John 20:23 (Again and again)


JOHN 20:23
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

This verse drives me insane. I tried to look some things up, trying to find a decent Protestant explanation of this verse. It probably deserves much more serious research than the brief looking around that I did, but I did what I could for right now.

*From the little commentary in my Bible: *The disciples are to preach both the way of salvation and the way of damnation explaining how sinners can be forgiven and the danger of rejecting the gospel. Whether or not the hearers’ sins are forgiven depends on their acceptance or rejection of Christ.

Oh my. Isn’t that stretching it a bit? :confused:

The second and third will be a copy/paste from a website.

First, these words, spoken by the Lord after His resurrection, can be understood as merely conveying to the Apostles who were going forth to evangelize the world their commission. In this sense the words of Jesus authorize the Apostles to admit those whom they judged fit into the kingdom of grace and forgiveness, and to refuse admission into it to those whom they judged unfit. This is the Patristic understanding of the text as may be seen by the comment of Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 412444) on it.

However, there is a second interpretation of John 20:23. As persons in Scripture are said to do that which they were commissioned to announce would he done (see, for example, 1 Kings 19:17; Jer. 1:10; Hos. 6:5), our Lords words in John may he paraphrased: You are commissioned to go forth and preach that My blood has been shed to take away sin, and whosoever believes your message and accepts the Gospel offered will be freely forgiven (see Luke 24:47). It is important to note that the Lord is speaking to the whole body of disciples, and not the Apostles only. This fact is proved from a comparison of the accounts given by Mark, Luke, and John. Thus the words of Jesus in John 20:23 are a commission to the whole Church, not just to the Apostles. Furthermore, as the word whosesoever (plural in the original Greek) proves, it is classes of men and not individuals which are referred to, in other words, those who repent and believe the Gospel.
Whichever interpretation is taken it is clear that the text has nothing whatever to do with an ordinance of Confession and Absolution.


I was at another website that looked okay for a minute, but I was so put off by the term “Romish” that I just quit there. I’m not in a great mood right now anyway. :mad: :frowning:

And from the quote I quoted above, those interpretations are stretches too.

Lords words in John may he paraphrased: You are commissioned to go forth and preach that My blood has been shed to take away sin, and whosoever believes your message and accepts the Gospel offered will be freely forgiven

No, they may not be paraphrased that way because that’s not even paraphrasing. That’s utterly, unabashedly adding stuff. Isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that just a stretch? Is it something that’s been interpreted “in light of other scriptures?”

I have asked around, just a few fellow Bible thumpers. Most of them give me a variation of the stuff I’ve quoted above.

Either there is no satisfactory Protestant explanation for this verse or I am not looking hard enough.



Interesting, I hope you discover the TRUTH about this verse. I’ll tune in to this thread, I’ll like to personally also see if there is a “satisfactory protestant explanation” So far have also found none. It can get frustrating sometimes, but we must strive to find the TRUTH…and as sincere TRUTH seekers, we must follow the TRUTH where ever it may take us.

peace be with you


I tend to connect this verse with several others to get an explanation…let’s start in the OT:

Leviticus 5:5-6
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.

“The priest shall make atonement.” 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?

Hebrews 10:1
1 The 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, and God will forgive us, but do we confess our sins to God alone?

James 5:13-16
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? This same question is asked in the New Testament.

Mark 2:5-7
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?"

Who can forgive sins but God alone? This question is often asked today. However, note that this question is asked by the scribes who did not accept Jesus. Those who quote this passage find themselves on the side of those who rejected the Messiah. There’s more to the story, however; let’s consider the same incident from the book of Matthew.

Matthew 9:1-7
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?

You bet there is…



…and here it is:

John 20:21-23
21 Again Jesus said,"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

How did God send Jesus into the world? With the authority to forgive sins as we saw in Matthew 9:6. How does Jesus send the Apostles? In the same way that the Father had sent Him…with the authority to forgive sins as we have just seen in John 20:23. How could the Apostles obey the commandment of Jesus to forgive sins unless they heard these sins confessed? How could they decide to retain or not to forgive unless they could evaluate the circumstances and the contrition of the person confessing the sin?

Only God can forgive sins, but he has chosen to do so through the ordained men of the priesthood and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that He Himself instituted.

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament

Whosesoever sins ye forgive (an tinwn aphte taߠamartia߼/B>). “If the sins of any ye forgive” (aphte, second aorist active subjunctive with an in the sense of ean), a condition of the third class. Precisely so with “retain” (krathte, present active subjunctive of kratew). They are forgiven (apewntai). Perfect passive indicative of apihmi, Doric perfect for apeintai. Are retained (kekrathntai). Perfect passive indicative of kratew. The power to forgive sin belongs only to God, but Jesus claimed to have this power and right (Mark 2:5-7). What he commits to the disciples and to us is the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God by correctly announcing the terms of forgiveness. There is no proof that he actually transferred to the apostles or their successors the power in and of themselves to forgive sins. In Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18 we have a similar use of the rabbinical metaphor of binding and loosing by proclaiming and teaching. Jesus put into the hands of Peter and of all believers the keys of the Kingdom which we should use to open the door for those who wish to enter. This glorious promise applies to all believers who will tell the story of Christ’s love for men.


Well, Robertson can say whatever he wants.
The earliest Christians, who were indoctrinated by the apostles themselves, confessed their sins privately to the presbyters and the presbyters pronounced God’s forgiveness, not on their own authority, but “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” just as the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches do today and have done since the day of Pentecost, 33 A.D.

Robertson’s interpretation of how sins are forgiven was unheard of in all Christianity before the self-proclaimed Reformers of the 16th Century began to assert it based upon their own private interpretations.




Power of the Keys

The expression “power of the keys” is derived from Christ’s words to St. Peter (in Matthew 16:19). The promise there made finds its explanation in Isaias 22, in which “the key of the house of David” is conferred upon Eliacim, the son of Helcias, as the symbol of plenary authority in the Kingdom of Juda. Christ by employing this expression clearly designed to signify his intention to confer on St. Peter the supreme authority over His Church. For a consideration of the text in its dogmatic bearing, see POPE; PRIMACY. In the present article our sole purpose is to give a brief historical account of the meaning attached to the expression by ecclesiastical writers. I. THE FATHERS

(1) In the Fathers the references to the promise of Matthew 16:19, are of frequent occurrence. Almost invariably the words of Christ are cited in proof of the Church’s power to forgive sins. The application is a natural one, for the promise of the keys is immediately followed by the words: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth”, etc. Moreover, the power to confer or to withhold forgiveness might well be viewed as the opening and shutting of the gates of heaven. This interpretation, however, restricts the sense somewhat too narrowly; for the remission of sins is but one of the various ways in which ecclesiastical authority is exercised. We have examples of this use of the term is such passages as August., “De Doctrina Christi”, xvii, xviii: “Quid liberatius et misericordius facere potuit. . .nisi ut omnia donaret conversis. . .Has igitur claves dedit Ecclesiae suae ut quae solveret in terra soluta essent in coelo” (How could He [Christ] have shewn greater liberality and greater mercy. . .than by granting full forgiveness to those who should turn from their sins. . .He gave these keys to His Church, therefore, that whatever it should remit on earth should be remitted also in heaven) (P.L., XXIV, 25; cf. Hilary, “In Matt.”, xvi, P.L., IX, 1010).



It is comparatively seldom that the Fathers, when speaking of the power of the keys, make any reference to the supremacy of St. Peter. When they deal with that question, they ordinarily appeal not to the gift of the keys but to his office as the rock on which the Church is founded. In their references to the potestas clavium, they are usually intent on vindicating against the Montanist and Novatian heretics the power inherent in the Church to forgive. Thus St. Augustine in several passages declares that the authority to bind and loose was not a purely personal gift to St. Peter, but was conferred upon him as representing the Church. The whole Church, he urges, exercises the power of forgiving sins. This could not be had the gift been a personal one (tract. 1 in Joan., n. 12, P.L., XXXV, 1763; Serm. ccxcv, in P.L., XXXVIII, 1349). From these passages certain Protestant controversialists have drawn the curious conclusion that the power to forgive sins belongs not to the priesthood but to the collective body of Christians (see Cheetham in “Dict. Christ. Antiq.”, s.v.). There is, of course, no suggestion of this meaning. St. Augustine merely signifies that the power to absolve was to be imparted through St. Peter to members of the Church’s hierarchy throughout the world.

Some few of the Fathers, however, are careful to note that the bestowal of this power upon St. Peter alone, apart from the other Apostles, denoted his primacy among the twelve (Optatus, “De Schism. Don.”, vii, 3, in P.L., XI, 1087). Origen dilates at length on this point, but teaches erroneously that the power conferred upon the Twelve in Matthew 18:18, could only be exercised within certain restrictions of place, while that conferred upon St. Peter in Matthew 16:18, was of universal extent (Comm. in Matt., P.G., XIII, 1179). (2)



Occasionally, though infrequently, Christ’s promise is not restricted to signify the power to forgive sins, but is taken in the fuller meaning of the gift of authority over the Church. Thus St. Gregory in his letter to the Emperor Maurice, after quoting Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18-19, writes: "Behold he [Peter] received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power of binding and loosing is committed to him, the care of the whole Church and its government is given to him [cura ei totius Ecclesiae et principatus committitur (Epist., lib. V, ep. xx, in P.L., LXXVII, 745)]. St. Maximus in a sermon on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (P.L., LVII, 403) says that to St. Peter was given the key of power (clavis potentioe), to St. Paul the key of knowledge (clavis scientioe). The idea of a key of knowledge is clearly derived from Christ’s words to the Pharisees, Luke 11:52: “You have taken away the key of knowledge.” This distinction of the clavis potentioe and clavis scientioe recurs frequently in the medieval writers, though without reference to St. Paul.


Goes to show how the protestants have to twist the scriptures to make it fit their anti-Catholic bias.

“I give to you Peter…” How does that mean that it was given to anyone but Peter. It doesn’t say all believers, all apostles, all Christians or to whom it may concern. Only someone who doesn’t read the words but is out to find an anti-Catholic interpretation can say the keys were given to anyone but Peter.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus is speaking to the apostles alone. They will have to hear the sin before they decide to forgive or retain the sin. So sins must be confessed to men.

Trying to find a decent protestant explaination is going to be hard. You could find 30,000 different explainations and all of them different, but they intend on being non or anti-Catholic rather than being a correct interpretation of the Bible in context.


I myself have no problem with Jesus giving the Apostles the power to forgive sin just as he gave them the power to heal. However, my difference comes in that I can find no scripture that says that apostolic power could be passed on to others. There is no reference to successors being given the same authority as the Apostles.

My understanding is that confession was not always done privately. It was initially done publically and in some instances could only be done once.

From the Catechism:

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.

The Reformation was not the first time the Catholic sacrament was disputed. At very least, the Waldenses in the 11th century, if not earlier, and the Lollards in the 14th century disagreed with it.



I can lay this out for you from both scripture and the ECFs. I’m going to give you a lot. That is a GOOD thing…it illustrates how solid the idea really is!


Numbers 27:15-23
Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9
Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

Acts 1:15-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, " ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, " ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 14:13-15
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”

Acts 14:23
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Romans 16:7
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.



Ephesians 2:19-21
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Ephesians 4:11-13
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1 Timothy 3:1-13
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

“Overseer” was traditionally understood to mean “bishop”.

1 Timothy 4:13-14
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1 Timothy 5:17-22
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

2 Timothy 2:1-2
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

There are five generations of believers contained in this one passage: 1. Those who came before Paul and instructed him, 2. Paul himself, 3. Timothy, who was Paul’s disciple, 4. Those whom Timothy would disciple, and 5. Those to whom Timothy’s disciples would preach.

Titus 1:5
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Apostolic Succession is illustrated here as Paul had appointed Titus and left him in charge of appointing elders in the Cretan church.

2 Peter 1:12-15
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

What effort could Peter make to ensure his message would be remembered after his departure?


Early Church Fathers on Bishops, Priests and Deacons

“Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier… Our Apostles knew through Our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.” (Pope St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 42:4-5, 44:1-3 [80 A.D.])

“Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the Apostles were subject to Christ and to the Father; so that there may be unity in both body and spirit” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians, A.D.110, [13,1])

“Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishops presiding in the place of God and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the Apostles.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians, A.D. 110, [6,1])

“Those, indeed, who belong to God and to Jesus Christ - they are with the bishop. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic; he will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, A.D. 110, [3,2])

“You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, A.D. 110, [8,1])

“Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living in the manner not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in His death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore, - and such is your practice, that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Traillians, A.D. 110, [2,1])

“And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. Every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 16:2, [155 A.D.])

“Although he [Paul] writes to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for their correction, nevertheless it is shown that there is one Church spread abroad though the whole world.” (Muratorian Fragment, [155 A.D.])

“Let us be careful, then, if we should be submissive to God, not to oppose the bishop.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, A.D. 180, [5,3])

“And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, A.D. 180, [3,3,1])



“The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy. To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen from the episcopate. He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that He still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the Apostles. In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing their faith. To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus. Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred. Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus. Soter succeeded Anicetus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, A.D. 180, [3,3,3])

“It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, A.D. 180, [4,26,2])

“For all these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the Apostles handed over the Churches; and this fact I pointed out most carefully in the third book. It is of necessity, then, that these aforementioned heretics, because they are blind to the truth, walk in various devious paths; and on this account the vestiges of their doctrine are scattered about without agreement or connection. The path of these, however, who belong to the Church, goes around the whole world; for it has the firm tradition of the Apostles, enabling us to see that the faith of all is one and the same” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, A.D. 180, [5,20,1]).

“After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus from the Island of Patmos; and, upon being invited, he went even to the neighbouring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical state such as were designated by the Spirit” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Who is the rich man that is saved?, 190 A.D. [42,2]).

“Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origins of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some of one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles. For this is the way in which the apostolic Churches transmit their lists: like the Church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the Church of the Romans where Clement was ordained by Peter. In just the same way the other Churches display those whom they have as sprouts from the apostolic seed, having been established in the episcopate by the Apostles” (Tertullian, The Demurrer Against the Heretics, A.D. 200, [32,1]).

“Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 6:13:107:2, [207 A.D.])



“From what has been said, then, it seems clear to me that the true Church, that which is really ancient, is one.We say, therefore, that in substance, in concept, in origin, and in eminence, the ancient and Catholic Church is alone.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 7:17:107:3-5, [207 A.D.])

“Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the Episcopal dignity and settling the plan of His Church. From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of the times and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter without heading, of Cyprian to the Lapsed, A.D. 250, [33,27,1]).

“They alone have remained outside [the Church] who, were they within, would have to be ejected. There [in John 6:68-69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest, the flock clinging to their shepherd in the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishops, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priest of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. The Church, which is one and Catholic is not split or divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere to one another.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 66(67):8, [254 A.D.])

“The power of forgiving sins was given to the apostles and the churches which these men, sent by Christ, established and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place.” (Firmilian, Epistle to Cyprian 75:16, [255 A.D])

“And if you ever are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the house of the Lord is - for the others, sects of impious, attempt to call their dens ‘houses of the Lord’ - nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church, for this is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathechetical Lectures 18:26, [350 A.D.])

St. Siricius wrote to Himerius in 385: “To your inquiry we do not deny a legal reply, because we, upon whom greater zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent than upon the whole body, out of consideration for our office do not have the liberty to dissimulate, nor to remain silent. We carry the weight of all who are burdened; nay rather the blessed apostle PETER bears these in us, who, as we trust, protects us in all matters of his administration, and guards his heirs” (Denziger §87, emphasis in original).

“We believe in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church, for heretics and schismatics call their own congregations churches. But heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God, and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbour.” (St. Augustine, Faith and Creed 10:21, [393 A.D.])

“If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you answer him when he says, ‘I do not believe?’ Indeed, I would not believe in the gospels myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.” (St. Augustine, Against the Letter of Mani called ‘The Foundation’ 4:5, [397 A.D.])

“That is why, when writing to Timothy, he says, ‘Fulfill your diaconate’ [2 Tim 4:5], although Timothy was then a bishop. That he was in fact a bishop is clear when Paul says to him, ‘Lay hands on no man lightly’ (1 Tim 5:22), and again, ‘Which was given you with the laying on of hands of the presbytery’ [1 Tim 4:14], and presbyters would have ordained a bishop.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Phillippians 1:1, [398 A.D.])

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


While Matthias was appointed to take Judas play the reason given was so that he could witness to the truth. The office from the very passage is limited to those who had been with Jesus from His baptism to the resurrection. There are no longer any Apostles.

Yes the teaching was at first transmitted orally. There was no Scripture at first as it had not been written. However the teachings were later enscripturalized.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…

(Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

What was proclaimed was handed down in Scriptures. Even after the Scriptures existed not everyone could read or afford a Bible and oral transmission would still be the rule. That does not mean that the oral teaching was not contained in the Scripture. I could teach someone today entirely orally but it would be based on the Scriptures.

There is nothing that indicates that the authority and power of the Apostles was ever handed on to successors. Even in the Jewish priesthood, the powers of Moses and Aaron were not given to the priests and in the priesthood specific criteria were set out about who would serve.

That being said, I have nothing against confessing to a priest as long as it is recognized that God is the one who forgives. The priest can say the words but cannot see whether there is any actual contrition on the part of the penitent. Only God knows that and therefore only he can give forgiveness.

However, I do not believe that confession through a priest is necessary. Confession can be made directly to God. I think that this is at least implicitly recognized by the Church by the way of perfect contrition. If such a possibility did not exist then a Catholic would ever have to live in fear of committing a grave sin and dying before he could make sacramental contrition. Now if perfect contrition forgives if their is an intent to go to confession, what would happen when confession actually takes place? Would not the sin actually have been forgiven before or is there some type of conditional forgiveness that you lose if you actually do not go to confession?


My Bible gives the following explanation for John 20:23 - IF YOU FORGIVE - The apostles did not take Jesus’ words to mean that they had the power to forgive sins. They knew that only God could forgive sins. Neither the apostles nor the church had the power to forgive specific sins or to prevent forgivness of any individual. Fundamentally Jesus was speaking of the responsibility of the church to declare the gospel to all the world, so that those who believe in Jesus can find the precious gift of forgiveness.


My Bible gives the following explanation for John 20:23 - IF YOU FORGIVE - The apostles did not take Jesus’ words to mean that they had the power to forgive sins. They knew that only God could forgive sins. Neither the apostles nor the church had the power to forgive specific sins or to prevent forgivness of any individual. Fundamentally Jesus was speaking of the responsibility of the church to declare the gospel to all the world, so that those who believe in Jesus can find the precious gift of forgiveness.

My Bible says something very similar, but I just can’t accept that. It’s a stretch. It is NOT what the verse says. It’s what I’ve always been taught but it doesn’t make sense. If you want to make it say that, you have to add a bunch of things to the verse.



Well, so much for Paul…and what about these guys?

Junias & Andronicus
Epaphroditus? (Philemon 2:25)
Apollos a “super-Apostle”?
Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1 with 2:6).

There are no longer any Apostles.

How do you know this?

Is this something that all Christians MUST accept as binding?

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