Some people object to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (commonly called “Confession”) on the basis that they only need to confess their sins directly to God rather than to a priest. Is this perspective correct? Let’s see what the Bible has to say.
5 " 'When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned 6 and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
Clearly in the Old Testament, the priesthood existed to offer sacrifices and make atonement for the sins committed by the people. Does this idea continue in the New Testament?
1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.
The Old Testament prefigures and foreshadows New Testament truths; the Old is revealed more fully in the New. So, what does the New Testament teach us about confession of sin?
1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
We should confess our sins to one another. But do we confess our sins to just anybody?
13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Here the word of God tells us to call the elders (the Greek word is presbuteroi or presbyter from which the English word “priest” is derived. So, in this context, James is telling us to send for the priests who will pray over someone who is sick, and if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Recalling the passage from Leviticus above, we see there is a strong parallel between the priests of the Old Testament who made atonement for sin and the presbyters or priests of the New Testament to whom we confess sins for forgiveness. But this sounds like blasphemy! Can men really forgive sins? The Bible itself asks this question.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7"Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
So, does the Bible teach that “God alone” can forgive sins? Not at all! This quotation is from the scribes who did not accept Jesus. So what does the Bible actually teach? Let’s consider the same incident from the book of Matthew.
1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7And the man got up and went home. 8When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
The Bible teaches that God had given the authority to forgive sins “to men”. Note that this is not “to a man” but “to men” – plural. So, it is not only Jesus who has authority to forgive sins – “men” have this authority, also. This sounds like a “hard teaching”…is there confirmation of this in the Bible?