There are millions in this world who are a part of a religion who hold to the belief that man has been given the authority to forgive sins. This comes from one bible verse in John 20:21-23. Yeshua Christ had said to his disciples that “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever's sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them. Whoever's sins you retain, they have been retained.”
We are going to study the word of God to see if man was actually given this authority, or if it is possible that this one verse has been misinterpreted by man. As I have stated many times before that if there are passages in the Bible that disagree then we must re-examine our interpretation. Secluding the few that stand against the many, and not choosing the one that we wish to be true.
Let us look at Hebrews 10:26, we read “For if we sin willfully after we received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.”
We have all read about the parable told by Christ of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-31. One who was with his father but went astray to live a sinful lifestyle. We have also read how Christ leaves the many to go after the one, Luke 15:4. Yet, how many would interpret this to mean that once you know Christ, if you willfully sin then you can never be forgiven?
When we examine all passages referring to a subject, like those in Luke 15 and many other passages that tell us how the unsaved have no redemption of sins, such as Hebrews 9:22; 10:18, Acts 2:38; 10:43, & Luke 1:77;1 John 5:12; whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son is condemned, and also the verses that speak about how if we love God then we will keep his commandments, John 14:15; 14:21; 15:10, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 2:6, Revelation 14:12, & Ecclesiastes 12:13, we can conclude that the writer of Hebrews 10:26 is actually stating that those who continue to willfully sin with the knowledge of grace have never really accepted that grace, therefore, they are not forgiven. They can still repent and be saved.
We are going to look at John 20:21-23 in the same manner to see if it has been rightfully interpreted or if it disagrees with scripture. If it disagrees, then we must re-examine and properly interpret it.
In Mark 2, we read about the paralytic that was brought to Christ and lowered down in through the roof. Christ spoke and said that the paralytics sins had been forgiven. Because the religions leaders reasoned amongst themselves, accusing Christ of Blasphemy, Christ asked in verse 9, “Which is easier, to tell the paralytic, your sins are forgiven, or to say, Arise, take up your bed, and walk?
He continues in verse 10, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” This man being healed and walking was showing proof that Christ had the authority to forgive sins.
We see a parallel to this in Matthew 11:3-5, when John the Baptist sent two of his own to ask Christ, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” Christ replied, “Go tell John the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Christ again was saying that his works testify of who he is and of his authority.
In 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he (God, not man) is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.”
John 14:6, No man comes to the Father, but through Christ. We do not get there by any other name or through any other man.
1 Timothy 2:5, There is only one mediator between God and man, that is Christ Yeshua.
We also read other contradictions to the verses in John 20:21-23, which states, “Whoever's sins you retain, shall be retained” in the following verses:
Matthew 6:14-15: If you do not forgive others of their trespasses, neither will God forgive you of your trespasses.
Mark 11:25: Whenever you stand praying, forgive, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you.
Colossians 3:13: Christ has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.
Luke 6:37: Forgive and you will be forgiven.
We see from these and many more that we are not given a choice to forgive but commanded to do so. Likewise we see many scriptures that tell us that we are to confess our sins to one another, such as James 5:16 and Luke 17:3-4. These are referring to the sins that we commit against another person. We should confess them and ask for forgiveness.
Truth is that we do not find any other passages in the new testament referring to one person forgiving sins in God's stead.
None of the new testament churches mention mediating the forgiveness of sins through another man. Only through Christ Yeshua. We also find scriptures that say “All men have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God”, Romans 3:23.
Romans 3:10: There is none righteous, no not one.
Ephesians 2:3: By nature, men are the children of wrath.
Romans 7:14: We are sold as a slave to sin
We see that while those who are born of God do not make a practice of sinning, 1 John 3:9-10, that we all have sin in us. We are not fit to judge because of our nature. This is why we are told to strive for the narrow gate because few would find it. Another word for “strive” is “struggle”. We also look at the outward appearance when God sees and judges us by the heart. We cannot see another man's heart, which is another downfall to man being able to forgive sins that do not involve us.
After reviewing the scriptures, we must re-examine the verses in John 20:21-23. Could it be that what Christ was saying was very similar to what was being said in Hebrews 10:26? That those who trust in Christ are forgiven and those who do not, their sins are retained?
The only advocate who is a mediator between us and God is the sinless one who gave his life for us, and that is Yeshua Christ. There is no sense in asking another man for our forgiveness, as this places the man to whom we seek forgiveness from, on equal level with God. And by doing this, we return to the same lie that deceived Eve in the garden, “You can be like God”.
There are some sins that man commits that should remain between him and God. Such as our thoughts or things we do in private that are sinful, but are of no harm or involvement of another person. All men are sinful and many times, people struggle and backslide.
Our nature, regardless of our positions within the church body is at constant war against the nature of God. Our God is not a God of confusion or chaos that would set another sinful man up, in charge of carrying around your deepest darkest sinful secrets.