confessing to a priest

can someone biblically prove the necessity of confessing your sins to a preist? ive tried using James 5:16 to support the necessity of confession, but it says “to one another”, and my pentacostal girlfriend, being a bible-christian needs more specific biblical proof. she said: "as for confessing to a father I dont think that there is anything “wrong” with that… but I dont consider it nessecary. you could probabaly confess to anyone… sure it says confess you sin’s to others but not spacifically to a preist or so that others can forgive them, but so that you wont do them again… " any help?

Here ya go! This was given to the apostles and clearly ties in with your passage in James.

John 20:19-23

"19 Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. 20 And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. 23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. "

This is really a debate about Church authority and apostolic succession.

John 20:23 -“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Matthew 18:18 is about Jesus granting the apostles to bind and loose in heaven.

Confession is very Scriptural.


Ditto all the above. Since Jesus breathed the charism of forgiving and retaining sins only to the Apostles (and by transmission to the bishops who confer it upon priests), confessing “to one another” would not be for absolution. The passage in James about confessing to one another, for all we know, might mean confessing sins openly before the entire congregation. The priest, of course, would be present and likely presiding at such a harrowing event. Aren’t you glad we don’t have to do that any more?

You could ask your friend, since she is so concerned about the scriptural mandate, whether she confesses her sins aloud to anyone.

some places actually do still do confessing to the whole congregation… scary and i put the biblical proof requirement more so because i dont want to fall upon tradition untill absolutely necessary, considering most protesants dont beleive in any tradition… well, say they dont… thanx

[quote=jax8686]some places actually do still do confessing to the whole congregation… scary and i put the biblical proof requirement more so because i dont want to fall upon tradition untill absolutely necessary, considering most protesants dont beleive in any tradition… well, say they dont… thanx

Jax – who confesses to the whole congregation? Not Catholics, for sure!

who confesses to the whole congregation?

when my sister was involved with the jehovah’s witnesses, they would do that. and if someone knew a sin you did and you didn’t tell, they yell it out for you. as it turns out, my sister left them when a friend of hers did that to her.

along with all the great discussions of individual aspects of the Faith, it would benefit your friend if you also guided her away from using Scripture as a source of proof. anyone who eventually fully embraces Catholicism must come to understand that Scripture is just a part of Divine Revelation. Scripture shows that our practices existed since the beginning, but the details are from the Holy Spirit in the Living Tradition of the Church.

you might get her started with the last verse in St. John’s Gospel: “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” those unwritten “things” were passed on by the apostles. they were the only ones who knew them. the Holy Spirit has made sure that no one forgot them.

im not sure if the people doing public confession were catholic, the guy who went on a missionary trip never said… and why is public confession wrong, other than obvious reasons of embassment and such?

why is public confession wrong, other than obvious reasons of embassment and such?

it’s not “wrong” per se, but it is not sacramental. if a bunch of people want to get together and spill it, what’s stopping them?

but what about absolution? to say that there is absolution in that, negates the teachings of Jesus (people provided the quotes on that. see John 20:23) a lot of this comes from Christian sects that broke from the Church and denied the priesthood. under those circumstances, this sort of thing is the only choice, but it is not biblical or apostolic.

we do have evidence that in early churches there was the practice of public declarations of sin and public penance. there is no evidence that this was sacramental in anyway. this was punishment for offending the community by apostasy and other acts.

our form changed over time, but it has always had the same basic elements. “whose sins you shall forgive…” how do you forgive them if you aren’t aware of them? confession. “they are forgiven them” note that the words of Jesus are in two parts. this is absolution. the apostles effected absolution, as seen by the “you”, by their action. what Jesus says doen’t make any sense if the apostles were to do nothing in this process. the second part of the conditional here, is a statement of a concrete effect. if you do x, then y will happen. a public announcement of sin does not parallel this command. who is the “you”? if it is the assembly, then how can the assembly concretely “forgive” in order to bring about the effect “forgiven”. would they vote? does it have to be unanimous? what if there is just one hold out? how would anyone know? everything breaks down with confessing to the assembly. if the apostles would have tried this, they’d have faced these same problems.

a similar argument shows the failure of confessing to someone who is not a priest. if the “you” is neither the assembly or the priest and is just anybody, how would they achieve the effect that Jesus spoke of. if i say ‘my sins are forgiven because billy or janey said so.’ what would that mean? that brings us to the second conditional of Jesus’ command: “whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” so i go up to billy and he says ‘God forgives you.’ then the story is related to janey and she says ‘God doesn’t forgive you.’ then i say ‘good thing that i didn’t go to janey first’. but what if i had? can i just ignore her and find someone else that says, ‘i don’t care what janey says. you are forgiven’? or is it all about picking the right person out of the crowd the first time? again, breakdown. it is about authority and Church law, also. without the priest’s authority and the law’s guidence in its application, nothing makes sense (especially if we’re still trying to pay devoted attention to the words of Jesus.)

2 Corinthians 2: 5-11

5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent–not to put it too severely.

6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.

7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

9 The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.

10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven–if there was anything to forgive–I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake,

11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

If the Apostles did not have the authority to forgive sins, what was Paul doing in verses 10 and 11? This is a clear case in Scripture of the Apostolic authority. Also, in James, there are two things about the verse telling us to confess to one another. First, I’ve seen this verse used as Scriptural support for the sacrament of Anointing and, if I am not mistaken, forgiveness of sins is attached to it. Isn’t this why it is a part of Last Rites? And second, we have to remember that confession in private to a priest was a later development. In the early church, confession and repentance was made publicly, especially for those who had lapsed in the face of persecution…public denial was countered by public confession.

Any thoughts on this?


gene c,

your statement is not exactly accurate. i have read a couple of books that argued this view and also claimed that it is the teaching of the Church. the conclusions drawn in this vein are based on a skewed reading of the sources and reading assumptions into the history of the Church. the catechism speaks directly to this issue. the Church is silent when it comes to certain particulars, which were filled in by opinions in the books i read. (i can’t find the one that i own right now, or i’d cite its title.) here’s the catechism:

[font=Arial]1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this “order of penitents” (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day. (emphasis added.)

i have not fould any statement by the Church that goes any farther than what’s in the catechism.

  1. “was tied to”: while there are documents (something by st. cyril, a bishop, is one of them) that report public penance and the order of penitents, there is no evidence that the entire form of the sacrament took place in the public forum. it is equally likely that the penitent was forced to publicly declare the sin after first interacting with the bishop. there is no reason from the evidence to assume that the only confession was public.

  2. “before receiving reconciliation”: again the bishop would inform the public that reconciliation had been granted so that the community welcome the person back. this was the action of the ordained. reconciliation was not just assumed as a result of performing public penance. there is no evidence that these public declarations were all that happened. i have not come across anything that says this was the only practice. the documents are silent in that regard.

  3. “‘private’”: private is intentionally in quotes. the Church is saying IMO, not that there was no private application of the sacrament, but that the irish clerics were using a form that eliminated the public element in all cases.

  4. “from that time on”: a council declared that confession by the individual to the priest would be the norm, and thus assured the people unfttered access to it. it became the practice of the universal Church. there had been no declaration by the Church about this sacrament before that, according to one of the books.

  5. “this new practice”: i understand this to mean the particular form used by the irish clerics, not that individual confession was a novelty. this is the point of departure for the two theologians that i read. they claimed that it was in fact a novelty. i haven’t found anything else from the Church that definitively addresses this either way.

  6. “inspired by the eastern monastic tradition”: i really don’t know what this refers to, but at the very least, it refers to something. how could they have been inspired by something which didn’t exist? this influences how i read the “new practice” referred to above.

i’ve never taken a class on this, and frankly i don’t trust modern theologians any farther than i can throw 'em. if anyone can clarify this i’d appreciate it.

Hi JustSomeGuy,

Thanks for sharing your research and your opinion.

Any thoughts on the passage in James and the Sacrament of Anointing?


[quote=Gene C.]Hi JustSomeGuy,

Thanks for sharing your research and your opinion.

Any thoughts on the passage in James and the Sacrament of Anointing?


sorry, i don’t mean to hijack this thread, but…

the catechism is definitive on this:

1510 However, the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [presbyters] of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”(123) Tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments.(124)

the footnote 124 cites councils all the way back to the sixth century.

on the effect of the sacrament (keep in mind that the Annointing does not replace the sacrament of Reconciliation, and cannot be used as such. the priest uses his best judgement on that.):

1520 A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death.(135) This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will.(136) Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”(137)

James 5:16 cited in the original post comes right after this reference to the Annointing of the Sick, “confess your sins to one another…” this does not refer to sacramental confession. first, it is a statement still in the context of “is anyone among you sick?” (James 5:14) that is clear from the fact that in 5:15 the word “forgiven” is used in relation to the Annointing, and “healed” is used here. 5:16 only describes a practice of intercessory prayer by the faithful. this practice does not definitively remove sin. it says, “that you may be healed” (subjunctive) whereas, in 5:15 it says, “will be forgiven” (definite). the latin supports this reading, though it says ut salvemini ‘(so) that you might be saved’ instead of ‘healed’. but both of the distinctions are in the latin also.

im not sure who you are apologizing too, but honestly, the amount of information your passing along, i doubt anyone would require one. and thanx for the clarification

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