To whom does John 20:23 refer? (Confession)


#1

I just went back to a website I came across ages ago that is quite clearly anti-Catholic. The person goes by the name of Matt Slick, which might ring a bell with you.

Anyway, I thought to myself: “Well, see what he has to say about Catholicism and how much of it you can refute.” I thought it a good apologetics exercise. :rolleyes:

While most of the stuff was no issue for me, there was a tiny sentence that caught my attention and, quite honestly, stumped me. It’s about St John 20:23 and the authority of forgiving sins. It’s not really what Mr Slick wrote, but something in the quote from Saint John that I wondered about. (Of course, Slick denies that verse 23 has anything to do with confession, but that’s beside the point.)

The passage reads:

[BIBLEDRB]John 20:19-23[/BIBLEDRB]

From what I understand, the Catholic argument goes that the Apostles alone received this power, not all the disciples. Since there is a difference between the far greater category of “disciple” and the Apostles, I couldn’t help but wonder why John says Jesus was speaking to the “disciples” here, widening the audience and the group of those who received the authority to forgive sins. In fact, that would potentially include Saint Mary Magdalene, which opens up a whole other issue… but let’s leave that aside.

So, who does John 20:19-23 refer to? :confused:


#2

Read the next line.

**Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)

John does not use the word Apostle at all but used the word disciple seventy six times. We have to who Jesus is talking about from the context.

-Tim-


#3

“The disciples” refers in this case to those who were residing in the Upper Room.

We know from an earlier passage when the disciples were looking for a place to have the Passover meal, that there were no wives or daughters or female servants in the house (and most likely no male servants, either), since the home owner was carrying his own water (women’s work, back in those days, and the work of slaves) - if we can safely assume that, then it’s also very likely that there were no sleeping quarters for women in the house, either, which would mean that the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, would have been residing elsewhere.

This being the case, I think it’s safe to assume that only the 10 (Thomas being absent) were present in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared to them that night.

We also know that this scene occurred later than the scene at Emmaus, which took place at sunset (at the earliest, 6 pm), since the two disciples at Emmaus had time to run all the way back to Jerusalem (3 hours) and startle the 11 with the news of Jesus’ appearance to them, prior to this appearance - which pushes this one past 9 pm.

Any female visitors would have returned to their own residence by that time, to avoid causing scandal.


#4

[quote="TimothyH, post:2, topic:345472"]
Read the next line.

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)

John does not use the word Apostle at all but used the word disciple seventy six times. We have to who Jesus is talking about from the context.

-Tim-

[/quote]

Interesting, I didn't know John didn't use that word! :)

Blessed is he who knows how to read properly!

[quote="jmcrae, post:3, topic:345472"]
"The disciples" refers in this case to those who were residing in the Upper Room.

We know from an earlier passage when the disciples were looking for a place to have the Passover meal, that there were no wives or daughters or female servants in the house (and most likely no male servants, either), since the home owner was carrying his own water (women's work, back in those days, and the work of slaves) - if we can safely assume that, then it's also very likely that there were no sleeping quarters for women in the house, either, which would mean that the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, would have been residing elsewhere.

This being the case, I think it's safe to assume that only the 10 (Thomas being absent) were present in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared to them that night.

We also know that this scene occurred later than the scene at Emmaus, which took place at sunset (at the earliest, 6 pm), since the two disciples at Emmaus had time to run all the way back to Jerusalem (3 hours) and startle the 11 with the news of Jesus' appearance to them, prior to this appearance - which pushes this one past 9 pm.

Any female visitors would have returned to their own residence by that time, to avoid causing scandal.

[/quote]

Very informative details, thank you! :)


#5

CutlerB. I think you are correct. Matt Slick is anti-Catholic.

He has been publicly corrected yet persists in mischaracterizing Catholic theology.

You stated:

Anyway, I thought to myself: "Well, see what he has to say about Catholicism and how much of it you can refute." I thought it a good apologetics exercise.

Do you have a link to what he is saying on this subject (I've heard and seen some his other anti-Catholic items but I am not sure what you are alluding to here).


#6

[quote="CutlerB, post:1, topic:345472"]
I just went back to a website I came across ages ago that is quite clearly anti-Catholic. The person goes by the name of Matt Slick, which might ring a bell with you.

Anyway, I thought to myself: "Well, see what he has to say about Catholicism and how much of it you can refute." I thought it a good apologetics exercise. :rolleyes:

While most of the stuff was no issue for me, there was a tiny sentence that caught my attention and, quite honestly, stumped me. It's about St John 20:23 and the authority of forgiving sins. It's not really what Mr Slick wrote, but something in the quote from Saint John that I wondered about. (Of course, Slick denies that verse 23 has anything to do with confession, but that's beside the point.)

The passage reads:

[BIBLEDRB]John 20:19-23[/BIBLEDRB]

From what I understand, the Catholic argument goes that the Apostles alone received this power, not all the disciples. Since there is a difference between the far greater category of "disciple" and the Apostles, I couldn't help but wonder why John says Jesus was speaking to the "disciples" here, widening the audience and the group of those who received the authority to forgive sins. In fact, that would potentially include Saint Mary Magdalene, which opens up a whole other issue... but let's leave that aside.

So, who does John 20:19-23 refer to? :confused:

[/quote]

Its pretty obvious he was talking about the disciples who were the apostles. Verse 24 gives a clue!

John 20:24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.


#7

#8

Matthew uses the word Apostle only once, when he lists the names of the twelve. He uses the word disciple seventy two times. We have to look at the context to see whom Jesus is speaking with. In fact, the word Apostle appears only eight times in all four Gospels, and as I said before, not at all in John’s Gospel.

Have a look at how Matthew deals with the distinction between the twelve Apostles and the greater group of followers.

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, (Matthew 20:17)

When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; (Matthew 26:20)

He identifies his core group as disciples and not as Apostles. So we have to be careful when we read. Mark uses this interesting description of the audience at one point…

And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. (Mark 4:10)

The twelve Apostles were clearly present as well as some other unidentified group of people. Are they Jews? Greeks? Disciples? Crowds? All of these have meaning and we have to read carefully. Sometimes Jesus is speaking to crowds - all of humanity, and sometimes he is speaking to “the twelve”, the leaders of his Church.

There are even several places where the makeup of Jesus’ audience is not immediately clear but were identified three chapters prior! The sermon on the mount is one such example. There are a few other places like that. The meaning of what he is saying is different depending on who he is addressing and we have to be careful to identify the audience correctly.

To be a disciple was not just a student or follower. It was a formal position one took with a teacher, similar to an apprentice, but deeper than that. The teacher was a master and the student was a servant who learned to imitate his master in all things, who learned to be like his master. The disciple would become a teacher himself and teach with the authority of his master when he was fully formed.

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:22)

They were astonished at Jesus because he was never a disciple of anyone. His master/teacher was God the Father.

Below are links to every occurrence of the words Apostle, disciple, “The twelve” and crowd in the RSV New Testament.

Disciple: quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=simple&format=Long&q1=disciple&restrict=New+Testament&size=All

**Apostle: **quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=simple&format=Long&q1=apostle&restrict=New+Testament&size=All

The Twelve: quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=simple&format=Long&q1=the+twelve&restrict=New+Testament&size=All

Crowd: quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=simple&format=Long&q1=crowd&restrict=New+Testament&size=All

-Tim-


#9

Dorine Houston. Welcome to Catholic Answers Forums!

I see you have only a few posts so I wanted to get this big welcome out there in case nobody else has yet.

You stated:

I think Protestants and Catholics have a history of each sometimes misrepresenting the other.

Good point and I agree.

But Mr. Slick in addition to the misrepresentations has been corrected and corrected publicly, and shown WHY what he states we as Catholics believe is often NOT what Catholics believe.

Yet he persists in re-stating his erroneous straw-man views, and appropriately he has been called on it by some Catholics.

I have a post on a different thread borrowing John Martignoni’s definition of how Martignoni uses the phrase “anti-Catholic” (and this definition would seem to apply to Mr. Slick).

John Martignoni is a Catholic apologist. Martignoni who sends out free inbox Catholic Apologetics Newsletters (here) that anyone may sign up for, has a pretty good definition of anti-Catholicism.

Here it is (with one minor spelling correction) . . .

Anti-Catholic - someone who tells a Catholic what they believe, even if that is not what the Catholic believes, and will not accept any explanation or evidence to the contrary. For example, an anti-Catholic would say to a Catholic, “You worship Mary.” When the Catholic responds that he in fact does not worship Mary, and explains that he honors and loves Mary just as her son Jesus did, and shows them in the Catechism where it says that Mary has a human nature, not a divine one, the anti-Catholic responds, “You do too worship Mary!” In other words, they wish to impose their understanding of our belief on us, no matter how much their understanding of our belief is shown to be false. Simply being opposed to Catholic teaching and practice does not make one an anti-Catholic.

I will try to do some homework and possibly add to the thread’s original query.


#10

CutlerB. You stated:

From what I understand, the Catholic argument goes that the Apostles alone received this power, not all the disciples. Since there is a difference between the far greater category of “disciple” and the Apostles, I couldn’t help but wonder why John says Jesus was speaking to the “disciples” here, widening the audience and the group of those who received the authority to forgive sins.

You understand it correctly.

This is because the Church teaches with authority and has always taught this implicitly. The Church has reaffirmed it more explicitly in the CCC recently too.

CCC 1087 Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying:10 they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This “apostolic succession” structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.

See footnote 10 of CCC 1087 and you will see reference made to John 20:21-23.

Or go to p. 708 if you have the Green CCC paperback edition. Look at John 20:21-23. See references (CCC 1087, 1120, and 1441)

If we were sola Scriptura Christians there would be many such unanswered questions–even with explicit Biblical statements (see great example from WesleyF here with entertaining but instructive use of emoticons too [from Pat Madrid] for example)

But using the Scriptural methodology (as we often appropriately do), jmcrae and thistle gave a very good Bible response that is certainly in accord with Tradition.


#11

[quote="Cathoholic, post:5, topic:345472"]
CutlerB. I think you are correct. Matt Slick is anti-Catholic.

He has been publicly corrected yet persists in mischaracterizing Catholic theology.

Do you have a link to what he is saying on this subject (I've heard and seen some his other anti-Catholic items but I am not sure what you are alluding to here).

[/quote]

Here's the one I referred to. Go down to point 24 ("Verses examined") and you will find John 20:23. This is, however, just a short remark he's making. carm.org/cut-catholic

Slick writes about John 20:23 more extensively here: carm.org/John2023-priests-forgive-sins

Indeed, most of what he writes at the first link is misrepresented, especially the part about Mary.


#12

CutlerB.

Thanks for the links. I read them. Very frustrating when Mr. Slick keeps presenting some Catholic teachings (even citing some of them) while ignoring others when they are important to the subject.

Just as Scripture it must be taken as a whole (he doesn’t seem to take Scripture as a whole either), the Church’s catechetical teachings must be taken as a package.

Reading this post of Mr. Slick’s just reminded me of the frustration I have had in the past reading his stuff (nothing seems to have changed) to help Protestant friends of our family asking about Mr. Slick’s teachings.

Surprisingly he did get a few things correct too (but he will not cite the Bible verses Catholics show that support and many times quote in our teachings).

Distortion Of Catholicism

For example he states:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  1. Become a god: CCC 460, The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
  2. Paste: Become a god: CCC 460, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
  3. Article: The CCC paragraph 460 and becoming gods.

Then Mr. Slick does NOT cite the footnote for the champion of the early Church and the defense of the Divinity of Jesus, St. Athanasius (whose very statement this is and is explicitly footnoted in footnote 80 of CCC 460 but NOT cited or expounded upon by him) when he talks about “so that we might become God”.

Mr. Slick forgets that the context is consort with God (Latin “divinae consortes naturae”) right from CCC 460.

Consortes from “consors” merely means “having a common lot, of the same fortune” but Mr. Slick neglects to mention any of this.

Mr. Slick also conveniently does not point to other areas of the CCC such as CCC 443 or CCC 2786 or other teachings that make it clear we are NOT God and we ARE distinct from God.

CCC 443 Peter could recognize the transcendent character of the Messiah’s divine sonship because Jesus had clearly allowed it to be so understood. To his accusers’ question before the Sanhedrin, “Are you the Son of God, then?” Jesus answered, "You say that I am."50 Well before this, Jesus referred to himself as "the Son" who knows the Father, as distinct from the “servants” God had earlier sent to his people; he is superior even to the angels.51 He distinguished his sonship from that of his disciples by never saying “our Father”, except to command them: “You, then, pray like this: ‘Our Father’”, and he emphasized this distinction, saying “my Father and your Father”.52

CCC 2786 “Our” Father refers to God. The adjective, as used by us, does not express possession, but an entirely new relationship with God.

Mr. Slick does not point out in his article that the Church here specifically talks of the fact that we are sons of God or PARTAKERS of the divine nature in the sense that St. Peter says right in the Bible! A RELATIONAL sense.

Mr. Slick also neglects this fact was implicitly included in the CCC footnotes too from the very same CCC 460 that he cited!

2nd PETER 1:3-4 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

There were so many half-truths, errors, and omissions on his posting, I just didn’t know where to start so I just took the grotesque distortion about us BECOMING GOD in the absolute sense instead of a relational sense that the CCC really teaches.

I heard a debate (from his own radio show) with him and Tim Staples. Staples kept correcting him on these types of things and he had no adequate response other than to either keep saying the same thing over and over or change the subject. Staples buried him with Bible verses and Mr. Slick was clearly caught off guard . . . I would think embarrassingly so.

In all fairness to Mr. Slick, he rectifies some (not all) of the issues I laid out above in a different article.

But WHY on that same “improved” article would he still even say something like: “. . . and is held by cults – in particular the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)” is beyond me.

Especially when he admittedly KNOWS different and even admits it later in the same article (but doesn’t tell the reader WHY). ** He knows we don’t teach** being partakers of the Divine nature in the sense of Mormons (so WHY bring this up in an analysis about Catholic teaching).

Mr. Slick later admitted . . .

Does the RCC teach we can become gods? Again, all my research has led me to believe the contrary.

So WHY not take down your post here Mr. Slick if you’ve found out Catholics don’t teach we become gods in the sense you intimated?

Very annoying of him when he does this sort of thing.


#13

Another indication is found in another gospel, Matthew.

In Matthew 9:17-19, he gives Simon, whom he names Peter/Cephas, "Rock," the keys and the authority to bind and loose sins.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Then, in Matt 18:18, this authority is given to the disciples in general:

Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

However, this is in the context of the disciples as church--the rebellious brother has been reported to the Church, and they are choosing to treat him as a Gentile or tax collector (something that Matthew knew plenty about!). The context must demand that it is the organized Church, under its properly-appointed leaders, is the one who judges the need to bind (excommunicate) or loose (forgive) sins.

This helps us see what is happening in John 20: 23: The Twelve, here called disciples, are given the power to forgive and retain sins.


#14

[quote="CutlerB, post:1, topic:345472"]
I just went back to a website I came across ages ago that is quite clearly anti-Catholic. The person goes by the name of Matt Slick, which might ring a bell with you.

Anyway, I thought to myself: "Well, see what he has to say about Catholicism and how much of it you can refute." I thought it a good apologetics exercise. :rolleyes:

While most of the stuff was no issue for me, there was a tiny sentence that caught my attention and, quite honestly, stumped me. It's about St John 20:23 and the authority of forgiving sins. It's not really what Mr Slick wrote, but something in the quote from Saint John that I wondered about. (Of course, Slick denies that verse 23 has anything to do with confession, but that's beside the point.)

The passage reads:

[BIBLEDRB]John 20:19-23[/BIBLEDRB]

From what I understand, the Catholic argument goes that the Apostles alone received this power, not all the disciples. Since there is a difference between the far greater category of "disciple" and the Apostles, I couldn't help but wonder why John says Jesus was speaking to the "disciples" here, widening the audience and the group of those who received the authority to forgive sins. In fact, that would potentially include Saint Mary Magdalene, which opens up a whole other issue... but let's leave that aside.

So, who does John 20:19-23 refer to? :confused:

[/quote]

Apostle is a title of commission as in for example Apostle Paul not being of the original “Apostles” but commissioned by the Lord Jesus. And Paul also goes on about apostleship for others. But disciples are all who follow Jesus, according to His Words.

That said, according to scripture it seems not only Apostle have the ability to forgive, and that forgiveness is recognized by the Lord Himself or He wouldn’t have said so.(Remember what the Lord God said to Job about his friends, at the end of Job’s suffering ) If you have the power to become a son of God as Jesus said, then the same as Jesus does so does His followers, because He is the Son of God. If you are given the Life of Jesus Christ then what Life do you see Jesus not only living in the flesh but doing in the flesh when you read the Gospels?


#15

I’ll try a crack at this:

“19*¶ On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came …”

The disciples were behind locked doors. While its true that this does not tell us there was only the 12, but it does limit the amount of people that could be there. Jesus came in without opening the door.

“… 21*¶ Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22*¶ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23*¶ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.””

Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit here is associated with the mission the Father gave to the Son, being sent out. That is what the word Apostle means, ‘to be sent’. And, the indwelling and mission is associated with the forgiveness of sins. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives them the authority to forgive sins during their mission as Jesus did during his mission. It’s really a certain charism of the Holy Spirit who forgives sins through them. This continues Jesus’ mission as we see in many places throughout Scripture where Jesus forgave sins.

Jesus and Thomas

“24*¶ Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.”

This verse highlights the importance of all the 12 Apostles to be there as it notes that Thomas wasn’t. The following verses describe Thomas coming to meet the risen Lord including I think a kind of apologetic to argue that Thomas was indeed supposed to be among the 12 and presumably would also have received the Holy Spirit, in case there were any doubts.

"…26Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27¶ Then he said to Thomas…”

Then we see in Acts a kind of description of those staying in the upper room

Acts 1:12–14 (RSV2CE)

"12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; 13¶ and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. "

Here we see the Apostles listed. Notice there isn’t too many people. My guess would be most of Jesus’ disciples had packed up and gone home when he was crucified. Only those disciples closest to him like the 12, the women and Mary would be still present.

Now, all this is very interesting. Does it prove the Church’s teaching? No, but the Church is not Sola Scriptura anyways. We need all of the data from Christian Tradition as well. Otherwise we could be reading the Scriptures wrong.


#16

In addition, we see further evidence of the 12 being singled out to be sent out in Matthew 10:1-2

"Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles..."

Nonetheless, even if there was more than the 12 in the upper room, we already know that bishops have the charism to forgive and retain sins. If there were any other disciples present they would no doubt also be appointed as bishops even though they would not be one of the 12. As many bishops were appointed by the Apostles.


#17

Another thing is that just after this scene in Acts we see Peter and the others choosing another Apostle to replace Judas. Obviously, if the Apostles were seen as just one of the general disciples then this would not be necessary to designate someone as one of the 12 who had this special authority and commissioning by Jesus.

Acts 1:15–18 (RSV2CE)
“15In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16¶ Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17*For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

For Judas was allotted a share in the ministry it says. What ministry is he talking about? The ministry of the 12 Apostles. This is obviously a special ministry apart from a regular follower of Jesus.

“24And they prayed and said, “Lord, you know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” 26*And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”


#18

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