No scriptural basis for confessing to a priest based on 2 timothy 2:15

Hello everyone, I, perhaps foolishly, attempted to explain the biblical basis of the catholic sacrament of confession to an evangelical friend (who began this discussion by telling me catholics are not Christians, and nothing catholics do is biblical. I asked for a specific example, and he confidently said, “confession”), who replied that “there is no scriptural basis for confessing sin in this dispensation of grace. see 2 timothy 2:15”. I have no idea what he is talking about. Doesn’t 2 timothy 2:15 encourage us to read scripture? How should I respond to this fellow?

I am far, far from being a Scripture interpreter, but in my Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15 reads, “Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” - and I can’t for the life of me see how that disproves the need for Confession to priests. So, 1) Either I am a terrible interpreter of Scripture (which is entirely possible) and it actually does disprove the need, 2) He got the verse wrong, or 3) His version of the Bible, which is probably a horrible translation, slants the meaning of the original text to condemn Confession to a priest.

I don’t know. There is my 2 cents.

The two verses that come to mind supporting confession are:

John 20:21-23
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

I have no clue why he’d say the verse for 2 Timothy has anything to do with confession, for or against. :shrug:

Amen. :thumbsup:

I think your friend simply confused his Scripture passages. 2Tim1:5 is often used by protestants to support sola scriptura (even though it does not). It’s a passage that he probably uses often when talking to Catholics.

He probably intended to cite John 20:23, which is the Catholic “go to” verse when talking about Confession - it’s our most significant Scriptural authority. He probably has heard some interpretation of that passage which gets around the plain meaning of the text. There was a recent thread in which I helped demolish one of these interpretations about this very verse.

I would also be sure to point out that Jesus said this at the Last Supper to his apostles only (first bishops), not in a public address to the crowds who also believed and followed Him.

Here is what the Evangelical is talking about…

The Evangelical is talking about dispensationalism, a theory which says that God operates differently at different times in history. Dispensationalists believe that we now live in the age of Grace or the dispensation of grace, and the Evangelical thinks this is what Paul was writing to Timothy about in 2 Timothy 2:15. The Evangelical believes that this verse is applicable to all believers.

The Evangelical doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about from an historical standpoint. The grace which Timothy received was because of Timothy’s ordination as a Bishop. Timothy was a Bishop.

***Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. *(2 Timothy 2:15)

Timothy was a “workman approved” because he was ordained, and he had no need to be ashamed because he taught correct doctrine according to the Scriptures and lived what he taught. Timothy had been brought to the faith and mentored personally by Paul as a leader. Timothy was faced with people who taught error and was challenged because he was young.

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Paul encouraged Timothy to virtuous leadership and to teach correct doctrine based on the scriptures so that no one would would be able to question him or question his authority. His authority was by virtue of his ordination.

*Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. (1 Timothy 4:14)

Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; (2 Timothy 1:6)*

The grace which Timothy received and his authority was given through the laying on of hands by the elders of the Church in Jerusalem - clearly the sacrament of holy orders.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy goes into detail about what type of people Bishops and Deacons ought to be. This should give the Evangelical a clue.


As to the specific issue of confession, I agree with the others - go to John 20:21-23…
Ask him a simple question. How are the Apostles to know which sins to forgive and which to retain? Wouldn’t someone have to tell them the their sins?
No doubt, he will reply along the lines of “you are misunderstanding the passage”…:shrug:
To which you can reply, "Well we may disagree on what the passage means, BUT, this** is** in the bible and this is how I understand it.
Therefore, it is a biblical support for confession to a priest and your assertion that Confession is unbiblical is false.
He’ll likely continue to argue the matter, but you will basically have him skewered at that point. The issue will then shift to interpretation of the Bible and is it permissible for different people to have different understandings, and how does one resolve differences in understanding between two or more sincere Christians…

Something else - I would have asked him “what defines a Christian”? Since he says that Catholics are not Christian, find out what his definition of Christian is…and go from there. Since His definition will be “biblical” it should be easy to show that we believe those things that define us as Christian by his own definition.

Just some thoughts.


You were right to explain the Scriptural foundation of confession. You can see for yourself that it was him who did not have the facts and does not appear to really understand well what he reads in the Bible. Some people interpret the Bible out of context, often with misleading results.

I know that I already replied to the specific matter of confession - but something else caught my eye and thought I might address it. It is his comment that, “nothing Catholics do is biblical”. I believe you may have made a tactical error in asking him for an example. It allowed him to direct the conversation.
A better approach (IMHO) would be to challenge his blanket statement. Respond with incredulity, "NOTHING??? Nothing Catholics do is biblical???
How quickly can such a bold sweeping statement be destroyed?
Such an approach places him on the defensive. It allows you to put forth things that Catholics do that are entirely “biblical”. It would force him to rethink his prejudiced position to retract this ignorant statement.

And even more so - - he would be forced to think.
To think about how “biblical” Catholics actually are.
To think about how he might have spoke without actually knowing.
To think that those who have taught him this idea were maybe not as trustworthy as he originally thought.

      • Or he might just blow you off…:shrug:

Anyway - just some thoughts on the subject.


Irellick, I see you’re new here, so first of all, welcome to the forum! :slight_smile:

I thought I’d let you know there’s a terrific website that has free talks about tactics to use when engaging our Protestant brothers and sisters in dialogue:

You’ll want the first talk on the list, “Apologetics for the Scripturally Challenged.”

Hope this helps!

I don’t know if I am reading your friend correctly, but I don’t think he cares whether confession is “scriptural” or not. And I don’t blame him. The real question is whether the Bible or the bishops are the ultimate authority. The Catholic Church would of course say “both”. But his citation encourages me to think he’s trying to convince you Scripture is the sole authority.

Playing Bible badminton probably isn’t a good idea. But if you must, I might suggest the aforementioned verses, plus 1 Tim 3:14-15 - where Paul explains he writes, and he does so because the Church is the “pillar and ground” of truth. It is** his** authority, not merely his writing’s authority, that rules.

Peter’s authority also carries over Scripture. See 2 Peter 3:14-17. Because “lawless men” exist who can twist Scripture, an authority is needed. No less than the Apostles are needed. But as they are not here, we must depend on those who they left to inherit the Church - the bishops.

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