“Father, Forgive Them; for They Know Not What They Do”

Luke 23:34

34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

“This first [utterance] from the cross is equally as important for what it does not say as for what it does. It is not an utterance whereby anyone’s sins are forgiven, but it is a petition asking for forgiveness in a particular and limited sense of the word. Jesus was the Son of God; as such He had power to forgive sins, a power which He had freely exercised in proper cases [see Matt. 9:2–8].

“But no such power is exercised here. He does not say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ as had been His wont on other occasion[s]. Nor does He ask the Father to forgive the sins of those involved, in the sense of cleansing them from sin so as to qualify them for Church membership or celestial inheritance. The law whereby such forgiveness is gained requires repentance and baptism. But He says, rather, ‘Father, lay not this sin to their charge, for they are acting under orders, and those upon whom the full and real guilt rests are their rulers and the Jewish conspirators who caused me to be condemned. It is Caiaphas and Pilate who know I am innocent; these soldiers are just carrying out their orders.’

“Jesus did not, it should be noted, pray for Judas who betrayed Him; for Caiaphas and the chief priests who conspired against Him; for the false witnesses who perjured their souls before the Sanhedrin and in the judgment halls of Rome; for Pilate and Herod, either of whom could have freed Him; nor for Lucifer whose power and persuasive ability underlay the whole wicked procedure. All these are left in the hands of Eternal Justice to be dealt with according to their works. Mercy cannot rob justice; the guilty do not go free simply because the righteous bring no railing accusation against them.

“Here on the cross Jesus is simply complying with His own command to forgive your enemies and to bless those who curse you.”

(Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:818–19.)