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Bible Questions and Spiritual Discussion
“In response for John 20, the verse clearly says "whose sins _YOU_ FORGIVE are forgiven, whose sins _YOU_ RETAIN are retained". The verb tense on the words "forgiven" and "retained" have really no affect on /who/ is doing the forgiving of sins in this passage, but rather HOW THOROUGHLY the sins are forgiven. The tense is interesting and suggests that its as if the sins never occurred in God's eyes, but still it is clearly _human persons_ to whom God (Jesus) is giving the authority to forgive sins on His behalf - with His authority.”
A recap of John 20:23 is in order.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23)
There isn’t a need for a sacrificing/mediating priesthood under the New Covenant because the one time single sacrifice of Christ rendered the need for priests obsolete. The New Testament only describes the priesthood of believers. Also, because Jesus Christ is our only mediator between God and man, confession to a priest a moot point. There are no examples of confession to priests nor are believers instructed to seek absolution from a priest anywhere in the New Testament.
In John 20:23, the phrase "They are remitted” is the single Greek word “aphiami”. It is a perfect passive verb in the Greek. The perfect tense is "I have been. The perfect tense designates an action that occurred in the past and has now reached its completed or finished state, i.e., "I have been walking." In the translation of the verses, there is no Greek word in this phrase that renders it as saying, “Whose sins you forgive will be as if they have already been forgiven them.” Nor is there any Greek word in the phrase that renders it as saying, “Whose sins you forgive will be forgiven them.” Also, the verse is not rendered “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” Jesus said, “Whose sins you forgive have (already) been forgiven them. They are forgiven because Jesus’ sacrifice has (already) paid it all. Clearly, Jesus is not giving sinful men the authority to forgive sins but simply to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
If you are a Roman Catholic, you might ask the question, “If our sins have already been forgiven, then why in the Lord’s Prayer do we say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ?” We are still encouraged to confess our sins to directly God in prayer. When we ask God for forgiveness we are agreeing with Him that we were wrong. I might ask Roman Catholics the same question. If we are to seek absolution from a priest, the why in the Lord’s Prayer do we ask God to, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” If we can go directly to God for forgiveness, then why go to a priest? When Christ gave up His spirit at Calvary, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was ripped from top to bottom. this was to signify that everyone could now approach God through Jesus Christ because He has become our High Priest.
The fact that Jesus said, “Whose sins-“YOU”-forgive…” instead of using the term “proclaim” still does not give the forgiving of sins exclusively to the clergy. As I said earlier, there were “other disciples” present and Jesus was addressed them as well. Therefore, the application of John 20:23 applies to -ALL- believers just as with the Great Commission. Luke 24:44-48 sets John 20:23 in its context.
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)
So, clearly John 20:23 is not saying that Catholic priests have the exclusive authority to forgive sins. It is saying that Christian disciples have the authority to pronounce that sins "have been forgiven."
Peter in Acts 10:43 proclaimed to Cornelius, “…everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” If I were to share the true Gospel with a non-believer and, should I perceive that they have, by faith accepted it, and shows proof of repentance, I am authorized by Christ Himself, because of John 20:23, to tell them that their sins have been forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Should I perceive that this same non-believer has rejected the true Gospel, I am authorized to tell this individual that their sins are not forgiven.
Craig from Illinois
Grogan, that is a logical and well-thought out response. Thanks for your thoughts and conclusions. I probably don't disagree with major theme (proclaiming forgiveness through Christ is for all). Andre makes good points as well. But, I have difficulty with the exclusiveness that the Catholic Church promotes.
Still, I am awestruck by the story itself. Putting aside that this proclamation or authority is for future believers to come; it appears that Jesus is saying something unique to his faithful disciples. His statement is on the heels of a supernatural, uniquely spiritual, risen Christ appearance! It's intimate.
Out of this verse, man comes and fills pages of doctrine and formula. It seems to me that Jesus is stating a fact of (new) life; "you forgive sins and sins are forgiven". Pretty simple and pretty awesome! Just look at the variety that Jesus showed in the way he forgave. A wider perspective on forgiveness follows more in line with what Andre states as "a great gift".
Sin is of THIS world, this dominion, our humanity. Sin separates us from God. Forgiveness of sin could very well be in our authority because Jesus has granted us that authority. He said it, he proclaimed it and he purchased it. He is God, right?
I only have a couple of minutes and I wanted to bring up a few points.
First of all, a rule of interpretation of Scripture, which comes from Scripture, is that, "every matter is established in the presence of two or three witnesses". I don't see the New Testament saying outright in three different places that certain believers have the authority to forgive other people's sins in the sight of God.
Second is that in the New Testament, the things that believers and Apostles were authorized to do were clearly delineated and documented both in commission and in practice. And the things that only the Lord Jesus was authorized to do were also clearly defined and documented in commission and execution.
Jesus healed. Jesus told his followers, go out and heal. Jesus' followers went out and healed. (I wish I had the time to document two or three Scripture addresses for each of these points; they are there).
Jesus preached repentance. Jesus told his followers to go out and preach repentance. Jesus' followers went out and preached repentance.
Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus told his followers to go proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus' followers went out and proclaimed the Kingdom of God.
Jesus died for our sins in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Period.
Jesus was God and was with God, and became flesh and dwelt on earth among us. Period.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day conquering sin and death. Period.
Jesus forgives men for sins as God and in the sight of God. Period.
In fact, every reference to believers forgiving sin in the New Testament is them forgiving others of sins against themselves, not sins against God, and of them being forgiven themselves as they forgive others' sins against them. That's it.
Grace and Peace,
I honor your experience as a pastor, and I think I understand sola scriptura, so let me ask these things in response:
You wrote that "a rule of interpretation of Scripture, which comes from Scripture, is that 'every matter is established in the presence of two or three witnesses". I would argue that this is not referring to two or three places in the Bible reiterating the same thing. But if it is, can you show me two or three places in the Bible where it says that "every matter is established in the presence of two or three witnesses"? And also demonstrate that "witnesses" means "places written in scripture" and not simply "human persons"?
Also how do you know which books are inspired scripture and which are not, and where are the two or three witnesses to support it? It took the Church a couple hundred years to decide which books were in and which were out, and some that were decided to be "out" were commonly used in Church services during that time. What if books that were not yet included suddenly became included, would that mean that what the Church believed would change?
Second, can you demonstrate where in the Bible it says that "the things that believers and Apostles were authorized to do will be clearly delineated and documented in commission and execution"? I don't mean to be pedantic; I'd just like to see where scripture suggests such a thing, even if that thing is fairly remote (not necessarily using the same words, I don't mean that).
I have no problems agreeing with everything else you wrote. Except for the last statement, which starts "in fact" I'm not quite sure why you included them, so I hope I am not missing a point you were trying to make. None of those things conflict with the beliefs that Catholics have regarding forgiveness through the sacrament of penance.
"Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure" (Didache 4:14, 14:1 [A.D. 70]).
Craig from Illinois
I am pleased with the content you all have provided to my original question. By all means, please continue if you sense there is more to say. I've always thought that there was something "below the surface - deeper" in this passage than what I have heard before. Now I can talk to others about this verse and the topic of forgiveness of sin with a wider knowledge base than I had before. Thank you all for your contribution.
“Combining the two verses…”
If you select certain verses in the Bible and put them together, you can pretty much make the Bible appear to say anything you want. The Bible instructs us to _RIGHTLY _divide the word of truth (2 Titus 2:15). Of course, I’m not accusing you of deliberately attempting to mislead anyone since Roman Catholics are instructed not to interpret the Bible for themselves. Matthew 9:8 and John 20:23 are two verses unrelated toward giving man God’s authority to forgive sins.
…and also taking into account James 5:
“Is any sick among you? 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: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:14-16)
James says that it is the prayer of FAITH that shall save the sick. James does not state that the elders themselves are the ones who forgive sins because it is quite possible that it is the result of sin that has caused the illness in the first place. James goes on to say that the -LORD -shall raise him up and if he have committed sin, they shall be forgiven him. James encourages us to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another. He does not mention a priest. Mutual concern for one another is the best way to combat discouragement. And finally, verse 16 seals the deal by referring to the effectual -PRAYER -of a righteous man. Clearly, it is not the elders of the church themselves who forgive sins but through prayer ,the Lord can restore these individuals. Again, another unrelated verse of Scripture towards giving man authority to forgive sins.
In the New Testament there is no mention made of a special group of men set apart to minister as priests. The New Testament clearly teaches that Christ has become the fulfillment of the Old Testament priesthood and -HE- is now the only mediator between God and man. The New Testament clearly states that the human priesthood which God established under the Mosaic law was set aside once Christ came. The old system was set aside because it was imperfect and could not accomplish what God required. This is all explained in Chapter 7 of the book of Hebrews.
"Romand Catholics are instructed not to interpret the Bible for themselves."
That is not true. Perhaps you meant to write that "we are instructed not to interpret the Bible without taking into account certain things."
From the Catechism, a section giving instructions on how to interpret scripture:
III. THE HOLY SPIRIT, INTERPRETER OF SCRIPTURE
109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75
110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76
111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written."77
The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78
112 1. Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole Scripture". Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79
The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80
113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).
114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.
75 Cf. DV 12 § 1.
76 DV 12 § 2.
77 DV 12 § 3.
78 Cf. DV 12 § 4.
79 Cf. Lk 24:25-27,44-46.
80 St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in Ps. 21,11; cf. Ps 22:14.
81 Origen, Hom. in Lev. 5,5:PG 12,454D.
82 Cf. Rom 12:6.
The way that I interpret scripture here on the forum is in accord with how the Church instructs us to, and I think this way is prudent.
You said that Matthew 9:8 and John 20:23 are two verses unrelated toward giving man God's authority to forgive sins. I fail to see how they are unrelated. In one, the people glorify God because he gave the authority to forgive sins to men. In the other, Jesus tells some men that whose sins they forgive are forgiven.
If any verse is a stretch to combine with John 20:23 in attempt to make it say what it does not, it is the one you have combined with John 20:23, namely Luke 24:46-48. That verse takes nothing away nor refutes the concept that Jesus gave the authority to men to forgive sins, but rather that repentance should be preached to people. Yes they have to repent to have their sins forgiven. Who they can or are supposed to repent to is another matter. It is kind of surprising that Luke 24:46-48 even talks about repentance if the Gospel to have sins forgiven is simply to "Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior".
As for the office of priest and whether or not it is mentioned in the New Testament, that is debatable. Clearly presbyters are mentioned, and it very well could be that this refers to priests, but was not called priests to not confuse with priests in Judaism. It doesn't matter, because just as the Church had the authority to create the office of deacon, which it did in Acts 6:1-6, it also had the authority to create the office of priest. Both the authority granted to deacons and the authority granted to priests comes from the bishop now, just as it did in the early church.
Hebrews 7 does state that the old levitical priesthood has been taken away. In that we agree. However Catholics believe that Jesus institutes a new priesthood at the last supper, in the line of _Melchizedek_, not from the tribe of Leviticus. Jesus instituted this priesthood when He offered His body and blood, which is *sacrificial language*, at the Last Supper, and then tells the apostles "DO THIS in remembrance of me." Jesus works through His people, and the new Priests of the Covenant *re-present* the one true sacrifice (Jesus on the cross), that is, they make the one sacrifice *present AGAIN*.
Making such PRESENT AGAIN is what Jewish ears would hear if they heard the word Jesus used at the Last Supper, which was "anamnesis": This word had meaning more than a simple calling to mind when it was used at the traditional passover meal - it meant that in a certain real way, the events of the passover were really made present. That is what Jesus is instructing his priests to do at the last supper: to offer his body and blood sacrifice again (DO THIS) to make it present again (ANAMNESIS, in remembrance).
To be a priest is to offer sacrifice, and Jesus instructs his apostles (by extension, their successors) to offer the same sacrifice and make it present again. This takes nothing away from Christ being the Mediator of the Covenant. In the New Covenant, we baptized are all IN Christ, we ARE His body.
Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
The early Church recognized this as the "to-dah" sacrifice and called it the Eucharist, which means "thanksgiving". This article explains it, and is quite interesting:
The todah offering was known in Judaism as a perpetual offering, and that is what the Eucharist is today.
Steve you have said in another thread that you are "leaving" so I know it's not really fair to perpetuate by asking more questions and pretending that you are not answering them. I wouldn't do that. The last point is this: You never dealt with the fact that John 20:23 says "whose sins YOU FORGIVE", "whose sins YOU RETAIN". The actor is "you" (men) the action is "forgive" or "retain". John 20:23 is plain teaching which says exactly what you argue it does not say.
Andre, sorry for the long wait on a response. The past month has been crazy. What you said is great. It's not often someone get's me to question my theology or my exegesis. Technically, yes, two or three witnesses applies to witnesses in criminal proceedings. I still believe in the general principle for proper exegesis, and you've opened my eyes to loosening up on the principle, though, within reason.
I was thinking of Jesus sending out the disciples as evidence of the pattern of actions for believers. In my own reading through Matthew the past month, I realized that Jesus spoke of authority given to them at the same time He sent them out. This is meaningful because just one chapter before He sends them out we have the scene in Chapter 9 where Jesus healed the paralytic and, "when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men." (Matth 9:8).
When Jesus sent out the disciples, the authority He gave them was expressly to heal.
Matthew 10:1 "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness."
After a list of the disciples, Jesus goes on to say in verses 5b through 15, "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘ The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting. If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city."
It is in these verses that I see a possible meaning of what Jesus meant when He said in John 20:23, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." The theme of what Jesus said when He sent out his disciples and gave them authority is that if someone receives the disciple, he is receiving the Lord, and if someone rejects the disciple, they are rejecting the Lord. In fact, Jesus spells this out later in Chapter 10, in verss 40 through 42: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
So it stands to reason that if someone rejects the disciple to the point where the disciple is frustrated with them, they have already rejected God. And if they embrace the disciple with warmth, they are in a position of warmth towards God.
Oh, by the way, I'm not a pastor. But I have been a Bible Study Fellowship group leader and have taught several Christian education classes my my local church.
Craig from Illinois
That was a great response in content and in tone. It made me consider greatly the importance of being "a loving disciple" in our approach to unbelievers. If they don't see the whole person of Jesus in OUR actions, words and life then we are not presenting Jesus in a way that they can accept. Simple but profound.
I can still hear some insinuation that John 20:23 is more metaphor than straight-forward fact. I'm still not able to come to the conclusion that Jesus meant anything other than the greatest authority given to man, the salvation authority to forgive a repentant heart under the authority of Jesus. It was a great honor to have the authority to heal and it was a great authority to forgive.
The debate over that passage still exists in this thread. Plus there is the debate whether or not the authority to forgive still exists. This question may lead to the ultimate debate whether or not a "sinners prayer" is required for salvation.
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