What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Forgiving Others?

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi’s brothers treat him very badly. As they travel with the family of Ishmael to their camp in the wilderness, the brothers become angry with Nephi, tie him up, and threaten to leave him to die in the wilderness. Nephi prays for help, and God gives him the strength to free himself. His brothers are still angry, but several other members of the party plead with them, and their hearts are softened. They beg Nephi to forgive them. In response, he says, “I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness” (1 Nephi 7:21).

Years later, the high priest over the church, Alma, faced a difficult situation. Some members of the church were breaking God’s commandments. As the leader of the church, Alma felt the responsibility to provide corrective feedback, but he worried about how to do it. He prayed for guidance, and received the following instructions:

  1. If a person does not want to live by the standards of the church, they should not be a member of the church (Mosiah 26:28, 32).
  2. If a person fails to live the standards of the church but sincerely wants to do better, they should continue to be a member of the church. God forgives those who repent, and His church must do the same (Mosiah 26:29-30).
  3. We each have an individual obligation to forgive one another (Mosiah 26:31).

When the Savior visited the Nephites, He shared with them the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the following principle:

If ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (3 Nephi 13:14-15).

One of the Greek words which is translated as “forgive” in the New Testament is aphiemi (ἀφίημι). The word means literally “to send away,” “to leave,” or “to let go.” When Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew to follow Him, they “straightway left [aphiemi] their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:20). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that, if someone sues you and takes away your coat, you should let him have [aphiemi] your cloak also. To forgive is to let something go, to leave it behind and not to dwell on it any more, to look forward and not backward.

The other Greek word which is often rendered as “forgive” is charizomai (χαρίζομαι). This means literally to give grace: to bestow an unearned gift. In one of the parables of Jesus, a creditor forgives two debtors. One owes a lot of money, and the other owes less. Jesus says that the creditor “frankly forgave them both” (Luke 7:42). The King James translators rendered the single Greek word charizomai as two English words: “frankly forgave.” Some other translations insert different adjectives, such as “kindly,” “graciously,” or “generously,” to convey the full meaning of the word (See Luke 7:42 on biblehub.com). To forgive is an act of generosity.

Today, I will follow the Savior’s admonition to forgive others. I will remember that to forgive is to let something go—to leave it behind—and that it is also to bestow a gift. I will also remember the Savior’s caution: if I want to be forgiven, I must forgive.

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