JOHN 20:23




The Roman Catholic Church is notorious for its claim that its priests can forgive sins as if they were God.  Catholics have to confess their sins to the priest.  We read in The Faith of Our Fathers page 398 that this is a power.  Priests have the power to forgive sins.  They forgive sins in the same way I have to raise up my power to forgive wrongs done to me.  It is not a case of God just agreeing to forgive sins when the priest forgives.  The priest forgives as God.

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be infallible and in the decrees in which it exercised this alleged charism it said that the sacrament of penance was authorised and empowered by God.


The quotes come from Salvation, The Bible and Roman Catholicism. 


Chapter One of the Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent declared that since we do not remain faithful after baptism we need another sacrament, the sacrament of penance.  It said, “The Lord…principally instituted the sacrament of penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed on his disciples, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.  By which action so signal, and words so clear, the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the apostles and their lawful successors for the reconciling of the faithful who had fallen after baptism” (page 148).


Chapter Five says, “From the institution of the sacrament of Penance, as already explained, the universal Church has always understood that the entire confession of sins was also instituted by the Lord, and is of divine right necessary for all who have fallen after baptism; because that our Lord Jesus Christ, when about to ascend from earth to Heaven, left priests his own vicars, as presidents and judges, unto whom all the mortal crimes, into which the faithful of Christ may have fallen, should be carried, in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins.  For it is manifest that the priests could not have exercised this judgment without knowledge of the case” (page 149).


So the power of the keys comes from the Bible where Jesus tells Peter he will give him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven which power to open up Heaven by forgiving sins which Peter or the Pope gives to the bishops and priests.  But Jesus said the Jewish leaders had these keys and they didn’t absolve sins so the keys do not refer to the power to pardon that the Pope has and gives to the Church.  He told them they shut the kingdom of Heaven against their followers (Matthew 23:13) so he has the image of Heaven having a door or gate in his mind and a door or gate can only be shut properly with a key.  Jesus told his hearers to enter through the narrow gate of Heaven and not to look for somebody with a key (Matthew 7:13).  Most of these people would stay Jews so he was telling them they had to try and enter and not look for the man with the key.  The keys then are just what Protestants take them to mean, the power to open Heaven by preaching the gospel of divine mercy.  The key of the Catholic Church is literally a key to Heaven while the key Jesus means is just a metaphor.  Absolution is not the key.


The Council of Trent decreed, “Whosoever shall affirm that the priest’s sacramental absolution is not a judicial act but only a ministry to declare that the sins of the party confessing are forgiven let him be anathema”.  The priest is a judge and has the power to pass sentence and to decide if the person should be granted pardon.  Obviously, the priest then is to be respected and obeyed by the laity and treated like Christ himself.  The man that has the right to judge you and hear your sins should be obeyed like he was a king. 


The magistrate can forgive your crime against the law because he has judicial authority and can make judicial acts.  The magistrate in this way is on a par with the law.  He treats the law as if it was his personal creation so that anybody breaking the law is offending him and needs his mercy.  He decides that other people who have been hurt by this person should forgive them too for he has taken the offence away.  Trent then put priests on a par with God in the same way.  It implies that the priest should have supreme authority over lives.  This kind of authoritarianism was reprehensible to the prophets and in his better moods Jesus himself said that the one that wants to be Lord must be the slave of all. 


The priest can forgive sins even if he is bad himself, “Even priests, who are in mortal sin, exercise, through the virtue of the Holy Ghost which was bestowed in ordination, the office of forgiving sins, as the ministers of Christ; and that their sentiment is erroneous who contend that the is power exists not in bad priests” (page 150).


Canon 6 said that those who denied that priests could forgive sins in the sacrament of penance were accursed.  Canon 7 said, “If anyone saith, that, in the sacrament of Penance, it is not necessary, of divine right, for the remission of sins, to confess all and singular mortal sins which after due and diligent previous meditation are remembered, even those [mortal sins] which are secret, and those that are apposed to the two last commandments of the Decalogue, as also the circumstances which change the species of a sin; Let him be anathema” (page 152). 


Canon 12 condemns anybody who says that “God always remits the whole punishment together with the guilt” (page 152) because they want you to believe that you can be punished after being pardoned by God for the pardoned sins. 


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Roman priests claim to possess the power to make God forgive our sin in the sense that God won’t pardon certain penitents’ mortal sins until the priest says, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” to which the grateful reply is simply, “Amen” (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapters 1, 3, Canon 6, 7 and 9).  He says, “I absolve you”.   He does it by his own authority. Catholics tell their sins to the priest and say they are sorry and then the priest forgives their sins after giving them something to do as a penance in order to make up for their debt of temporal punishment.


Today, this sacrament is called the sacrament of reconciliation, but the older term, the sacrament of penance, is still occasionally used.


The Church says that Jesus gave priests this power to forgive sins for the gospels say so.  But the texts may not mean what Rome would dearly love them to mean.


Here are the lesser ones with their refutations following them:


In Matthew 9:8, Rome thinks it reads that people thank God for giving men the power to forgive sins.  It takes from this that there were more men than just Jesus forgiving sins.  But Jesus was a man.  If God gave him the power to forgive sins he was still giving the power to men if only one man could do it.   The Church believes its priests didn’t get the power to absolve sins until after the resurrection of Jesus and this was long before. 


When one opens one’s Bible here one sees that the authority God is praised for giving men is not stated.  It may be the power to forgive sins or the power to heal cripples and probably means the latter for the line only appears after the cripple was said to have started walking.  You need to tell what something means by the lines NEAREST around it.  The authority to heal filled the people with awe.  Absolving sins wouldn’t do that for no one can see if it really worked so it must have been the miracle of healing.  In Mark’s parallel passage, he says that the praising and the awe were sparked off by seeing a paralytic walk by Jesus’ power.  Because Catholics believe that Jesus didn’t establish the sacrament of absolution until after he returned from the dead, as John’s gospel allegedly says, many of them cannot accept this verse as proof for priestly absolution. 


Jesus may have meant by saying “Your sins are forgiven” that he was not removing the man’s sins for that was God’s job.  But if you cancel the punishment of somebody you have already forgiven that is forgiveness in a sense.  Jesus forgave the man by making him walk.  He had already told the man before he made him walk that he was forgiven.  Jesus was accused of forgiving sins but he had perhaps only announced that the man had been forgiven by God.  Then he objected to the Jewish assertion that he could not forgive sins and decided to prove it by removing the punishment there and then instead of letting the man get better the slower and natural way.


In Matthew 9:5 Jesus asks the Jews what they think is the easiest, to make a cripple walk or to say to him that his sins are pardoned.  He didn’t answer it.  But he cured the cripple to show he could say this to the cripple.  Nobody can see forgiveness so he needed to give evidence that the man was really pardoned.


  • If it is easier to make the cripple walk then the cure doesn’t prove he could forgive sins or declare forgiveness.  You don’t say that winning an arm-wrestle proves you could beat the world heavyweight champion in a boxing ring.   If Jesus thinks it does prove he could forgive sins or declare them forgiven, then if Catholic priests can forgive sins they should be able to heal cripples as well.


  • If it is harder to make the cripple walk then the cure proves Jesus can forgive sins or declare them forgiven.  He certainly does not think that forgiving sins or declaring them forgiven is harder.  God can forgive sins as easily as he can raise all the dead to life.   If Jesus was denying that then he wasn’t the Son of God at all but a fraud and because he was a fraud he couldn’t forgive sins and so couldn’t enable priests to do it either.  Some would say he was claiming the power was his own as if he were a god or magician who didn’t have almighty power.


  • If one is as easy as the other then if he can do one he can do the other.  But Jesus denied this was an option.  Again if this was Jesus’ option, then Jesus thinks it does prove he could forgive sins or declare them forgiven.  In that case Catholic priests then can forgive sins so they should be able to heal cripples as well.



Matthew 18:18 where we read that whatever the apostles bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven and what they unbind on earth shall be unbound in Heaven.  Since this passage refers to whatever not whoever it is taken as confirmation that Jesus conferred on his entourage the ability to take sins away.


But there is no reason to suppose that he meant sin.  The promise was made in the context of talking about Church discipline.  Catholicism should stop taking verses out of context.  Jesus promised his disciples the ability to accept only those he approved into his Church and to put the unwanted out of it.  This could only be done if they were infallibly inspired by him from Heaven.  The apostles needed this gift to keep unity among themselves and the Church and unity is more important than doctrine in the sense that true doctrine is lost to some degree if there is too much schism and it is brought into disrepute.  (Rome knows this doctrine but cannot confess it is true for it would mean that she is infallible when she excommunicates and even she admits she is not infallible then.)


Yet the promise may be one of another kind of infallibility, protection from error in order to teach the word of God and to have it written down.  The Catholic Church has no right using this text here to justify absolving when she also uses it to persuade folks that she cannot err in her ecumenical councils and when her pope speaks ex cathedra or from the chair of Peter.


2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says that the apostles had the ministry of reconciling people with God.  Do marriage guidance counsellors who have a ministry of reconciliation forgive the estranged husband and wife?


The final Catholic proof is the alleged mention of Paul absolving the sins of an incestuous man in his letters (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2).  Paul judging, excommunicating and pardoning this man is hardly the same as giving him the sacrament of penance!  Paul never met this man and when he was able to judge him he must have been able to read his mind by the power of the spirit.  Catholic absolution demands that the penitent be present for absolution.  In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul wrote that he forgives in the person of Christ whoever the Corinthians forgive.  He means forgive in the matter of Church discipline because if he meant absolution how could he absolve” persons absolved by the Corinthians?  Notice too how, “If you Corinthians forgive the sins of any I forgive them” which matches what Jesus said in John “Whoever you forgive I forgive.  And Paul is definitely not telling the Corinthians that they can forgive for him as if they were him so how could Jesus be doing that either?  The Catholic Church says that distant absolutions are futile for the person has to be near the absolver.  A Presbyterian minister could say the same as Paul concerning a reconciled rebel who has broken Church law and he does not absolve.


There is no justification for the Catholic interpretation of the passages.  Rome says that baptism forgives sins, that we can all pardon sins for God by baptising.  If it does then Jesus could have just been giving it that power in some of the texts or reminding the apostles of that power.  Assuming another sacrament is going too far. 


It is asserted by a few that since the texts could mean absolution they must mean it.  They argue that it is the simplest interpretation and that when a text has more than one meaning the simplest and safest must be taken.  It is not safe to start absolving people in case it is nonsense just because a text merely seems to command it and looks can be deceiving.


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Catholic theologians challenge us to direct them to a Bible verse that proves them wrong on sacramental absolution.  We don’t need to.  If the Bible does not say it then somebody after Jesus’ made up the sacrament.  The Bible teaching that God is love is the only disproof.  A loving God would not keep forgiveness from penitents until the priest chants a spell over them.


Most Protestants see the Catholic sacrament of absolution as a superstitious hoax.  Some of them think that if the Catholic really believes in it that God will understand that he wants God’s forgiveness from the priest and will pardon the person even though the priest cannot pardon sins.  But the Bible warns that sincerity alone can’t put you right with God.  Proverbs 14:12 says that there is a way that seems right but it leads to death and the verse before goes on about the house of wicked people being overthrown so it means the wrong way that seems right will lead to spiritual death and divine retribution.  See also Matthew 7:13,14.  Protestants believe in once for all salvation when you repent all your past and present and future sins.  But the Catholic system only repents the first two so it is fruitless.


Getting forgiven is the most important act of worship there is.  You can’t give God any love if you adhere to sin for sin is hearty opposition to God.  When God won’t accept prayers addressed to false Gods he will be even less likely to accept a person who goes to a priest for pardon.  The priest's forgiveness is the same as an idol if it is fake.


The Catholic claims to be in sin.  We know that all sin is mortal so priestly absolution cannot work for the Catholic is really in mortal sin and the Church says that adhering to one mortal sin and repenting the rest is no good and actually mocks God’s mercy.  A mortal sinner cannot sincerely repent some mortal sins and not others for she or he is the enemy of God and accordingly cannot get pardoned.


The Bible says that all are sinful and all are mortal sinners so it agrees with all this.  With this view of sin, how could Christ have authorised priestly absolution?


If Catholics want the priest to pardon them in the cheerless semi-darkness of a box then they should burn their Bibles for being Protestant.  Nobody should want the forgiveness of a God or Church that holds that God is right to withhold the power to forgive sins from laypersons even in a state of absolute necessity.  I mean that if a person is dying you cannot absolve them unless you are a priest.  No matter how holy you are even the lowest scoundrel of a priest is needed to save the person’s soul.  This is extremely offensive to reasonable people. 


Contrition means repenting for the love of God and for his sake alone – this is called perfect contrition.  Imperfect contrition means repenting for the love of God and some other reason.  Attrition means repenting without any concern for God at all.  If you resolve to get forgiveness for sin and not to sin again simply because you want something from God say health or his blessing or are afraid of eternal damnation that is attrition. 


The Church says that a sincere act of perfect contrition made by the dying person is not as good as confession for he has to intend to confess if he is able and since the sacrament can forgive sins even without perfect contrition it is more powerful and trustworthy than it.  The problems are that it is easy to make an act of perfect contrition which implies that you hate sin so much that you would do anything to make up for it and avoid it and then one hour later you find that you are sinning again which shows that you were only deluding yourself.  Confession is the only way to be sure you are really forgiven (page 14, Confession Quizzes to a Street Preacher, Fr Carty or Question 831, Radio Replies, Vol 1).  This seems like magic but Rome is compelled to teach it for it says imperfect contrition can only help you if you go to confession.  It puts disposition and sincerity in second place to a ritual for even if there is doubt about the sincerity of the penitence, a ritual isn’t going to make any difference for it can’t work without penitence!  You can delude yourself with attrition as well as contrition so the confessional does not afford any greater certainty.  This shows that if Jesus gave power to forgive sins to the apostles that they could only use it when the Holy Spirit told them that the person was in the right spiritual state to receive absolution which would indicate that it was the apostles power alone and could not be passed on. 


The insistence on confession is occultism.  It also suggests that Protestants who do not have confession know in their hearts that they might not be forgiven at all despite the promise of Christ which would make them to be self-deceiving hypocrites.  What kind of Church would tell a dying man, woman or child that their salvation is not very certain when the priest won’t be able to make it in time?  The Church may not say that to them when they are lying there dying  but it says it to them in life.   


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JOHN 20:23


Roman priests say, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."  The Church teaches that to say, "I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" is illicit.  This is not just because it is changing the words.  It is because absolving and forgiving are not exactly the same thing.  Absolving does not necessarily forgive.  It only declares that a person is hopefully freed from their sins.  Whether they are or not depends on whether or not they are repentant for the right reasons.  Forgiving does necessarily forgive.  The Church says that only God can forgive.  Yet it still says priests forgive sins. 


Only one place in the Bible seems to unambiguously agree with Catholicism that priests can remit sins, John 20:23, where the risen Jesus tells the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit!  [Now having received the Holy Spirit, and being led and directed by him] if you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.”  AMPLIFIED BIBLE.


But the doctrine that absolving and forgiving are not the same implies that here, Jesus is not giving the power to absolve at all.  Thus the verse does not support Roman Catholic teaching.  The only way the apostles could forgive sins is if they did more than just absolve but actually saw the person was ripe for forgiveness and forgive on that basis.  It presupposes a supernatural knowledge of the penitent.  Roman Priests do not have such powers of knowledge.


John 20:23, where the risen Jesus tells the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit!  [Now having received the Holy Spirit, and being led and directed by him] if you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.”   Compare John 20:23 with John 15:7 and Matthew 18:19,20.  There Jesus promise that whatever is prayed for in his name will be done and advises you to ask for whatever you will.  This can be taken to be promising that you will get everything you ask for in prayer.  But Jesus used language that seemed to say that but he certainly did not mean that.  Jesus promised the disciples in Matthew 18 that whatever they tied up on earth would be tied up in Heaven and whatever they released on earth would be released in Heaven and then immediately after said that they would get whatever they pray for.  He meant that whatever they tried to restrict or open up through prayer would be done.   This is the context.  When you think of all this and the parallels you see that John 20:23 is not the great text that proves Catholic doctrine that it seems to be.


The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus forgave sins by saying, "Your sins are forgiven."  See Matthew 9.  The Church says the gospel says Jesus forgave sins by saying that.  But notice Jesus does not say, "I forgive sins" but "I declare your sins have been forgiven."  Jesus is not saying he actually forgives sins as if he were God - he only says he realises God has forgiven the person and is assuring the person of that.   In early Christian custom, forgiving sins means declaring that God has forgiven.  It does not mean absolution.  So "If you forgive the sins of any" does not support Roman teaching.  Priests forgiving sins is totally unbiblical.  The burden of proof is on the Roman priesthood to prove it can forgive sins.  It cannot.  Or if you prefer to say the burden of support is on the Roman priesthood to support the belief and make belief in their power justified it makes no difference.  The Catholic priesthood makes a very very serious claim that it can't justify.  Thus in going to priests for forgiveness one is going to men not God.


The John verse says nothing about the Catholic practice of priests forgiving sins against God as if the penitent did wrong against them and they were God.   There is no room for the idea that priests can forgive as if they were the God that was offended by the sinner.  The Catholic Church pretends it doesn't know this.  But it does.  The Church believes that if a priest doesn't forgive sins it is foolish to say he is retaining sin, keeping the sinner in sin. The sinner keeps himself in sin.  All Jesus is saying that the Church forgives and doesn't forgive on earth depending on whether or not the person has been forgiven or not forgiven in the sight of Heaven.


Jesus had to have meant: “If you cause God to forgive sins etc”, for you can’t mean, “You can forgive sins in God’s place as if you are God,” any more than you can say, “John loving his daughter is precisely the same as his wife loving her” for they are two different people and John can’t love for her.  Jesus was talking about the apostles who forgivingly welcomed the sinner and prayed God to forgive the sinner that God would really forgive.  That is not the same as Romanist absolution. 


God is a personal being with free will.  He is not if a priest can control God's forgiving power and make him forgive when he says.  God cannot consent to such treatment for it is him ceasing to be God and a free person.  The Catholic doctrine is totally blasphemous.   Only one gospel seems to teach the blasphemy and if it does the gospel should be eliminated from the New Testament as a fake scripture of human and not divine origin.  The rule of scripture is that at least two independent firsthand witnesses are necessary and with such an important and possibly dangerous and immoral doctrine you would need more than one gospel testimony. 


The Faith of our Fathers says that Christians who are not Catholics but who believe that baptism forgives sins should be able to believe that priests forgive sins in confession (page 410).  But baptism is not anybody claiming to have the power to forgive sins but asking God to forgive and wash away sin.  Incredibly, Catholicism has the nerve to say what Faith of our Fathers says and refuses to reason that if anybody can forgive sins in baptism that means anybody can absolve sin not just priests.


The Catholic Church does not teach that its priests just give God’s forgiveness in confession.  It does more than that.  It claims they forgive in the person of God for Christ said, “If you forgive the sins of any” and the Church says, “I absolve”.  That is why its claim to the Protestants that when they believe that baptism in water takes away sin they should not disparage the Catholic sacrament of absolution for there is no significant difference is trickery.  Many Protestants teach that God forgives sin in baptism not the minister.  The minister is not forgiving sins but only giving a rite in which God has agreed to administer forgiveness.  Catholicism teaches that the priest forgives sin in the sacrament of absolution, it means that he is making a decision for God as if he were God.  It is different.  Its appeal to baptism is a plot to prevent Protestants from seeing how horrific and blasphemous the Catholic teaching is.  The difference is plainly that in baptism God forgives sin directly himself which is the only way sins can be forgiven for if you are not God you cannot forgive sin directly for him.   But in absolution it is the priest that forgives directly. 


If Jesus said, “Make a square circle”, you would not take him literally and you would know he did not mean it literally.  Making a square circle is as impossible as forgiving sins against God as if you were God when you are not.  So because a priest cannot give God’s forgiveness but only lets himself be part of the circumstances in confession when God resolves to forgive sins and that is the nearest one can get to forgiving sins it follows that Jesus must have meant to allow God to forgive.  If he meant Catholic type sacramental absolution, he did not mean the priest would directly forgive for only God can do that for the forgiveness is God’s.  So it was indirect. 


If it is indirect, then if you cause God to forgive sins you can cause this without performing absolution.  So what Jesus said could mean what the Protestants say it meant: “Forgive sins by preaching repentance by the power of the Spirit for all who repent by the grace of God will be pardoned” for that is indirect pardon.   


In Catholicism, it is a man forgiving sin so to use Catholic style forgiveness is to live without the forgiveness of God.  If you commit a crime and seek a pardon from the king a pardon from your next door neighbour will be ineffective.  Roman Catholicism then by having men forgiving sins instead of God is anti-God and anti-Christ.  It is pure bigotry to base all that absolving on one Bible verse and especially one that is so ambivalent.  This cult is being irresponsible.  The Catholic who thinks he or she is getting forgiveness from God in confession is wrong and misunderstands the doctrine for it comes from the priest.   The priest forgives for God and makes God’s decision like God can’t make his own. 



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Some think that Jesus was telling the apostles that those they had decided to forgive are now forgiven by God and that those whose sins they retained or held unforgiven were not.  So he was not giving them any power but making a statement of fact.  He breathed the Spirit into them so that they would go to the forgiven and bring them the gospel message. This means that rather than Jesus giving them a power it was a once off thing.  The “those who sins you forgive or retain” referred not to anybody they wished to forgive but only to those they perceived, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who had been forgiven already.  To accept former pagans and sinners into the Church is to forgive them but not to forgive them as if you were God – an idea that Jesus never hinted was right.  The gift was Jesus helping the disciples organise the Church and choose the right people to form it to get it started off.  Evidence for this view is that the Church hadn’t been doing absolutions and yet Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.”  Had he meant absolution he would have said, “If you WILL forgive anybody their sins WILL be forgiven.”  However whatever Jesus meant it is certain that when he didn’t use the future tense that he had no intention of having his apostles doing Catholic style priestly absolutions.


Perhaps Jesus meant, “The Holy Spirit gives you the supernatural power to look into the heart of rebel who asks your forgiveness (for he who insults God insults his Church too and needs her forgiveness) to be admitted back into fellowship with you and the Church to see if he is sincere.  When you sense by clairvoyance that he is, you forgive him and I forgive him at the same time.  When you see that he is not you retain his sin and so do I.”  The forgiving and retaining done by the apostles – and to be done by apostles only - and by God may coincide but the apostles are not making the decisions about how God is to forgive like Catholic priests.


The apostles needed the charism to prevent scandal to get the Church off to a good start.  Bringing in covert heretics could strangle the truth in many and plenty of these would have been seeking admission having been paid off to discredit the Church.  And the Bible acknowledges that a good God could give the gift for he says he did.  It says he made his apostles know what was in the hearts of others which nobody with normal powers can know (Acts 5:3; 8:20; Galatians 6:13).  The fact that the apostles did not know what to make of Paul (Acts 9) shows that God sometimes made exceptions for his own secret purpose.  Exceptions prove the rule but Paul never asked for their forgiveness.  Once the Church got off to a start for the clairvoyance was taken away.  Catholics may object that they had no such gift for it is needed today but they forget that God knows what is best and does the unexpected.


In the Greek originals of John the words translated pardoned and unforgiven are in the perfect tense who means an act completed in the past whose effects still exist.  Literally Jesus said, “Those who sins you forgive have been forgiven” (page 12, Roman Catholicism What is Final Authority?).  He is telling them that they will forgive whoever God has forgiven and not to forgive sins in the Catholic understanding.  The Catholic idea is just too absurd, a person forgiving sins as if he were God, to have been meant.


This interpretation fits the view that the verse is really just about not giving God’s forgiveness but Church forgiveness or disciplinary forgiveness. It could still mean that even if it said if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.  The fact that when somebody sinned, because the early Church couldn’t see if they had sincerely turned to God for mercy and received it or not, the person was not considered a proper member of the Church but left out of many things and compelled to do penance until the bishop reconciled them to the Church at the end of their probation.  Jesus in Matthew 18:17 commanded that the Church must not forgive or have any friendly relations with unrepentant sinners.  So if John 20:23 means disciplinary forgiveness, then Jesus was authorising the practice.  He is saying he will sanction the decision the Church makes on earth.  He is not saying it will necessarily make the right decisions all the time but he recognises the need for his Church to make some decisions based on its own judgement and in accordance with the principles he gave.  He is saying then, “If you forgive the sins of any in this disciplinary way I forgive them that way too.  If you retain their sins I retain them too.”  This makes more sense than saying he meant he could enable them to forgive sins as if they were God for only God can pardon sins.


Moreover, the Bible occasionally speaks of declaring an act like it was performing it (Jeremiah 1:10; Isaiah 6:10).  The John text could have been using this peculiar method of expression.  It may just mean that to successfully declare pardon is to forgive.


In the original Greek, the Bible says that if the apostles forgive the sins of any and any being plural they are forgiven (Ordination, Rev Willie Bridcut, Irish Church Missions).  Jesus had no reason to use the plural.  The single would do.  Unless the plural would imply that if a group of people were forgiven they are forgiven.  The plural does not necessarily imply that the single will be forgiven  for the apostles were busy men.  And busy men like them have the job of reconciling break-offs from the Church to the Church and deal with groups.  So the forgiveness was only meant for schismatic or sinful factions in the Church not for individuals.  The verse then does not support Catholic style secret confession or individual absolution.  It forbids them.


If the apostles and whoever else was in that room that day got the power to forgive sins that does not mean they could have passed that power on.  There is no evidence that the infant Church practiced absolution – even Ignatius who wanted to put bishops on a pedestal never spoke of bishops being able to pardon sins.  Such a doctrine would have been his delight.


The Catholic interpretation of John that it authorises priests to decide who should be forgiven by God is unlawful for there is no need to go that far.  We must take the simplest interpretation which is that the author did not have the Catholic doctrine in mind.


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The Council of Trent taught infallibly that Jesus, “has left priests to represent him as presiding judges, to whom Christ’s faithful are to submit all mortal sins into which they have fallen, in order that they may pronounce sentence of sins remission or retention in virtue of the power of the keys” (14th Session, Chapter 5).  It is Catholic teaching that the absolution given by priests is a judicial act – actus judicialis.  Its an act that involves the priest making a judgment so it cannot be given without confession of individual sins (page 13, Penance Sacrament of Reconciliation).   The Church isn’t consistent with its own teaching.  Somebody comes in confessing that God cannot trust them and neither can the Church.  So how can the priest be expected to pardon them just because they confess and say they are sorry?  Some people like confessing – its like a boast to them.  So what should happen is people confess and prove their sorrow to the priest before absolution.  In a court of law, a judicial system cannot simply take people’s word for things.  A system that does is not being judicial. 


If Jesus gave the priests judicial authority to forgive and retain sins then how can we explain his hatred of authoritarianism when he said that whoever would be Lord must be the servant of all? We would have to hold that the interpretation of the verse saying he gave judicial authority is faulty.  If need be, we would have to hold that the text of John 20:23 has lost its clarity or has been inaccurately preserved for us.


Nowadays the Catholic Church gives general absolution without confession in cases of necessity.  Yet its own interpretation of John’s words imply that the priest has to hear the case before he can forgive for he is in the position of judge and has to decide if the penitence is real or feigned.  It doesn’t take the interpretation very seriously does it and the interpretation is supposed to be infallible.  And the official doctrine still is that the priest has to examine the evidence and judge (page 13, Penance, Sacrament of Reconciliation).


The priest has to spend ages with each penitent trying to judge their guilt, the degree of guilt and the sincerity of their sorrow.  When you sin it is only a symptom of many other sins.  For example, if I confess to an act of adultery, a mortal sin, with a woman who is not my wife.  It is not enough to confess that.  I have to confess the first time I felt the attraction when and why I decided to do something about it.  When I first kissed her and what happened after for there is a whole series of sins surrounding it.  Normally small sins that I commit to encourage the adultery to happen are thereby turned into mortal sins for adultery is a serious matter.  So if Jesus meant to start a sacrament based on confession and absolution we reach some ridiculous and harmful conclusions.  It means that the apostles and their delegates who he commissioned to preach the gospel first and foremost were to be bogged down with this sacrament in those precarious and difficult early days.  The absurdity of Jesus doing this proves that the Roman Catholic interpretation of the verse from the John gospel is wrong. 


Allowing confession without absolution which has happened in the Vatican II Church is anti-Catholic and heretical.  It denies the meaning of the sacrament.  If the sacrament is judicial no exceptions can be made to the confession rule under any circumstances no matter how grave.  It is just like if you can’t give a person a fair trial then you must give them no trial at all.  The real reason the popes allow this absolution in mission countries is because their rules about priests having to be unmarried males who follow the mind of the pope completely means that only a tiny number of dysfunctional men can become priests so there aren’t enough to go round.  They know this looks bad so they pretend to care about allowing the forgiveness of sins to be provided.  But the power of controlling these men and making sure they have nothing in life to mean anything to them but the Church is too much for them to resist. 


It gets a hundred times worse when one realises that the idea that venial sin exists is foreign to the Bible which says that even sins that do little or almost no harm are still serious hell-deserving offences – mortal sins. 


For a man to decide whom God is going to forgive would be intolerable to God.  God could not allow it even if he wanted to and if Jesus said he did he would have committed the only slip necessary to show he was a fraud and not from God according to the strict decree given by God in Deuteronomy 18.  God would not refuse to pardon a person just because a priest or apostle did not consent to it.


For a priestly sinner who may be worse than the penitent to judge that penitent seems totally contrary to the Sermon on the Mount which forbade self-righteous judgement of other people.  Some say that it is not sinful or wrong because the priest can judge for the person’s good and wish he was as holy as the person is becoming.  But it is hypocrisy for anybody bad to praise a good or better person for he is saying, “I approve of the hard work you did to become good but I am glad it was you and not me”.  That is really saying you don’t like goodness and that it is bad for you but you are glad for somebody else to have this badness of goodness.”  The praise is false and deceptive and vicious and it is still judgemental.  Jesus never said it was sometimes okay for an evil person to judge an evil person.  He denounced it across the board.  And he was right.  The bad person who judges somebody as good is actually more malicious than the one who judges somebody as bad as themselves.  At least the latter is not denouncing goodness.

“If you forgive the sins of any”.  The if means, on the condition that.  If John had meant absolution in the Catholic sense he would have been careful to prevent people thinking that the only way to forgiveness after that was by absolution.  He was not so he did not mean the Catholic understanding for even Catholics do not go that far.

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A reserved sin is a sin that a priest cannot forgive, you have to go to the bishop or even the pope.  If the priest absolves anyway the absolution won’t work.  The Church says that if you go to an apostle or bishop for absolution you are going to be saying you are sorry whether you mean it or not so retaining sins in John 20:23 must mean more than just refusing absolution to the impenitent and must mean reserving sins. There can be no doubt that if John 20:23 authorises the evil Catholic practice of retaining sins as reserved or having reserved sins then the Gospel should be excised from the New Testament.  The Church says that when Jesus said the apostles retain sins he wanted the bishop to reserve some sins to himself that nobody but a bishop could absolve and the pope reserves the sin of defiling the Holy Eucharist by tramping on the host deliberately and that to himself so only he can forgive it.  This practice is wholly evil and contradicts the gospels where Jesus keeps saying come to me now and don’t delay.  In Ireland, the sin of poteen making used to be a reserved sin.  In those days, men who committed this sin had to make the laborious, treacherous and expensive journey to be absolved by the bishop and the bishop was not an easy man to meet.  I’m sure people were shot by highwaymen because of this and went to Hell.  It is a vicious and distorted mentality that sees the likes of this as discipline!  Keeping people in sin is not helping them or disciplining them.  Discipline is about changing a person for the better as soon as possible and is as valuable if it lasts ten seconds or ten minutes as long as it has an effect.  

The Bible says that Jesus told the disciples that if they forgive anybodys sins they are forgiven and if they make anybody stay in their sins they will stay in them.  That seems to defend the Catholic doctrine that Jesus gave priests and bishops the power to forgive sins.  But Catholics deny they have the power to make a person stay unforgiven.    A priest can refuse to forgive, but that cannot be equated with trying to keep a person in their sins.    Thus the Catholics do not use Jesus to defend their doctrine - they manipulate him.   

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The Psalms and the Old Testament have people praying straight to God for forgiveness and getting it. 


When the Gospel is supposed to be good news it is clear that God could not and would not have changed this structure to make it harder leaving one having to look for a validly ordained priest and remember sins and fight the shame of confessing to that priest. 


Jesus told his apostles that they must pray the Our Father which pleads, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  The prayers at the start, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come”, are by implication prayers for pardon too for they ask that God be fittingly praised and his reign of righteousness will come.  How could you want the name reverenced and the kingdom to come now as Jesus wanted us to when you mean “forgive me God but not now and wait until I get to confession”? 


Rome says the Lord’s Prayer will get venial sins forgiven if you sincerely mean it.  The Lord’s Prayer would be meaningless to a person who had no venial sins never  mind mortal sins but Jesus wants all to use the prayer.  It speaks of no restrictions.  The Lord’s Prayer refutes the idea that some forgiveness is the priest’s domain. 


The Catholic forgiveness system contradicts the urgency of the New Testament message of conversion and even more so in the past when there were no cars and when there was much persecution of Christians.  If a person needed absolution in times of persecution it was very hard to get and caused much terror.  St Paul said we could not get married for we had to prepare for the second coming.   There was no time for the Catholic system which only slows things.  When the Bible never denies that we must go straight it is enough to prove that it wants us to go straight.



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Priests forgiving sins is just another Roman Catholic doctrine that emerged from its control freak antics despite being in contradiction to the Bible.


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ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS CATHOLICS ARE ASKING Tony Coffey, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 2006

A PATH FROM ROME, Anthony Kenny Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1985

BLESS ME FATHER FOR I HAVE SINNED, Quentin Donoghue, Linda Shapiro, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1984


CONFESSION OF A ROMAN CATHOLIC, Paul Whitcomb, Tan, Illinois, 1985 

CONFESSION QUIZZES TO A STREET PREACHER, Frs Rumble and Carty, TAN, Illinois, 1976 

CONFESSION, WHY WE GO, James Tolhurst, Faith Pamphlets, Surrey, 1975 

DIFFICULTIES, Mgr Ronald Knox and Arnold Lunn, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1958 

ENCHIRIDION SYMBOLORUM ET DEFINITIONUM, Heinrich Joseph Denzinger, Edited by A Schonmetzer, Barcelona, 1963 

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THEOLOGY, Edited by Karl Rahner, Burns and Oates, London, 1977

GOING TO CONFESSION TODAY, Patrick McCarthy CC, Irish Messenger Publications, Dublin 1981 

LIFE IN CHRIST, PART 3, Fergal McGrath S.J., MH Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1960 

LIVING IN CHRIST, A Dreze SJ, Geoffrey Chapman, London-Melbourne 1969 

NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, The Catholic University of America and the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., Washington, District of Columbia, 1967 

ORDINATION, Rev Willie Bridcut, Irish Church Missions, Dublin 

PEACE OF SOUL, Fulton Sheen, Universe, London, 1962 

PENANCE CONSIDERED Michael S Bostock, Wickliffe Press London, 1985 

PENANCE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION, Kevin McNamara, Archbishop of Dublin, Veritas, Dublin, 1985 

ROMAN CATHOLICISM WHAT IS FINAL AUTHORITY?  Harold J Berry, Back to the Bible, Nebraska, 1974 

SALVATION, THE BIBLE AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM, William Webster, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1990 

SECRETS OF ROMANISM, Joseph Zacchello, Loizeaux Brothers, New Jersey, 1984 

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS THE ANSWER, Paul Whitcomb, TAN, Illinois, 1986  

THE CODE OF CANON LAW, Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, William Collins and William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983  

THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS, James Cardinal Gibbons, Forty Ninth Edition, John Murphy and Co Publishers, Baltimore, London, New York, 1897 (TAN Books keep this book in print)

THE QUESTION AND ANSWER CATHOLIC CATECHISM, John A Hardon SJ, Image Books, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1981 

THE SECRET OF CATHOLIC POWER, LH Lehmann, Protestant Truth Pamphlets, Agora Publishing Company, New York 

THE STUDENT’S CATHOLIC DOCTRINE, Rev Charles Hart BA, Burns & Oates, London, 1961 


WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HEAVEN? Dave Hunt, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1988




The Amplified Bible


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