Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23 Explained

by David J. Stewart

"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." —Matthew 16:19

       Some people attempt to use this Scripture to teach that a priest or minister can forgive sin.  However, this is not what the Bible is teaching at all.  Henry H. Halley states in his Halley's Bible Handbook concerning Matthew 16:19 ("The Keys to the Kingdom")...

"The ordinary interpretation of this is that Peter opened the door of salvation, on the Day of Pentecost, to the Jews (Acts 2), and later to the Gentiles (Acts 10).  Not that he was given the power to Forgive sins, but to proclaim the terms of forgiveness. Whatever authority it gave to Peter was also given to the other Apostles (Mathew 18:18; John 20:23). And that, only in a declarative sense. Christ forgives. His Apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the terms of that forgiveness.

SOURCE: Halley's Bible Handbook, by Henry H. Halley, 1965 edition, pg. 442

A similar Scripture that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted is John 20:23...

"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." —John 20:23

The Greek word for "remit" is "aphiemi" and means "to send away."  According to VINE'S COMPLETE EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT WORDS (pg. 522)...

"Scripture makes clear that the Lord's words could not have been intended to bestow the exercise of absolution, which Scripture declares is the prerogative of God alone. There is no instance in the New Testament of this act on the part of the Apostles. The words are to be understood in a declarative sense; the statement has regard to the effects of their ministry of the Gospel, with its twofold effects of remission and retention. [emphasis added]

Clearly, neither Matthew 16:19 nor John 20:23 teach that men have the power to forgive sin.  Even the unsaved Pharisees knew this... "And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" (Luke 5:21).  Yet, Catholic priests and Lutheran ministers today wickedly and arrogantly claim the ability to forgive sin.  They cannot.  Only God, Who is Christ in the flesh, can forgive sin, "...and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1st John 1:7).  "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1st Timothy 2:5).

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