Can a priest forgive sins (John 20:23)?


By BibleAsk Team

The apostle John wrote, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). In this verse, Jesus addressed the disciples as leaders of His infant church on earth acting in its corporate capacity. To them, He has given the responsibility of looking after the spiritual needs of its individual members. Jesus ,in Matthew 18:1-15; 21-35, had already explained to them how to treat erring members, first personally, and then with the authority of the church (verses 16-20). Now, He repeats the instruction given in the previous time.

The church leaders are to serve patiently for the building of its erring members, encouraging them to forsake their sins and turn from their evil ways. When there is proof that things have been made right with God and man, the leaders are to accept the repentance of sinners as genuine, and release the erring one from the charges brought against him (to “remit” his “sins”), and to accept him back into full fellowship. Such a remitting of sins is approved in heaven because the Lord has already accepted and forgiven the repentant one (Luke 15:1-7).

Confession of sin to God

The Bible clearly teaches that confession of sin should be made directly to the throne of grace in heaven and to God (Acts 20:21; 1 John 1:9), and that the release of the soul from sin comes only through the merits of Christ and His personal mediation (1 John 2:1). This right God has never given to any priest or a sinful human, who is himself so often in need of divine mercy, forgiveness and grace, even though he may be an appointed spiritual leader in the church.

No priest has the right to forgive men their sins. Only Christ who is God in the flesh can because of His sacrifice, redemption, and perfect life. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Only Christ is fitted to be man’s High Priest and Advocate (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 7:26).

What Does James 5:16 Mean?

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Here the apostle James is saying that the main requirement for sincere faith in prayer is a clear conscience. Therefore, wrong acts secretly done are to be confessed to God alone. But sins that involve others are to be confessed to those who have been hurt. A guilty conscience builds a wall to man and God and the answer to the prayer fails.

In James 5:16, it is the sick who are to confess their sins, possibly in the presence of “the elders of the church” (v. 14) who have been called to pray for them and anoint them with oil for healing. Confession is to be a pre-requisite to the offering of prayer. The Bible clearly teaches that sins are to be confessed to God alone. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And it declares that we have only one “mediator” of sin between God and man—Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). He alone is our “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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