Confession: Is it Biblical?...by Matt1618

Confession: Is it Biblical?

By Matt1618

In this paper I will look at the issue of whether priests are authorized to forgive sins. Are Catholics correct in going to and confessing sins to priests. Are priests authorized by God to be a mediator between God and man in regards to sin? Or is confession to Priests a man-made tradition? (All Scripture passages are taken from the Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise mentioned)

I want to here first take the most important Scripture, John 20:22-23. This is the main, passage which Catholics say that Jesus commissioned the apostles to forgive sins. There are other passages that Catholics say reflect what is found here, but here is where the commission itself is given. I will look at a few verses before so we can look at the context, John 20:19-23:

19: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20: When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 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."
Here we see that Jesus appears to the apostles. He appears saying peace be with you. He showed them that he was really alive and here. Then he says, ‘as the Father sent me, I send you.’ Then he ‘breathes’ on the apostles the Holy Spirit. (Shortly we will look at the importance of the term ‘breathe’.) So, prior to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to the exclusive, few people. Now, this is a momentous occasion here, where the Holy Spirit is given to a special group of people, before the Holy Spirit is given to all on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Here it is the apostles who were given the Holy Spirit that he had just promised to give them (John 16:1-10), that he could not give before the resurrection. The Father sends Jesus to do what? He is the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the only way to the Father (Jn. 14:6). 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). He is sent to bring redemption and the forgiveness sins. Now, in this passage here in John 20, Jesus says, as the Father sends him, I send you. Then he tells them that you forgive sins (just as he was authorized to forgive sins). He says If you forgive sins they are forgiven. As the Father uses Jesus to reconcile man to God, so Jesus uses the apostles to reconcile man to God. It is in this context where he says “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.”

We must address who is Jesus speaking to here? Is He saying this to all followers, including non apostles and women for instance, or is he speaking to only the apostles? Catholics say that the apostles were here commissioned to forgive sins. Non-Catholics will say that non-apostles are included here, and is really only a commission to all people to preach the gospel. Here in the passage itself, John does not say either way in an explicit manner to whom this is addressed. He says to forgive sins. he says nothing about just preaching the gospel. But here in John 20:19-30 there does seem to be a focus on only the apostles. The focus on who was not there is only Thomas (and not on the Mother of Jesus or other non-apostles), so the apparent outlook is of the apostles only. Thus, there is no mention of any non-apostles in this appearance. In v. 24, immediately after this appearance, John writes that Thomas, one of the twelve, was not there, indicating that this prior commission involves the apostles only.

Again, after breathing the Holy Spirit on the apostles, prior to Pentecost, Jesus tells them that if you forgive the sins of any, their sins are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. The plain reading of the Scripture is that the apostles specifically are given the power to forgive or retain sins. An important part of Jesus’ commission was to forgive sins. This commission is passed on to the apostles. The commission here is not to preach the gospel and baptize, which is given in Mk. 16:16, or Mt. 28:18-20, where they are told to preach everything he taught and baptize. Instead, the commission is for the apostles (you) to forgive sins. How can they forgive sins, unless individuals tell them what their sins were? There is thus, for those who want to be forgiven sins, a necessity of declaring their sins to the apostles, and it is up to the apostles, to either forgive or retain their sins. That is what the sacrament of confession does. This passage is explicit in telling us that the apostles have the authority to forgive sins.

In reference to the mention of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that Jesus ’breathed’ the Holy Spirit, a passage in Genesis 2:7 is relevant:

then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
In John 20:22, it says that Jesus breathed on the apostles the Holy Spirit. According to the Jerome Biblical Commentary, the momentous occasion is laid out here:
He breathed on them: This is a parable in action, a sign, a sacrament, to indicate the conferring of the Spirit (pneuma - breath, spirit; cf. 3:8). Jn uses the same verb as in the Greek text of Gn. 2:7 to describe this new creation. receive the Holy Spirit. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1967, 177 p. 464.
New life giving power, such as was given to given life to man, is also given to the apostles to forgive sins. The use of this language by Jesus, and John who is relaying his words, show of vast importance the words that follow. New life is to be given to those who have the authority to forgive sins, which will in fact give new life to those who need to get their sins forgiven. The apostles are Jesus’ instruments in forgiving sins.

Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.” He sends the apostles with Jesus' own authority, to forgive sins. That is a very clear passage. If you forgive, then they are forgiven. If one is in Christ, one wants to be part of 'they are forgiven'. If one is not a part of ‘their‘, their sins are not forgiven, because they are retained. So Jesus himself decides that the way he mediates to get the forgiveness of sins, is by giving the apostles authority to forgive those sins. The only way that they can get those sins forgiven, is if those authorized are made aware of those sins that one commits. That is the basis for confession. So confessing sins, the Jesus way, is through those given authority to forgive sins. This authority was given from Jesus himself, and has been passed on since the time of Jesus. That is what the priest does in confession. You can't say, well, I am going directly to Jesus, yet ignore the way that he said he would mediate the forgiveness of sins!!!

What if someone argues the following: ‘No where will it tell ME to confess my sins to a priest...you may read a verse and try to apply it to meet your doctrine but nowhere does it tell me this clearly and concisely’.

I would respond by saying: I don't know how Jesus himself could have been any clearer than what he was in John 20:21-23. ‘As the Father sends me, so I send you.’ Verse 21. Clear. Right at that time, he sends (breathes, creates new life) the Holy Spirit on the apostles for this great commission, clear. Verse 22. ‘If you forgiven sins, of any they are forgiven.’ Verse 23. Clear. That seems pretty clear and concise to me. Any applies to all people who follow Jesus. I am a part of ‘any‘. If you are a follower of Jesus, you want to become part of ‘any‘. So it is explicit for all followers of Christ.

There are other passages in the New Testament which speak to the apostles having the authority to forgive sins on behalf of God. For example, we see this in Matthew 18:15-18:

15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Here Jesus is speaking to the apostles. Here we see in the background, sin the issue. If someone sins, take it to the brother in Christ. If the sin is a sin that persists, and the person refuses to change his ways, he must be taken to the Church. Therefore, there are people assigned by the Church who are to be listened to. The sinner must repent to the Church, and if he does not repent of his sins, his sins are in effect still bound. Whatever they (the apostles) bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever is loosed on earth is bound in heaven. The context is a dealing with sin. So this passage not only speaks to the apostles having authority to bind truth, as that which is in heaven, but more directly if sins are committed, the church on earth has authority to either bind or loose in heaven. This reflects a similarity to John 20:22-23, when either the sins are remitted or not remitted.

Next, another passage which shows this is written by Paul himself. 2 Cor. 5:17-20:

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.
Now, in Christ one is a new creation (v. 17). Now in 1 Corinthians, what transformed them into new creation was belief and the washing of baptism, see 1 Cor. 6:9, 12:13. Paul says in Gal. 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ But it does not end there in 2 Cor. 5:17 when Paul speaks of a new creation. After putting on Christ, as we all know, we are still subject to temptation and sin. Then immediately after the passage of v. 17, Paul then speaks to the fact that through God, Paul and others have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Thus, Paul is part of a ministry of reconciliation (v. 18) that is still necessary after baptism. This is the apostolic ministry given by Jesus to the apostles. He then speaks about the message of reconciliation (v. 19). So Christ makes his appeal through the ambassadors of Christ (the specific people appointed by Jesus and passed on from the apostles forward) to have people reconciled. He tells people, who have already been new creations, on the necessity of continuing to go to that ministry. He says ‘be reconciled to Christ’. This shows that conversion, and confession of sins, is ongoing. Paul and the apostles (and their successors) are the ambassadors who fulfill the function of getting people’s sins forgiven.

Let us look at another passage, James 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.
Here we see the sacrament of the sick, where there are prayers of the elders for the sick, where their sins will be forgiven, with the laying on of hands of the elders. As the Dhouay Rheims translations says, the priests, in the RSV translated ’elders.’ How much this speaks to that sacrament is a whole other discussion. But we must then go to v. 16. It says in v. 16 that we must confess our sins to each other. Now, here it is not merely speaking about just everybody confessing their sins to everybody in church. Why do I say that, because v. 16 starts with the word ‘Therefore’. This links us back to the prior verses which says that the sick man goes to the elders, or priests of the church. Thus, the confessing to one another points to the confession to the elders (or Catholics would term priests). Only then will the sins be forgiven, just as through the laying of the hands on the sick will one’s be sins forgiven, through the elders (v. 14). Through the prayer of the elders, as v. 16 says, we will be healed, spiritually.

Let us go to another verse that is important, showing how this is applied by the apostles themselves in action. Let us see 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,
Here Paul is speaking about a person who he criticized in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. There was a sinner who was sleeping with his own mother. Paul condemned the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians as condoning this. Now, he is calling for the forgiveness of the person, who now is repentant. What this shows is that if one sins, he also sins against the church (2 Cor. 5:5-8). As the body is made up of members, if one member sins, he sins against the whole body. Not only does the sin hurt himself. He hurts the whole church. That is why the mere ‘Jesus and me’ Christianity that excludes the church in relation to sin is faulty. The whole church is made better by the person getting reconciled with God. Next, in v. 10, we see Paul, exercising this authority that he wrote of in 2 Cor. 5:18. Now, the important verse here is v.10, where it says, ‘if ‘I have forgiven anything, it has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.’ Actually, a better translation is ‘the person of Christ.’ Tim Staples in the following article http://www.envoymagazine.com/backissues/1.6-2.1/nutsandbolts.html notes the following about the word prosopon:
Actually, a better translation of the phrase "in the presence of Christ" is "in the person of Christ." The Greek word in the passage is prosopon. The Latin word persona comes from this word. The Greek prefix pro translates to Latin as per. The Greek sopon becomes sona in Latin. Interestingly, the King James Bible renders the better translation of "person."
This is important because the authority of Paul, is Christ’s. Paul in 2 Cor. 2, has acted in Christ’s person. Thus, he is acting in Christ’s authority in the person of Christ. In other words Paul has authority and power, and in the person of Jesus, gives forgiveness of sins to the sinner who has thus repented of his sin. Now, is this Catholic trying to change God’s words around to suit their theology? The Dhouay Rheims translation is the person of Christ. But in looking at the Bible Gateway look at 2 Cor. 2:10, 5 of the Protestant translations King James: 21st century King James version, Youngs Literal Translation, Darby, and Wycliffe New Testament translate it as ‘person’. Not mere presence. The ones such as the NIV, and New Living Translation, who give more figurative versions translate it as ‘presence’. But, here the King James version, which gives us a more literal translation, says:
To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.
So when the others forgave, it was nice that they forgave. But when speaking about the person who had sinned, when Paul gave that forgiveness, what Paul did was give it in the person of Christ. Paul was acting in the person of Christ when he gave forgiveness. That is exactly what the sacrament of confession does: The priest acts in the person of Christ in forgiving sins. This passage reflects Paul acting as John 20:22-23 says.

Even if the less literal translation, ‘presence’ where it speaks of Christ’s presence, Paul says that when he forgave, Christ’s presence there was unique in giving that presence through Paul, Christ‘s instrument.

Now to the word ’prosopon’ translation in other instances. The word ‘prosopon’ is translated as person or persons in the King James Bible nine times. One example, is when Pilate says, Mt. 27:24:

24: 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 when Pilate used the word translated person. Jesus is a just ‘person’, not a just ‘presence’. Now, it is true that the word ‘prosopon’ is sometimes translated as presence, but it is translated as person (or persons) in the following instances, 9 times , (In the KJV) (Mt. 22:16, 27:24, Mk. 12:14, Lk. 20:21, 1 Cor. 5:13, 2 Cor. 1:11, 2 Cor. 2:10, Gal. 2:6, Jude16). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. It is translated as ‘presence’ 7 times (Acts 3:13, 19, 5:41, 2 Cor. 10:1, 1 Thes. 2:17, 2 Thes. 1:9, Heb. 1:9) (KJV) by James Strong, MacDonald Publishing Company, Mclean VA, pp. 786, 806. In one of the examples, the time that 1 Thes. 2:17 is translated as ’presence’ in the KJV, it is translated as ‘person’ in the RSV.

One example of the translation is when Paul was discussing the issue of the fornicator in the way it (prosopon) is translated when speaking in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes, 1 Cor. 5:13:

13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person prosopon.
The word ‘person’ is translated in immediately dealing with the same issue. Here it is speaking about the ‘person’, who is the sinner. Thus, with this background and look at 2 Cor. 2:10, 1 Cor. 5:13 shows that the word prosokon as used by Paul that directly deals with this issue, is translated as person. Thus, as Staples argued, 2 Cor. 2:10, Paul gives this forgiveness in the person of Christ. This passage clearly shows the sacramental authority of Paul to forgive the individual’s sin, especially when rightfully translated as person. That Paul, is acting in the authority of the person of Christ, is forgiving the sinner. Even translated as presence, though, indicates that Christ’s presence is there when Paul forgave the sinner. Seeing the word ‘prosopon‘ translated as presence, let us look at the following passage:

Heb. 9:24 - For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence prosopon of God for us..
We see that Christ enters the sanctuary on our behalf and truly appears before God, interceding on our behalf in God’s presence. This presence is not some nice, feel good presence, but a true presence of God. Remember Jesus is at God’s right hand and in perfect communion with God the Father. So, even when the word presence is used, as Paul used when speaking of Christ’s presence in his forgiveness that he gave in 2 Cor. 2:10, it is a true presence of Christ that was given through him. Jesus truly appears in God’s presence. Thus, Paul truly has the real authority to forgive with Christ‘s authority, even with that translation.

Another example given in the New testament of confessing sins is shown in Acts 19:17-19, concentrating on v.18:

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.
The context is of Jewish priests who had tried to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and recognizing Paul. Paul had performed many miracles in Jesus’ name and also had cast out demons (Acts 19:8-12). However, the Jewish priests were not believers in Jesus, and had no apostolic authority to cast out demons, and the demons overpowered the sons of a Jewish chief priest (Acts 19:13-16). The Jewish priests had attempted to use Jesus’ name, but they were not given apostolic authority to do so, as they actually were unbelievers. It was as though they were trying to use this power as magic. First, the effect of this on the unbelievers was that true fear came upon them, both Jew and Greek. Next, of the many who were now believers, when they heard of this, they then came forth to confess their sins. They specifically spelled out sins (by confessing) to those properly authorized to hear these sins (v. 18), to get those sins forgiven. Apparently magical practices were still practiced even after they had come to faith in Christ. Magic had been so ingrained even among Christians, they had not immediately given all their practices up. The combination of Paul having the authority to cast out demons, and the recognition that only those with apostolic authority had such authority to deal in such spiritual matters, had them totally give up their magic that they had apparently continued to practice. The fact that Luke says they confessed and divulged their practices shows that those sins were confessed to specific individuals authorized to hear such confessions. Then they totally destroyed all those possessions and books that prompted magic (v. 19).

Now, as we move along, we must point out that the confession of sins did not just begin in the New Testament. There is an Old Testament background to that. We see in the following passages in Leviticus and Numbers for example, people get instructed to go to a priest to get their sins atoned for: 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.
Lev. 6:1-7
1: The LORD said to Moses, 2: "If any one sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor 3: or has found what was lost and lied about it, swearing falsely -- in any of all the things which men do and sin therein, 4: when one has sinned and become guilty, he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by oppression, or the deposit which was committed to him, or the lost thing which he found, 5: or anything about which he has sworn falsely; he shall restore it in full, and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs, on the day of his guilt offering. 6: And he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you at the price for a guilt offering; 7: and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things which one may do and thereby become guilty."
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.
Numbers 5:5-9:
5: And the LORD said to Moses, 6: "Say to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7: he shall confess his sin which he has committed; and he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it, and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. 8: But if the man has no kinsman to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the LORD for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him. 9: And every offering, all the holy things of the people of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his;
We see in the above passages that in the Old Testament Priests are given authority to forgive sins. The people must confess their sins to a priest. The Levites were the ones who were priests. The sins are treated differently, according to the manner and degree. Some sins are treated in one fashion, and another a different way. Different penances are given. But what is specific, is that sins are made known to the priests. Thus, confession is made to the priests and priests forgive sins. The priest then offers atonement for sins. Thus, the precedent of forgiving sins given to us by Jesus himself in the New Testament exists in the Old Testament.

This is pointed to in the New Testament and recognized by Jesus himself. In Matthew we see the following, Mt. 8:2-4:

2 and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3 And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."
So we see here that even during Jesus’ time, before the commission of the apostles themselves to forgive sins, after curing the leper, he specifically said ‘go show yourself to the priest’. He recognized an Old Covenant law, where the leper had to be ritually cleansed. This takes us back to Leviticus 14. In Leviticus 14 it says that on the day of his cleansing, He shall be brought to the priest, Lev. 14:1-3.
1: The LORD said to Moses, 2: "This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest; 3: and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. Then, if the leprous disease is healed in the leper. 4: the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop;
But in the very same chapter, not only does the priest officiate his cleansing, but he also offers atonement for sin, Lev. 14:19-20:
19: The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering; 20: and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the cereal offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.
So we see here that the specific offering that Jesus himself referred to when he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priest’, showed that not only did God (Leviticus 14 is God speaking to Moses) recognize the cleansing from leprosy through a priest, but He also recognized a sin offering which is for the atonement for sin through that same priest.

St. John Chrysostom, the great Church Father noted the great advantage the new covenant priests had compared to the old covenant priests.

The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness-not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. St. John Chrysostom, Treatise on the Priesthood, book 3, 6, p. pp. 47-48, Schaff, Philip, and Wace, Henry, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. 9, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, 1995.
There is precedent in the Old Covenant, for sin removal through the Old Covenant priests, but in the New Covenant, the priests, acting in the person of Christ, take away sin more effectively. The application of what Jesus did on the cross, is done through the priests of the new covenant.

This system was recognized and accepted by the people even prior to Jesus. Now, we get a hint of this when sins are confessed to John the Baptist, Mk 1:4-6:

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The people literally confessed their sins to John the Baptist. Although John the Baptist was not a Levite, the outward confession of sins to the prophet was practiced immediately preceding Jesus’ mission getting started. This gives a hint that in the new system, the priesthood would no longer be dependent upon one being a Levite. Jesus would now set it up not through the Levitical priesthood but the priesthood of the apostles, which would also be passed on.

What about those who say Jesus is our High Priest and we now only have one mediator? Now of course Jesus is our High Priest. He is the one who intercedes for us in heaven (Heb. 7:21-27). He is the propitiation for our sins 1 Jn. 2:2. Of course Jesus is the mediator between God and man, 1 Tim. 2:5:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
With all the passages we have seen, how can this fact be reconciled with the passages in John 20, James 5, 2 Cor. 2, Mt. 18, 2 Cor. 5, Acts 19? Well, Jesus is in fact the mediator between God and man. As he himself is the mediator, he himself decides how he is to mediate. Of course while on earth he gave forgiveness of sins directly to individuals. However, after his resurrection, he himself decided how he was going to mediate the forgiveness of sins. He did this in John 20:22-23. There he proclaimed to the apostles that they had a ministry to forgive sins. Since he gave them the ministry to forgive sins, that is the way he decided to mediate forgiveness of sins. That ministry that he gave to the apostles would also be passed on to all generations. That is because he said he would be with us until the end of the age (Mt. 28:18-20). The authority that he gave the apostles must then be for succeeding generations as well. As that is the way that he decided that to be, if we want our post baptismal sins to be forgiven, that is the way we should get our sins forgiven. Thus, if he decided that is the way sins are to be forgiven, and we go on our own and ignore this ministry that he himself created, we are not truly having him as our mediator.

What do we make of the following passage in 1 John? 1 John 1:7-9:

6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 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.
Here is a passage which shows that our justification is dependent upon our holiness. First, John says that we will be cleansed from sin only if we walk in the light (vv. 6-7). Then John writes saying that we do sin (v. 8). There is no use in denying that we sin. What do we do to get cleansed of that sin? John writes that we must ‘confess our sins’ (v. 9). We will only get forgiven if we confess our sins. Thus, God will forgive our sins only if we confess those sins. Verse 9 says 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all our righteousness'. Now, John does not write on who we confess our sins to in this particular passage. Is it to God directly or to those authorized to hear confession of our sins? Remember, John is the very person who has Jesus saying this to the apostles on how we get our sins forgiven (cleansed). One more time:
John 20:22: 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."
He gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins. That is the basis for confession. 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. When he writes ‘if you confess’, the first century Christian readers of this passage knows exactly what he is speaking of. This is when they confess their sins in the sacrament that Jesus himself established.

Now, doesn’t God only forgive sins? In one sense yes, and in one sense no. When it comes judgment time, it is true, we are not going to face our priest or any mediator besides God himself. However, it is also true that the one and only mediator decided himself how to mediate between God and man, and he gave apostles and their successors as having authority to get our sins forgiven. Does that mean that we don’t confess to God directly our sins? Of course we should directly confess our sins to God, (although we also get remission of venial sins through the sacrament of the Eucharist (Mt. 26:28, Heb. 9:22-23, see http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/sacrifice.html) but in order for them to get mortal sins forgiven (just as sins were treated differently in the Old Testament) in the eyes of God (for example, some mortal sins were punished by death in the Old Testament), we must go to those authorized to get out sins validly forgiven. We must also be truly sorry for our sins or we commit a sacrilege.

Another point is that those who say, ‘only God can give forgive sins’ are reflecting the theology of the scribes and Pharisees, who Jesus himself condemns in so many places. Let us look at Mark 2:5-11 and Mt. 9:2-8 where this issue is dealt with by Jesus:

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, 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.

Here, we see parallel passages that show several things. This is most likely the same event. Here, we see a paralytic getting his sins forgiven by Jesus. The scribes, who are Jesus’ opponents, give us the theology of the Protestant who rejects the sacrament of confession. In Mk. 2:7 the scribes say, ‘who can forgive sins but God alone’? in the same way that Protestants say that only God can forgive sins. Jesus shows that he as ‘Son of Man’ has authority to forgive sins. Yes, Jesus is God, but it is he as ‘Son of Man’ who has authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:10-11, 9:6-7). And this authority is given to while he was on earth. He did not say “I’m God, and that is the authority I use to get this man’s sins forgiven.” It is shown that Matthew acknowledges that the crowds glorified God because the authority to forgive sins was given to men. The authority was not just for one man, Jesus Christ, but it was given plural, ‘to men’. Matthew does not dispute the crowds recognition of such authority. Thus, this is another recognition in the Scriptures that authority was given to men to forgive sins.
But isn’t only Jesus a high priest? Yes there is a high priesthood that is in the New Testament, that is Jesus is High Priest, just as Aaron and his successors were high priests in the Old Testament. Of course Jesus accomplishes much more than Aaron does. There was also a ministerial priesthood in the Old Testament, Ex. 32:29, just as there is a ministerial priesthood in the New Testament (Jn 20:22-23, 2 Cor. 5:18, Mt. 18:15-18). In 1 Pet 2:9-10, where it is quoting from the Old Testament, Ex 19:5-6, shows that there is a priesthood of all believers, which the Catholic Church also accepts, which would not exclude a ministerial priesthood. This is just as in Exodus 19 the priesthood of all believers did not exclude a ministerial priesthood later given to the Levites. Jesus himself commissioned the apostles to forgive sins in John 20:22-23. If we want our sins forgiven, that is the Jesus way to forgive sins (Also reflected in James 5:13-16, 2 Cor. 2:10, Acts 19:18). If that is the way that people would be forgiven sins then, this authority would be passed on to succeeding generations as well.

Jesus told his apostles ‘He who hears you hears me. He who rejects you rejects me’ (Lk. 10:16). As is evidenced by the above Scriptures, Jesus gave this authority to forgive sins to the apostles and their successors. If one rejects this way, because they want to go the way of ‘me and Jesus’ alone, they are rejecting Jesus’ own commission on the forgiveness of sins. Jesus himself ordained that we get forgiveness of sins (John 20:22-23), through the priest, or successor to the apostles. We do what Jesus said in Matt. 8:4, where he says ‘Go, show yourselves to the priest.’


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Last modified March 30, 2004