Better Than The Confessional Booth

I was greatly relieved the night I surrendered my turbulent life to Christ. God’s peace prevailed in my mind and heart. And, not too long after that, another relief came to my mind in regard to my sins.
Better Than The Confessional Booth
Source - Image owned, uploaded and copyrighted 2016 by author, Peter P. Macinta (Brother Pete)

News came forth from the Vatican in February 2016 {1} that Pope Francis had sent out over 1,000 “super confessors” throughout the world. Confessors in the Catholic Church are those men who hear confessions and then usually pronounce absolution over the sinner. In regard to these “super confessors,” CNN said, “They are priests who have been given a special license, for the duration of the Jubilee year, to forgive grave sins that usually only the Pope or top Church officials can pardon.”

Until 2015, in the Catholic Church abortion was one of those sins that only a pope could forgive, but

the CNN report indicated Francis gave ordinary priests the power to do so until the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy which would end November 2016. Apparently, after that, a woman that had an abortion would have to somehow obtain absolution from Rome. That is a lot of power vested in men. But, if you have had an abortion, or committed any other sin whether “great” or “small,” please read on, for there is good news for you.

What does the Holy Bible say about this power of forgiving sins committed against God? Immediately a devout and knowledgeable Catholic would point us to John 20:23. John 20:21-23 records, ”Then said Jesus to them again, “Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you.“ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and was saying unto them, “Receive the Holy Ghost: 23 Whosoever’s sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.”“ 

Some translations or versions might read something like, “Whosoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven”. However, I do not think there are many, if any, that continue with, “and whosoever’s sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven.” Assuredly the Holy Spirit could have directed John to write that portion of that verse in that manner, but He did not. So now we should look at the actual words used in the ancient texts, after which we will make some Biblical observations.

“Remit” And “Retain”

I am about to give you the meanings of the Greek words {2} for “remit” and “retain,” but if you care not to read all of that feel free to scroll down. But the information needs to be presented for the sake of integrity. It is always good to see the facts in Biblical research.

Remit:

The Greek word “aphiemi” (af-ee’-ay-mee) is used here. According to Vine {3} it is one of two words that could be used, and it is the main word for our English “forgive,” “forgave,” and “forgiveness.” James Strong notes it is used 146 times in the New Testament (NT) and can be rendered in various ways as follows, depending on its context and other variables:

1) to send away 
1a) to bid going away or depart 
1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife 
1b) to send forth, yield up, to expire 
1c) to let go, let alone, let be 
1c1) to disregard 
1c2) to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic) 1c21) of teachers, writers and speakers 
1c3) to omit, neglect 
1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit 
1e) to give up, keep no longer 
2) to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person 
3) to leave, go way from one 
3a) in order to go to another place 
3b) to depart from any one 
3c) to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned 
3d) to desert wrongfully 
3e) to go away leaving something behind 
3f) to leave one by not taking him as a companion 
3g) to leave on dying, leave behind one 
3h) to leave so that what is left may remain, leave remaining 
3i) abandon, leave destitute 

Retain:

“Krateo” (krat-eh’-o) is the Holy Spirit’s choice for “retain” in this part of this verse. The only entry that Vine {4} has for “retain” is “krateo,” but tells his readers to see the entries for “hold,” “keep,” “obtain,” and take. Its possible meanings are as follows:

1) to have power, be powerful 
1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule 
2) to get possession of 
2a) to become master of, to obtain 
2b) to take hold of 
2c) to take hold of, take, seize 
2c1) to lay hands on one in order to get him into one’s power 
3) to hold 
3a) to hold in the hand 
3b) to hold fast, i.e. not discard or let go 
3b1) to keep carefully and faithfully 
3c) to continue to hold, to retain 
3c1) of death continuing to hold one 
3c2) to hold in check, restrain 

“1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit” fits well with this verse regarding sins. A few others might also work except for the fact they would not match well against the opposite of the verse, “retain.” In regard to “retain,” looking at its options, the best match against 1d of aphiemi would be krateo’s “3b) to hold fast, i.e. not discard or let go,” “3c) to continue to hold, to retain,” and maybe “3a) to hold in the hand” if one might consider “in the hand” figuratively. “3c2) to hold in check, restrain” would be reasonable except for the fact aphiemi does not have a corresponding opposite against it.

While these definitions alone do not rule out the idea that a human could be vested by God to forgive sins against God, the fact is no one verse of the Holy Bible stands alone from the rest of the written Word of God {5}. Are they any other passages that show someone or a group coming to the Apostles and asking them to forgive their sins against God? There are none.

Confession Of Sins

There is confession of sins, but not for the sake of obtaining forgiveness through the apostles or disciples. A revival at Ephesus is recorded in Acts 19. Verse 18 records, “And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.” Note that it does not say “and confessed to the disciples.” Matthew 3:6 and Mark 1:5 record confession of sins under John the Baptist’s ministry but that was most likely a public confession, like Acts 19:18, and it was before Christ breathed on His disciples (not just apostles) saying, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

The New International Dictionary Of The Christian Church (NIDOC) notes {6} that there were times of public confession in the early church, and cites Didache 4:14 and 1 Clement 51:3. However it took a few centuries until the practice of confessing sins to a priest was developed. NIDOC contributor Clyde Curry Smith states, “Confession of sin, especially in the sense of auriculam (“into the ear” of the priest), was a medieval development which also came to play in worship.” Common sense would dictate to us that if Christ actually meant sins against God were to be confessed to another person in order to obtain forgiveness that such a practice would be clearly recorded in the New Testament and in early accounts of Church history.

Responding To Some Catholic Teaching

Before presenting the Biblical application of John 20:23 I would like to respond to a portion of Handbook For New Catholics by Aloysius J. Burggraff. I will place his questions and comments in italics between quotation marks, while my responses will be in non-italic. The first few lines are very saddening to me and hopefully you will see why. It begins, “As the fear of going to confession mounts, the arguments against the need of it mount--”Why can’t I confess my sins to God directly in the secret of my heart?” You can. But how can you be certain that you are forgiven?”

I most assuredly reply I can know I am forgiven because the Word of God says I am forgiven (1 John 1:9): “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We might continue with numerous examples of forgiveness directly from God to David, Manasseh, and Saul who was later called Paul the apostle. All these men knew the forgiveness of God. So can we.

“Can you be forgiven at all!”

My previous reply answers that, but I would like to add it would be ludicrous for Christ to teach us to pray in Luke 11:4, “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” Neither in this verse, nor in 1 John 1:9, nor in similar passages is there anything that would say our sins or any particular sin (except for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit {7} could not be forgiven.

“What must I do to atone for my sins? In short, what must I do to be saved?”

We cannot do anything to atone for sins (Titus 3:5). However, the Word of God is very clear that Christ has made the full atonement:

1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

In regard to salvation, Romans 10:9-11 says, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. 10  For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11  For the scripture says, “Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed.“”

And, I must add this one from Hebrews 7:22-25, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. 23  And they truly were many priests, because they were not permitted to continue by reason of death: 24  But this man, because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25  Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.”

“If it were sufficient for forgiveness to confess sins directly to God, why did Christ forgive sins over and over again, and to those who were being condemned by their own fellow men?”

Forgiveness of sins is one thing, killing the sin nature is another. Christ had to forgive over and over again for two reasons: 1.) People repeatedly sinned, and 2.) He had not yet atoned for sins. Just because one’s sins are forgiven does not mean they will not sin again and do so severely. However, when one truly comes to Christ they become crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20). The sin nature is crushed. They are also spiritually raised with the risen Christ (Colossians 3:1-7), Who was victorious over all temptation, and as a result become a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Why did Christ give the authority to His apostles to forgive sins in His name if one could confess to God directly?” (And the writer continued by quoting John 20:22-23.)

As already shown, He did not grant authority to the apostles to forgive sins committed against God. Additionally, if we carefully read the context, He did not breathe only upon the apostles, because the text states “disciples.” Therefore the authority granted in John 20:22-23 was not just to a select few.

“After you apologize to someone for having offended him, you never know whether you are forgiven until he gives you some external mark of his inner disposition. You cannot read another's mind--you cannot sense another’s heart. Much less can you “feel” you are forgiven by God.”

This is a poor analogy because some people can outwardly express forgiveness but inwardly harbor unforgiveness. Next, a born again Christian can sense another person’s heart. And the last sentence is very, very sad and reflects the spiritual destitution of our Catholic friends. Apparently the writer of those words has never been truly born again.

Can you feel the forgiveness of God? David expected it as he confessed his sin of adultery, imploring God to forgive him. By the Spirit he writes in Psalm 51:10-12, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Evidently from this, upon receiving forgiveness from God David would sense his heart would be clean, a renewing of a right spirit, the blessed presence of God, the Holy Spirit, the joy of God’s salvation, and freedom from the tendency of his sin nature to transgress.

Knowing The Forgiveness Of God

David is not the only one. Countless millions have known for sure that their sins were forgiven just by going to God directly. It happened to me. In brief, I was raised Roman Catholic but left them, in my heart, at an early age. Like everyone else I committed numerous sins. However, there were two that weighed heavily upon me. Oddly, though the second sin I will mention you might deem as heinous, even unforgiveable by God, it is a sin before that which really crushed me.

That second sin was worshiping satan {8}. I was into all sorts of things, including “soul walking” where one supposedly projects their soul out of their body to another location. One night I received a very powerful scare from that practice and my satanic activities diminished over time. However, I harbored a very strong hatred for anything Christian (or what claimed to be Christian). I hated churches and I hated God.

But the sin before that one was really a major force in my life. I was arrested for something and one of the most crushing things that has ever occurred to me was being brought home to my parents by a detective. They did not have to punish me (although I was restricted from certain activities). I punished myself. Satan joined in to make me feel like I was the fool of all the earth. For around a whole year I could not bring myself to eat meals with my family. Later, when I was seventeen, this sin was one of many spiritual weights from which I became so downcast to the point of being suicidal.

However, God wanted to forgive me and reached out in many ways. They all helped to bring me to the realization that not only was Christ the perfect judge because He was all God and all man, but because He was all God and all man that also made Him the perfect Savior. About an hour after hearing that expressed in a sermon by Billy Graham I knelt by my bed. I confessed what the Holy Bible said I was, a sinner. I asked God to forgive me. I asked Christ into my heart (the center of my being) and to make me new in Him. I soon felt the tremendous weight of sin and guilt lifted off from me. Without a doubt I knew, and still know, I was forgiven.

You can too! So far I have given just a few verses from the Word of God and not the word of man about Christ’s atonement, forgiveness, and salvation. There are many more passages. I encourage you to believe what the written Word of God says. Anyone can have the peace of God knowing that their sins against God are forgiven. It does not matter what sin or sins you have committed.

Manasseh was one of the most wicked kings ever to ascend the throne over Judah. The first part of the summary of his reign as recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:1-10 contains an account of the horrible evil he produced not only in his life but in the lives of others. Some of his sins included witchcraft and idolatry. One of the worst aspects of his idolatry was that he burned some of his very young sons alive. That is correct: he burned them alive (v.6). That in itself would place in the minds of many people that this extremely evil man could never be forgiven. The remaining sins on his spiritual “rap sheet” would certainly mean a “one way ticket to hell,” and to the lowest parts thereof.  But, read past verse 10.

His kingly realm was invaded and through much suffering he was taken to Assyria where he suffered even more. At this point some people would say something to the effect, “Good! Let him slowly rot to death while in prison, then die and be forever tormented in hell.” Not God. 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 records, “And when he was in affliction, he besought YHVH his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13  And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of Him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that YHVH


He was God.” No priest was involved. Manasseh prayed directly to God and was forgiven.

If the very evil Manasseh, who lived centuries before the first coming of Christ, was able to go directly to God for forgiveness, then how much more can we go to God after the efficacious sacrifice of Christ? Insisting that in order to get forgiveness from God one needs to go to a priest or, if you have committed a “whopper” of a sin, one needs to quickly send a communique to Rome, is certainly a “step backwards” in man’s relationship to God.

Further Shortcomings Of The Confessional

When being trained in the Roman Catholic Church of how and why to go to a confessional we learned about venial and mortal sins. We were taught that mortal sins were exactly that and, to the best of my recollection, would place you in sure danger of hell if you died before having them forgiven. Confessionals were usually held on Saturdays at the church I belonged to. Unless we wanted to go through the process of making special arrangements we would have to wait until Saturday. It was a fearful thing to wait, not knowing if you would die any moment and were unable to see a priest so that you would be able to get forgiveness from God.

A few short days after coming to Christ the realization came to my mind that dependence upon another person to obtain forgiveness from God for me was not necessary at all! I remember chuckling with joy over that fact and enjoying even more peace because I knew Christ dwelt within and in humility and sincerity I could go directly to Him! Additionally, Christ was the High Priest that was tempted at all points just like we are and understood far better than any plain human could (Hebrews 4:15). That is sure better than the confessional booth!

For some people the confessional is a means to hide from God. Going directly to God through Christ puts us spiritually face to face with the Holy One we have sinned against. The confessional and other religious activities provide an opportunity for some to follow what man says and not what God says. Instead of bringing people to God such practices often distance people from Him by making a church system of man made rules be the mediator between God and the sinner. Instead, it should be (Psalm 32:5), “I acknowledged my sin unto You, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto YHVH; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

As a result the confessional easily fosters repetitive sin. Though Catholic literature and teaching rightfully warns against a flippant attitude in repentance, religious activities can become meaningless and fruitless rituals. The same holds true for non-Catholics including those who are born again. Stay far away from the thought of sinning “because God will forgive anyhow.” Because of the love of God the exact opposite must occur. In true repentance we must realize and take to heart that Christ took the penalty for our sin. Not only did the Romans and Jews had Him crucified, you and I did too! Consider well the cross and that you are not worthy at all of the smallest (in human estimation) mercy of God. Express sincere sorrow and ask for His forgiveness. Christ is the cure for sin and the longer we remain in Him and earnestly love Him the more His grace strengthens us.

John 20:23 In Action

Earlier we looked at some of the actual Greek words in John 20:23. It was then stated, “the fact is no one verse of the Holy Bible stands alone from the rest of the written Word of God {5}," and it was shown from Holy Scripture why John 20:23 does not mean the “sacrament” of penance was to be established. Just as the Holy Word of God showed what it does not mean, it also shows what it does mean. And, before we continue, it must be kept in mind that not only were the Apostles present on that Lord’s Day were breathed upon by Christ, but also the disciples. It also to be kept in mind that the entire context of the New Testament points to the fact that what was made available to the first disciples of Christ is made available to all the disciples of Christ.

Acts 7 has the account of the martyrdom of Stephen, a devout disciple within the Body of Christ. He was falsely accused of blasphemy and brought before a council of Jewish religious leaders. In his defense he briefly outlined a portion of Jewish history and when he pointed out their rebellion against God they could not bear it. After sternly rebuking them, they could take no more. We read (verses 54-60), “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55  But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56  And said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” 57  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58  And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59  And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60  And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Indeed, these people were sinning against God when they stoned Stephen. But, they also sinned against Stephen. Led by the Holy Spirit (remember John 20:22), Stephen was prompted to remit, let go of, the offense against him. The Holy Scriptures indicate that in itself did not mean all these men now had “a ticket to heaven.” It did mean that, unless they surrendered to Christ like Saul (Paul) did, when they went to hell there would be a little less torment for them--the Holy Scriptures indicate degrees of punishment in hell (Luke 12:47). Before that, it would be an indictment against their hardened hearts at the last judgment.

Look at what is described in Revelation 20:11-15--"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

As you see, it is the book of life that indicates who would be cast into the lake of fire, not the books that contained anyone’s works. This underscores the fact we are not saved by our own works. Why then the books of works? They will stand as proof that many rejected the grace of God through Christ. Perhaps any having an objection of being cast into the lake of fire will be confronted with their own record which was not wiped clean by the blood of Christ. I can imagine an encounter as follows:

God: “Your name is not in the book of life which means you have selected to be in the lake of fire for eternity.”

A Man Who Stoned Stephen: “No! I was a good person!”

Perhaps God would then begin to state all the recorded sins of the man as recorded in his book of works. In so doing, the act of stoning Stephen might not be mentioned. Steven remitted that act against him, asking God to forgive all those who stoned him. The man goes to the lake but perhaps his torment is a little less than what it would be if Stephen had not remitted it.

But let us also look at what happened to Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul. Acts 7:58 shows he was there when Stephen was stoned and Acts 8:1 declares he had consented to Stephen’s death.  While doing so, he saw and heard the grace of God at work in Stephen’s life, but was blind to the fact that this sin of stoning Stephen made everyone’s heart harder to be touched by God. Sin spiritually kills, and the more one sins the more one becomes deadened to the voice of God.

However, because God in His foreknowledge knew that Saul would repent, He moved upon Stephen to remit this particular sin. So, instead of being filled with vengeance, Stephen remained full of the Holy Spirit and cried out “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!” God followed through, and there was one less wall of sin between these men and the God Who loved them. Instead of Saul’s conscience being completely seared the Holy Scriptures attest to the fact that at least a small piece of it was open to God, for it was recorded that Christ spoke to Him, saying, “I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”

One might ask, “Why would God not lead a Christian to remit everything?” One reason is that, despite the will of God, most will not turn to God. They will not repent, no matter what. And depending to what degree a person has permitted themselves to be spiritually warped, there is a Scriptural principle whereby one can get sick of sin to the point where they consider truly repenting. The Prodigal son is one example.

So it behooves the true Christian to be truly Spirit led. While there is only one Way for a person to be saved there are varying states of minds amongst the unredeemed. Some, like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5), might only need a cheerful invitation. Others might need a stern “wake up call” like Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8:9-24.

Go Directly To Christ

But, above all, realize, and have others realize, that only Christ is needed for the forgiveness of sins against the Most Holy God. Again, it is written in the Word of God, Hebrews 7:22-25, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. 23  And they truly were many priests, because they were not permitted to continue by reason of death: 24  But this man, because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25  Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

We do not need another person to see to it that the sins we commit are forgiven. We do not need to wait. We do not need confessors or super confessors for there is always One available who is not just “super,” but supreme. Trust only Christ. Believe the Word of God and not the words of men. Believe this (1 John 2:2):”And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Christ is the only one we need. Quality time with Him is far better than the confessional booth.

Notes:

{1} From http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/12/europe/pope-francis-super-confessors/

{2} From an electronic version of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong incorporated in the Online Bible program, and so throughout the article whenever the ancient language is referred to and no other authority is cited.

{3} Vine, W. E.: An Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words (Flemming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ : 1966) Vol. 2 pp 122-123

{4} Vine, W. E.: An Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words (Flemming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ : 1966) Vol. 3 p 291

{5} Visit http://thesureword.expertscolumn.com/article/general-principles-for-understanding-holy-bible#SpriptureScripture for the principle of Scripture interprets Scripture

{6} Douglas, J. D., General Editor: The New International Dictionary Of The Christian Church (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids Michigan: 1974) p250

{7} Burggraff, Aloysius J.: Handbook For New Catholics (Paulist Press, New York, NY: 1960

{8} The topic of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is somewhat extensive and does not fall within the scope of this article. Suffice it for now that if you have any concern about the state of your soul, the things of God, etc., you do not have that sin.

{9} Not capitalized on purpose. Experts Column gives me the freedom to express myself in that way.

Find more apologetics information at http://thesureword.expertscolumn.com/ , and please visit this ministry’s apologetics index at http://sapphirestreams.com/life/api.html

Also consulted:

Schraner, Anthony: Saint Joseph Annotated Catechism (Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York: 1981)

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Unless otherwise noted all Holy Scripture is from the 1769 Authorized Version with spelling of some words updated for our time in addition to changing LORD to YHVH as it rightly should be when the text so indicates. An * next to the abbreviation for another translation or version indicates the same for the text presented.

Not responsible for any advertisements appearing with this article nor am I necessarily in agreement with any of them. The statements of this paragraph hold true not only for this article, but for everything I have placed on the Internet.



Article Written By BrotherPete

I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having served over forty years as a pastor. I graduated from Northeast Bible College of Green Lane Pennsylvania and have a Bachelors Degree in Bible. I am enthused about the Word of God and how it can make a positive change in the life of anyone once it is teamed up with faith and the Holy Spirit. I am happily married. Visit www.sapphirestreams.com.

Posted on: Last updated: 21-06-2016 123 1

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  • nbillett  28-12-2016
    Our desires and our prayers are powerful because we have come to the center from which God directs the forces saving humankind: because we work for eternity; our names are already written in heaven.
    reply 0
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