Date of Award


Access Restriction


Degree Name

Master of Arts



School or College

Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Charlotte Radler


This thesis examines the twenty-two passages in the Gospels in which God’s forgiveness of human sin is explicitly addressed. Using modern textual, literary, form, redaction, and historical criticisms as exegetical tools, the examination maps out the development of these biblical vignettes so as to extract from the process an understanding of what the Gospel writers wanted to convey to Jesus’ followers about God’s forgiveness. Four distinct forgiveness modes were discovered: repentance leads to forgiveness (e.g. proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all nations in Lk 24:47), faith acts as a conduit to forgiveness (e.g. sinful woman kissing Jesus’ feet in Lk 7:48b-50), one must forgive in order to be forgiven (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer in Lk 11:4 and Mt 6:12), and forgiveness is a free gift based solely on God’s mercy (e.g. on the cross, “Father, forgive them” in Lk 23:34). None of these views represents a majority Gospel vision of forgiveness, with each of the four viewpoints having four to seven episodes occurring in the Gospel cannon. Seldom are any of these pathways to forgiveness mentioned together. Despite a plethora of information about forgiveness, nowhere do the Gospels present a wholistic explanation of divine forgiveness. The Gospel writers, like their Hebraic ancestors, were comfortable with a multivariant view of God’s forgiveness and showed no propensity to develop a wholistic theology of forgiveness. However, underlying this untidy approach was an emphasis on God’s mercy and compassion that had roots in the Old Testament understanding of Yahweh as gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. In addition, the seedling concepts of sin as an unpayable debt or of the importance of faith in Jesus appeared in the background of multiple Scripture passages from each of the four forgiveness themes.