The Gospel of John
(James J. Barker)

Lesson 53


(John 20:23)


1.     My text last Sunday evening was John 20:19-22.  I deliberately left off verse 23 because I wanted to deal with it separately.

2.     The RCC teaches that John 20:23 gives their priests authority to forgive sins.   They claim that our Lord’s disciples (especially Peter) were the first RC bishops, and here in our text our Lord is giving them authority to remit (forgive) sin and to retain sin.

3.     When the penitent RC confesses his sin to the priest, the priest gives him “absolution” and the RC is led to believe that his sins are now forgiven.   The Baltimore Catechism says, “Confession is the telling of our sins to an authorized priest for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness.”

4.     The NY Catechism says, “I must tell my sins to the priest so that he will give me absolution” (both quotes from Roman Catholicism by Loraine Boettner, p. 196).

5.     “It is blasphemy for man to claim power to forgive the sins of another man.  This is what Romanism teaches by claiming the power to absolve sinners, and also to shut heaven against persons not absolved.  It is a monstrous teaching” (A C Gaebelein, The Gospel of John, p. 396).

6.     I do not want to spend too much time tonight refuting the RC doctrine of “penance,” or their “sacramental” system. Penance is one of their “seven sacraments” – baptism, confirmation, penance, the Eucharist (communion), extreme unction (last rites), holy orders, and marriage.

7.     All seven of these so-called sacraments are unscriptural. The RCC teaches that these sacraments are essential for salvation, though there is no such thing as assurance of salvation in the RCC.

8.     Rather than do an in depth study of the RC sacrament of “penance,” I would rather focus on our text, which the RCC uses to defend the practice of penance.



1.     The Bible does not contradict itself.  Our text is similar to Matthew 28:18-20.  There is no mention there of confessing sins to a priest.  Our Lord said His disciples were to “teach all nations” (“so send I you” – John 20:21) and then they were to baptize their converts.

2.     Our text is similar to Mark 16:15, 16.  Christians are to go into all the world preaching the Gospel.  And again, our Lord mentions that new converts are to be baptized.

3.     There is no mention here of confessing sins to a priest.  In fact, there are no priests in the NT.  The NT church has two offices – that of the bishop (pastor or elder) and deacon (I Tim. 3).

4.     Our text is similar to Luke 24:46-49.  In Luke 24:47, our Lord mentions “repentance and remission of sins.”  But repentance is not the same as penance.

5.     Repentance means a change of mind.  This leads to a change in direction. The sinner was against God – at enmity with God – the wrath of God was abiding on him.  But now he has repented!  Now he has changed sides.  Now he loves God and hates sin.  Now he agrees with God.

6.     The apostle Paul said, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

7.     A.C. Dixon said, “In repentance you think of the sin you hate; in faith you think of the Christ you love.”

8.     But the RCC teaches that man can atone for his sin through “penance.”  Nowhere is this taught in the Bible.  Unfortunately, the RCC has substituted “do penance” for “repent” in some of their distorted translations of the Bible.

9.     Therefore, in Acts 20:31, the RC Douay-Rheims Version says, “Testifying both to Jews and Gentiles penance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

10. Luke 13:3 and 5 read, “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (1899 edition).

11. How about Matthew 3:2?   In the RC “Bible,” John the Baptist says, “Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

12. Turn now to Acts 26:18—20.  The Douay-Rheims translation says in verse 20, “…that they should do penance, and turn to God, doing works worthy of penance.”

13. The RCC even inserts penance into the OT, though it is not taught in the OT.  Jeremiah 8:6 says, “I attended, and hearkened; no man speaketh what is good, there is none that doth penance for his sin…” 

14. The RCC teaching regarding atonement and forgiveness of sin is man-centered and contrary to the Bible.  Their great theologian, Thomas Aquinas wrote, “The first requisite on the part of the penitent is the will to atone, and this is done by contrition; the second is that he submit to the judgment of the priest standing in God's place, and this is done in confession; and the third is that he atone according to the decision of God's minister, and this is done in satisfaction: and so contrition, confession, and satisfaction are assigned as parts of Penance” (The Summa Theologica).

15. However, the Bible teaches that Christ suffered and died as our Substitute.  This is referred to as the “substitutionary atonement” or the “vicarious atonement” (cf. I Peter 2:24; 3:18).

16. Peter (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) wrote these words.  Certainly he was not a RC priest or pope! (Cf. I Peter 5:1).

17. So we know that repentance is not RC penance, and John 20:23 is not talking about penance.  We know penance is not taught in the Bible, and is in fact contrary to the Bible.



1.     If the RC interpretation of John 20:23 is correct, than it would stand to reason that we would see people coming to the apostles for confession in the book of Acts.  We do not (cf. Acts 10:25-43).

2.     Peter preached to the house of Cornelius, “through His (Jesus’) name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).  No priestly confession there!

3.     The apostle Paul preached, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38).  No priestly confession there.

4.     James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another” (not to a priest).  James 5:15 implies that if the sick man does not repent of his sins they will be retained (cf. I Cor. 5:1-13).

5.     Therefore, John 20:23 also has reference to church discipline.

6.     Only God can forgive sins (cf. Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:5-7).

7.     Therefore, the RC sacrament of penance contradicts the Bible.

8.     By the way, it is not unusual to meet RC’s who insist that they never confess their sins to a priest.  They admit they do not believe in it. My question for them: then why do you stay in a “church” when you cannot in good conscience accept their teachings?

9.     For a good book exposing the horrors of “auricular confession,” read, The Priest, The Woman, and The Confessional by former RC priest Charles Chiniquy.  It is available online. 



1.     Whenever a Christian (not necessarily a pastor or missionary or an evangelist, etc.) proclaims the Gospel, those who believe in Christ will have their sins forgiven by God.

2.     But those who refuse to believe in Christ will continue in their lost condition, with their sins retained (cf. John 8:24). 

3.     We are to continue preaching the same Gospel message that Jesus and the disciples preached.  Those who believe it will have their sins forgiven.  Those who do not believe will have their sins retained.

4.     This is the context of John 20:19-23.



1.     John Phillips in his commentary on the Gospel of John tells of a woman who had been brought up RC but was gloriously saved and became a strong Christian.

2.     Before she died, she was very sick in the hospital and her RC relatives sent a RC priest over to see her.  The priest asked if she wanted him to hear her confession.

3.     The woman said to the priest, “Show me your hands.”  The priest extended his hands and the woman examined them.  Then she turned to the priest and said, “You are an impostor, sir.  The one who forgives my sins has nail prints in his hands” (John 20:20-23).

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