The Catholic Church holds to the doctrine of Penance. As I understand it, this refers to various deeds prescribed by a priest to the confessing person that must do to make amends for his own sin, since mere confession is presumably insufficient.

Wikipedia says this about the doctrine of Sacramental Penance:

In a sacramental understanding of the term, "penance" applies to the whole activity from confession to absolution. Generally speaking, however, it is used to characterize the works of satisfaction imposed or recommended by the priest on or to the penitent. Traditionally, penance has been viewed as a punishment (the Latin poena, the root of pen(it)ence, means "punishment"), and varying with the character and heinousness of the offences committed...

Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must 'make satisfaction for' or 'expiate' his sins."

Protestants generally reject this doctrine. So, what is the specific biblical argument they use to oppose the doctrine of Penance?

  • Highly Related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/7624/… Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 16:29
  • 2
    I'd be more concerned with a biblical argument in favor of it from Catholics, first.
    – Sparr
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 17:51
  • @Sparr christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/6965/…
    – svidgen
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 18:27
  • @svidgen that question seems more related to the confession, and tangentially the forgiveness, but there is little if anything there about penitence.
    – Sparr
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 18:52
  • 1
    @Sparr Will all due respect, you're not well aware of the Catholic stance, or you'd know the answer (to your question, that is).
    – svidgen
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


The basis for the necessary rejection of Catholic penance in the reformation was threefold. a) We need no human priest as we are priests ourselves. b) we have access to Christ our high priest without any other mediator, and c) we never, under any condition, need to do a 'work' to obtain forgiveness - ever.

Forgiveness can only be obtained by faith in Christ. Confession of particular sins by believers is not to obtain justification or general forgiveness but particular application of our previous justification in cleansing - this is called forgiveness in brining us back into better fellowship with God. That is, as we have already been declared righteous by faith, God has sworn to give himself no other choice, according to the justice of his faithfulness, except to forgive is. If God has in a sense no choice (from his own gracious decree) how monstrous is it to imagine that we should approach a man, rather than our own high priest, to declare our forgiveness? Our forgiveness is not optional, rather it is our reasonable expectation to receive of God by faith, apart from any good work. To add to this monstrosity that we should receive an evil insinuation as though we also had to 'work' for forgiveness is a blasphemy against the high priesthood of Christ.

What does the scripture say:

Christ is our high priest who we are to approach, not St. Somebody, Mary, or any earthly priest:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV)

We are all priests:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

We obtain full and general forgiveness in our justification without respect to any good work:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28, ESV)

As a result of full pardon we can be cleansed in particulars that bother our conscience (without any requirement of a work, of course) by simply directly confessing our sin to our only high priest, Jesus;

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.(1 John 1:9, ESV)

Under these consideration most Protestants fully reject the need for penance as a sinful thing contrary to faith in God. Actually, anyone who has performed any kind of penance under the guidance of a Priest would technically have fairly good reason to confess that sin to Christ. One must always go straight to the high priest and not ignore him by devious means and such a show of godliness that denies the power thereof.


Protestants generally reject this doctrine. So, what is the specific biblical argument they use to oppose the doctrine of Penance?

There is no Biblical example of someone being instructed to pay for their sin by an act of penance in the New Testament.

Contrary-wise we have several examples of instruction that shows a different way to deal with each other (love). For example, the letter to Philemon is an appeal to the free will of a Christian to renounce his legal claim out of love.

The whole idea of Christianity is that we are unable to pay for our sins.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Confession is described to restore the relationship between Christians and God.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The word "confess" is a combination of the words "same" and "words". The idea here is that when we are able to describe our sin in the same words that God would, we bring ourselves into alignment with truth and this alignment is the restoration of relationship. This is not the same as the forgiveness of sins we received at the time we became Christian. This is for the forgiveness of sins that removes the barrier our sins build between us and God (limiting and hindering our relationship) after salvation. God is not looking for a payment or penalty, he is only looking for us to come to him in truth.

The whole idea of penance replaces a Biblical system where a broken hearted sorrowful Christian comes to his Savior in truth and humility, with a payment system administered by priests that risks our seeing ourselves and having earned forgiveness and even demanding payment for our works.

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