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35 Examples of Forgiveness in the Bible

God’s forgiveness of sin is one of His extraordinary gifts to His children. We see over and over examples of forgiveness in the Bible so we can know God freely and completely forgives sin.

God is always ready to dust us off–forgive us, set us on our feet–back on mission again. 

Your story is not about your failure, but about God’s victory and forgiveness.

If your past has some failure, has some dark baggage, has some betrayal in it. You are in good company in the family of faith.

  • David was an adulterer and murderer.
  • Peter denied even knowing Jesus.
  • Rahab was a prostitute.
  • Solomon was full of pride.
  • Paul tortured and killed Christians.

Forgiveness is what your Heavenly Father does. It is why Jesus came– to bring healing, restoration and to put our pasts behind us. 

Biblical Definition of Forgiveness

There are two Old Testament words for forgive in the Bible. The first and more common one is “Salah”  meaning “to practice forbearance, pardon, or forgive.” It is never used of a man forgiving another human, but only of God forgiving man.

The other Old Testament word for forgive is “Nasa” meaning to lift up, take away, bear up, or carry. It offers a beautiful visual for what God does with our sin and guilt.

The New Testament word used for forgive is “Aphíēmi“. It means to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence, to cancel, remit, or pardon. It can also mean “to go away or send away, to disregard, to let be.”

Another New Testament word for forgiveness is “Charizomai”. This word often used by the apostle Paul to emphasize the gracious nature of forgiveness. It is defined as to: grant as a favor, gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue, to deliver, to forgive freely. (Source)

wooden stick cross tied with rope lays on an open Bible

There are so many Bible stories that highlight forgiveness in the Bible! Here are a few of my favorites.

5 Examples of Forgiveness in the Old Testament

1. Jacob and Esau

Esau forgives Jacob for stealing his birthright in Genesis 33. These brothers had a relationship with much difficulty and Esau’s forgiveness is one way God blesses Jacob.

2. Story of Joseph and His brothers

This is the most powerful story of forgiveness in the Old Testament in my opinion. Jospeh’s brothers attempt to murder him and sell him into slavery. Years later (after many ups and downs in another country) the brothers are at his mercy.

Amazingly Joseph forgives them and shows kindness and love to them! He brings their whole family to Egypt so he can continue to provide for them.

3. God forgiving Israel in the wilderness

Time and time again in the wilderness journey (told primarily in the book of Exodus) the people of Israel disobey and complain and time and time again God forgives them. God’s great love gand patience is shown time and time again as He forgives them. 

wilderness with scrub grass and small trees

4. David’s Forgiveness after an Adultery and Murder

David was called a man after God’s own heart, but he still sinned big time when he has sex with Bathsheba and then lies about it and kills her husband to cover it up.

When confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sin David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

There were still consequences to David’s sin (like God often allows us to experience as well), but God forgave him.

5. God Spares Ninevah

God’s forgiveness when Ninevah repents is in stark contrast to Jonah’s resentful attitude. How beautiful and tender God is to this wicked city giving them a message of forgiveness after their repentance.

7 Examples of Forgiveness in the New Testament

1. The Woman Caught in Adultery

This story is found in John 8:1-11 is a beautiful example of forgiveness and God’s mercy. According to Old Testament law this woman should have died, but Jesus mysteriously begins writing on the ground.

Whatever he writes, it moves all of her accusers to leave from the oldest to the youngest.

Then Jesus simply tells her, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

2. Jesus and the Paralytic

In this story found in Luke 5:17-26, Jesus is teaching in a house with a great crowd around him. 4 friends bring a man who can’t walk on a mat to be healed by Jesus and when they can’t go through the door, they climb up to the roof and wreck the roof to lower their friend down in front of Jesus.

Jesus instead of immediately healing him, tells him “your sins are forgiven”. Then after some murmuring from the crowd he tells the paralyzed man to “rise, pick up your bed and go home.” By forgiving his sins first, Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and spiritual healing over the physical healing of this man’s body.

3. Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

In this story found in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus illustrates his command to forgive “seventy times seven” with a story of a king and two servants. The first servant has a massive debt to the king and the king orders him to be sold, along with his family and all his possessions.

The servant fall to his knees and begs for more time to pay back the debt.

The king is moved and forgives his massive debt. Immediately the servant goes out and finds another fellow servant who owes him a very small amount of money. He grabs him and chokes him saying in a loud voice, “Pay me what you owe me!”

Instead of showing the same forgiveness just extended to him, the first servant puts the other servant in prison until he can pay off his small debt.

News of this interaction comes back to the king and he calls in the unmerciful servant and gives him the same punishment he bestowed on the servant who owed him money.

Jesus ends the story with an admonishment to forgive from the heart.

4. Parable of the Two Sons

This is often called the story of the Prodigal Son, but Jesus in it is really comparing two lost sons–one lost in sins and one lost in unforgiveness in this story in Luke 15:11-32.

A young man asks to inherit his wealth from his father early and wastes his entire inheritance on “wild living”. He finds himself at rock bottom eating pig slop and he decides to return to his father and beg his forgiveness.

As he approaches the family home, his father sees him and runs to him, embracing him with open arms and elevating him back to his same status in the family.

against a pinky orange sunset a father opens his arms to his son to run back to him

When the older son hears the party his dad has thrown for his brother he is angry and resentful. The father reminds him of his position “you are always with me and all that I have is yours” and invites him into the celebration.

The story purposefully ends without us learning if the older son embraced forgiveness or bitterness, leaving the ending as a challenge to the listener.

5. Peter’s Forgiveness

The apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus three times the night Jesus was tried and crucified. In John 21:15 we see Jesus forgiving Peter and reinstating him into ministry.

6. Apostle Paul

Paul spoke often about the good news of God’s forgiveness and he himself had experienced the life-changing power of forgiveness. Paul’s conversion and forgiveness story is found in Acts 8 and 9.

After hating Christians and persecuting them, Paul had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and it changed his life!

7. Philemon and Onesimus

Onesimus was the slave of Philemon, a Christian man and he ran away from his master, possibly stealing from him as well. Later he met Paul and became a forgiven Christ-follower. Paul encouraged him to seek forgiveness from his former master and while returning him to Philemon asks for his freedom to continue to minister the gospel with Paul.

Although the short book of Philemon does not reveal whether or not Onesimus remained free Christian tradition indicates that Onesimus became the bishop (church leader) of Ephesus and Philemon became the leader of the church at Colossae–two forgiven and forgiving brothers working side by side for Christ.

6 Bible Verses About God’s Forgiveness

God’s forgiveness is his incredible free gift to us! Because we have all sinned we need God’s forgiveness to enter into a relationship with a perfect and just God. God’s desire is to quickly and completely forgive us each time we ask.

1. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. -Psalm 32:5

In this Psalm David highlights the blessings of forgiveness after his sin with Bathsheba. He encourages us to confess and reveal sin and allow God to forgive our guilt.

2. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. -Psalm 103:11-12

Psalm 103:11-12 against colorful background

3. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. -Psalm 130:3-4

God isn’t keeping a big book of our screw-ups. His forgiveness frees us to serve Him and revere Him.

4. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” -I John 1:9

This is the bedrock verse on forgiveness and is worth memorizing if you struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness. Jesus has done it! Your forgiveness rests on God’s faithfulness ,not yours!

There is no work for you to do besides simply acknowledging your sin and turning from it.

1 john 1:9 If we confess our sins he is faithful and just

5. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. -Colossians 2:13-14

Jesus did the legal legwork to free you forever from the weight of what we deserved for our sins.

6. Then he {God} says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. -Hebrews 10:17-18

God is not ruminating on your past!

RELATED: 5 WAYS TO SPEND TIME WITH GOD DURING BUSY SEASONS

5 Verses About Forgiving Yourself

I would challenge you to not get hung up on “forgiving yourself”, but rather accept and believe God’s gift of forgiveness in your life. The enemy loves to attack us with our past–telling us our pasts make us unforgivable, useless and unlovable.

Choose instead to focus on the things God says about you. You are beloved, chosen, fully forgiven and commissioned to do good things God planned for you long ago.

1. Then Jesus straightened upc and asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more.” -John 8:10-11

Don’t condemn yourself for things Jesus has set you free from.

2. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. -Isaiah 43:19

God is focused on the new things He is doing in your life! Turn your eyes there too.

Isaiah 43:19 see I am doing a new thing...

3. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:8-10

God has saved you and lavished His grace on you. It’s not about what you’ve done in your past–God has a future of good planned for you from long ago.

Ephesians 2:8-9 for by grace you have been saved...

4. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. -Psalm 32:5

If you have asked God for forgiveness of sins, then He has forgiven you. Release your guilty feelings–your guilt is gone because of what Jesus did on the cross.

5.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace  that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding. -Ephesians 1:7-8

God’s rich grace and forgiveness is lavished on you!

RELATED: 15 BIBLE VERSES TO ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER

7 Bible Verses About Forgiving Others

Christ’s forgiveness for us compels our forgiveness of others in our life. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences or boundaries, an abusive relationship on any level should not be tolerated. But rather true forgiveness is the release of justice into God’s faithful and loving arms. Forgiving others is important for our own sake–freedom is found for those who forgive freely.

1. 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. -Matthew 18:21-22

The power of forgiveness is found in its abundance. Just as God has abundantly forgiven me, I must also forgive abundantly.

2. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. -Colossians 3:13

Once again, Christ Jesus forgiveness empowers us to forgive in the same spirit and love that He forgives.

3. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. -Mark 11:25

Unforgiveness is also a sin and separates us from God. Our Heavenly Father knows our tendency to hang onto bitterness and compels us for the sake of our brother and for our own spiritual state to offer true forgiveness.

4. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. -Ephesians 4:32

Kindness and compassion are how we see the person we need to forgive through God’s eyes. When we see them and ourselves through God’s eyes we know any good we do is through God working in us, not by any righteousness of our own.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another forgiving each other

5. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. -Luke 11:4

Right in the Lord’s pray we find this instruction to forgive because God has forgiven us our sins.

6. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” -Luke 6:27

Jesus challenges us to not only forgive, but to love and pray and do good to those who have caused us harm. This is supernatural forgiveness that is only empowered by God. 7.

7. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. -Galatians 6:1

If a fellow Christ follower sins, our forgiveness and restoration should be done with gentleness and caution so we ourselves don’t fall into the same habits trying to help them get free.

No matter what heaviness your past holds you are God’s masterpiece. God saved you by your grace and your past isn’t part of that equation. His forgiveness is total! It’s a free gift for you paid for by Jesus death on the cross!

What if I don’t feel forgiven or I can’t forgive others?

If you are struggling to forgive or embrace God’s forgiveness of your past, don’t allow the world, the flesh or the devil to speak lies about your status as a forgiven child of God.

You get louder with the truth!

1. Read stories of forgiveness and verses about forgiveness in the Bible

Flood yourself with the truth of God’s word to encourage and empower you! Look up all the stories in this post and Scripture and read them thoroughly. Write out your favorite verse in each story.

Journal your thoughts and prayers as you read about forgiveness in the Bible. Remember 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Let God’s love fill you as you reflect on the forgiveness of God.

2. Speak Scripture over yourself

”No, I am a beloved child of God, saved by grace and God’s masterpiece.”

 “Jesus has called me to forgive 70 times 7.”

woman praying in sunshine with Bible in front of her

3. Pray Scripture back to God.

“God, I’m struggling to believe the fully forgiven verdict you have given me. Help me to believe like 1 John 1:9 says that you are faithful and just and have forgiven my past.” 

“God I do not feel kind and compassionate right now. Fill me with your kindness and compassion and forgiveness. Help me to see this person who has wronged me as You see them. Give me wisdom in boundaries in this relationship.”

RELATED: TOP 10 BIBLE STUDY TOOLS TO GROW YOUR FAITH

4. Have God’s people pray over you.

I hate to watch scary movies because I hate to watch people make bad decisions. Two friends in a haunted house and they say what? “Let’s split up–you take the basement and I’ll take the attic.”

No!! No! No. It is not the time to split up, it is time to call for backup. 

 Prayer is calling for spiritual backup. Text a Christian friend, go to your church leaders, and just say “Satan is attacking me with my past and I need some spiritual backup. Will you pray with me?” 

RELATED: HOW TO PRAY: 4 SIMPLE STEPS TO GROWING YOUR PRAYER LIFE

5. Go deeper into study with these resources on forgiveness

Forgiveness is not an easy subject so I would also recommend these resources as well as seek professional mental health counseling for long-term forgiveness struggles.

If you need some tools to help elevate your own Bible study be sure to grab your free copy of my Vibrant Quiet Time Bundle!

The Vibrant Life Quiet Time Bundle with printable bible study worksheet and printable prayer journal

I pray these examples of forgiveness in the Bible encourage your heart and journey of faith today! 

Woman praying and dictionary definition of forgiveness collage

What questions do you have about forgiveness? How have you experienced God’s forgiveness in your life?

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so very much for this great outline on forgiveness! You have nailed it!!
    I was praying for a place to lead me to Bible verses with short explanations and you did it!!
    May God’s Grace and blessings be upon you.

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