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Classic Legal Definitions Define God's Grace

What does it mean when the Bible says that we have been pardoned by God? Here are two classic definitions from American legal history:

First, in 1833, Chief Justice John Marshall, in a landmark decision, described a pardon as “an act of grace … which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.”

Second, in 1866, the Supreme Court gave another famous definition of a pardon: “a pardon releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offense … A pardon removes the penalties and disabilities and restores him to all his civil rights; it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity.”

Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig offers this as a marvelous description of a divine pardon. “‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ….’ The pardoned sinners’ guilt is expiated, so that he is legally innocent before God.”


William Lane Craig, The Atonement (Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 65

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