John 20:22-23 (KJV)
22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23  Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

I know that the sacrament of confession of the Catholic Church is based on this verse. Do we have any other verses similar to this?

In Catholic teaching, does the priest have the power to remit sins? If not, what do they believe is happening during confession? If so, is this verse the sole basis of the teaching or is there a larger Biblical corpus that they cite for this?

  • 2
    The questions about whether something is true or Biblical are not things this site can address. What we can address is the doctrines of specific traditions and what THEY believe to be true. I have edited your question to reflect this and focus on the part of your question that can be addressed here. See here for more tips along these lines.
    – Caleb
    Jan 25, 2013 at 9:49
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    Thanks. I agree with you and the question is better now.
    – Jomet
    Jan 25, 2013 at 10:17
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    The words used by the priest in absolving sins make the source of his authority quite clear: "May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you, and I by His authority absolve you from every bond of excommunication and interdict to the extent of my power and your need. Finally, I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Mar 8, 2014 at 16:59

3 Answers 3


The Catholic Church teaches that man's sins may be absolved by the Church. Absolution from sin means "To free from sin", which is pretty much the same as forgiveness of sins.

In lay-person's terms, as I understand it, the Priest is acting under the authority and power of the Church, which, in turn, is acting under the authority and power of Christ.

This is probably a really poor analogy, but it helps me to keep principles simple, so here goes...

In my household, my oldest child has no authority over the younger ones. She can't tell them what to do under normal circumstances, because she simply has no authority to do so.

However, if I leave her to babysit the younger ones, I give her the authority, and the younger ones understand the principle that she is acting under my authority, and that "to be naughty for her is the same as being naughty for me when I am in charge." But if my oldest tells a younger one to hit another one, or to steal, or do anything I would not authorize, then she would not be acting under the authority I've given her because she is asking them to do something contrary to my will.

Applying the anology...

The way I understand it, the teaching is that the Priest is just a man, not a supernatural being with the power to forgive sins on his own, but when acing under the authority of the Church, which, in turn has been given authority from Christ, and when the Priest is acting in harmony with Christ's instructions, then he has the power to absolve since through the means described and established by the Church in Christ's authority.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says this (small excerpt):

Absolution proper is that act of the priest whereby, in the Sacrament of Penance, he frees man from sin. It presupposes on the part of the penitent, contrition, confession, and promise at least of satisfaction; on the part of the minister, valid reception of the Order of Priesthood and jurisdiction, granted by competent authority, over the person receiving the sacrament. That there is in the Church power to absolve sins committed after baptism the Council of Trent thus declares: "But the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, He breathed upon His disciples saying, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.' By which action so signal, and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles, and to their lawful successors for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after baptism" (Sess. XIV, i).

  • A good answer. I just add that the priest is the least important link here, the priest is just a "extended arm" of Church, who have the authority to remit sins. That's why any priest who haven't been suspended (i.e. who is allowed to act as a priest) can act as a confessor, regardless of his personal sins. In David's analogy, the oldest child still has the authority to order other children to do good things, even if she told her brother to do something bad ten minutes earlier.
    – Pavel
    Jan 25, 2013 at 16:23
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    +1 Good analogy. Though, I think the teaching does go a little deeper into a more mystical territory, wherein the Church is a sort of "continuation of The Incarnation" through space and time. If I can find a reference, I'll link it in the comments here. Otherwise, I think this sort of explanation by authority is sufficient for a basic understanding of the sacrament.
    – svidgen
    Jan 25, 2013 at 18:09
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    Whether they can or not, why should sins be confessed to a priest and not directly to God (1 John 1:9)?
    – Matt Davis
    Feb 16, 2013 at 17:19
  • @MattDavis That might make a good question on its own. The Catholic Church would say that there are several reasons: (1) it is important, psychologically and spiritually, for people to hear from a competent authority that they are truly forgiven, hence the need for a human mediator; however (2) the priest cannot free a penitent from his sins without knowing what those sins are, and (more importantly) whether the penitent is truly repentant, since remission of sins is impossible without repentance. That is the purpose of confession “to a priest.” May 17, 2015 at 16:42
  • The term of for the priest's capacity for granting absolution during this sacrament is that he is acting in persona Christi" Nov 9, 2016 at 18:55

The bible states there is but one mediator between man and God, that is Jesus. If a Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest claim they can forgive sins because that power was given to the Apostles In Mathew, then why can't Lutheran ministers and Catholic priests heal the sick, raise the dead etc. That power was given to the Apostles in Mat 10:8, and they exercised that power. But no where in the bible will you find an apostle claiming by the authority given to me, I forgive you your sins. The apostles directed the lost to Christ, and Him alone as the One Who paid for sin. Again if they have the power of the Apostles, then take all of them to the hospitals and cure the sick and raise the dead. Only, and only Christ can forgive your sins to the God the Father. In the bible the word "remit your sins", the word for remit in Greek is aphiemi, which means to send away. You all need to read the bible. Its the Word that forgives sins, and that word is Jesus. Read Mat;9:6, John 1:29, Eph 1:7 and many more verses that show that only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and he alone can for give sins and gave that authority no one, and in no case in the bible does anyone else lay claim to be able to forgive someones sins.


As I have posted in another question (Is confessing to a priest the only way to be forgiven?):

There are several Bible verses that back confession.

Jesus Christ granted the Apostles His Authority to forgive sins:

John 20:21 - Since Christ was sent to forgive sins, and he sent the Apostles out to forgive Sins.

John 20:22 - When the Lord "Breathes" on someone, a significant transformation takes place. See the reference in Genesis.

John 20:23 - Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In order for the apostles to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally confess their sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers. The text makes this very clear.

Matt. 9:8 - Demonstrates that the Apostles can forgive. Where in Scripture is the gift of authority to forgive sins taken away from the apostles or their successors?

Matt. 9:6

Mark 2:10

Luke 5:24

Matt. 18:18

John 20:22-23

Matt. 18:18

2 Cor. 2:10

2 Cor. 5:18

James 5:15-16

1 Tim. 2:5

Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22

The Necessity and Practice of Orally Confessing Sins

James 5:16

Acts 19:18

Matt. 3:6

Mark 1:5

1 Tim. 6:12

1 John 1:9

Num. 5:7

2 Sam. 12:14

Neh. 9:2-3

Sir. 4:26

Baruch 1:14

1 John 5:16-17

Luke 12:47-48

Matt. 5:19

There is also tradition in the Early Church Fathers.

See here for more Commentary: Jesus Christ Granted the Apostles His Authority to Forgive Sins.

Since there is Scriptural evidence going all the way back to the Old Testament, confession is necessary.

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