From the Lord's Prayer to John 20:19-23


I am fortunately a life long Catholic and thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But I have been asked some questions from Non-Catholics and cannot readily locate solid sources to defend my understanding.

In Matthew 6, Christ taught us to pray in part** “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” ** Christ goes on to say if we forgive others, God will give us. Makes sense. But it seems to allow for partial forgiveness. It says nothing about doing penance or making amends. It says nothing about having to confess to a Priest.

In John 20: 19-23, on Easter Sunday evening, Christ empowers the Apostles with the Holy Spirit and says** “whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, are retained.”** Makes sense. But, it says nothing about the Lord’s Prayer sense of forgiveness: **“as we forgive our debtors.” **It says nothing about the need to do penance or the need to make amends or the need to spend time purgatory if we have not sufficiently made up for our sins. It also says nothing about Christ’s Crucifixion as full payment for our sins.

I love the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But I am **looking for Scripture **that supports our understanding that the amount of forgiveness we receive is predicated on the amount of forgiveness we extend to others and not just getting forgiveness from a Priest. And why, after Christ paid for our sins, we must do penance and make amends as best we can.

The several places I looked seem not to tie it all together.


None of the sacraments were extensively laid out in the NT, so you search may be in vain. For example early in the Church, there was the opinion that Reconcilliation could only be had once on major sins; and this lead in turn to certain people not converting until late in life (sometimes referred to as “death bed conversions”). It took time for the Church to achieve a sacramental theology, and so you ight direct your research along those lines.

However, if you are in a discussion with a Protestant, and get hit with “Where is that in the Bible?”, you may be in for a bit of work.

On the other hand, you can ask them where in the Bible it says that only what is in the Bible is the basis for any rules/regulations/law.


As far as forgiveness goes: Matt. 6:14, Matt. 7:2, Matt. 5:7, Mark 11:25, James 2:13, Colossians 3:13. One cannot read the Bible presuming that one single passage taken out of it’s context is all there is to say on the matter. The whole must be considered.

Catholics also believe that Sacred Tradition, the teachings of the Apostles handed down orally are just as inspired as the Bible. Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition together are considered Divine Revelation.


We have to forgive others (Mt 6) and be repentant in order to receive “perfect contrition” in reconciliation (Jn 20). After we have done our penance we are forgiven by God.

That may not be 100% correct, but that is the best I can do.

If our sin’s were forgiven by Jesus dying on the cross, why would he tell the Apostles to pray that we forgive others so that our sins will be forgiven?


Jesus is talking to ordinary people in Matthew 6. This is the sermon on the mount. Jesus is talking to “the crowds.” He is telling them what they must do to receive forgiveness for themselves.

In Matthew 20 Jesus is talking to the leadership of his Church. This takes place in the locked upper room where only the disciples are present. He is telling them what they must do to impart forgiveness on others.



We are forgiven by God upon confessing our sins and receiving absolution, not upon doing a penance. Priests do not always assign penances. God’s forgiveness is unconditional, not dependent on anything we do.

Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins solely because we have offended God, not out of fear of hell or punishment , but because of love of God and sorrow that we have offended Him.


And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. (Luke 11:4)

Especially when compared to the parallel verse above, I think it is a mistake — if that was your intention — to interpret the words “as we forgive” in the Lord’s Prayer as meaning that “the amount of forgiveness we receive is predicated on the amount of forgiveness we extend to others,” as if when we forgive 99 of the 100 people who have sinned against us, then 99% of our sins are forgiven or when we forgive half of the sins of someone who has sinned against us, then half of our sins against them are forgiven. Rather, it is God’s will that we completely forgive everyone who has sinned against us; period. Half-measures won’t do. It is really hypocritical to ask God to forgiven any of our sins when we will not forgive the sins of any who have sinned against us.

The true sense of that part of the Lord’s Prayer is: Forgive us our sins because we have forgiven everyone who has sinned against us.


I believe forgiveness is proportional. The words in the Our Father are clear.

It is not because God lacks mercy or is unwilling to forgive us but because our hearts remain hard when we don’t forgive. Our hearts remain impenetrable and we are unable to receive God’s forgiveness.

He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:8)

Our hearts become soft when we forgive. Our heart become porous. God’s mercy is then able to penetrate our heart. Hardness of heart is a theme throughout the Gospels.



Hi Grateful Fred (I love that screen name, by the way),
One Bible verse that comes to mind when I ponder your post is the following:

St Matthew 7:2-3
"2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

That verse tells us that we will be judged in part by the amount of mercy we extend to others, provided I am interpreting that verse correctly.


Hi All. I’ve been busy. Adult daughter had surgery Wed, home and recovering on schedule. Thank God for huge favors.

Thank you for your comments. They help.

The Non-Catholics I was in contact with avoided saying anything about John 20:19-23. They asserted that Christ’s death was all that was needed. Christ Jesus either was full payment, the complete sacrifice or he wasn’t. There is no need to confess, make amends, and perhaps spend time in purgatory.

I asked them: If Christ did intend for us to confess to Him directly, why did Christ say this in John 20:19-23? They would not answer and relied only on Christ is enough.

I am most grateful for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Just looking for support they should accept for each Sacrament.


No need to make amends? :confused:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

This is the sermon on the mount! Don’t they read the Bible?



Not only should we confess our sins to God but the Bible also says we should also confess our sins to others, “Therefore, confess you sins to one another…” (James 5:16)

Since priests qualify as others, it is the Catholic practice of confessing sins to both God and to priests that is supported by the Bible, not the non-Catholic practice of confessing only to God.

As far as the need to do penance, one only has to read the story of Zacchaeus:
8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:8-9)

And there are the words of John the Baptist, who said, “Bear fruits that befit repentance…” (Luke 3:8)

closed #13

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit