Recently it has been suggested that the word apology does not appear in the scriptures as a reason for why Church leaders do not apologize. Of course, there are lots of things that church leaders do that are not in the scriptures, but is it really the case that the idea of offering an apology is a non-scriptural principle?
If one searches the King James Version, the English word “apology” does not appear. The English word apology derives from the Greek word apologia, which does not mean to be sorry, but rather a legal defense. The Greek word apologia does appear in the Bible, but because it doesn’t mean what the English word means it is not the best place to look for the concept of an apology of regret and sorrow.
What about synonyms of the word “apology”? The closest parallels are perhaps “regret,” “sorry,” and “repent.” These words appear in abundance in both the Bible and Book of Mormon. But what about the formal statement of words that an apology consists of? Are there passages from the scripture that might suggest that one should offer an apology when one has done something wrong?
There are some key passages related to confession:
For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. (Ps 38:17-18)
Consider also this key text:
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. (D&C 58:43)
Perhaps one could argue that these usages of “confess” as an act of apology refer only to what one does directly to God, and does not entail any obligation to confess and repent toward one who has been wronged. This may be true in a number of cases where confession appears to refer to an exchange between the believer and God alone.
However, the word “repent” is clearly central to how the scriptures understanding relationships between people. Luke’s Jesus clearly suggests that one must forgive, but that if one sins against another person that they should repent:
And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’ (Luke 17:4)
And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy— (D&C 98:39)
The emphasis in both passages is on forgiveness, but the notion of asking forgiveness is what it means to repent. The one seeking forgiveness repents by coming to the injured party and saying “I repent.”
Most relevant, the Sermon on the Mount offers some key advice about what one should do if one has offended another through speech:
if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:22-24)
This is perhaps the strongest example of the obligation to seek reconciliation with one who has been offended, and the Lord sets a high burden of making amends. Repentance and seeking forgiveness are the prerequisite for worship of God.
While it is technically true that the word “apology” in its modern English usage does not appear in the King James Version translated in 1611, it is hard to argue that the connotation of that term is not clearly present in both the Bible and Latter-day Scripture. Confession, repentance, and reconciliation are clearly incumbent on the injuring party.