Understanding John 20:22-23

Q. What does  John 20:22-23 mean? “If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them and if you hold them bound they are held bound?” The Catholic Church takes this to validate the confessional and forgiveness of sins by the priest. Your insight is appreciated.

A. One of the complaints the Jewish leadership lodged against Jesus is that by forgiving the sins of others He was claiming to be God.  Mark 2:1-12 shows how by healing a paralytic Jesus demonstrated His authority to forgive sins. He also said that His miraculous work was done through the power of the Holy Spirit and that we would have the same kind of power (John 14:12).

In John 20:22-23 Jesus first invested the disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit, and immediately conveyed the ability to either forgive sins or not. This simply means that they were being empowered to bring people into the Church. Any time we “bring someone to the Lord”  by saying the sinner’s prayer with them, we are exercising the same power.

This is not an issue of confessing to a priest and doing whatever penance He determines to receive forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says we can confess our sins directly to the Lord and are immediately forgiven without prejudice.  No third party is necessary to accomplish this.

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