Most Protestants recognise only two sacraments, saying something like this (from the Anglican 39 Articles):

There are two sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord

But in the Gospels it is written:

John 20:21-23

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Mt 16,18-20

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Mt 18,18

"Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

For who tells that was introduced by Pope Innocent III:

Acts 19,18

Some believers, too, came forward to admit in detail how they had used spells

John 1,1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

2 Corinthians 5,18

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation

Why isn't confession/penance considered a sacrament by most Protestants? Why don't they think these verses institute the sacrament of confession?

  • I've answered the more general question of why Protestants limit the number of sacraments to baptism and communion. This seems a near duplicate. May 2, 2016 at 23:54

4 Answers 4


Prior to Christ, a priest was needed to help make sacrifice to receive forgiveness:

Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. - Leviticus 4:20 ESV

The reason that Protestants don't consider confession a sacrament involving the need for a priest, is that Protestants believe that in Christ, we are a royal priesthood ourselves:

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.


9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." - Revelation 5:9-10 ESV

Of which Jesus is the great high priest:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, - Hebrews 3:1 ESV

Protestants believe that there is only one mediator between man and God:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, - 1 Timothy 2:5 ESV


and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. - Hebrews 12:24 ESV

And that the apostles are brothers, with no special power or authority:

12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. - 1 Corinthians 1:12-17 ESV

As such, the Old Testament gives a specific process for confession involving priests, sacrifices and a temple/tabernacle/tent of meeting.

But in Christ, Protestants believe that we are the temple in which God's Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16), making us able to confess our sins directly to the Father.

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

  • "I am sending you [...] If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” These are Jesus's words. Why you quote other part (mostly of the Old Testament) without explaining the reason why my quotes aren't good?
    – granmirupa
    Apr 29, 2016 at 16:17
  • @granmirupa He's not saying your quotes of scripture aren't good. They are good! He's just saying your interpretation of the quote(s) is inconsistent with the rest of scripture.
    – LCIII
    Apr 29, 2016 at 18:32
  • @granmirupa I was citing scripture that answers the question of why Protestants believe that confession is not a formal sacrament. Those quotes of scripture about Peter's authority and presumed papal authority is really a separate question, in my opinion due to the fact that there is not a direct scripture reference requiring confession to a person in authority. I think a question on that verse and on the authority of Peter would be a good one if you want to ask it. Apr 29, 2016 at 20:21
  • @LCIII the Old Testament in some parts is incompatible with the New Testament. If you are Christian you believe first in the New Testament. So I quote New Testament, like the command to go to forgive the sins, or others. In my opinion you can't answer with: "the Old Testament gives a specific process for confession involving priests, sacrifices and a temple/tabernacle/tent of meeting." Otherwise you have go to lapidate your wife, or to apply the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" law.
    – granmirupa
    Apr 30, 2016 at 10:14
  • @JontheArchitect yeah you are right. The question was why Protestants believe that confession is not a formal sacrament. Obviously I do not agree. But that was the question. About Peter authority. Yes I should ask new question. Thanks for your answer. I would wait for other aswers. Otherwise I'll check for good answer.
    – granmirupa
    Apr 30, 2016 at 10:18

All of these answers respond to your question well, using scripture.

But because there is no reference to Protestantism in the NT, and because Catholics would take something different from scripture, I'd like to include the history of where the change took place between the Catholic church seeing seven sacraments (including confession) and Protestants not acknowledging those seven, cutting out confession. The origin of this difference can be traced all the way back to the Protestant Reformation. That may seem obvious to some and not to others. So instead of referring to the NT, I'm referring to the origins of Protestantism.

Origin of the word "sacrament"

In Greek, the origin of this word is "musterion" (Strong's 3466). This word has 28 occurrences in the New Testament. The NT Greek Lexicon defines "musterion" as: hidden thing, secret, mystery.

In Latin, in his "Apology," Tertullian uses the Latin word "sacramentum" instead of the Greek "musterion." As far as we know, there is no reference to the word prior to Tertullian so it's probably the case that he was the first to use "sacramentum" to denote "musterion."

In the 4th century, St. Augustine of Hippo defined "sacrament" as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." He also said: "The word is brought to the material element and it becomes a sacrament."

Origin of the establishment of 7 sacraments

Somewhere between 1100-1160 C.E., Peter Lombard (1096-1160) established seven sacraments.

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009. Full text: (pdf):

"Among the most important contributions offered by Peter Lombard to the history of theology, I would like to recall his treatise on the sacraments, of which he gave what I would call a definitive definition: "precisely what is a sign of God's grace and a visible form of invisible grace, in such a way that it bears its image and is its cause is called a sacrament in the proper sense... Peter the Lombard, moreover, explained that the sacraments alone objectively transmit divine grace and they are seven: Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, the Unction of the sick, Orders and Matrimony."

Incidentally, it looks like the Pope left out one of the seven! That is: confirmation.

Meanwhile, during the time of Peter Lombard, according to the Ethereal Library at Christian Classics, another Peter -Peter Abaelard (1079-1142)- and Hugo de St. Victor (1096-1141) only named five sacraments. So we know from this, already, that there were controversies in how one would identify sacraments.

From: Ethereal Library. See commentary: (pdf)

"Abaelard had named five, —baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, marriage, and extreme unction. Hugo de St. Victor in his Summa also seems to recognize only five, —baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, and extreme unction,1613. Hugo divided the sacraments into three classes,—sacraments which are necessary to salvation, baptism and the eucharist, those which have a sanctifying effect such as holy water and the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday, and a third class which prepares for the other sacraments. He called the sprinkling with water a sacrament."

Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther Cuts the 7 Sacraments to 2

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Source: Michael Vlach, at the Resource Library of Theological Studies, states:

"In Luther’s day the established church recognized seven sacraments that worked grace in the lives of those who received them... Luther said there were only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper... In order for a sacrament to be efficacious in strengthening faith, faith must be present (Olson, 393). Thus, faith must be present for the sacrament to have any benefit. The sacraments do not work ex operaoperato—they do not work regardless of the faith of the person."

Source: Boise State University

"If it was clear what to do about the papacy, the matter of the sacraments was more difficult. Some, Luther rejected almost at once: the sacrament of ordination was out because by 1521 he was arguing that there should be no priests. Or, to be more accurate, he was arguing in favor of the notion of the priesthood of all believers. Everyone was a priest; any Christian could perform the rites of the faith, and beyond these no Christian held any special religious station. Extreme Unction was rejected out of hand because there was no foundation for it in Scripture. Penance was likewise rejected for like reasons. Luther retained confirmation as a rite, but denied that it was a sacrament. He held similar views on marriage: it was a part of life and even a part of Christian life, but it was not a sacrament. That left two: baptism and communion. Both these Luther did indeed view as sacramental, and on both there were bitter disputes among the reformers. Each deserves specific treatment regarding Luther's particular position.

Full commentary from Boise University: (pdf)

Martin Luther's thoughts about penance as a sacrament

From: "Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings." Martin Luther said:

"Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated [reconciled or appeased] by my satisfaction [going through the ritual of penance: contrition, confession, and acts of satisfaction]. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by the law without having God add pain to pain by the [New Testament] threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!" Thus did I rage with a fierce and troubled conscience."

  • In the 4th century, St. Augustine of Hippo defined "sacrament" as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." He also said: "The word is brought to the material element and it becomes a sacrament." --- What's the source of those quotes by Augustine? If you say someone said something, please cite where they said it (the source of the quotation).
    – user900
    Apr 29, 2016 at 18:27
  • hi Simply, that's a good critique. Unfortunately, since Augustine didn't write in English, I can't pinpoint exactly where it's written, and numerous scholars and/or legitimate sources have attributed this statement to Augustine, so I trust that it's there, somewhere. My experience with editors is that these quotes must be ignored if they cannot be supported legitimately at least twice. I always go the extra mile and make that three. I've found at least a dozen legitimate references so I'm confident the quote is accurate. Thanks-
    – Daisy
    Apr 29, 2016 at 23:07
  • 1
    @Daisy neither the Gosples or the Bible are written in english. so you believe every things you read? There are translations of Saint Augustine. For example here you can find saint Augustine writings in 6 languages (latin include): augustinus.it/index.htm Simply, he isn't telling that what you quote is wrong.. He is telling give a source for your quotes.
    – granmirupa
    Apr 30, 2016 at 10:50

For protestants generally, one of the essential, non-negotiable requirements for a sacrament is an explicit command from Jesus. In the case of Baptism, this command is reported in Matthew 28:19

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...

and in the case of Holy Communion, it is reported in Matthew 26:26—29, Mark 14:22—25; and Luke 22:17—19; that Jesus said

"Take this...",

and in 1 Corinthians 11:23—26, that Paul reports Jesus said

"Do this...".

There is no parallel passage where Jesus commands everyone to "Go confess..." in the same way that he made the commands relative to Baptism and Communion related above.

In the case of some of the other practices the Roman Catholic (and some other bodies) call sacraments, such as (in this case) confession, the Roman Catholic church infers from the office of the keys that Jesus intends all people to make a particular auricular confession to a Priest, there is no direct commands of Jesus binding each of the faithful. That is, Jesus is not reported by the Evangelists to have said "Go! confess...", and thus these are not considered sacraments by most Protestants.

  • Is the difference between what the “church” is told to do and what each believer is told to do? As clearly we are all told to compress our sins, for example in the Lord's pray. Apr 29, 2016 at 9:03
  • 1
    No, the difference is in what Jesus is reported to have said, and not reported to have said. Jesus is reported to have commanded to baptize, and to take and eat. And while confession can be inferred from the fact that Jesus gave the church the authority to exercise the office of the keys, Jesus is not reported to have explicitly commanded anyone to confess. Nor, for that matter, is he reported to have explicitly commanded to marry or be married, to ordain or be ordained, to confirm or be confirmed, or to give or receive unction.
    – brasshat
    Apr 29, 2016 at 9:20
  • @brasshat Even though in his discussion about divorce, and the old law of Moses, Jesus echoed Genesis and pointed out that "a man shall leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh" the point raised is that he didn't say "go and get married" nor "and what God put together let no man put asunder" (Suggesting a divine element to marriage, of which he is party to as part of the Trinity?). This is an interesting point to finally understand, thanks for spelling that out in such clear terms. Apr 29, 2016 at 16:02
  • "I am sending you [...] If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” These are Jesus's words. So He sent the apostles (and now the priests and bishop) to forgive sins.
    – granmirupa
    Apr 29, 2016 at 16:17
  • 2
    Yes, Jesus gave his apostles the authority to forgive, or not forgive sins. But while forgiving sins may be related to confession, it is not the same as confession. Further, in Matthew 18:22—23, when Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him, Jesus commands forgiveness "seventy times seven" times, but does not mention confession at all, suggesting that perhaps forgiveness is not always dependent upon confession. So one might argue based upon this that forgiveness is a sacrament, but not that confession is.
    – brasshat
    Apr 29, 2016 at 16:54

I'm of my own denomination, so I believe that we can confess our sins to others (because we are one body with Christ), but I tend to lean Protestant, which says that Jesus is our great High Priest. I reject church hierarchy entirely. Neither bishops, nor the Pope (especially not the Pope, as his name literally means "father", effectively usurping the title of God to make manmade edicts as though they are true, being the closest thing to Antichrist on this Earth), nor deacons, nor cardinals have any special authority.

In actual fact, while you can confess your sins to people, there is no actual difference between talking to a friend and talking to a priest. They are people who wear goofy clothing, not holy people. Jesus can work through anyone to confess sins, but behaving as though someone is anything special is to make an idol for yourself.

Remember, the Pharisees said "nobody can forgive sins but God." But like the true hypocrites they were, those seeking atonement for their sins were required to bring an offering without blemish to them, whereupon they would say supposedly on God's behalf that either sins were forgiven or that the offering wasn't perfect. This is why there is emphasis that Jesus is the perfect offering for sins, because these offerings were given for sham forgiveness, but actually they couldn't forgive anything. The offerings were a covering, as the New Testament tells us, because the blood of animals can't forgive anything. Indeed, when you have sacrificed an animal, you basically murdered an innocent creature to compound your sin. This animal's blood isn't your own, so the whole tradition was based on a lie. God may accept an offering if it came from your heart, but all too often it's a sort of excuse offering.

So basically, priests do not have the authority to forgive sins. Not only are all of us children in the eyes of God (making nobody more holy than any other), but forgiveness comes from grace. If there was anything possible we could do to earn forgiveness (as both the Jews and Catholics believe), then it would be only the rich who could be saved. But both groups have had a pay to play problem. For Catholics, it was indulgences, while Jews had the animal sacrifices. You don't need priests. You don't need offerings. You can confess to a person or directly to God, but the only real sacrifice God needs is a "broken and contrite heart."

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