"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."
(John 20:23)

The Power of the Keys is a Catholic (and, IIUC, Lutheran) doctrine that only certain individuals — particularly and approximately, those serving as "Priests" (i.e. pastors in Protestant terminology) — have certain abilities.

In John 20:23, Jesus makes it plain that someone has the ability to forgive and to withhold forgiveness. Some interpret this (along with other scripture, e.g. Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) to mean that this ability is "special" somehow to priests/pastors. It is from this same doctrine (IIUC) that we get the idea of excommunication, which is similarly granted to specific "offices" within the Church.

Protestants, of course, reject many Catholic teachings.

What I would like to know is, who, according to Arminian Protestants, has the power specified in John 20:23? Who (if anyone; see also this question) can forgive sins or withhold forgiveness? Is it any Christian, or only pastors? Or some other distinction? (For bonus points, is excommunication a thing?)

I am asking about Arminian (or at least, non-Anglican, non-Lutheran, and non-Calvinist) Protestants specifically, as the answer is obviously different for the excluded groups. (Well, maybe not for Calvinists, but their ideas on predestination muddy things IMHO.)

While the (first) linked question is related, it doesn't have much in the way of answers, and, more importantly, doesn't appear answer the more specific "who has 'the Keys'" question that I am asking. There are some other questions which also appear similar, but aren't clear what group they apply to, aside from this answer which is specifically Lutheran.

  • 1
    When someone sinned in Corinth Paul urged the whole assembly of the ekklesia to remove the wickedness and he made it clear that he would be with them in spirit, when they did so. 1 Corinthians 5: 1-5. The question is broader than just the text quoted. But up-voted +1, nevertheless as it is a valid inquiry.
    – Nigel J
    May 31, 2022 at 18:18
  • 1
    @NigelJ, certainly, and I don't mean to imply otherwise. John 20:23 is... call it the "poster child" verse for the Power of the Keys concept. I use it as convenient context, but yes, I'm asking about the concept in general. I'll try to clarify...
    – Matthew
    May 31, 2022 at 18:23


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .