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Keywords:

  • person-to-person forgiveness;
  • Jesus;
  • Paul;
  • grace;
  • virtue;
  • Hannah Arendt;
  • Charles Griswold

Abstract

This essay explores Hannah Arendt's claim that Jesus was the “discoverer” of forgiveness. It assesses Charles Griswold's view that person-to-person forgiveness is in evidence in Greek culture and practice before Jesus. The essay refines Griswold's view and suggests that person-to-person forgiveness is a cultural universal. The essay makes observations about the significance of the different words that denote person-to-person forgiveness; it also explores the implications of reading the New Testament writings on person-to-person forgiveness in the chronological order in which they were written. From a close reading of the early New Testament documents, the essay makes two suggestions about the Western tradition of forgiveness. First, it suggests that Paul the apostle is the first to identify person-to-person forgiveness as a moral virtue. Second, it suggests that in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus is the first to identify person-to-person forgiveness as a discrete category of behavior distinct, for example, from pardoning, excusing, waiving, or ignoring the wrongs of others.