Confession is Biblical

Catholics get a lot of questions about Confession, and Catholics themselves have a lot of questions about this Sacrament. The usual discussion centers around, “Why should I have to tell my sins to some priest? Can’t I just talk directly to God?”


The fundamental answer to these questions is that the Lord Jesus himself set up the Sacrament of Confession for us. There are many biblical roots to this Sacrament detailed in the paragraphs below.


Shortly after his resurrection from dead, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23). In the first place, we should note that this passage does not make a lot of sense if it is always sufficient for us merely to confess all our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Why would Jesus give the Apostles the astonishing power to forgive sins unless he expected people to come to them and benefit from this ministry? And how could they exercise this ministry if they did not “hear” confessions? Hence, the Bible does not teach us that all we must do is tell our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Rather, since Jesus gave the power to forgive or retain sin to the apostles, it is implicitly clear that he expected people to speak openly of their sins to the Apostles.


There are other passages indicating that the practice of the early Church was open declaration of sin. Many also of those who were now believers came, [to Paul] confessing and divulging their practices (Acts 19:18). So it is evident that Scripture attests to the practice of the early Christians of going to the apostles (the first priests) to confess their sins. Here is another example from the Letter of James: Is anyone among you sick? Let him summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:14-16). Thus the general biblical teaching, while not excluding personal confession of sins to God in prayer, emphasizes that we also must regularly confess our sins one to another, and more specifically to the “presbyters” (priests) “of the Church.”


Hence Confession is a biblical sacrament and to be a “Bible-believing Christian” is to accept the place of Confession in the life of the Church and the life of the individual.


I have included these reflections and developed them more fully in a two page flyer that you can view HERE.

There is also an interesting post, and a discussion on confession, on Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s site. After reading a brief discussion of the Sacrament and its beauty, you get the chance to “vote” by recording the frequency with which you receive the Sacrament. The full thread, including the voting results, is HERE.

8 Replies to “Confession is Biblical”

  1. The analysis is interesting but flawed. It presumes that only modern catholic priests are modern “apostles” when Apostle is a different beast. Mary Magdalene was considered an evangelist and the greatest woman apostle for example and there are no women priests. Under your theory/interpretation, coming to a Priest means one presumes oneself not an Apostle when we are all called to be disciples and apostles. This is the biggest impediment that lots of people, including myself have, in going to confession in a box, because while I appreciate the attempt at free therapy, often I don’t respect that the priest has any better a clue about who Jesus was than I do, or his sins are as great as mine so he is not qualified to render any judgment or penance, or his understanding of God’s will or plan for my life can’t be any clearer than the dim picture I have- and the experience it too short to be deep enough to do any apparent good. Coming from a half presbyterian background I find it incredibly presumptous on the part of some priests that they think they are more moral than the people coming to them. This is even harder if one has had any experiences where Priests have been
    less than christian- flawed humans as they are. I am afraid that the undisciplined Father-Full-Of-It features of the priesthood make the entire confession doctrine hard to swallow.
    Ciao for Now.

    1. That Catholic Bishops, priests and deacons exercise the office of apostle in a unique way is attested to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it is called the “Sacrament of Apostolic Ministry” (cf 1536, 1556, 1562, 1563). Hence, I, as a Catholic, am setting forth the teaching, as I must, in the context of Catholic teaching and terminology. Bishops, (and priests in a subordinate way) are exercising the office of an apostle, properly and historically defined. Mary Magdalene was not called to be an apostle by Jesus in scripture, nor was she referred to by that title in scripture. Hence, I, as one called to an obedience to scripture and tradition, could not join you in calling her such nor can I join you in saying that “priest” and “apostle” are different beasts. Neither can I, out of that same obedience to tradition say that everyone is really an apostle. I hope you can understand where I am coming from, I cannot simply set aside tradition and basic vocabulary and thus affirm your point of view here. The scriptural testimony seems clear enough: namely that from all his many disciples Christ chose 12 men who he named apostles. To these 12 he entrusted special prerogatives and duties that did not extend to all the disciples in general. I cannot go beyond what Christ set forth and what the scriptures attest.

      In so far as the priest not having a better clue than you or being more holy etc.: From a purely human point of view you could be correct. But I do not go to the priest for my confession primarily for his human qualities, rather because he has the capacity, by being configured to Christ, to absolve my sins. The Catechism actually reflects some of your concerns in the following This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church. (CCC 1550). I would wish that every priest were beyond reproach and utterly wise in everything but alas, Christ chose imperfect men. That was evident even in the first 12!

      Finally, I am sorry you have experienced “Father Full-of-it” Whoever he or they may be I pray that you will forgive them. It is a remarkable thing that Christ entrusted the spread of the faith to struggling human beings. This is true not only of priests but also of parents, catechists and others who help in spreading the faith. I wonder if that is what the Lord meant when he said to us, “Blessed are you who are not scandalized in me!”

  2. “Mary Magdalene was considered an evangelist and the greatest woman apostle.”

    By whom? She was not one of the 12. And never is she referred to as a apostle in Scripture.

    Confession is not about “free therapy” — it is about receiving God’s forgiveness through the prayer of absolution of the priest who acts in the person of Christ. The sins/weaknesses of the particular priest have no impact upon the efficacy of this prayer of forgiveness; to suggest otherwise is reminiscent of an early heresy (Donatism) refuted by St. Augustine, among others.

    1. Whoah: thanks for your reply. Thanks for emphasizing that the sacraments depend on Christ and that the priest acts in persona Christi. I know I am always powerfully aware of this truth as I celebrate the liturgies of the Church!

  3. Thanks for responding. Nice to know mind critical inquiry isn’t deemed spam. Biblically of course, however, it is easy to see where you are off the rails. There were 12 Apostles. There were 72 people appointed by Jesus as advance people to go to Jerusalem before him in his final denoument. (see, Luke) Jesus appointed people to do all kinds of things and the early church leaders appointed people to do all kinds of things and there is not indication that Apostle is an exclusive category of priesthood. Priests are not thus definitionally the same as Apostles. There is nothing indicating that they are synonymous. I just don’t see that scripturally-while it may be something the church canonically interpreted later. Apostle generally means one who had a direct encounter with Christ-which is why Paul defends his Apostleship by his vision on the road to Damascus- in effect testifying that he met him in person in a vision. In modern nomenclature “Apostle” has had a wider interpretation but no one would necesssarily make it synonymous with Priest or the narrower variety of Roman Collar one.
    Mary Magdalene was someone who was closer to Jesus than any man- even John. She was at the foot of the cross, was the first to be with him at the tomb- not even death could keep her from him. He restored her to sanity after having cast out 7 demons. Jesus and/or the angel in the tomb, if I am not mistaken, instructs her to inform Peter when he was raised from the dead. She was told to go do the work of an Evangelist. She was told to proclaim that “he is risen just like he said.”
    Mary Madgalene was thus the first God commissioned Evangelist to proclaim the Resurrection.
    She has no equal except Mary the Mother of God among women.

  4. The point I have been making is that the CHURCH is not FOLLOWING CHRIST in this regard. That is my argument. It is entirely Christ based.
    Do you realize that over 70 percent of all American Catholics following the Holy spirit believe that Priests should not have imposed upon them the mandatory imposition of lifetime non-marriage- because it stifles and thwarts the will of God and the move of the Spirit.
    Peter clearly had a mother in law. It is possible that Mark in fact is his natural “son” as he calls him “son.”
    Even in a decidedly patriarchical Jewish society it is nowhere stated by Jesus that only celibate men who never truly took care of a woman emotionally or financially are permitted to hear a confession of a woman. It is absurd. Your conclusion that the “rails” are Christ dictated is one I must take issue with. They pay you to tote the company line and you are a good company man. I am just a sheep who knows my Shepherd’s voice.

    1. OK. I’ll write on celibacy in a future post more thoroughly. But the fact is that both the Lord Jesus and St. Paul praise celibacy and commend it for those who are called to it. (cf Matt 19:11 and also 1 Cor 7). As to your use of scripture, You have rather highly speculative conclusions from scripture, cf your remarks about Mark and Paul. The Church’s role is to help us understand and properly interpret scripture. I am grateful for the role of the Church in helping to provide a proper interpretive framework. Without this it is possible to go pretty far afield which, I argue you are doing: Mary Magdalene was not an apostle, Mark is not Paul’s son etc. There is just no basis for such claims. They amount to pure speculation and even an ignoring of the clear testimony of Scripture itself. Our Church cannot tip the hat to such interpretations and erroneous uses of the Bible. I like the rails. I need the paramameters that the scriptures and the Church as its official interpreter provides. 🙂

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