Chapter # 6 Paragraph # 5 Study # 25
April 13, 2008
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
1901 ASV Translation:
37 And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released:
- I. The Issue of "Forgiveness".
- A. The typical word for "to forgive" in the New Testament is aphiemi. This word is apoluo. The AV translators did us a significant disservice to use "forgive" in this verse.
- B. The word used in this text is used in the sense of either "sending" someone away (who may not wish to go: Matthew 15:14), or of "letting" someone go away (who does wish to go: Matthew 27:15). It is the normal term to describe a "divorce". There is, in some uses of the word, a strong sense of obligatory bonds that are severed (such as in Matthew 18:27 where the lord of a certain servant was "owed" money by the servant and he "released" him from the obligation to repay the debt, and in all of the "divorce" contexts where there is a covenant involved). There is only one use of the word in the New Testament where the "released" and the one doing the "releasing" maintained a physical presence in the same place. In other words, to "send away", or to "release", is used in historical settings (all of the uses in the New Testament except one are found in the historical narratives of the Gospels and Acts) to indicate a "separation" of the parties involved so that they have very little to do with one another afterwards. There is no automatic sense of animosity or aversion, but there is no sense of remaining "close" in any spatial sense and, in that setting, spatial closeness was about all one had besides letters and memories to maintain any kind of "relationship".
- C. The setting into which Jesus addressed His words.
- 1. The larger context, as well as the very immediate context of this verse, is pretty much consumed with dealing with "enemies" and people from whom one would typically withhold compassion.
- 2. The "connection" between "releasing/sending away" and "not judging" and "not condemning" is the issue on point. It may be highly instructive that the prior paragraph made a fairly big deal out of "lending while expecting nothing in return", or "releasing others from their debts to you". The "big three" of the former unit of thought were "love", "do good", and "lend without expectation of return" (i.e., "give") and in this unit of thought there are four: "judge not", "condemn not", "release", and "give generously". There is an obvious overlap, but there are some new ideas also.
- 3. Jesus is clearly emphasizing the reality of the cause/effect universe in which we live and the connection between how we treat others and how we are treated. His words are proverbial in the sense that the "norm" works somewhat like a "tit for tat" reality. Where, however, "compassion" is involved, one never knows what will happen. "Grace" muddies the waters of a cause/effect reality when sin is in the picture. "Sin" muddies the waters of the same reality because it often does not respond in kind to kindness. So disciples swim in muddy water, but they are to strive to love, do good, lend generously, judge not, condemn not, and "release" others from binding obligations.
- 4. Unlike all "forgiveness" settings, this issue of "release" has very little to do with reestablishing relational harmony. Rather, it has to do with simply being sufficiently "compassionate" to not hold a debtor to a very binding obligation.
- a. In what way is it "compassionate" to "release" someone from a heavy obligation without encouraging irresponsibility? That it does encourage irresponsibility more often than not is illustrated by the overwhelming evidence of human response to the Gospel in conjunction with the constant insistence by all New Testament writers that people, who have had a heavy obligation suspended, be legitimately responsive to their new circumstances. If having the burden lifted made people more responsible, why all the insistence upon being responsible? Having the burden lifted does make it possible to "start over" with a clean slate, but if the lesson of the "burden" has not been learned, the person will simply get into another "burdensome" situation and "expect" compassionate reversal of the burden. Obviously, it is a fine line that we must walk to be truly compassionate.
- b. On the other hand, how is it "compassionate" to refuse to release someone from a self-imposed, heavy burden? Given the reality of "Sin" and its dominion over humanity, where is that "obvious fine line"? There is a difference between being an enabler and being compassionate, but what is that difference? In the Gospel, "release" is extended to only one category of people: those who "repent". Without repentance, there is no "release". But, given the fact that the "kindness of God" is what leads to "repentance", how much "releasing" can go on before "repentance" is required without the one releasing becoming an enabler? Should a soup kitchen continue to feed an impenitent druggie? At what point do we just let someone die?