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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxxiii. ἄφεσις, πάρεσις.

Ἄφεσις is the standing word by which forgiveness, or remission of sins, is expressed in the N. T. (see Vitringa, Obss. Sac. vol. i. pp. 909–933); though, remarkably enough, the LXX. knows nothing of this use of the word, Gen. 4:13 being the nearest approach to it. Derived from ἀφιέναι, the image which underlies it is that of a releasing, as of a prisoner (Isai. 61:1), or letting go, as of a debt (Deut. 15:3). Probably the year of jubilee, called constantly ἔτος, or ἐνιαυτὸς, τῆς ἀφέσεως, or simply ἄφεσις (Lev. 25:31, 40; 27:24), the year in which all debts were forgiven, suggested the higher application of the word, which is frequent in the N. T., though more frequent in St. Luke than in all the other books of the New Covenant put together. On a single occasion, however, the term πάρεσις τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων occurs (Rom. 3:25). Our Translators have noticed in the margin, but have not marked in their Version, the variation in the Apostle’s phrase, rendering πάρεσις here by ‘remission,’ as they have rendered ἄφεσις elsewhere; and many have since justified them in this; whilst others, as I cannot doubt, more rightly affirm that St. Paul of intention changed his word, wishing to say something which πάρεσις would express adequately and accurately, and which ἄφεσις would not; and that our Translators should have reproduced this change which he has made.

It is familiar to many, that Cocceius and those of his school found in this text one main support for a favourite doctrine of theirs, namely, that there was no remission of sins, in the fullest sense of these words, under the Old Covenant, no τελείωσις (Heb. 10:1-4), no entire abolition of sin even for the faithful themselves, but only a present proetermission (πάρεσις), a temporary dissimulation, upon God’s part, in consideration of the sacrifice which was one day to be; the ἀνάμνησις τῶν ἁμαρτίων remaining the meanwhile. On this matter a violent controversy raged among the theologians of Holland at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the following century, which was carried on with an unaccountable acrimony; and for a brief history of which see Deyling, Obss. Sac. vol. v. p. 209; Vitringa, Obss. Sac. vol. iv. p. 3; Venema, Diss. Sac. p. 72; while a full statement of what Cocceius did mean, and in his own words, may be found in his Commentary on the Romans, in loc. (Opp. vol. v. p. 62); and the same more at length defended and justified in his treatise, Utilitas Distinctionis duorum Vocabulorum Scripturoe, παρέσεως et ἀφέσεως (vol. ix. p. 121, sq.) Those who at that time opposed the Cocceian scheme denied that there was any distinction between ἄφεσις and πάρεσις; thus see Witsius, Oecon. Foed. Dei, iv. 12. 36. But in this they erred; for while Cocceius and his followers were undoubtedly wrong, in saying that for the faithful, so long as the Old Covenant subsisted, there was only a πάρεσις, and no ἄφεσις, ἁμαρτημάτων, in applying to them what was asserted by the Apostle in respect of the world; they were right in maintaining that πάρεσις was not entirely equivalent to ἄφεσις. Beza, indeed, had already drawn attention to the distinction. Having in his Latin Version, as first published in 1556, taken no notice of it, he acknowledges at a later period his error, saying, ‘Haec duo plurimum inter se differunt;’ and now rendering πάρεσις by ‘dissimulatio.’

In the first place, the words themselves suggest a difference of meaning. If ἄφεσις is remission, ‘Loslassung,’ πάρεσις, from παρίημι, will be naturally ‘proetermission,’ ‘Vorbeilassung, ’—the πάρεσις ἁμαρτημάτων, the proetermission or passing by of sins for the present, leaving it open in the future either entirely to remit, or else adequately to punish them, as may seem good to Him who thas the power and right to do the one or the other. Fritzsche is not always to my mind, but here he speaks out plainly and to the point (Ad Rom. vol. i. p. 199): ‘Conveniunt in hoc [ἄφεσις et πάρεσις] quod sive illa, sive haec tibi obtigerit, nulla peccatorum tuorum ratio habetur; discrepant eo, quod, hâc datâ, facinorum tuorum poenas nunquam pendes; illâ concessâ, non diutius nullas peccatorum tuorum poenas lues, quam ei in iis connivere placuerit, cui in delicta tua animadvertendi jus sit.’ And the classical usage both of παριέναι and of πάρεσις bears out this distinction. Thus Xenophon (Hipp. 7. 10): ἁμαρτήματα οὐ χρὴ παριέναι ἀκόλαστα: while of Herod Josephus tells us, that being desirous to punish a certain offence, yet for other considerations he passed it by (Antt. xv. 3. 2): παρῆκε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. When the Son of Sirach (Ecclus. 23:2) prays that God would notpass by” his sins, he assuredly does not use οὐ μὴ παρῇ as == οὐ μὴ ἀφῇ, but only asks that he may not be without a wholesome chastisement following close on his transgressions. On the other side, and in proof that πάρεσις == ἄφεσις, the following passage from Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Antt. Rom. vii. 37), is adduced: τὴν μὲν ὁλοσχερῆ πάρεσιν οὐχ εὕροντο, τὴν δὲ εἰς χρόνον ὅσον ἠξίουν ἀναβολὴν ἔλαβον. Not πάρεσις, however, here, but ὁλοσχερὴς πάρεσις, is equal to ἄφεσις, and no doubt the historian added that epithet, feeling that πάρεσις would have insufficiently expressed his meaning without it. 1

Having seen, then, that there is a strong primâ facie probability that St. Paul intends something different by the πάρεσις ἁμαρτημάτων, in the only place where he employs this phrase, from that which he intends in the many where he employs ἄφεσις, that passage itself, namely Rom. 3:25, may now be considered more closely. It appears in our Version: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” I would venture to render it thus: ‘Whom God hath set forth as a propitiation, through faith in his blood, for a manifestation of his righteousness because of the proetermission [διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν, not διὰ τῆς παρέσεως], in the forbearance of God, of the sins done aforetime;’ and his exact meaning I take to be this—‘There needed a signal manifestation of the righteousness of God, on account of the long praetermission or passing over of sins, in his infinite forbearance, with no adequate expression of his wrath against them, during all those long years which preceded the coming of Christ; which manifestation of God’s righteousness found place, when He set forth no other and no less than his own Son to be the propitiatory sacrifice for sin’ (Heb. 9:15, 22). During long ages God’s extreme indignation against sin and sinners had not been pronounced; during all the time, that is, which preceded the Incarnation. Of course, this connivance of God, this his holding of his peace, was only partial; for St. Paul has himself just before declared that the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18); and has traced in a few fearful lines some ways in which this revelation of his wrath displayed itself (Rom. 1:24-32). Yet for all this, it was the time during which He suffered the nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16); they were “the times of ignorance” which “God winked at” (Acts 17:30), in other words, times of the ἀνοχὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ, this ἀνοχή being the correlative of πάρεσις, as χάρις is of ἄφεσις: so that the finding of ἀνοχή here is a strong confirmation of that view of the word which has been just maintained.

But this position in regard of sin could, in the very nature of things, be only transient and provisional. With a man, the praetermission of offences, or ‘praeterition,’ as Hammond would render it (deducing the word, but wrongly, from πάρειμι, ‘praetereo’), will often be identical with the remission, the πάρεσις will be one with the ἄφεσις. Man forgets; he has not power to bring the long past into judgment, even if he would; or he has not righteous energy enough to will it. But with an absolutely righteous God, the πάρεσις can only be temporary, and must always find place with a looking on to a final settlement; forbearance is no acquittance; every sin must at last either be absolutely forgiven, or adequately avenged; for, as the Russian proverb tells us, ‘God has no bad debts.’ But in the meanwhile, so long as these are still uncollected, the πάρεσις itself might seem to call in question the absolute righteousness of Him who was thus content to pass by and to connive. God held his peace, and it was only too near to the evil thought of men to think wickedly that He was such a one as themselves, morally indifferent to good and to evil. That such with too many was the consequence of the ἀνοχὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ, the Psalmist himself declares (Ps. 50:21; cf. Job 22:13; Mal. 2:17; Ps. 73:11). But now (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ) God, by the sacrifice of his Son, had rendered such a perverse misreading of his purpose in the past dissimulation of sin for ever impossible. Bengel: ‘Objectum praetermissionis [παρέσεως], peccata; tolerantiae [ἀνοχῆς], peccatores, contra quos non est persecutus Deus jus suum. Et haec et illa quamdiu fuit, non ita apparuit justitia Dei: non enim tam vehementer visus est irasci peccato, sed peccatorem sibi relinquere, ἀμελεῖν, negligere, Heb. 8:9. At in sanguine Christi et morte propitiatoriâ ostensa est Dei justitia, cum vindictâ adversus peccatum ipsum, ut esset ipse justus, et cum zelo pro peccatoris liberatione, ut esset ipse justificans.’ Compare Hammond (in loc.), who has seized with accuracy and precision the true distinction between the words; and Godet, Comm. sur l’Épitre aux Rom. iii. 25, 26, who deals admirably with the whole passage.

He, then, that is partaker of the ἄφεσις, has his sins forgiven, so that, unless he bring them back upon himself by new and further disobedience (Matt. 18:32, 34; 2 Pet. 1:9; 2:20), they shall not be imputed to him, or mentioned against him any more. The πάρεσις, differing from this, is a benefit, but a very subordinate one; it is the present passing by of sin, the suspension of its punishment, the not shutting up of all ways of mercy against the sinner, the giving to him of space and helps for repentance, as it is said at Wisd. 11:24: παρορᾷς ἁμαρτηματα ἀνθρώπων εἰς μετάνοιαν: cf. Rom. 2:3-6. If such repentance follow, then the πάρεσις will lose itself in the ἄφεσις, but if not, then the punishment, suspended, but not averted, in due time will arrive (Luke 13:9).

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3929,G859.]

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