'To Err Is Human To Forgive Is Divine' Meaning

December 16, 2022

Alberta Vadnais

Alberta Vadnais

Author & Non-profit Consultant

Alberta Vadnais

Alberta Vadnais

I love finding ways to feel God in my day, whether I’m going to work or cooking dinner. I make sure I’m connected to Him by listening to Bible stories, sermons, praying, and singing praise songs. All the apps I test are introduced into my everyday life so that I can feel their usability on a daily basis.

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We all strive to build relationships with other people that are backed up by love, honesty and trust. We all want to live lives that are free of sin and true to God’s will. However, being a perfect mate at all times and never giving in to temptation is practically impossible.

Aside from the fact that building strong soul ties requires intense physical and mental effort, humans are imperfect and prone to mistakes that can leave a crack in the wall of our relationship with people and God and ultimately ruin them.

However, while everyone can make mistakes, not everyone can forgive. To be able to truly forgive, true inner peace is required, which is granted by divine grace. Therefore, the famous quote, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

In this article we will dive into what it means “to err is human, to forgive is divine,” with some Bible verses demonstrating human fallibility and forgiveness.

“To err is human, to forgive is divine” in the Bible

The Bible didn’t quote this phrase verbatim. However, the Bible exposes man’s weakness and imperfection and proves that God overlooks these mistakes by forgiving those who seek forgiveness.

The Bible is full of people who made different mistakes in their journeys. Here are brief accounts of the mistakes of some of the great biblical personalities:

Abraham

Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20:1-18 give interesting accounts of Abraham’s life, which reveal his humanness. On two occasions, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, went to Egypt and Gerar, respectively. Abraham, aware of his wife’s beauty, knew that the kings of these nations would desire her. Afraid that he would be killed if the Pharaoh of Egypt and Abimelech, king of Gerar, discovered Sarah had a husband, Abraham concocted a lie to save himself from the danger he thought would befall him. Therefore, Abraham lied that Sarah wasn’t his wife but his sister.

What influenced Abraham’s decision to lie was fear. The opposite of fear is faith. Having faith is strongly believing in God even when it doesn’t feel right. Interestingly, the same Abraham who erred because of fear became known as “the father of faith.” Paul says in Galatians 3:6-9 that faith qualifies a believer to become Abraham’s son. God overlooked His flaws, gave him a new name, and made him the father of many nations.

David

David’s error was profound. He was walking one evening and spotted a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. Lust took over him, and he sent for her even though he knew she was married to Uriah, one of his foot soldiers (2 Samuel 11). David slept with her, and she became pregnant. To cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he planned the murder of Uriah, who was on the battlefield. David asked the army commander, Joab, to set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle and retreat from him so that he may be struck down and die. The plan worked, making David an adulterer and murderer.

If men were allowed to execute judgment on David based on the degree of his sin or mistake, he would most likely be killed. The sins of adultery and murder are grievous. However, God still pardoned David. In fact, God called David a man after His own heart. Meaning He was so dear to God and holds a special place in His heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David’s attitude towards his mistakes played a significant role in why he received divine forgiveness from above. Psalm 51:1–17 highlights David’s passionate plea for forgiveness. He acknowledged he had erred and understood that it would take divine intervention for him to receive forgiveness. His story proves that God has the right to pardon us when we err, not people.

Peter

Peter was one of the three closest disciples to Jesus. Always spending time with Jesus should have made Peter perfect as He saw firsthand Jesus’ miracles and heard Him teach. However, when Jesus was tortured and about to be crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times when people confronted him about being His disciple. Peter even went as far as cursing and swearing when denying He had no knowledge of who Jesus was (Matthew 26:69-75).

One would have thought it was over for Peter after his shocking denial of his master, Jesus. His mistake was closely related to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. However, Peter received forgiveness even before He denied Jesus. When Jesus told Peter about how he would deny Him, He prayed that his faith should not fail and that he would find his way back to Jesus. This reveals a new truth about to err is human; to forgive is divine. God can forgive us our errors in advance. Peter got back to his feet and became a vibrant leader of the early church who did great works, including his shadow healing the sick (Acts 5:15-16).

Paul

The Apostle Paul is widely acclaimed as the most important personality in the New Testament after Jesus based on his significant input in the Bible and influence on the church and Christian theology, including writing 13 epistles (books in the Bible). However, his past was riddled with mistakes. Paul was a brutal Christian persecutor. He approved the stoning of Stephen to death (Acts 8:1-4). Paul, acknowledging his imperfection, described himself as a chief sinner in 1 Timothy 1:15.

Paul’s story about God’s forgiveness is interesting. Paul was right in the middle of his mission to persecute Christians when God personally appeared to Him through a light that shone from heaven. God had a conversation with Paul, asking Him why he was persecuting Him (Acts 9:1-9). That encounter marked Paul’s repentance and the beginning of His ministry. God exemplified that forgiveness is divine, and He alone has the right to choose how to handle people’s mistakes.

God overlooked these mistakes because He understands that humans are prone to errors and sins. He is patient, and His lovingkindness is everlasting. Therefore, forgiveness is divine.

Who said the phrase “to err is human, to forgive is divine”?

The phrase “to err is human, to forgive is divine” is taken from English author Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Criticism, Part II,” written in 1711.

The statement emphasizes that it is normal for people to make mistakes. That is because our actions can be misinterpreted even when we mean well or do not intend to hurt people.

The Bible and human experiences attest to the fact that the weakness and incapacity of humans are innate. Error is an integral aspect of being human.

What does it mean “to err is human”?

To err means to make a mistake. Mistakes and humans are placed side by side to show that error is a part of our experience as people. We make mistakes intentionally and unintentionally. We step on people’s toes and hurt them. Sometimes, we do not know that our actions are hurting people. Other times we offend people and refuse to own up to our mistakes because of pride.

To err or sin is the nature of man inherited from our first parent, Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). Any man born of a woman carries the ability to sin. It comes naturally. Galatians 5:20-21 rightly state what our nature of sin produces: jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy, etc. All these negative qualities are deeply rooted in our fallibility.

To err is human quote does not excuse us from mistakes. Instead, it reveals to us the need to be mindful of our actions and be cautious of how we treat and relate with people.

It also allows us to extend grace to ourselves and others, not be too hard on ourselves, and make room for people’s excesses. If we understand that humans will always err, we will have low expectations of people and ourselves and see mistakes as an opportunity to discover who we are and improve.

What does it mean “to forgive is divine”?

The second part of the quote, “to err is human, to forgive is divine,” shows how God reserves the power to forgive our sins and mistakes. Jesus Christ demonstrated this power when He encountered a paralyzed man brought to Him to heal in Matthew 9:1-8. Jesus did not pray for Him or do any gymnastics. Instead, He simply told Him, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

From this scenario, we see the link between sin or error and sickness, but most importantly, God’s grace to overlook our mistakes and forgive us. In many cases, we have engaged in some activities that have caused us great harm physically. It could be harmful habits like smoking, alcoholism, and other vices. However, God’s grace and ability to forgive can correct every damage our mistakes and bad habits have inflicted on us and give us another opportunity to make better choices.

Forgiveness is divine and can also be related to God’s ability for humans to forgive others’ mistakes. Humans naturally respond to the evil done against them with evil. To forgive is not man’s innate ability. However, God can give us new hearts that pardons wrongs and shortcomings and help us forget the past.

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Bible verses about human mistakes

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (James 1:14)

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For we all stumble on many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body (James 3:2)

And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25)

Bible verses about forgiveness

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

Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:13)

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

For You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You (Psalm 86:5)

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more (Hebrews 8:12)

Final Thoughts

“To err is human, to forgive is divine” reveals man’s propensity for mistakes and God’s willingness to forgive and give us another chance. It shows why we must exercise patience when dealing with ourselves and always depend on God for the grace to be forgiven and the capacity to forgive.

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Ted Atkins

Ted Atkins

Pastor, Church Leader and Founder

Alberta Vadnais

Alberta Vadnais

Author & Non-profit Consultant