What Does Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do Mean?

Father Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do Meaning

Definition: Don’t be angry at someone for doing something bad if they are ignorant and don’t know what they are doing is wrong, or if they don’t know a better way to do something.

Origin of Forgive Them for The Know Not What They Do

This expression comes from the Bible, specifically Luke 23:34:

  • Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

When Jesus was crucified, he uttered these words about those who begged for his crucifixion. He asked his father, who, in Christian theology is known as God the Father, for forgiveness of those who asked for his murder.

Examples of Forgive Them for The Know Not What They Do

forgive them father for they know not what they doIn the first example, two employees are talking together about a new pet one of them has.

Marcus: I’m so angry at my new dog.

Patsy: Why? What did he do?

Marcus: He ate all of my shoes! And those shoes were really expensive. I’m not sure I can keep the dog.

Patsy: Well, first of all, you know puppies like to chew on everything. You need to secure your things in a safe place if you don’t want the dog to chew on them. Second, you have to train the dog not to chew.

Marcus: I think it should be obvious not to chew on a human’s things!

Patsy: It’s not obvious to a puppy until you train it. Forgive your puppy, for he knows not what he does.

forgive them for they do not know In the second example, a brother is trying to convince his sister to forgive their parents.

Samson: Angela, where are you going? Our parents will be over soon.

Angela: I don’t care. I don’t want to see them.

Samson: Why do you say that?

Angela: You know who they are going to vote for in the election! I can’t spend time with anyone who would vote for that horrible person.

Samson: Are you serious? Those are your parents! You have to get past this.

Angela: Anyone who votes for that person is voting for evil.

Samson: I know you think that, but they think they are doing the right thing. If it helps, think of the quote from the Bible: Forgive them for they know not what they do. If Jesus could forgive people for murdering him, surely you can forgive your own parents.

More Examples

This excerpt is about the importance of forgiveness. A man murdered two nuns, and other nuns are asking people to pray for him.

  • Plata said both nuns’ religious communities have asked that people pray for the killer or killers. Asked about people’s struggles to forgive, the priest said: “Forgiveness is at the heart of being a Christian. Look at Jesus on the cross: `Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’” –LA Times

This excerpt is about American (and other) tourists who are canceling their African tours because they are worried about Ebola. However, they are canceling tours in countries that do not have Ebola because they do not understand that Africa is a huge continent, and that Ebola is only a problem in a small part of the continent.

  • Yet cancellations from Western tourists continue. In a spirit of “forgive them for they know not what they do,” many southern and east African tour operators have waived their normal cancellation fees. But as magnanimous as the policy is, I worry that it also feeds ignorance, encouraging people to make decisions on fear rather than rational thought. –LA Times


The quote forgive them for they know not what they do is a quote from Jesus in the Bible. It teaches the importance of forgiveness.