by Jehovah. (Nu 14:19, 20) Also, Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, prayed that Jehovah might forgive his people when they sinned and then turned back from their wrong course. (1Ki 8:30, 33-40, 46-52) Ezra acted representatively in confessing publicly the sins of the repatriated Jews. His heartfelt prayer and exhortation had the result that the people took action in order to receive Jehovah’s forgiveness. (Ezr 9:13–10:4, 10-19, 44) James encouraged the spiritually sick one to call for the older men of the congregation to pray over him, and “if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” (Jas 5:14-16) However, there is “a sin that does incur death,” sin against the holy spirit, a deliberate practice of sin for which there is no forgiveness. A Christian should not pray for those sinning in this way.