In John 20:23, it stands written:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

I've noticed in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges commentary that it's stated this power is given to everyone in the room. Which they say, it's not just the 10 apostles alone (11 - Thomas who was initially missing), but to the entire people present, which is implied it's more than the apostles.

How did they deduced from the text that there where more people present there?

  • It is certain that more than just Peter was there who, according to some, holds this power alone. Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 22:49
  • My interest is if there where other people that apostles in the room.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 12:24
  • @MikeBorden who are you referring to? I'm assuming Catholics but they draw this verse as a connection to the sacrament of reconciliation.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 20:26

3 Answers 3


While it is certainly not conclusive, there are some commentators who conflate this gathering of the disciples in John 20 with the gathering described in Luke 24. This is mostly due to Jesus' offering them to touch and see his wounds in both accounts as well as the relatively close match chronologically:

Jesus assured them He was actually Jesus of Nazareth and that He was really raised from the dead. Jesus did this for more than the 10 disciples present; Luke mentioned this gathering as including not only the disciples but also those who were with them gathered together (Luke 24:33) and that Jesus invited them to actually touch His body to see that it was real (Luke 24:39-40). - Enduring Word

The text of Luke does say that there were others gathered with the eleven apostles at this particular appearance:

And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. - Luke 24:33-40

However, it must be noted that Luke records "the eleven gathered together" and so, if this is to be conflated with John, it must be the second time when Thomas was present. This raises yet another difficulty because the second appearance in John (with Thomas present making 11) takes place 8 days after the resurrection:

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. - John 20:26

While Luke has the Emmaus road disciples returning to Jerusalem and finding the eleven gathered with some others on the very same day (assumed) as the resurrection:

And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them - Luke 24:33

  • The assumption noted above is derived from Emmaus being approximately 12 kilometers (threescore furlongs) from Jerusalem and that those two disciples left Emmaus for Jerusalem the very hour that Jesus left them. It would take approximately 2.5 hours to walk back to Jerusalem.

Indeed, this very uncertainty is manifest earlier in the same Enduring Word commentary when a chronological list of resurrection day appearances is given and the last on the list is an appearance "to the ten disciples":

To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18).

· To the other women (Matthew 28:9-10).

· To the two on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32).

· To Peter (Luke 24:33-35, 1 Corinthians 15:5).

· To ten of the disciples, Thomas being absent (John 20:19-23).

How this list can be offered and then John 20 conflated with Luke 24 is mystifying but some support is lent for the conjecture that, in the days following the crucifixion of our Lord, the disciples were often met together and that frequently in the company of others.

It should also be noted that the term "disciples" may include some number of the Apostles but is not limited to them unless specifically delineated as such. In the case of the 12 apostles, all of them are disciples, but it doesn’t follow that all disciples are apostles!

The conclusion must be that, while it is possible and perhaps even likely that more than just the 10 apostles were gathered in John 20:19-23, since they often gathered together as part of a larger company, a careful exegetic should not declare it to be other than conjecture.

  • 1
    Thanks @Mike this clarifies it for me.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 2:04

Were the apostles alone in John 20:19-23?

It seems likely that the Apostles were alone in the room.

Let us see what St. John says in his Gospel.

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” - John 20:17-28

Do not know how the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges can deduce that there were others in the room besides the Apostles (Disciples). On the day of the Resurrection of the Lord, with all the chaos of the recent events it seems doubtful that the Disciples were in hiding with another group of believers.

Mary Magdalene herself knew where they were, so it could be implied that it was their dwelling place for annual Jewish festivities that they were lodging in for the Passover. Thus there is no reason to has others present amongst them.

The fact that Thomas was not present, shows that it must have been just the 10 Apostles.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus desired to stay in the guest room in order to eat the Passover with his Disciples. Again there is no implication that others were present then either.

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover lamb, His disciples asked Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare the Passover so You may eat it?”

13 So He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room for Me to eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples went out, entered the city, and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover. - Mark 14:12-16

  • 1
    This Catholic article catholicnetwork.us/2018/09/03/who-attended-the-last-supper has at least 15 present at the Last Supper according to Mark's gospel. Verse 14:20 makes little sense if there were only twelve in the room: "It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish.". Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 12:48
  • @MikeBorden Do not think that is an official website of the Catholic Church. The gist of the article leads to doubt.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 12:56

The (presumed) conferral of power (Jn 29:23) appears to be based upon a flawed, misleading translation of the Greek text, which literally reads, "[if] ever you-might-at-some-point-be-sending-away/forgiving the sins of-some [men], they-have-previously-been sent-away/forgiven to-them; [if] ever you-might-presently-be-strengthening of-some [men], they-have-previously-been-strengthened". The primary translation errors are:

  1. rendering two Greek subjunctive verbs as present-indicatives.
  2. rendering the Greek genitive-masculine-plural indefinite (of-some [men]),as singular-indefinite (any).
  3. rendering two Greek perfected/completed-Greek-middle-passive-inicative, as present-passive-indicatives.
  4. rendering the second plural masculine indefinite (some) as singular and applying it to sin (which is Greek-feminine, not masculine).
  5. rendering a Greek aorist-active-subjunctive verb as a present-middle-indicative.

This combination of translation errors leads any English reader to misinterpret this verse (Jn 29:23) as a conferral of authority from Christ to those presently hearing Him. The Greek text appears to be closer to a reassurance that God is in complete control and His representatives on earth will be executing whatever has previously been determined in heaven. Moreover,God's use of the aorist-active-indicative reveals that some forgiveness activity will not be immediately present, and might even not be limited to those immediately hearing. Accordingly,the underlying assumptions of the question, undermine any speculative answers.

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