Reasoning From the Scriptures with Ron Rhodes on Matt1618
Reasoning From the Scriptures
with Ron Rhodes

Critique of Chapter 12,
Sin and the Sacrament of Penance
by Matt1618


On this examination I will look at Ron Rhodes book, Reasoning From the Scriptures with Catholics, Chapter 12, entitled Sin and the Sacrament of Penance, pages 211-231. I will look at his critique of the Catholic view of the sacrament of confession, pages 221-231. He says that this is not a valid sacrament and is unbiblical. I will also look at specific related issues that he brings up elsewhere in this chapter that I want to take issue with, such as the issue of whether there is a distinction between mortal and venial sins. His writing is in green, my response will follow, with Scriptural quotes in red, in the Revised Standard Version, although Rhodes mostly quotes from the New International Version. Here I center the themes he brings up and I give the same introductory titles that he gives, with a red subtitle. I will address the comments he makes.

A Biblical View of Confession

Rhodes starts his section against the Catholic view of confession on page 221. Before he gets there, though, and to give a flavor of his theology going into page 221, I want to assess what he wrote previous to that which gives us some background to his outlook.

For Scripture indicates that those sinners who come to Christ and place their faith in Him and Him alone are recipients of the most wonderful gift in the world: the gift of eternal salvation (Eph. 2:8,9). And once someone receives this gift, it is a permanent transaction. A person does not lose this gift and regain it by continual visits to a priest. It is a gift forever.. Rhodes, p. 220.
This shows us that before we approach the section ‘A biblical view of confession,’ Rhodes does not believe in the necessity of confession to anybody. He thinks that eternal salvation is a gift that can never be taken away at all. No matter what one does, that gift will not be lost. He goes on later to say, that one will lose fellowship, but still retain that gift of eternal life. Now, with that in mind, it is hard to see the objectivity of approaching the verses we will see. Now, there are tons of Scriptures that show that one can lose justification, with a small sampling of the following verses: Mt. 24:13, Mk. 9:42-47, Lk. 8:13, Rom. 8:13, Gal. 5:19-21, Gal. 6:7-9, 1 Cor. 9:21-27, 10:1-12, Eph. 5:3-6, Phil. 2:12-16, 1 Tim. 6:20-21, 2 Tim. 2:11-12, Heb. 2:3, 3:7-12, 4:3, 6:4-6, 10:26-39, 12:14-17, Rev. 2:2-5, 2:20-23, etc. Now he does follow with some verses that purport to teach one can never lose justification, (Lk. 7:47-50, 1 Jn. 1:7-2:2, Rom. 3:25, 28, 30, 8:30-33, Gal. 4:21-5:12. But none of them teach that and we will look at a couple of those verses as we proceed.

We see that for Rhodes, for our justification confession to anybody, God or man, is apparently unnecessary. Now, Rhodes will say that yea, we should confess our sins to God, and that is necessary to retain ‘fellowship‘ with him, but is not necessary for our justification or to stay in his grace: With that background in reference to one’s own justification, we will see him misuse a specific passage:

Scripture says we need to confess that sin not to a priest but to God (1 John 1:9). The Greek word for confess literally means “to say the same thing.” When I confess my sin to God, that means I am saying the same thing about my sin that God says about it. I am agreeing with God that I did wrong. No excuses! And following my confession, I can thank God that I am forgiven, because Jesus paid for my sin on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14). Instantly my fellowship with the Father is restored. My goal from that point forward is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit so I will have the power to resist such sins in the future (Gal. 5:22,23), p. 221.
First thing Rhodes assumes without evidence is that John means one confesses to God here, and not to a priest. I will later on address this question, but first I want to address the premise that one can not lose justification. The context shows that the premise he brings to the equation (that our justification is not dependent upon our obedience) is false. The passage is in the context of 1 John 1:7-10.
7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
These verses show that our justification, and cleansing from sin, is ongoing. First of all, we must walk in the light, immerse ourselves in the truth, and walk according to that truth. We must positively walk in truth, in order for us to be cleansed from sin. According to Rhodes, ‘Jesus paid for my sin on the cross’ so there is no need for any further cleansing before God. Now, John reminds us that we will sin in v. 8. However, not only must we walk in holiness, but if do so sin, as v. 8 says that we will do, John next says that in order for our sins to be forgiven, we must confess our sins. Whether it is to God or to a representative of God is another question, but this shows that his premise of the unconditional gift is false. That is because John writes in order to get sins forgiven, we must confess our sins. And he uses this not in a past tense, but in the present tense. It is an ongoing matter. We sin, we must confess them in order to get those sins forgiven. We don’t confess our sins, we are not cleansed from those sins. The verse he tries to use to contradict Catholic theology (1 Jn. 1:9) actually undermines his own theology.

Next, Rhodes argues that here John is speaking of confessing only to God, basically only to retain fellowship with God, not really to get our sins forgiven. John writes that we only get cleansed from those sins if we confess them. But besides that, this assumption on who we are to confess it to, God only, is a very questionable assumption. Why is it questionable? Because John does not write `confess our sins to God only’. He leaves it open ended. We know in the New Testament where men confess sins directly to representatives of God (Mk. 1:6, Acts 19:18). However, the background to this passage is 1 Jn. 1:9, where Jesus himself said in John‘s own gospel, John 20:22-23:

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. "
He gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins. John wrote that Jesus said to the apostles ‘If you forgive sins’ then they are forgiven. It says the apostles directly forgive sins. How can they forgive sins, unless they are told what those sins are? That is the basis for confession.

The epistle is meant to go hand in hand with the gospel, as John is the author of both. When John writes this, which is often seen as a postscript to the gospel, the readers know what he is writing about. He feels no need to explicitly write ‘to priests’ or ‘to elders’, because all know of Jesus’ commission to the apostles (and their successors) to forgive sins.

When he writes this in 1 Jn.1:9, John is keeping in mind what he heard Jesus himself say. So this passage does reflect belief in the sacrament of confession. It is not explicitly stated as such, but the readers of this passage of course know of this commission that John himself heard and wrote in the gospel. They all know that when John writes ‘If we confess’ that he means to those appointed to hear those confessions. When he writes ‘if you confess’, the first century Christian readers of this passage knows exactly to who he is speaking of. This is when they confess their sins in the sacrament that Jesus himself established to authorized representatives. Now, it is also true that we should confess our sins directly to God, but what John is speaking of in this first epistle is the sacrament of confession.

So the passage that Rhodes brings up, not only destroys his premise that one can not lose salvation, but actually points to the sacrament that Rhodes himself denies!!!

Another passage which he brings up (2 Cor. 5:21) that he uses to deny confession actually points us to the sacrament. Again we need to look at the context, 2 Cor. 5:17- 6:1:

17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.
Rhodes points us to v. 21 which says that he became a sin offering so that we might become righteous. It says nothing there that ‘he paid it all so what I do, does not matter in terms of my justification.’ In fact, after saying that when one is in Christ a new creation, Paul still participates in the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). Thus, after one is cleansed in Christ, a ministry of reconciliation still exists for the forgiveness of sins. Paul says he is ‘entrusted with the message of reconciliation.’ God makes his appeal through Paul in this ministry. This again points to the sacrament of confession. Paul urges believers to be reconciled to God (v. 20). They are not guaranteed that reconciliation. Paul then says he is an ambassador of God. Thus, it is an ongoing ministry, and believers must make use of this ministry. This context, which shows the existence of this sacramental ministry, is totally ignored by Rhodes when he throws us only v. 21. He became a sin offering for us, to give us the Holy Spirit to walk in his holiness, but if we fall short, Paul points us to the ministry that Jesus himself established to get our sins forgiven and thus re-reconciled with God. He even says immediately following the verse Rhodes points us to, it is possible to ‘accept the grace in vain.’.
I want to reiterate that our confession is to be to God and Him alone. We are not required to make confession to a human mediator like a priest. Recall that after committing adultery with Bathsheba, David made confession directly to God: “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” Psalm 32:5; see also Nehemiah 1:4-11; Daniel 9:3-19; Ezra 9:5-10).
Rhodes only gives us a partial look at the Old Testament, and based on that partial look, he makes a categorically false statement. Yes, David made a confession directly to God, no question. However, Nathan the prophet was the one who directly confronted David with his sin. It was only after that, Nathan confronted David with his sin, caught him in the lie, did he get his sins forgiven, 2 Sam. 12:12-13:
12: For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'" 13: David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
Yes, David did pray in the Psalm to God, but he was forgiven only after confessing his sin to Nathan. Although Nathan was not a priest per se, David was not in the repentance business until caught by Nathan. It was still Nathan who passed on to David that he had been forgiven the sin. And immediately after this passage, Nathan even told him the punishment that would happen (his son who was the product of that sin would die, vv. 14-19). So in effect David did go through a mediator. Now, none of those passages that Rhodes brought up denied that sins could be confessed to priests. In fact, there are many passages which show people going to priests to get the forgiveness of sins. For example, Lev. 5:4-6:
4: Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty. 5: When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, 6: and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
Although in the law adultery would lead to capital punishment (Lev. 20:10), in some cases, even the act of adultery was given forgiveness through a priest, Lev. 19:20-22:
20: "If a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21: but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the LORD, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22: And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.
In fact in the Old Testament there were priests who heard sins confessed (Levites), and gave the forgiveness of sins, representing God. Thus, going to the Old Testament only shows that there is precedent in the Old Testament for what Jesus would establish in the New Covenant.

John 20:23 - Biblical Support for Confession to a Priest?

Rhodes first correctly notes that this passage Catholics use to show Jesus established a sacrament of confession. Before he directly gets to that passage he responds to this claim by writing:

Only God can judicially forgive sins committed against him. (Mk. 2:7) p. 223.
Here we see Rhodes misusing Scripture. Even in his beginning comeback to John 20:23, he cites a passage, affirming the theology of Jesus’ opponents!!! We see Rhodes quoting Mk. 2:7 saying that only God can forgive sins. I guess he doesn’t expect his readers to actually look the verse up!! However, this Catholic did. One would think he is quoting Jesus, but let us look at the context. I also want to look at Matthew‘s take on most likely the same event, Mk. 2:5-11 and Mt. 9:2-8:
Mk. 2:5-11 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, (Rhodes highlights this verse!!!) 7 "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic-- 11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." 12 And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

Mt 9:2-8. 2 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, take up your bed and go home." 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

It was the scribes who were calling what Jesus was doing as blasphemy. We plainly see Rhodes quoting the theology of those whom oppose Jesus as his own theology!!! He quotes Mk. 2:7. Jesus says as ’Son of Man’ he has authority on earth to forgive sins. As man, he has the authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:8-11) It is the scribes who, ignoring the law, where priests were given authority from God to forgive sins, says that it is blasphemy to say that any one besides God can forgive sins. We see in the same context, that Matthew affirms that the authority to forgive sins was given to men, plural (Mt. 9:8).

Now, moving along to John 20 itself, Rhodes puts words into Jesus mouth on what the disciples would be commissioned to do.

All John 20:23 is saying is that when people respond positively to the gospel and accept it, we have the right to declare to them, “Your sins are forgiven,” based on the promise of Jesus. Likewise, when people respond negatively to the gospel and reject it, we have the right to declare to them, “Your sins are not forgiven,” based on the promise of Jesus. We are simply declaring or announcing heaven’s verdict regarding what will happen if people respond one way or the other in regard to Christ, Rhodes, p. 223.
The best thing to do is let Jesus speak for himself, John 20:21-23:
21: Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Jesus says, ‘as the Father sends me, so I send you.’ What had he done in his ministry? As seen above, He asserts in the New Testament His authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:5, 10-11, Mt. 9:2-6, Lk. 5:20, Lk. 7:48). Then he specifically breathes the Holy Spirit, (pre-Pentecost, in language (breathed) similar to Gen. 2:7, when God breathed new life into Adam) in order to do the very thing that the Father sent him to do: Forgive sins. He then says “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” New Life and the Holy Spirit was given for the explicit purpose of enabling the apostles to forgive sins. Now, that is what the words are. Now, compare it to Rhodes objections:

Rhodes says that the authority was to give the disciples only the authority to declare their sins forgiven only if the people reject or accept his gospel. In fact Rhodes is confusing this commission given here to the great commission in Mk. 16:16. He said there ‘whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He doesn’t say, ‘If they accept the gospel, then you have the juridical right to declare ‘your sins are forgiven, even though you can’t forgive them yourselves, only I have the authority to forgive sins’. No, Jesus specifically says ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’. And he specifically had to breathe the Holy Spirit on them, so they would get that power to do so. Catholics follow Jesus’ words, not Rhodes’ words. Even any Protestant reader should see that in order for Rhodes’ theology to fit John 20, he puts words into Jesus mouth that are totally different from what Jesus himself proclaimed.

Further, the context of the verse indicates that this declarative power is not limited to some select group (like priests), but every Christian has this right. After all, every single believer is a priest before God (1 Peter 2:5,9), Rhodes, p. 223.
Actually the context of this verse is focused on the apostles. Although John does not explicitly say so, the context gives us that idea. The whole passage is shown in John 20:19-29. John focuses only on the eleven in v. 24:
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
Immediately after the commission that Jesus gave here, John writes on the one who missed it as ‘one of the twelve.’ The focus on who was not there, Thomas, was on the apostles. Thus, the focus on who Jesus gave this commission to was the twelve, or the remainder of the twelve. There is no mention of Mary the Mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene or any non-apostles, here in John 20:19-29.

Rhodes quotes 1 Pet. 2:5,9 to say that there is a priesthood of all believers. The Catholic Church accepts the priesthood of all believers. That is received at baptism. However, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9 refers us to Exodus 19:5-6, where it says that if the Old Covenant people would keep the covenants, they shall be a kingdom of priests. However, because there is a kingdom of priests, that would not exclude the mediating priesthood, which would be given to the Levites (Ex. 32:29, Lev. 5;5-6) which would include the authority to forgive sins (as seen earlier in Leviticus and Numbers). The passage in 1 Peter 2 says nothing about all having the same authority as was passed on to the apostles in John 20.

The scriptural reality is that there is not a single verse in the New Testament (including John 20;23) that instructs us to confess our sins to some priest, Rhodes, p. 223.
In fact, John 20:23 says to the apostles ‘If you forgive the sins of any, their sins are forgiven.’ How in the world can those sins be forgiven unless the sins are made known to the apostles (i.e. confessed) and successors? Thus, this specifically speaks to the necessity of confession. If one is a believer, they are a part of ‘any’, and ‘their’ sins. If this ability to forgive sins was given to the apostles, since Jesus would be with us until the end of time (Mt. 28:20), this authority would be passed on to all generations. We see Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders in every church, for example, in Acts 14:23. Those who they appointed would have the authority to forgive sins. Thus, believers are instructed to confess their sins, and if they do not, those sins are retained.

Then Rhodes asks Protestants to ask Catholics:

Can you think of a single example in the Book of Acts or any other biblical book of a believer having to go to a priest to confess his sins? (There is none).
Well John 20 definitely shows that for any believer to get forgiveness of sins, they must go to those properly authorized to get that forgiveness. That does show confession. We’ve already seen passages in Leviticus and Numbers where depending on the sin, the Old Covenant believers had to confess their sins and the priests would offer atonement for those sins in order to get those sins forgiven. We shall shortly see 2 Cor. 2:10, where Paul acts as a person given authority to forgive sins, and we’ve seen in 2 Cor. 5:17-21 Paul proclaiming the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ But even in Acts itself we see evidence of this ministry, Acts 19:17-19:
17 And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; and fear fell upon them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Apparently new Christians had apparently been so attached to magic that even upon becoming Christian, had not given everything up. People who had already become believers (now believers), after seeing the evidence of Paul’s ability to deliver people from demons that Jewish priests could not do (Acts 19:1-16), now came forward and confessed their sins. Obviously there were people (most likely those ordained by apostles) who were authorized to hear those confessions. The passage is explicit. Another evidence of this is here in James letter, 5:13-16:
13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
We see the word elders used in James 5:14. The word ’priest’ is a derivative of the Greek, or Latin word for ‘elders‘. James Akin in his article on the issue of the priesthood notes the connection between the word ‘priest‘, and ‘elders‘:
In fact, the term "priest" is simply a shortened, English version of the Greek word for "elder" -- presbuteros -- as any dictionary will confirm.
Someone who is sick is supposed to go the elders, or priests, and then they can get their sins forgiven (in the sacrament of anointing the sick). But, right after there it says in v. 16, ‘Therefore confess your sins to one another’. ‘Therefore’ links us back to the prior three verses, which said take it to the elders. Thus, when he wrote ‘confess your sins to one another‘, he obviously means ‘confess your sins to the elders‘, referred to in v. 14. Thus, just as the sick can get healed and their sins forgiven (v. 14), those not sick, can be healed (get their sins forgiven) in v. 16. Now in passing Rhodes does refer to this verse and says it is good for us to confess sins to each other, and forgive each other but is not necessary to get forgiveness of sins before God (footnote, p. 222). He ignores the immediately preceding context which shows that the sick are to be brought to the elders, forgets that it was the elder’s prayer that gave the forgiveness of sins in v. 14, and ignores that v. 16 begins with ‘therefore’ linking to these verses which point to the elders (or priests). And the healing spoken of would include the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 16:24 - Biblical Support for the Need
for Penitential Works?

Rhodes gives us this passage which he says Catholics claims teaches penitential works, but actually doesn’t really deal with the sacrament of confession., nor do Catholics claim this verse teaches confession. Nonetheless, it does show that justification is not by faith alone, and that is the perspective Rhodes uses to deny Catholic teaching that penitential works are necessary for salvation. He then goes on to say that becoming a disciple is totally separate from salvation:

It is important to keep in mind that there is a distinction between becoming saved and following Christ as a disciple. Scripture is clear that we become saved by placing faith in Jesus Christ. Close to 200 times in the New Testament, salvation is said to be by faith alone. Here are a few representative verses (Then he refers to Jn. 5:24, 11:25, 12:46), Rhodes p. 225.
Well, here he uses some of the verses that he used in chapter 8, to prove faith alone. I have dealt with the use of that and other passages here: But what he is doing is diverting from the real essence of the verse. Of course nowhere does the Bible teach faith alone and the only verse that uses the word faith alone is James 2:24, where James writes one is not justified by faith alone, but by works. But let us look at the passage in question, again in context, Mt. 16:24-27:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
Now Rhodes does admit the verses teaches as disciples we must deny ourselves in following Christ. Pages 225-227 do say that we must follow him and it is not easy. Catholics would agree. We must take up our cross. Following Jesus will be tough. But for Rhodes, supposedly this is only in regards to discipleship after salvation is already assured. However, Jesus words do not say that. One must deny himself in order to follow Him (v. 24). If we hold on to what we should deny, we will lose our life (v. 25). Thus, Jesus tells us if we want salvation we can not hang on to the world, otherwise our life would be forfeited (v. 26). Then Jesus says that He will repay every man for what he has done. Everything, good, bad or ugly we will give an account for. Of course Rhodes does not admit that, because he believes that the only consequence for sins are some maybe earthly discipline, less rewards in heaven, but there is no punishment for believers sins. This passage does show that all works that are done are to be judged for. This would thus include penitential works. This passage does the exact opposite of what Rhodes claims. Rhodes claims that this is only talking about discipleship, but Jesus himself says that this discipleship must be obedient and that work will render whether the person will go to heaven or hell (vv. 25-27). Bad works will bring condemnation. Now, part of this is going to confession, which is not something anybody enjoys doing but the grace bestowed, and the forgiveness of sins is worth the cost of confessing those sins. Confession of sins is part of denying one’s self to follow Jesus, although the passage doesn’t specifically refer to confession. However, in Matthew’s gospel, we do see references to the authority of man appointed by Jesus to forgive sins (Mt. 9:8, as quoted above , also Mt. 18:15-18).

2 Corinthians 2:10 -Biblical Support for Performing Absolution?

Catholics say that this verse shows that Paul gives his forgiveness to the sinner who had an incestuous relationship with his mother mentioned in 1 Corinthian 5. Paul had turned him over put him outside the church in the hope of him repenting of his sin. Because he repented, he came to Paul who said ‘I forgave you in the presence of Christ.’ When Paul forgave, it was with Christ’s presence, reflecting a ministry of reconciliation that he writes of in 2 Cor. 5:17-21.

How does Rhodes respond to this verse?

This verse has nothing to do with exercising the power of absolution. In context the verse deals with an incident of church discipline in the church at Corinth. The person of whom Paul was speaking had committed a serious offense and, as a result, severe church discipline was imposed upon him. Paul now urged the Corinthian believers to lovingly restore this person to fellowship in view of he remorse the person had shown. The person had repented, and hence forgiveness was in order. After all, the purpose of church discipline is to restore a person to fellowship, not to permanently injure him.
The traditional understanding of this passage has been that here Paul is speaking of the incestuous fornicator in 1 Cor. 5. Paul specifically forgives the person because he has hurt the Church as a whole. Paul acting in the person of Christ forgives him. We will look at the passage in context, and see why Rhodes says denies the ‘traditional’ understanding is incorrect:

Before we look at the passage itself, let us look at the reasons why Rhodes denies the traditional understanding of who this passage is referencing.

The person in question here has been traditionally identified with the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians 5. This view is unacceptable for several reasons: (1) The Corinthians’ attitude to this offender is portrayed as a matter of obedience to Paul (2 Corinthians 2:9), whereas in the case of the incestuous man it was a matter of ethics. (2) Here, the church discipline has been sufficient punishment, and the offender is to be restored (verses 6,7), whereas in 1 Corinthians 5:5 the wrongdoer has been delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. (3) It would be putting things too mildly to say that the incestuous man caused pain to the church only “in some degree” (2 Cor. 2:5), Rhodes, p. 228.
Here is the passage itself in context, 2 Cor. 2:5-10:
5 But if any one has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure--not to put it too severely--to you all. 6 For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,
A good translation, a more literal translation is ‘if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the person prosokon of Christ. The word used here translated as ‘presence’ is the same word used in the passage Matthew 27:24 when Pilate speaks:
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person prosopon: see ye to it.
The word ‘prosopon’, is used right here (same as used in 2 Cor. 2:10) when Pilate used the word translated person. Jesus is a just ‘person’, not a just ‘presence’. Thus, Paul has given the sinner forgiveness in the person of Christ. Thus, Paul in the person of Christ, has forgiven the person as a part of his ministry. This reflects the existence of the ministry of reconciliation that Paul speaks of in 2 Cor. 5, and Jesus said in John 20. That is a plain reading of the text of v. 10.

Let me address each of Rhodes points:

1) He says that it addressed a message of disobedience to Paul and the incestuous man was dealing with ethics. Of course it was a matter of disobedience to Paul. Paul in 1 Cor. 5 had decried this man as he was a fornicator with his own mother!!! He was also condemning the church because they were putting up with this fornication that not even pagans would do (1 Cor. 5:1-6). Of course the church was putting up with it and not disciplining him, Paul was lambasting the Corinthian church exactly because they were not telling him to stop. And he criticized the fornicator as well. Paul said that this was unacceptable and said that those who practiced that would not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9). So this was an explicit command of Paul both to the person and the church. He then became obedient to Paul’s letter while the church had known of this sin and did nothing.

2) Well, Paul had condemned the person severely in the church, as that was the state of the Corinthian Church that accepted him. Of course Paul’s goal was to have him restored even when he wrote in 1 Cor. 5:5 that they were to deliver him for Satan for the destruction of the flesh, it meant that they were to exclude him from fellowship. The purpose was not get to get his flesh destroyed, but that he would repent of that immoral practice and come back to the church. Paul did not accept that the man could continue to practice immorality with his own mother, and still stay in the Church in good standing. This had the effect that he wanted, because he did repent from that sin, and the Church stopped accepting that. That is what he wanted. Paul, even when he said that he was to be delivered to Satan, wanted him to come back to Christ and his church. Paul now accepts him back. He accepted him back when he says ‘I forgive him for your sake in the presence (or person) of Christ.’ Since he gave him sacramental forgiveness, they must accept him back.

3) I don’t see v. 5, only speaking of the harm he called as only being too little, it says ‘to some measure.’ He had effected the whole body of the church, but he wasn’t the whole church. This passage shows that when there is sin, it effects the whole church. But the most important thing is that when Paul gave his forgiveness to the sinner, it helped the whole church. This shows that people need to get their sins forgiven via the sacrament, and when it is given, it helps the whole church. The body of the church is made up of many members (1 Cor. 12). This shows that the me and ‘I confess my sin to Jesus only’, mentality, totally misses the point. The Protestant outlook ignores how an individual’s sin hurts the church as a whole. So the passage does reflect the traditional understanding.

Rhodes writes, quoting another Protestant:

Many Bible scholars believes that in this verse Paul was personally forgiving an offense directed at him, and then urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the person and urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the person and restore him to fellowship. Bible scholar Colin Kruse notes that Paul had “found himself the object of a hurtful attack (2:5; 7:12) made by a certain individual, and this situation caused disruption not just for Paul but for the church as well...

If this view is correct, as the evidence seems to indicate, then in verse 10 Paul is simply saying that he has already forgiven the man in question, if, in fact, there was anything to forgiven in the first place....

Paul himself was expressing personal forgiveness.

This is speculation with no evidence in the text on this supposed other person who Paul is referencing. We know in 1 Cor. 5 there is a specific person who sinned and was singled out by Paul, who used him as an example of how the church was bad. Those prior objections on how it could not be that person have been dealt with. And the reference to 2 Cor. 7:12 gives us no idea of anybody else except the former fornicator. But even if that was the case, and it was not the person spoken of in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul specifically writes, ‘Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. Christ‘s presence is there specifically when Paul has forgiven the sinner. However, the better translation as noted is `person’. Paul forgave this person, whoever it was, in the person of Christ. Christ approves of this because he gave such authority to the apostles. For a more detailed discussion of why this translation should be translated as person, and a more detailed look at 2 Cor. 2:5-10, please see the following url, and look for 2 Cor. 2:5-10:

Then Rhodes spends the next couple of pages dealing with Luke 13:3 and Acts 2:38 as though Catholic say those verses preach the sacrament of confession. Rhodes spends about 3 pages saying that Catholics mistranslate, and misuse those verses to say it preaches penance, and about going to the sacrament of confession (Rhodes, p. 229-231). Well, here are the passages in the Revised Standard Version:

Luke 13:3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Dhouay Rheims version of the Bible, sort of like the Catholic King James versions, does say ‘Do Penance’ and etc. Rhodes spends his time on those verses saying that it only means repent, turning one’s ways totally around, and Catholics are wrong to use this to teach the sacrament of penance, or confession. Well, I looked at some Catholic commentaries on these passages, and on the Acts passage they just speak to the necessity of repenting, changing his outlook on life, and turning to Christ, before baptism. In fact, Trent speaks of how before baptism (and quotes Acts 2:38), one must repent and turn away from sin, but that really has nothing to do with confession (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter1). Trent separates baptism from the sacrament of confession. Doing penance has different meanings. It can mean exactly what Rhodes says it means, which is a complete turning away from sin, a change of outlook towards sins. It can also mean works done in reparation for sin. Here it would have the former meaning. Rhodes says the term ‘repentance’ as defined by the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicons says the word metanoe means:
to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness--’to repent, to change one’s way, repentance.
Here there is no disagreement. Acts 2:38 speaks of the necessity to repent of sins, before one comes to Christ in his Church through baptism. Thus, they really do not speak of the sacrament of confession, which is given after baptism. Why Rhodes refers to those verses, but doesn’t deal with passages such as 2 Cor. 5:17-21, Matthew 18:15-18, or Acts 19:18, which does give further biblical support for confession, I don’t understand. Now to look at those passages just mentioned above, plus a more detailed look at John 20:20-23, and 2 Cor. 2:5-10, please go here:

I have dealt with his attack on the sacrament of confession, but now will deal with some of the premises that Rhodes brings into the equation that he wrote earlier in the chapter. I would like to address a couple of those points he attempts to make:

Answering Catholics
A Minimizing of Sin

Many Protestants believe that the Roman Catholic view of salvation minimizes sin. According to Catholic theology, at the moment of baptism a person is cleansed of original sin and infused with sanctifying grace. This allegedly renders the person acceptable to God, Rhodes, p. 216.
First, there is nothing ‘alleged’ about it. The following passages show this that baptism does cleanse us from sin and one is infused with sanctifying grace:
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY THY SINS, calling on the name of the Lord.

Acts 2:38-39 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, AND TO YOUR CHILDREN, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.

Romans 6:3-4. 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Galatians 3:26-27. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have BEEN BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE PUT ON CHRIST.

Those passages shows that baptism does deal with the sin problem. Next, though, after baptism, if there are sins, they must be dealt with. That is why Jesus gave the apostles the commission to forgive sins, as noted in John 20:21-23.
There is also a problem in the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins and venial sins. If a person grows up thinking that most of his sins have been venial sins, then he may view himself as basically a good person. He may not see himself as being in dire need of a Savior. Even if the person does commit a mortal sin, the solution involves just going to a priest and participating in the sacrament of penance. Easy enough. The slate is wiped clean all over again, Rhodes, p. 217.
There is in fact a distinction between mortal and venial sins as shown in the Bible as we will see later. But I think that his premise is false. Rhodes view is that there is no such thing as mortal and venial sin, and as such, one is guaranteed salvation no matter what one does. Now it is true, that if one is a Christian and really loves God, as Rhodes would say, one would try to stay away from sin, but his theology mistakenly assures one that his salvation is assured. That is more likely to lead to a minimization of sin. The Catholic view admits that we sin, and are called to assess ourselves constantly. It is important that we are cleansed perfectly so there is no need to go to purgatory for further cleansing. It is much easier to lay down in the comfort of one’s bed and confess it only to God (if you mistakenly assume that one is assured of salvation), then to have to confess it to a priest who acts in the person of Jesus (as Paul did in 2 Cor. 2:10). In order to get our sins absolved we must truly repent of our sin as well as confess it, so it is not that easy. And we must have a firm purpose of amendment, in other words, an intention of not committing those sins again. It is more ‘easy enough’ to think the Rhodes view that no sin, no matter how grievous will separate one from salvation. However, that view is false.

The Bible makes no such distinction between mortal sins and venial sins. It is true that some sins are worse than others (Prov. 6:16-19). But never does Scripture say that only certain kinds of sin lead to spiritual death. All sin leads to spiritual death, not just one category of sin, Rhodes, p. 217.
Rhodes makes another mistake on the issue. In the footnote he mentions 1 John 5:16, but only argues that he is mentioning only physical death, not spiritual death. Of course John in chapter 5 both before and after the verse speaks only of spiritual life and death. So in the following passage we see the apostle John specifically delineate between mortal and venial sins, 1 Jn 5:16-17:
16 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.
John specifically teaches that there are sins that lead to spiritual death, and there are sins that do not. This is not dealing with physical death, but spiritual life and death. Some sins lead to spiritual death; others do not. Hence mortal and venial sins.

Proverbs 24:16:

for a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.
The righteous will commit sins from which they are not destroyed, but still stay in his grace, while the wicked commit mortal sins and are not just in the eyes of God.

1 Cor. 3:13-17:

13 each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.
In this passage we see that some sins that believers committed, will be judged for as it did not lead to their spiritual death (venial sins), as they will be saved, but only as through fire (v. 15). Thus, Paul specifically references purgatory. Next, Paul refers to sins in 1 Cor. 3:17 in which one destroys God‘s temple, which he will be destroyed. The person will not be saved, and ultimately he will go to hell. Thus, Paul makes a clear reference to a distinction between mortal and venial sins.

Another long passage which shows a distinction is in Hebrews 12:5-12, where it speaks of there being disciples need to get punished for some sins (venial), but they are still in God’s grace, but also in Heb. 12:15-17, where he speaks of those same people disinheriting themselves from heaven by acts of fornication or turning their back on God.

Thus, these verses show that Rhodes next assessment is faulty:

The biblical reality is that every single sin a person commits is a mortal sin in the sense that it brings about spiritual death and separates us from God. Even the smallest sin makes us legally guilty before God and is worthy of eternal punishment, Rhodes, p. 217-218.
The above verses show that this is not the case. God has common sense and can tell the difference between someone taking a piece of candy at a store, and would not see that as a mortal sin, while someone who robs a bank with a gun, has committed a mortal sin. God knows such distinctions. Rhodes then claims that ‘even the most serious sins are fully forgiven for the person who comes to Christ for salvation’, Rhodes, p. 218. Then he goes on to quote a passage which allegedly shows this, 1 Cor. 6:9-11:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Rhodes responds to this passage by saying:
These Corinthians had been guilty of committing all kinds of “mortal sins” for years and years, and yet their slate had been wiped clean as a result of their faith in the Savior, who attained eternal redemption for them at the cross. They were “washed,” “sanctified”, and “justified” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rhodes in fact misses the essence of the passage. Paul had lambasted the Corinthians because they had accepted the sin of the believer who had already been ‘washed’ who had went back to sin, even with his own mother (1 Cor. 5:1-3). The Corinthians apparently had the Rhodes’ outlook that those sins would not separate one from God’s inheritance. That is why Paul specifically writes ‘Do not be deceived’ and then rattles off a list of mortal sins in v. 9. He warns that if they go back to act in that fashion, they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Now, in v. 11, he says that they were washed, sanctified, and justified. Of course this refers us to baptism, who Paul himself had had his sins ‘washed away’ at baptism, Act. 22:16. Notice that preceding justification is sanctification. So thus, sanctification is intricately tied in with justification. It is not justification first, and then sanctification follows, which is Rhodes outlook. The Bible never puts justification and then sanctification as only following. It is washed, and sanctification happens, and then one is justified. Thus, if one becomes unsanctified through the mortal sins that Paul had just written of, he will become unjustified. The believers had become washed (in baptism), and cleansed from their sins. Past tense. Notice in v. 11, he does not say that all of them are still justified. If they stayed sanctified, they will remain justified. However, if they fall back into the sins that Paul wrote of, in v. 9, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. He writes that if you think that, you are deceived!!! Now after this passage, to reiterate the point he points to the act of fornication with a prostitute, 1 Cor. 6:15-19:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh." 17 But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;
Paul goes back to warn them not to sin against his own body, which he terms the temple of the Holy Spirit. He warns them again not to commit fornication, because he destroys his own temple (which in 1 Cor. 3:17 Paul had written God will destroy you if you destroy the temple). That is a mortal sin. Paul had just written that if they do this again, ‘do not be deceived, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ He said it was immoral and just mentioned that the immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. Rhodes misses the context and ignores the warning of v. 9. In that state, he just reads v. 11, while ignoring what Paul presents us in chapter 5, and tries to make us think that v. 9 no longer applies. Rhodes goes on to tell Protestants to ask Catholics:
1) Would you please read aloud from 1 Cor. 6:9-11?
2) These Corinthians were guilty of plenty of mortal sins, weren’t they?
3) Yet what words are used to describe their present spiritual standing as a result of believing in Christ? (“Washed,” “Sanctified”, ”Justified ”)
1) I quoted the whole thing, not just v. 11. In vv. 9-10, Paul writes that those who practice those mortal sins, will not inherit the kingdom of God. He writes ‘do not be deceived’ into thinking that those practicing those sins will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Did he mean what he wrote? He’s been writing about those believers’ sins all throughout 1 Corinthians, especially chapter 5, and immediately writes about them after 1 Cor. 6:11.

2) Yes, they were guilty of plenty of mortal sins. Unfortunately some had Rhodes type of theology which thought there was no eternal consequence for committing those sins. Paul corrected that thought by writing ‘do not be deceived‘ into thinking so.

3) The passage in v. 11 does say that ‘you were Washed, sanctified and justified’. Again as noted earlier it is impossible to separate sanctification from justification. In baptism one becomes a new creation, and their sins were washed away, which brought sanctifying grace, and their justification. Here Paul is not speaking of all the believers present state. He says you ‘were washed’. So that is not necessarily the current state of all Corinthian believers. It is past tense. Those who have not fallen into such sins are still in that present state of grace. However, as Paul wrote, sanctification is intimately linked so that justification and sanctification can not be separated. If one then goes to the prostitute, he commits a sin against the temple of God, which earlier Paul had written, if one practiced such a sin (1 Cor. 3:17), God would destroy him (also 6:9). He commits immorality (6:18), which Paul had written to not be deceived into thinking that he will inherit the kingdom. Those people must repent of sin to put Christ back on again. And Jesus gave the commission to the apostles so they could get forgiven those sins (John 20:22-23). In the next letter Paul writes about the sacrament of reconciliation (2 Cor. 2:10, 2 Cor. 5:17-21) exactly for the forgiveness of such sins.

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

Page created by: Matt1618.
Send email with questions or comments on this article to Matt1618


Return to Confession Page


Return to Examination of Ron Rhodes Page


Return to Matt's Catholic Apologetics Page

© 2000 Reasoning From the Scriptures with Ron Rhodes Chapter 12, Sin and the Sacrament of Penance Matt1618... This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

Last modified March 29, 2004.