What are the main theological stances on the doctrine of forgiveness vs Reconciliation?

I think at the far far extreme (or perhaps the most biblical definition is):

  • we should forgive others as God forgave us

  • God forgives us for our sins, not bringing them into account

  • God treats us with the imputed righteousness of Christ

  • therefore, we should not bring others sins into account and treat them with the righteousness of Christ.

I'm interested in an overview of other theological stances on forgiveness / reconciliation (I suspect there's a spectrum).

The ideal answer would be something that present an ordered list, where each item has a name along with a description of how forgiveness / reconciliation is viewed within that stance.


  • Are you talking about the Catholic notion of a sacrament of reconciliation vs the Protestant notion of going straight to God for forgiveness?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 4:00
  • 4
    It might help if you explained the definitions of forgiveness and reconciliation that you're operating under. Also, just register already :P
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


From a protestant perspective I think the teaching is clear. We are to never withhold forgiveness towards an offending brother or sinner.

Peter asked this question to Jesus himself:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy- seven times. (NIV Matthew 18:21-22)

The 'seventy seven' phrase implies unlimited, for as Alfred Edersheim notes, it responds to a 'quantitative question' with a 'qualitative answer'. The whole concept of turning the other cheek and not judging our brother implies walking in constant forgiveness.

However, although this ensures continual personal reconciliation and prevents us from personally 'judging' (which is implicit in every unforgiving thought which wickedly resents the sins if others) - this is not meant to imply social reconciliation. On the contrary. For the sake of the benefit of the sinner and society, the murderer, though possibly 'personally' forgiven and reconciled to the families of Christian survivors, must still face prison to be reconciled to society. The same goes within the church for those who commit scandalous sins which they remain unrepentant of. Such should face excommunication from the local church. With such people, while in that state, we must do our part in opposing reconciliation, while holding no personal judgment or resentment:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (NIV 1 Corinthians 5:11)

By separating the personal from the social, we can follow the subject of forgiveness an reconciliation as proposed in scripture.

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