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Consider the following verse related to Stephen's stoning:

Acts 7:60

Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Clearly a Christian can forgive another person and, in fact, we are commanded to do so. But to wipe that sin off The Lord's books, my understanding is that's something only the individual sinner can do through true repentance via God's grace. The justification occurs between two parties: God and the sinner. The third-party victim of the sin can't act as a mediator.

Jesus proactively canceled others' sins on a number of occasions, most notably at the cross where He said, regarding his executioners, "Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do." But I had assumed that was something that only He could do; He's God, after all. But why was Stephen able to request that God forgive the sin of others? What authority did Stephen have to make that request of God and further, do we as Christians have that same authority?

Example: Let's say a non-believer is caught stealing $50 from you. You grant him forgiveness but he's still guilty of the sin before God. Do you then also have the authority to ask The Lord to forgive him for the theft, despite that he's a non-believer who doesn't fear God, nor feels any need of repentance whatsoever?

This question is being asked from a Protestant evangelical perspective.

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    It is not clear to me that Jesus forgives the executioners' sins. He simply petitions the Father to do so. Similarly with St. Stephen - it is a petition. – One God the Father Mar 3 at 19:10
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    I'd say I can ask God for anything I want; then it's up to God to decide whether (and how) to grant my request. If I ask Him to forgive someone, He might grant my request by giving that person the grace of repentance. I don't see that I need any authority to make requests to God. – Andreas Blass Mar 3 at 19:59
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    Stephen didn’t and couldn’t forgive sins – Kris Mar 3 at 23:28
  • To die with a grudge may be detrimental to one’s eternal spiritual health. Thus, Stephen’s declaration could just have been a way to die with the insurance of an expedient passage to Heaven. – Constantthin Mar 6 at 0:13
  • Do you need any authority to, for example, ask someone to lend something to you or do you a favour? The request may be more or less reasonable depending on the circumstances, but nothing's stopping you from asking. – NotThatGuy Mar 6 at 15:39
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If someone trespasses against me, personally, I can dismiss that trespass and require no remuneration, no restitution, no resolution. I can simply dismiss the event and give it no consideration whatsoever.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. [Matthew 6:12 KJV]

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: [Matthew 6:14 KJV]

I require nothing. I dismiss the debt. I am owed nothing at all.

Thus Stephen prays, that what had been done to him, in his humanity, by other humans, should not be given any consideration by God. He asks that God should take no notice of what had been done to him.

What had transpired between those persons and God, himself, of course, is another matter. That is between themselves and their Maker. But as to Stephen, Stephen has requested that, on his behalf, and for his sake, God should not lay it to their account.

No 'authority' is required for this. It is a request, a prayer.

It is not an authoritative demand.

It is a humble request from Stephen to the Lord his God.


I have responded to this question as a lifelong Protestant Evangelical, baptised at the age of sixteen, over fifty years ago, into a professing congregation.

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Who says Stephen has to have authority to ask God to forgive the sins of his nonbelieving executioners?

I think Stephen expressed what the Lord Jesus said at Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what the are doing,"

Now, I have no idea if Stephen was told by one of the disciples or somebody else that Jesus said those words on the cross. I do know from Acts 7:2 Stephen said, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran."

I also know that Stephen in his dying breath called on the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit. (Acts 7:59). In fact, what I find interesting is that Jesus "commended" His spirit to the Father, but Stephen, to the Lord Jesus.

I would also say that this is one of the earliest and clearest testimonies to Jesus' deity by His followers. Stephen went to be with Jesus and became the first martyr of the Early Church, the fist of a long line of believers who gave their lives for Jesus and the gospel.

For me, the lesson I learned is that some believers have a high capacity of love to forgive those that are killing him.

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It's very possible if you believe,

Jesus said it;

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth - Mark 9:23

Then He also said ask anything in my name and The Father will do it for you

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. - John 16:23

Later John even makes it more clear when He says

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. - 1 John 5:14

If you look at the will of God it's so great and has many areas like this part

Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. - 1 Tim 2:4

So you see, Stephen understood the will of God and was confident that if he asks the Father to hold it against them. It will be done because the Father wants everyone to come to the knowledge of His dear Son Jesus the Christ.

Finally, Stephen committed his spirit to the head of the Church, in whom all things were created, it is Jesus who promised us that He is going to prepare a place for us in the Father's House. Don't forget our righteousness is in Christ on our own we are not righteous but by being in Christ we are righteous before God.

Hallelujah!

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  • Welcome and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the Tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. – agarza Mar 4 at 14:15
  • It's true that it's God's will for all to be saved, and it's true that if we ask for anything in accordance with God's will, he hears us and we receive it. The challenge is that "will" has different connotations in those two verses. This needs to be considered when combining them. Otherwise we could simply pray for all to be saved and they would be, while Scripture declares that most will not be saved (see Matthew 7:14). God does not desire any to be lost, but allows it (see election doctrine). If we ask anything in accordance with his will (i.e. his desire and plan), we'll receive it. – bob Mar 4 at 17:49
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Quite a bit of the gospels consists of scenes composed by the evangelists in order to model behavior for people joining their newly created religion. These people hadn't grown up in a culture where such models existed. More specifically, there is material meant to show people how to behave in the unfortunate event that they become martyrs, so that their martyrdom will be inspirational and will bring credit to the church.

Examples of this sort of thing are Peter's out-of-the-blue and anachronistic confession of faith in Matthew 16:16, and the last supper (modeling the eucharist, which was invented decades later). Examples specifically modeling proper behavior for martyrs are Jesus's prayer at Gethsemane ("Please remove this cup from me. However, not what I desire, but what you desire."), and Jesus's words on the cross in Luke 23:34:

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Stephen is following this model. Recording his words in Acts brings credit to the church, inspires others, and models the Christian ethic of forgiveness as described in the sermon on the mount.

I think the above is fairly standard, at least among the kind of liberal university professors who write books and articles about the historical Jesus.

In addition, there is the whole question of who has authority to forgive sins, which is discussed in the gospels. In Mark 2, the scribes think, "Why does this man speak blasphemies like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus reads their minds and says, "But that you may know that any man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic-- "I tell you, arise, take up your mat, and go to your house." This is the WEB translation except that I've rendered son-of-man as "any man," so that it's generic rather than titular. This proposal to render at least some instances of son-of-man as generic is fairly common among scholars, although by no means universal. The likely Aramaic phrase behind son-of-man is actually a phrase that has a lot of possible meanings, but one of them is simply that it's a figure of speech for any human being.

So on this reading, Jesus has established that not only does someone like the paralytic not need to go to the Temple in Jerusalem and pay a lot of money to have his sins forgiven, actually anybody at all can forgive someone's sins -- without even asking permission from God.

You might say that this is crazy, it's anarchy. But Jesus's movement at that point was not an organized church, it was a roving band of hippies. They were all supposed to be building the kingdom of God together as a community, not just waiting for it to come from the sky.

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  • son-of-man is a term that refers to Jesus, specially when he wanted to convey his humanity. So I don't think it's adecuate to interpret what Jesus said to the paralytic as giving any man the authority to forgive sins, he is clearly proclaming the authority HE had to forgive sins. – Kemuel Sanchez Mar 5 at 13:06
  • @KemuelSanchez: This may be unfamiliar to you, but it's something that's widely discussed. For example, see Funk et al., The five gospels: What did Jesus really say? – Ben Crowell Mar 5 at 13:09
  • Maybe it's widely discussed. But it's hardly the most widely accepted interpretation, specially amongst the Christian circles. – Kemuel Sanchez Mar 5 at 13:48

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