If Perhaps You May Be Forgiven? Acts 8:22

Many Christians have stumbled over the wording in Acts 8:22. The translation as it occurs in the vast majority of English versions indicates that when believers go to God to ask for His forgiveness for some particular sin, He might forgive them and might not. This contradicts every other New Testament verse on this subject as it pertains to the grace administration in which we live.

Acts 8: 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. [King James Version]

The context here is Peter speaking to Simon, who had been a sorcerer but had become a born-again believer. Simon had offered Peter money to essentially buy a ministry. Acts 8:22 is part of Peter’s response.

1 John states the following:

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This leaves no room for the “if perhaps” of Acts 8:22. In our postings in the “gift of righteousness” series, I asserted that 1 John 1:9 addresses the condition of those who are not born again, who need to acknowledge their separation from God and be cleansed of their unrighteousness. Those who are born again have already been made righteous. Their sins have already been forgiven, paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Most people believe 1 John 1:9 addresses the condition of those who are already born again, telling them what they need to do to be forgiven after they have blown it in some way. Either way, there can be no “if pehapsness” about it.

A few versions have endeavored to deal with the problem by translating ei, the Greek word for “if” in Acts 8:22, as “that.” Here is one example:

Acts 8:22 Let your heart be changed, and make prayer to God that you may have forgiveness for your evil thoughts. [The Bible in Basic English]

This takes care of the apparent contradiction, but the problem with doing this is that ei means “if” not “that.” It is translated as “if” 242 times (KJV) in the New Testament. There is no legitimate excuse for translating it as “that” in this verse.

The resolution to the difficulty lies in the rendering of the Greek word translated “forgiven.” It is aphiemi and its basic meaning is “to leave” or “send away.” It is translated “forgiven” only in contexts where what is leaving or being sent away is one’s guilt or debt. It is translated as “leave,” or other words carrying essentially the same meaning in their contexts, more frequently than it is translated “forgive” or “forgiven” and should have been translated that way here in Acts 8:22. Pray God if the thought of your heart may leave you.

Now the “if” in this verse fits just fine. God is not going to change anyone’s mind for him. The individual must do that for himself, but he could certainly pray and ask God for His help in doing so. Even with God’s help, there is no guarantee that any given individual will change his mind, thus the “if.”

Simon had believed, but he still needed to clean up his act in at least one category. Peter exhorted Simon to pray for being successful in doing so, to pray for the thought of his heart to leave him. This verse has nothing to do with gaining God’s forgiveness.

By the way, if this is your first time on our site, I would like to suggest that you check out our home page to see a little more of where we are coming from. (I have no problem with ending a sentence with a preposition. It is an arbitrary rule, and I’m not real big on unnecessary man-made rules.) This site is not about religion. It is all about the specifics of what the Bible actually says.

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