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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 20:23

"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

Adam Clarke Commentary

Whose soever sins ye remit - See the notes on Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18. It is certain God alone can forgive sins; and it would not only be blasphemous, but grossly absurd, to say that any creature could remit the guilt of a transgression which had been committed against the Creator. The apostles received from the Lord the doctrine of reconciliation, and the doctrine of condemnation. They who believed on the Son of God, in consequence of their preaching, had their sins remitted; and they who would not believe were declared to lie under condemnation. The reader is desired to consult the note referred to above, where the custom to which our Lord alludes is particularly considered. Dr. Lightfoot supposes that the power of life and death, and the power of delivering over to Satan, which was granted to the apostles, is here referred to. This was a power which the primitive apostles exclusively possessed.


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Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-20.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Whose soever sins … - See the notes at Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18. It is worthy of remark here that Jesus confers the same power on all the apostles. He gives to no one of them any special authority. If Peter, as the Papists pretend, had been appointed to any special authority, it is wonderful that the Saviour did not here hint at any such pre-eminence. This passage conclusively proves that they were invested with equal power in organizing and governing the church. The authority which he had given Peter to preach the gospel first to the Jews and the Gentiles, does not militate against this. See the notes at Matthew 16:18-19. This authority given them was full proof that they were inspired. The meaning of the passage is not that man can forgive sins that belongs only to God Isaiah 43:23 but that they should be inspired; that in founding the church, and in declaring the will of God, they should be taught by the Holy Spirit to declare on what terms, to what characters, and to what temper of mind God would extend forgiveness of sins. It was not authority to forgive individuals, but to establish in all the churches the terms and conditions on which men might be pardoned, with a promise that God would confirm all that they taught; that all might have assurance of forgiveness who would comply with those terms; and that those who did not comply should not be forgiven, but that their sins should be retained. This commission is as far as possible from the authority which the Roman Catholic claims of remitting sin and of pronouncing pardon.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-20.html. 1870.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Here (as in Matthew 18:18) this authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins was not restricted to Peter but belonged to all of the apostles. For full discussion of this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 16:19.


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Whose soever sins ye remit,.... God only can forgive sins, and Christ being God, has a power to do so likewise; but he never communicated any such power to his apostles; nor did they ever assume any such power to themselves, or pretend to exercise it; it is the mark of antichrist, to attempt anything of the kind; who, in so doing, usurps the divine prerogative, places himself in his seat, and shows himself as if he was God: but this is to be understood only in a doctrinal, or ministerial way, by preaching the full and free remission of sins, through the blood of Christ, according to the riches of God's grace, to such as repent of their sins, and believe in Christ; declaring, that all such persons as do so repent and believe, all their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake: and accordingly,

they are remitted unto them; in agreement with Christ's own words, in his declaration and commission to his disciples; see Mark 16:16. On the other hand he signifies, that

whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained: that is, that whatsoever sins ye declare are not forgiven, they are not forgiven; which is the case of all final unbelievers, and impenitent sinners; who dying without repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Gospel declaration, shall be damned, and are damned; for God stands by, and will stand by and confirm the Gospel of his Son, faithfully preached by his ministering servants; and all the world will sooner or later be convinced of the validity, truth, and certainty, of the declarations on each of these heads, made by them.


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-20.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

6 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; [and] whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained.

(6) The publishing of the forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ, and the setting forth and proclaiming the wrath of God in retaining the sins of the unbelievers, is the sum of the preaching of the gospel.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/john-20.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, etc. — In any literal and authoritative sense this power was never exercised by one of the apostles, and plainly was never understood by themselves as possessed by them or conveyed to them. (See Matthew 16:19). The power to intrude upon the relation between men and God cannot have been given by Christ to His ministers in any but a ministerial or declarative sense - as the authorized interpreters of His word, while in the actings of His ministers, the real nature of the power committed to them is seen in the exercise of church discipline.


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/john-20.html. 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

23. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

[Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted.] He had formerly given them a power of 'binding and loosing'; and therefore probably bestows something more upon them now than what he had conferred before. For,

I. It would seem a little incongruous for our Saviour to use an action so new and unwonted, such as was his 'breathing upon them,' to vest them only with that power which he had before given them.

II. The power of 'binding and loosing' was concerned only in the articles and decisions of the law; this power which he now gives them reached to the sins of mankind. That power concerned the doctrines; this, the persons of men.

Now that we may understand the words that are before us, let us a little consider what is said, Luke 24:46: "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Which words we may suppose he spoke before he uttered what is in this verse. And so might there not, upon the occasion of those words, arise some such scruple as this in the apostles' breasts: "Is it so indeed? must remission of sins be preached to those in Jerusalem who have stained themselves with the blood of the Messiah himself? 'Yes,' saith he, 'for whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.'" To this those words of his upon the cross have some reference, Luke 23:34; "Father, forgive them," &c. And, indeed, upon what foundation, with what confidence could the apostles have preached remission of sins to such wretched men, who had so wickedly, so cruelly, murdered their own Lord, the Lord of life, unless authorized to it by a peculiar commission granted to them from their Lord himself?

[Whose soever ye retain, they are retained.] Besides the negative included in these words, that is, "If you do not remit them, they shall not be remitted," there is something superadded that is positive. That is,

I. There is granted to them a power of smiting the rebellious with present death, or some bodily stroke.

II. A power of delivering them over to Satan. Whence had St. Peter that power of striking Ananias and Sapphira with so fatal a bolt, whence St. Paul that of striking Elymas blind, whence of delivering over Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan, if not from this very commission given them by Christ? Christ himself never exercised this power himself. There was not one person whom he struck either with death or any afflictive disease: some indeed he raised, when they had been dead, and infinite numbers of the sick and diseased, whom he cured: he snatched several from the power of the devils; he delivered none to them. That the apostles therefore might be capable of performing things of so high a nature, it was necessary they should be backed and encouraged by a peculiar authority: which if we find not in this clause, "Whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained," where should we look for it? And therefore, when he endows his apostles with a power which he never thought fit to exercise in his own person, no wonder if he does it by a singular and unusual action; and that was 'breathing upon them,' verse 22.

But we must know, that whereas, amongst other mighty powers conferred, we reckon that as one, viz. 'delivering over unto Satan,' we are far from meaning nothing else by it but 'excommunication.' What the Jews themselves meant by that kind of phrase, let us see by one instance:

"Those two men of Cush that stood before Solomon, Elihoreph and Ahijah the scribes, sons of Shausha. On a certain day Solomon saw the angel of death weeping: he said, 'Why weepest thou?' He answered, 'Because these two Cushites entreat me that they may continue here.' Solomon delivered them over to the devil, who brought them to the borders of Luz; and when they were come to the borders of Luz they died."

Gloss: "He calls them Cushites [ironically], because they were very beautiful. They 'entreat me that they might continue here.' For the time of their death was now come: but the angel of death could not take their souls away, because it had been decreed that they should not die but at the gates of Luz. Solomon therefore delivered them over to the devils; for he reigned over the devils, as it is written, 'And Solomon sat upon the throne of the Lord, for he reigned over those things that are above, and those things that are below.'"

Josephus also makes mention of the power that Solomon had over the devils. God taught him an art against demons. The belief of either of these stories is at the liberty of the reader. Only from the former we may make this observation, That a power of 'delivering over to Satan' was, even in the Jews' opinion, divine and miraculous. We acknowledge this to have been in the apostles, and in the apostles only: and I know nowhere, if not in the words we are now treating of, from whence otherwise the original of this power and authority can be derived.

III. It seems further, that at this very time was granted to the apostles a commission to confer the Holy Spirit on those whom they found qualified, and that in these words, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost": i.e. "Receive ye it to distribute it to others." For although it cannot be denied but that they received the Holy Ghost for other reasons also, and to others ends, of which we have already discoursed; yet is not this great end to be excluded, which seemed the highest and noblest endowment of all, viz. that Christ breathing upon them inspired them with the Holy Ghost, with this mighty authority and privilege, that they should be capable of dispensing it to others also.


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on John 20:23". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jlc/john-20.html. 1675.

People's New Testament

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, etc. It will be seen at once, by a comparison with Matthew 16:19, that the keys then promised to Peter are now given to all the apostles, and all have similar power to open and shut, to remit sin, and to bind. The meaning is plain when we consider, first, the charge that the Savior was making, and, secondly, look forward and see how that charge was carried out; or, in other words, observe the apostles "remitting sins" and retaining them. It is the Great Commission to preach the gospel that the Savior gives for the first time in John 20:21. It is with reference to carrying out that Commission that he speaks in John 20:23. It was in order that they might present the terms of that Commission infallibly to the world that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was imparted, of which there is a foreshadowing in John 20:22. The great end of that Commission was to declare to men "repentance and remission of sins" in the name of Christ. The following facts are manifest: (1) The Savior gave to his apostles his Commission that they might make known his will. (2) He bade them preach "remission of sins." (3) He gave them a measure of the Holy Spirit, and bade them wait until "endued with power from on high" by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (4) When the Holy Spirit fell, they spoke as it "gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). (5) They then declared, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the terms on which "sins could be remitted." To anxious sinners they answer, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, {for the remission of sins}." Here, then, they, directed by the Holy Spirit, "remit" and "retain" sins by declaring the terms on which Christ will pardon. Thus, also, they do in their preaching recorded through the Acts of the Apostles the very thing that the Savior gave them power to do. This power was not imparted to a hierarchy, nor to any ecclesiastical body, but to the apostles, and was fulfilled by them in declaring to the world the conditions of pardon and condemnation under the Commission of our Lord.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.

Bibliography
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on John 20:23". "People's New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pnt/john-20.html. 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Whosesoever sins ye forgive (αν τινων απητε τας αμαρτιαςan tinōn aphēte tas hamartias). “If the sins of any ye forgive” (απητεaphēte second aorist active subjunctive with ανan in the sense of εανean), a condition of the third class. Precisely so with “retain” (κρατητεkratēte present active subjunctive of κρατεωkrateō).

They are forgiven (απεωνταιapheōntai). Perfect passive indicative of απιημιaphiēmi Doric perfect for απεινταιapheintai

Are retained
(κεκρατηνταιkekratēntai). Perfect passive indicative of κρατεωkrateō The power to forgive sin belongs only to God, but Jesus claimed to have this power and right (Mark 2:5-7). What he commits to the disciples and to us is the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God by correctly announcing the terms of forgiveness. There is no proof that he actually transferred to the apostles or their successors the power in and of themselves to forgive sins. In Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18 we have a similar use of the rabbinical metaphor of binding and loosing by proclaiming and teaching. Jesus put into the hands of Peter and of all believers the keys of the Kingdom which we should use to open the door for those who wish to enter. This glorious promise applies to all believers who will tell the story of Christ‘s love for men.


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/john-20.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Remit ( ἀφῆτε )

Only here in this Gospel in connection with sins. Often in the Synoptists (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 9:5; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:23, etc.).


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The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/john-20.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Whose soever sins ye remit — (According to the tenor of the Gospel, that is, supposing them to repent and believe) they are remitted, and whose soever sins ye retain (supposing them to remain impenitent) they are retained. So far is plain. But here arises a difficulty. Are not the sins of one who truly repents, and unfeignedly believes in Christ, remitted, without sacerdotal absolution? And are not the sins of one who does not repent or believe, retained even with it? What then does this commission imply? Can it imply any more than, 1. A power of declaring with authority the Christian terms of pardon; whose sins are remitted and whose retained? As in our daily form of absolution; and2. A power of inflicting and remitting ecclesiastical censures? That is, of excluding from, and re-admitting into, a Christian congregation.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on John 20:23". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/john-20.html. 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained1.

  1. Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained. Having thus symbolically qualified them, he commissions them to forgive or retain sin, for this was the subject-matter of the New Testament.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.

Bibliography
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The Fourfold Gospel". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tfg/john-20.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

23.To all whose sins you shall remit. Here, unquestionably, our Lord has embraced, in a few words, the sum of the Gospel; for we must not separate this power of forgiving sins from the office of teaching, with which it is closely connected in this passage. Christ had said a little before, As the living Father hath sent me, so I also send you (207) He now makes a declaration of what is intended and what is meant by this embassy, only he interwove with that declaration what was necessary, that he gave to them his Holy Spirit, in order that they might have nothing from themselves.

The principal design of preaching the Gospel is, that men may be reconciled to God, and this is accomplished by the unconditional pardon of sins; as Paul also informs us, when he calls the Gospel, on this account, the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:18.) Many other things, undoubtedly, are contained in the Gospel, but the principal object which God intends to accomplish by it is, to receive men into favor by not imputing their sins. If, therefore, we wish to show that we are faithful ministers of the Gospel, we must give our most earnest attention to this subject; for the chief point of difference between the Gospel and heathen philosophy lies in this, that the Gospel makes the salvation of men to consist in the forgiveness of sins through free grace. This is the source of the other blessings which God bestows, such as, that God enlightens and regenerates us by his Spirit, that he forms us anew to his image, that he arms us with unshaken firmness against the world and Satan. Thus the whole doctrine of godliness, and the spiritual building of the Church, rests on this foundation, that God, having acquitted us from all sins, adopts us to be his children by free grace.

While Christ enjoins the Apostles to forgive sins, he does not convey to them what is peculiar to himself. It belongs to him to forgive sins. This honor, so far as it belongs peculiarly to himself, he does not surrender to the Apostles, but enjoins them, in his name, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, that through their agency he may reconcile men to God. In short, properly speaking, it is he alone who forgives sins through his apostles and ministers. (208)

But it may be asked, Since he appoints them to be only the witnesses or heralds of this blessing, and not the authors of it, why does he extol their power in such lofty terms? I reply, he did so in order to confirm their faith. Nothing is of more importance to us, than to be able to believe firmly, that our sins do not come into remembrance before God. Zacharias, in his song, calls it the knowledge of salvation, (Luke 1:77;) and, since God employs the testimony of men to prove it, consciences will never yield to it, unless they perceive God himself speaking in their person. Paul accordingly says,

We exhort you to be reconciled to God, as if Christ besought you by us,
(
2 Corinthians 5:20.)

We now see the reason why Christ employs such magnificent terms, to commend and adorn that ministry which he bestows and enjoins on the Apostles. It is, that believers may be fully convinced, that what they hear concerning the forgiveness of sins is ratified, and may not less highly value the reconciliation which is offered by the voice of men, than if God himself stretched out his hand from heaven. And the Church daily receives the most abundant benefit from this doctrine, when it perceives that her pastors are divinely ordained to be sureties for eternal salvation, and that it must not go to a distance to seek the forgiveness of sins, which is committed to their trust.

Nor ought we to esteem less highly this invaluable treasure, because it is exhibited in earthen vessels; but we have ground of thanksgiving to God, who hath conferred on men so high an honor, as to make them the ambassadors and deputies of God, and of his Son, in declaring the forgiveness of sins. There are fanatics who despise this embassy; but let us know, that, by doing so, they trample under foot the blood of Christ.

Most absurdly do the Papists, on the other hand, torture this passage, to support their magical absolutions. If any person do not confess his sins in the ear of the priest, he has no right, in their opinion, to expect forgiveness; for Christ intended that sins should be forgiven through the Apostles, and they cannot absolve without having examined the matter; therefore, confession is necessary. Such is their beautiful argument. (209) But they fall into a strange blunder, when they pass by the most important point of the matter; namely, that this right was granted to the Apostles, in order to maintain the credit of the Gospel, which they had been commissioned to preach. For Christ does not here appoint confessors, to inquire minutely into each sin by means of low mutterings, but preachers of his Gospel, who shall cause their voice to be heard, and who shall seal on the hearts of believers the grace of the atonement obtained through Christ. We ought, therefore, to keep by the manner of forgiving sins, so as to know what is that power which has been granted to the apostles.

And to those whose sins you retain. Christ adds this second clause, in order to terrify the despisers of his Gospel, that they may know that they will not escape punishment for this pride. As the embassy of salvation and of eternal life has been committed to the apostles, so, on the other hand, they have been armed with vengeance against all the ungodly, who reject the salvation offered to them, as Paul teaches, (2 Corinthians 10:6.) But this is placed last in order, because it was proper that the true and real design of preaching the Gospel should be first exhibited. That we are reconciled to God belongs to the nature of the Gospel; that believers are ad-judged to eternal life may be said to be accidentally connected with it. (210) For this reason, Paul, in the passage which I lately quoted, when he threatens vengeance against unbelievers, immediately adds,

after that your obedience shall have been fulfilled,
(
2 Corinthians 10:6;)

for he means, that it belongs peculiarly to the Gospel to invite all to salvation, but that it is accidental to it that it brings destruction to any.

It ought to be observed, however, that every one who hears the voice of the Gospel, if he do not embrace the forgiveness of sins which is there promised to him, is liable to eternal damnation; for, as it is a living savior to the children of God, so to those who perish it is the savour of death to death, (2 Corinthians 2:16.) Not that the preaching of the Gospel is necessary for condemning the reprobate, for by nature we are all lost, and, in addition to the hereditary curse, every one draws down on himself additional causes of death, but because the obstinacy of those who knowingly and willingly despise the Son of God deserves much severer punishment.

As the Living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father

and John 20:21, As the Father hath sent me, so I also send you. —Ed.


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Bibliography
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-20.html. 1840-57.

Ver. 23. The new work which is intrusted to them is here displayed in all its greatness; the matter in question is nothing less than giving or refusing salvation to every human being; to open and close heaven—this is their task. The old covenant had a provisional pardon and a revocable rejection. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the world enters into the domain of unchangeable realities. This power of pardoning sins (Matthew 9:6) or of retaining them (John 9:41; John 15:22; John 15:24), which the Son of man had exercised, will be theirs for the future by virtue of His Spirit who will accompany them.

The expressions which Jesus employs indicate more than an offer of pardon or a threatening of condemnation, more even than a declaration of salvation or of perdition by means of the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus speaks of a word which is accompanied by efficacy, either for taking away the guilt from the guilty or for binding it eternally to his person. He who is truly the organ of the Spirit (John 20:21) does not merely say: "Thou art saved"—he saves by his word—or "Thou art condemned"—he really condemns, and this because, at the moment when he pronounces these words by means of the Spirit, God ratifies them. The present ἀφίενται (literally, are pardoned) indicates a present effect; God pardons these sins at the very moment. The perfect ἀφέωνται, which some Mjj. read, would signify: "are and remain pardoned." This perfect was probably introduced for the sake of the symmetry of the clause with the following ( κεκράτηνται). The copyists did not understand that in the first there is a question of a present momentary fact, the passage from the state of condemnation to the state of grace, while the second relates to a state which continues, the condemnation established forever.

The order of the two propositions indicates that the first of the two results is the true aim of the mission, and that the second does not come to its realization except in the cases where the first has failed.

It does not seem to me that anything gives us the right to see here a special power conferred on the apostles as such. The question is not of right, but of force. It is the πνεῦμα which is its principle. I do not see any reason, therefore, to apply this prerogative to the apostles alone, as Keil would have it. The disciples of John 20:18-19 are certainly all believers taken together; the two from Emmaus were present, and many others, not apostles, with them, according to Luke 24:33. And why should the gift of the Spirit be restricted to the apostles? They certainly have a special authority. But the forces of the Spirit are common to all believers. Weiss supposes that the prerogative here conferred by Jesus is no other than that of distinguishing between venial sins and mortal sins (1 John 5:16). But this application is much too special and foreign to the context. Besides, the similar promise made to Peter, Matthew 16:19, had already been extended, in a certain measure, to the whole Church, Matthew 18:18.


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Bibliography
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/john-20.html.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

THE REMISSION OF SINS

‘Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.’

John 20:23

Twice in the old life before the Passion was this promise made, if not word for word, yet in the exact sense of the words; and if our idea is right, that the Risen Life amplified and solemnised the teaching of the days before, we shall find that these three pronouncements of one and the same promise involved a certain progression; that each added something to the privilege already promised, or added more to those who were to enjoy the privilege.

I. On the first occasion the Saviour of the world is on the confines of the great world beyond the gates of Judaism, which He came to save, but to which, as it seems, He could not pass over. Save that He knew no sin, He was, at Cæsarea, like Moses upon the mountains of Nebo. He draws from St. Peter the great confession, and St. Peter receives in return that promise which is the perpetual gage of battle between the limbs of the body of Christ. ‘I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; 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.’ Whatever it implies, it is here a personal promise to one man. Nothing, surely, is gained by denying that. The one man has for a moment secured this inestimable benefit by a hearty confession of the Godhead of His Lord. Nay, not only is nothing gained, but much is lost by forgetting that, in religion, as in all else that concerns the life of men, there must be a leader and there must be those who follow his lead. We must expect to have our Peters in the Church of today; we shall fail miserably to make headway against wickedness unless we acknowledge them. If you ask how they are to be recognised, I answer that you need only the old test. They will be men ever to the front to make the great confession, men also with a spiritual magnetism that draws the weak and wayward to them, and imparts to them some of its mysterious influences, so that the poor souls go away enriched with a bounteous sense that in Christ Jesus there is plenteous redemption, for He hath redeemed Israel from all their sins. That is the first occasion of this promise, and if it had never been repeated, we might have to confess that there is something to be said for the claims of those who call themselves the successors of Peter, and despise others.

II. Almost immediately after the three had seen His glory in the mount, the same gift of the power to bind and loose is bestowed again.—They had come to Capernaum, and, as Mark tells us, ‘He sat down and called the twelve.’ Two questions occupied their minds, and He wanted to set them right. One was, ‘Who of us is the greatest?’ Another, ‘How often must we forgive?’ The first, you remember, He settled for ever. He is greatest who is willing to be less than the least. The second was more difficult; it was a question not so much of fact as of judgment. The limits of forgiveness would have in the end to be fixed by the conscience of the injured brother. Do all you can, He seems to say; and when your all fails, let him be to you as the Gentile and the publican. ‘Verily I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Now this clearly is a promise, not to an individual, but to a class. There is no reason, from any account we have of the incident, to believe that any but the Twelve were present. Can you doubt that, as the first was a promise to a person, so this is a promise to an Order; and that, while it is true that in this Order some will indeed exhibit a greater power to aid their fellow-sinners than others, it is true also that the gift of the Holy Ghost confers a measure of that power upon them all; that the promise to Peter is here amplified into a promise that many shall have His ability to strengthen the brethren?

III. And so we pass to the third and final member of this arithmetical progression.—What a change in the circumstances! If it was much that the Transfiguration should have come between the first and the second, how much more is it that the Resurrection should intervene between the second and this! No wonder that the words seem now to be spoken to an ampler ether, in the hearing of a larger company. For now the promise is not to an Order only, much less to an individual, but to the whole Church. The Twelve, indeed, are no longer all there. One is in the outer darkness fighting hard with his doubts, and one is not, having gone to his own place. But everything we know about the followers of the Risen Lord during the forty days shows that they kept all together; that they were mostly with one accord in one place. Luke, for instance, makes it perfectly clear that the two from Emmaus, neither of them certainly a member of the Twelve, were in the little company that heard these words, nor is there any reason from John’s account to suppose that Mary Magdalene, who had come to the disciples with the greatest of all the news of the world—‘I have seen the Lord’—left them the moment the words had passed her lips; while the only mention of the eleven as being the sole audience occurs in the more than doubtful verses at the close of Mark’s Gospel. And so I believe that, if the number of the names together that evening did not come to Luke’s one hundred and twenty, there was no reason why any who loved the Lord should have been absent. To these He came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, ‘Peace be unto you.’ On all those, men and women alike, He breathed and said unto them, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.’

IV. You are in the direct apostolical succession of that promise.—Do not spurn this as some ‘new thing.’ We shall still have, please God, our Peters in the ministry whose superlative power to reprove, rebuke, exhort, their brethren will covet with a righteous jealousy. We shall still have our company of the priests whose office is morning and evening and at the Holy Communion and at the bedside of the dying to pronounce that the Heavenly Father pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe His Holy Gospel. But you, too, have your power to bind and to loose, to forgive and to retain. I assume that, being risen with Christ, you are seeking the things that are above; that from above you are receiving, in answer to your daily prayer, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and ghostly strength, of knowledge and Godly fear, promised you in your Confirmation. If you stir up that gift which is in you men will take knowledge of you; they will bring their burdened conscience to you, to see if you can lighten it. How dare you say to such, ‘Go to the nearest clergyman; it is his business to bind and loose, not mine’? No, you have received the gift by virtue of Christ’s promise. Use it to the full.

—Rev. E. H. Pearce.


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Bibliography
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 20:23". Church Pulpit Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-20.html. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Ver. 23. Whose soever sins ye remit, &c.] Remission of sin is the chief benefit of the gospel: and for the creed (which is the sum of the gospel) all the former articles are perfected in that of "remission of sins;" and all the following articles are effects of it. Now none can remit sins, but God; to speak properly. Papists tell us of one that could remove mountains, but to remit sins is peculiar to God alone. Man may remit the trespass, but God only the transgression. Howbeit ministers may, and in some cases must, "declare unto man his righteousness," Job 33:23; pronounce, in Christ’s name, the truly penitent righteous in God’s sight, by Christ’s righteousness freely imputed and given unto them. They must also retain, by the same authority, and bind upon impenitent sinners (so continuing) their sins to destruction, "Having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience," 2 Corinthians 10:6. This we may do, as ministers, and more we claim not.


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Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 20:23". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/john-20.html. 1865-1868.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

23.] The present meaning of these words has been spoken of above. They reach forward however beyond that, and extend the grant which they re-assure to all ages of the Church. The words, closely considered, amount to this: that with the gift and real participation of the Holy Spirit, comes the conviction, and therefore the knowledge, of sin, of righteousness, and judgment;—and this knowledge becomes more perfect, the more men are filled with the Holy Ghost. Since this is so, they who are pre-eminently filled with His presence are pre-eminently gifted with the discernment of sin and repentance in others, and hence by the Lord’s appointment authorized to pronounce pardon of sin and the contrary. The Apostles had this in an especial manner, and by the full indwelling of the Spirit were enabled to discern the hearts of men, and to give sentence on that discernment: see Acts 5:1-11; Acts 8:21; Acts 13:9. And this gift belongs to the Church in all ages, and especially to those who by legitimate appointment are set to minister in the Churches of Christ: not by successive delegation from the Apostles,—of which fiction I find in the N.T. no trace,—but by their mission from Christ, the Bestower of the Spirit for their office, when orderly and legitimately conferred upon them by the various Churches. Not however to them exclusively,—though for decency and order it is expedient that the outward and formal declaration should be so:—but in proportion as any disciple shall have been filled with the Holy Spirit of wisdom, is the inner discernment, the κρίσις, his.

κρατεῖν here (see ref.) corresponds to δέειν in Matthew 16:19 (see the distinction there); John 18:18, ἀφιέναι to λύειν.


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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 20:23". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/john-20.html. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

John 20:23. The peculiar authority of the apostolical office, for the exercise of which they were fitted and empowered by this impartation of the Spirit. It was therefore an individual and specific charismatic endowment, the bestowal of which the Lord knew must be still connected with His personal presence, and was not to be deferred until after His ascension,(268) namely, that of the valid remission of sins, and of the opposite, that of the moral disciplinary authority, consisting not merely in the authorization to receive into the Church and to expel therefrom,(269) but also in the authorization of pardoning or of inflicting penal discipline on their fellow-members. The apostles exercised both authorizations, and it is without reason to understand only the former, since both essentially belonged to the mission ( πέμπω, John 20:21) of the apostles. The promise, Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18, is similar, but not equivalent. The apostolic power of the keys in the sense of the Church is contained directly in the present passage, in Matt. only indirectly. It had its regulator in the Holy Spirit, who separated its exercise from all human arbitrariness, so that the apostles were therein organs of the Spirit. That was the divine guarantee, as the consecration of moral certainty through the illumination and sanctification of the judgment in the performance of its acts.

On ἄν. instead of ἐάν, see Hermann, ad Viger. pp. 812, 822; frequently also in the Greek prose writers.

ἀφίενται] They are remitted, that is, by God.

κρατῆτε] He abides by the figure; opposite of loosing: hold fast (Polyb. viii. 20. 8; Acts 2:24).

κεκράτ] They are held fast, by God. Here the perf.; for the κρατεῖν is on the part of God no commencing act (such is the ἀφιέναι).

That to Thomas, who was at that time absent (John 20:24), the same full authority under the impartation of the Spirit was further particularly and supplementarily (after John 20:29) bestowed, is, indeed, not related, but must be assumed, in accordance with the relation of the necessity contained in the equality of his position.

The objections of Luthardt against our interpretation of this verse are unimportant, since in reality the eleven are thought of as assembled together (John 20:19; John 20:24); and since the assertion, that all charismatic endowments first date from Pentecost onwards, is devoid of proof, and is overthrown precisely by the present passage; comp. also already Luke 9:55. Calovius well says: “ut antea jam acceperant Spiritum ratione sanctificationis, ita nunc accipiunt ratione ministerii evangelici.” The full outpouring with its miraculous gifts, but on behalf of the collective church, then follows Pentecost.


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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on John 20:23". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/john-20.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

John 20:23. ἄν τινων) if of certain persons [“Whosesoever”].— ἀφῆτε· κρατῆτε, ye remit—ye retain) See note on Matthew 16:19, “The binding and loosing,” and “the keys,” are given to Peter alone. [Comp. Matthew 18:18, ‘Loose,’ and ‘bind,’ where subsequently, after the transfiguration, (1) the binding and (2) loosing are given also to the disciples in common; the loosing to be exercised chiefly by prayer in the name of Christ (John 20). Now, after the resurrection, the order is reversed since the gate of salvation is opened, and the power is given (1) to remit, (2) to retain. See Hosea 13:12].— ἀφίενταικεκράτηνται, are remitted—have been retained) The former is present: the latter, preterite [a distinction lost in the Engl. Vers.] The world IS under sin; comp. ch. John 3:18; John 3:36, “He that believeth not is condemned already:” “The wrath of God abideth on him;” John 15:6, “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth—and withered [viz. already, ἐβλήθη, ἐξηράνθη; not merely, he shall be]. No prophet of the Old Testament ever received so comprehensive a power as the apostles received in this place. [These latter, on account of their profound power of searching into minds, and on account of the extraordinary measure of that power imparted to them,—there being added besides manifest miracles, and these such miracles as strike the senses,—were able in a manner altogether peculiar to themselves either to remit or to retain. Nor, however, is power of this kind not applicable to (nor does it not belong to) all, who are endued with the Holy Spirit, whether they discharge the public duty of the ministry of the word, or do not. Nay, but the word of the Gospel can be available for the remission of sins to those who yield themselves up to the influence of the Holy Spirit, even though it be not applied by the mediation of ministers: Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be damned;” and Luke 24:47, “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name,” are parallel to this passage.(399)—V. g.]


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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on John 20:23". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/john-20.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Whether Matthew 18:18 be a parallel text to this, I doubt: See Poole on "Matthew 18:18". Our Lord here speaks of the sins of persons,

Whose soever sins remit, & c.; he saith there, Whatsoever ye shall bind or loose. This text hath caused a great deal of contest. All remission of sins is either authoritative; so it is most true, that none can forgive sin but God; and if we had no Scripture to prove it, yet reason will tell us none can discharge the debtor but the creditor, to whom the debt is owing: or else ministerial; thus he who is not the creditor (amongst men) may remit a debt by virtue of a letter of attorney made to him, authorizing him so to do. The question therefore amongst divines is, Whether Christ in this text hath given authority to his ministers actually to discharge men of the guilt of their sins; or only to declare unto them, that if their repentance and faith be true, their sins are really forgiven them? The former is by many contended for; but it doth not seem reasonable,

1. That God should entrust men with such a piece of his prerogative.

2. That God, who knoweth the falsehood of men’s hearts, and the inability in the best ministers to judge of the truth of any man’s faith or repentance, as also the passions to which they are subject, should give unto any of the sons of men an absolute power under him, and in his name, to discharge any from the guilt of sin; for certain it is, that without true repentance and faith in Christ no man hath his sins forgiven; so as no minister, that knoweth not the hearts of men, can possibly speak with any certainty to any man, saying, his sins are forgiven.

What knowledge the apostles might have by the Spirit of discerning, we cannot say. But certain it is, none hath any such certainty of knowledge now of the truth of any man, declaring his faith and true repentance; from whence it is to me apparent, that no man hath any further power from Christ, than to declare to them, that if indeed they truly believe and repent, their sins are really forgiven. Only the minister, being Christ’s interpreter and ambassador, and better able to judge of true faith and repentance than others, (though not certainly and infallibly), such declarations from a faithful, able minister, are of more weight and authority than from others. And this is the most I can conceive should be in this matter; and that if by those words any further power be granted to the apostles, it was by reason of that power of discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10, which ordinary ministers since the apostles’ times, or in latter ages, cannot with any modesty pretend unto.


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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 20:23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/john-20.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Remit-retained; the same power and authority are here conferred equally upon all the apostles, and no one is in any respect raised above another. The power conferred was, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, to declare the way in which men can be pardoned, sanctified, and saved. Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18.


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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Family Bible New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/john-20.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

23. ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε. Comp. ἄφες in the Lord’s Prayer. This power accompanies the gift of the Spirit just conferred. It must be noticed [1] that it is given to the whole company present; not to the Apostles alone. Of the Apostles one was absent, and there were others present who were not Apostles: no hint is given that this power is confined to the Ten. The commission in the first instance is to the community as a whole, not to the Ministry alone. Of course this does not imply that all present were raised to the rank of Apostles; which would contradict the plain narrative of the Acts; nor that the commission could not be delegated to the Ministry; which would contradict the history of the Church.

It follows from this [2] that the power being conferred on the community and never revoked, the power continues so long as the community continues. While the Christian Church lasts it has the power of remitting and retaining along with the power of spiritual discernment which is part of the gift of the Spirit. That is, it has the power to declare the conditions on which forgiveness is granted and the fact that it has or has not been granted.

It should be noted [3] that the expression throughout is plural on both sides. As it is the community rather than individuals that is invested with the power, so it is classes of men rather than individuals on whom it is exercised. God deals with mankind not in the mass but with personal love and knowledge soul by soul. His Church in fulfilling its mission from Him, while keeping this ideal in view, is compelled for the most part to minister to men in groups and classes. The plural here seems to indicate not what must always be or ought to be the case, but what generally is.

ἀφέωνταικεκράτηνται. The force of the perfect is—‘are ipso facto remitted’—‘are ipso facto retained.’ But ἀφέωνται is not a secure reading: ἀφίενται is strongly supported; and there are other variations. When the community under the guidance of the Spirit has spoken, the result is complete. The meaning of κρατῆτε is ‘hold fast,’ so that they do not depart from the sinner. The word occurs here only in this Gospel. In Revelation it is used of ‘holding fast doctrine,’ &c. (John 2:14-15; John 2:25, John 3:11; comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:15).


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"Commentary on John 20:23". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/john-20.html. 1896.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

“Of whoever you forgive the sins they have been and are forgiven, and of whoever you retain them they have been and are retained.”

Few words have been more misrepresented than these. These words reveal that forgiveness of sin is the essential purpose of what Christ has accomplished, that He has come in order that men’s sins may be forgiven. That is why He has given His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The task of the Apostles was to be to mediate that forgiveness to men. But they are spoken to the Apostles and there are no grounds of applying them specifically to those who followed them

Again this is in its primary sense a unique gift to the Apostles. In these days at the beginning a special discernment was necessary to preserve the infant church. The idea here was that the disciples would be able to ‘see through’ men in a unique way. This gift comes out for example in Acts 5:1-6 where Peter discerned the thoughts of Ananias and Sapphira. In some ways it was a terrible gift, the right to be able to discern whether men have been forgiven and thus to be able to include and exclude people from flock of God. Thus, just as Jesus had been able to, they too would be able to discern whether men were genuine or not and whether they had been truly forgiven.

It was not a gift generally given to the church. The Apostles were promised that they would be able to discern the reality of men’s response to Christ, and pronounce accordingly. The church has rashly appropriated this statement to itself, but there is no indication that, (in the same way as with the promises of special ability to remember and interpret the words of Jesus and the Old Testament - John 14:25; John 16:13), it applied outside the Apostles. To them and to them alone was given the ability to provide the full revelation of God, and to them, and to them alone, was given the fullness of discernment that would protect the infant church. They alone were given the authority to interpret men’s responses, and pronounce accordingly, so that even Paul submitted his teaching to their examination (Galatians 2:2) and his claim to have his teaching recognised was on the basis that he had become an Apostle.

An examination of the life of Jesus will bring out the significance of what they were being empowered to do here. He declares people’s sins forgiven on two occasions.

In Luke 7:36-50 we have the story of the ‘sinful’ woman who came to Jesus and washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Jesus told the doubting Simon the Pharisee that her sins, which were many, “are forgiven her for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little”. But the latter phrase tells us that the forgiveness is seen as preceding the loving. She had already been forgiven. Thus Jesus could now tell her that her sins “are forgiven” because she has demonstrated that she already has an awareness of forgiveness through the offering of her love. Jesus was declaring a forgiveness that had already taken place.

Through listening to His words earlier the woman must have become conscious of sin and cried to God for forgiveness, and her actions were now those of a woman aware of forgiveness, filled with love and gratitude. His words were a confirmation to her that her experience was genuine. His declaration “your sins are forgiven you” (literally ‘have been and therefore are forgiven’) means “I declare that God has already forgiven you”. He was not dispensing forgiveness. He used the passive tense, which was a characteristic of His ministry when He was speaking of an action of God without mentioning Him (compare Matthew 5:3-9, where the question ‘by whom’ can only be answered ‘by God’). He was emphasising that God had already forgiven her

A second example is found in Luke 5:18-24. A man was lowered through to the feet of Jesus because he was paralysed. Jesus said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (perfect passive tense - ‘have been and therefore are forgiven’). We may ask, why did Jesus say this to a man who had been brought for healing? And the answer is surely because He could see the man’s inner thoughts, and the cry of his heart. This was no arbitrary declaration. Rather He could discern the man’s deepest need, a solution that the man was crying out for. He knew this and assured him that God had forgiven him. This led on to the statement that the Son of Man had authority on earth ‘to forgive sins’ (John 20:24).

This incident again links the forgiving of sins with sins having been forgiven by God. Jesus had not said “I forgive you”, but basically “God has forgiven you”, again using the indirect passive tense, and He did it because He had discerned what had already taken place in their hearts.

Both these incidents demonstrate that Jesus was able to discern men’s inner thoughts, and that it was on that basis that He was able to declare God’s forgiveness. This was also the gift He was giving to His apostles, the ability to discern men’s thoughts and declare God’s forgiveness or otherwise. This is illustrated in Acts 5:1-10; Acts 8:21-24, both cases where Peter showed that he had special awareness. In the latter case, however, Peter made clear that any forgiveness must be between Simon and God (v. 22). Even he did not see himself as having some great authority to deal with sin apart from that.

These examples illustrate the tenses in John 20:23. ‘Of whoever you forgive the sins they have been and are forgiven.’ Here also the forgiveness by God was to precede the declaration of forgiveness.

An examination of the history of the early church in Acts will demonstrate that this was not something that was used lightly. How differently Acts would have been written if the Apostles had held the views often later read in to this verse. As it is we find only the rare references mentioned above. No one saw themselves as having some great authority to forgive sins.

(Once the church can physically heal all who come to it, or even if one man in it could do so, as Jesus and the Apostles could, they may claim to have taken the first step towards claiming this power. But they cannot. They may have the silver and gold, but they do not have the power granted to Peter and the other Apostles. Nor can they make any claim to special spiritual discernment like Peter demonstrated in Acts 5, for it would too easily be proved false. We must remember that it was Jesus Himself Who said that His power to declare the forgiveness of sins was demonstrated by His power to make men physically whole. The closeness to God that could accomplish the one enabled the other. When we have the one to the full extent we can claim the other).

So these words of John 20:23 are a promise that their new reception of the Holy Spirit, which had been to the Apostles alone, had given them the unique discernment to fathom men’s hearts and discern the genuineness of their repentance. On this basis they would be able to declare that men had been and therefore were forgiven. Or alternatively that they were not forgiven as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-6). And this declaration would be made when they saw through their unique discernment that God had already forgiven them. Acts suggests that it was a gift that they felt unable to use except in rare circumstances.

It should be recognised that this gift was vital to a new-born church when a false profession by an imposing person could have caused so much harm. There is no indication that it was ever passed on, nor later on would be needed. By then the church had grown sufficiently so that it was able to cope with false confessions. It is true that a gift of ‘discernment of spirits’ was given as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29), something very necessary to discern true prophecy from false when there was no New Testament to go by, but it was not the same as here.

As always God’s people generally would experience partially what the Apostles had in full. Some miracles would be known among them, they would be able to declare God’s general forgiveness on those who believed, they would have discernment enabling them to understand the Scriptures, but only in part. They did not have the full-orbed gifts granted to the Apostles.

So having received the Spirit of truth and discernment the apostles were now ready to go into the future with power and confidence.

Detached Note.

We can compare two further places where Jesus spoke in similar terms to His disciples. The first is in Matthew 16:18. Here, once Peter had had the discernment to declare Him to be the Christ, Jesus told him, ‘You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingship of Heaven and whatever you will bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you will loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.’

There was clearly here a pun on the name of Peter, but of seventy nine early church ‘fathers’ who commented on these words forty four stated that the ‘petra’ was the words of Peter, eighteen said that it was Peter himself, and seventeen that it was Christ. The first mentioned were clearly correct, for the whole emphasis of the passage is not on Peter (only Matthew mentions him) but on the statement, ‘You are the Christ’ (emphasised in all three Synoptic Gospels).

Jesus, speaking directly to Peter, contrasts ‘Peter’ with ‘this rock’. ‘This’ basically excludes reference to Peter. It contrasts him with the rock. The meaning is clear. As the rock-man Peter has made the rock-like declaration on which the faith of the church will be built. But the rock (petra) was the statement ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, as the majority of the early fathers recognised. Nor was there any hint here or anywhere in the passage that there was something here, apart from the truth about Christ, that would be passed on to anyone else.

‘I will build my church’. The word for ‘church’ was used constantly in the Septuagint of the ‘congregation’ of Israel. Jesus was thus here referring to the ‘new Israel’ who would come together in response to His Messiahship, founded on the rock-like statement ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, against whom all the powers of Hell would not prevail.

‘I will give to you the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven’. Keys are for opening things up (see Isaiah 22:22). It was in fact Peter who first opened up the new Gospel of the reign of Christ to the Jews (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). He was to be an opener up of the truth, just as his words ‘You are the Christ’ demonstrated his discernment of truth.

This tied in with the special promises of Jesus in John 14-16, given to all the Apostles, that they would receive the Spirit of truth Who would enable them to have a full and right understanding of that truth so as to open it up to others. But it was Jesus alone Who had the keys to death and the grave (Revelation 1:18).

‘Whatever you will bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.’ The power of binding and loosing was one which was originally applied to the Rabbis. They were being described (by men) as having the power to so declare the meaning of God’s law that they could impose restrictions (bind) or make relaxations (loose) in their practical application. It was a power now given by Christ to all the Apostles (Matthew 18:18) where it more specifically applied to guiding the behaviour of God’s people in response to the word of God. Thus Peter and the rest of the Apostles were to have a discernment and understanding of the truth which would lay the foundation of His new people. It would come with the special and unique gifts promised in John 14-16, but was demonstrated in embryo in Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. It is the same gift of discernment which is spoken of in John 20:23.

(End of Note).


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Bibliography
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-20.html. 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

23. Sins ye remit—The medium by which they would remit sins is the Gospel committed unto them, for the efficient ministration of which they are now empowered by the Holy Ghost breathed upon them by their Divine Master. Through that Gospel they would remit the sins of all who accept it by faith. Our Lord in these words declares the efficacy of the Gospel for this purpose.

Ye retain—By the same Gospel the true minister condemns the rejecting sinner. The apostolic hand holds the instrument by which it is enabled to dispense release from the power and guilt of sin to all those who are penitent, and to retain under its condemnation those who are incorrigible. Thus with it in their hands apostles would go forth discharging the souls of men from sin, or confirming them under its condemnation.


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Bibliography
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-20.html. 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The Great Commission not only requires supernatural power to carry it out ( John 20:22), but it also involves the forgiveness of sins (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:28). In the similar passages in Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18, the context is church discipline. Here the context is evangelism.

The second part of each conditional clause in this verse is in the passive voice and the perfect tense in the Greek text. The passive voice indicates that someone has already done the forgiving or retaining. That person must be God since He alone has the authority to do that ( Matthew 9:2-3; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). The perfect tense indicates that the action has continuing effects; the sins stand forgiven or retained at least temporarily if not permanently.

Jesus appears to have been saying that when His disciples went to others with the message of salvation, as He had done, some people would believe and others would not. Reaction to their ministry would be the same as reaction to His had been. He viewed their forgiving and retaining the sins of their hearers as the actions of God"s agents. If people ("any" or "anyone," plural Gr. tinon) believed the gospel, the disciples could tell the believers that God had forgiven their sins. If they disbelieved, they could tell them that God had not forgiven but retained their sins. Jesus had done this (cf. John 9:39-41), and now His disciples would continue to do it. Thus their ministry would be a continuation of His ministry relative to the forgiveness of sins, as it would be in relation to the Spirit"s enablement. This, too, applies to all succeeding generations of Jesus" disciples since Jesus was still talking about the disciples" mission.

". . . all who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearer accepts or rejects the Lord Jesus as the Sin-Bearer." [Note: Tenney, " John ," p193.]

This resurrection appearance has threefold importance in John"s Gospel. It validated again Jesus" bodily resurrection, and it provided the setting for the commissioning of Jesus" disciples. It also provided the background for Jesus" appearance when Thomas was present and Thomas" climactic statement of faith that followed ( John 20:24-29).


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Bibliography
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-20.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 20:23. If ye shall have remitted the sins of any, they have been remitted unto them; if ye retain the sins of any, they have been retained. We regard two points as established from what has been already said. 1. The words of this verse are not addressed to apostles alone. 2. Though conjoined with a present impartation of the Holy Spirit, they belong really to the days when the disciples shall have fully entered on their work as representatives of their Lord and His witnesses in the world. This verse and the last stand in the closest possible connection: only when the Holy Spirit has been received can such a commission as this be executed. Without unduly entering on controverted ground, let us seek to collect the meaning which the words (which we have thought it desirable to render with unusual closeness) must necessarily bear. It is clear that two remissions of sin are spoken of,—two which agree in one. Where Christ’s servants ‘have remitted the sins of any,’ these sins ‘have been remitted unto them,’—remitted absolutely, i.e. remitted by God, for ‘who can forgive sins but God only?’ (Mark 2:7). But as we know that the Divine forgiveness is suspended on certain conditions,—penitence and faith,—it follows that the remission granted by Christ’s disciples must (since it agrees with the Divine remission) be suspended on the same conditions. Either, therefore, the disciples must possess unfailing insight into man’s heart (such as in certain cases was granted to an apostle, see Acts 5:3), or the remission which they proclaim must be conditionally proclaimed. No one can maintain the former alternative. It follows, then, that what our Lord here commits to His disciples, to His Church, is the right authoritatively to declare, in His name, that there is forgiveness for man’s sin, and on what conditions the sin will be forgiven. Nor does there seem to be ground for thinking that we have here a special application by one individual, whether minister or not, to another of the remission (or retention) of sin spoken of. The use of ‘any’ in the plural number appears to be inconsistent with such a view. It is not a direct address by one person to another that is thought of,—‘I declare that thy sins are thus authoritatively remitted or retained.’ It is a proclamation from one collective body to another,—from the Church to the world. The mission of the Church is to announce to the world her own existence in her Lord, as a company of forgiven men, and to invite the world to join her. Let the world comply with the invitation, it shall enjoy forgiveness in the company of the forgiven: let it refuse the invitation, it can only have its sins retained in the company of those who have been ‘judged already’ (comp. chap. John 3:18). Here, as in all else, the Church only witnesses to what her Lord does. But as it is by her life, even more than by words, that she witnesses, so it is by accepting or rejecting her life that her witness is accepted or rejected; and thus it is that by communion with her the blessing is enjoyed, that by separation from her it is forfeited. It ought particularly to be noticed that of the two remissions or retentions of sin spoken of in the words before us, the Divine act, although the last to be mentioned, is the first in thought—‘have been remitted,’ ‘have been retained.’


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Bibliography
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-20.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

John 20:23. The authorisation of the Apostles is completed in the words: ἄν τινωνκεκράτηνται. “Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven to them: whosesoever ye retain, they are retained.” The meaning of κεκράτηνται is determined by the opposed ἀφέωνται [the better reading]. The announcement is unexpected. Yet if they were to represent Him, they must be empowered to continue a function which He constantly exercised and set in the forefront of His ministry. They must be able in His name to pronounce forgiveness, and to threaten doom. This indeed formed the main substance of their ministry, and it was by receiving His Spirit they were fitted for it. The burden was laid upon them of determining who should be forgiven, and who held by their sin. Cf. Acts 3:26; Acts 5:4.


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Bibliography
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 20:23". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/john-20.html. 1897-1910.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

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[BIBLIOGRAPHY]

[27.] Whose sins you shall forgive, &c. See St. Cyril, lib. xii. in Joan. p. 1101, Greek: metanoousi sugginoskontes. St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxxxvi. p. 517. nov. Ed., Magna est sacerdotum dignitas, quorum remiseritis peccata, &c. See also lib. iii. de sacerd. t. 1. p. 383. nov. Ed. Ibid., noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis, Greek: kai me ginou apistos, alla pistos.

====================


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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on John 20:23". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/john-20.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

sins. App-128.

remit. Greek. aphiemi. Always translated elsewhere "forgive", when sins or debts are referred to. This authority bestowed upon the apostles and others continued in force with other "gifts" till Acts 28, which records the final rejection of the Kingdom. To suppose that the "Church" of Eph 1 has any share in them is not rightly to divide the Word of Truth, but to introduce perplexity and confusion. See Mark 16:17 and App-167.


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Bibliography
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 20:23". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/john-20.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. In any literal and authoritative sense this power was never exercised by one of the apostles, and plainly was never understood by themselves as possessed by them or conveyed to them. (See the note at Matthew 16:19.) The power to intrude upon the relation between men and God cannot have been given by Christ to His ministers in any but a ministerial or declarative sense-as the authorized interpreters of His word-while in the actings of His ministers, the real nature of the power committed to them is seen in the exercise of church discipline.


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/john-20.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them . . .—Comp. for the “power of the keys,” the Notes on Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18. Assuming what has there been said, it will be sufficient to add that this power is here immediately connected with the representative character of the disciples as apostles sent by Christ, as He was Himself sent by the Father (John 20:21), and that its validity is dependent upon their reception of the Holy Ghost (John 20:22), by whom Christ Himself is present in them (John 14:18; John 16:7-11). Sent as He was sent, they are not sent to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved; but in their work, as in His, men are condemned because the light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.

The ultimate principles upon which this power rests are those stated above—the being sent by Christ, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. God has promised forgiveness wherever there is repentance; He has not promised repentance wherever there is sin. It results from every declaration of forgiveness made in the name of the Father through Jesus Christ, that hearts which in penitence accept it receive remission of their sins, and that the hardness of the hearts which wilfully reject it is by their rejection increased, and the very words by which their sins would be remitted become the words by which they are retained. (Comp. especially Notes on John 3:17 et seq.; John 16:8 et seq.; and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.)

On individual words in this verse it is important to note that in the better text the tense of that rendered “are remitted” is a strict present, while that rendered “are retained” is in the perfect-present. The difference is not easy to preserve in English, but the thought seems to be, “Whose soever sins ye remit—a change in their condition is taking place—their sins are being remitted by God; whose soever ye retain—their condition remains unchanged—they have been, and are retained.”


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Bibliography
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 20:23". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-20.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Mark 2:5-10; Acts 2:38; 10:43; 13:38,39; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 2:6-10; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Timothy 1:20

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/john-20.html.

The Bible Study New Testament

If you forgive men's sins. From Matthew 16:19, we see that the "keys" were given to all the apostles. How they used these "keys" is seen from Acts 3:26. Jesus placed an obligation upon them [and the messianic community] to announce God's terms of salvation. "You are to open their eyes and turn them from the darkness to the light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that through their faith in me they will have their sins forgiven and receive their place among God's chosen people" (Acts 26:18).


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Bibliography
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 20:23". "The Bible Study New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/john-20.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ver. 23. "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

Jesus would fill His disciples with the consciousness of the dignity of their vocation, that they might make it the labour of body and soul worthily to discharge its functions. They should in Christ's place have the authority to remit and to forgive sins. The former is the main function, the proper end of the spiritual office. "But if," says Anton, "a minister of the Gospel is despised in the administration of this grace, it turns from the ἀφιέναι to the κρατεῖν. The remitting takes place primarily in the case of those who believe and are baptized; the retaining in the case of those who are unbelievers, and accordingly reject baptism." But then both functions are more generally exercised in the continuous history of the Christian Church. Examples of the remission are furnished by Cornelius and his house, Acts 10:47-48, and the man of Lystra, Acts 14:8-10 : examples of retaining. Acts 8:20, where Peter says, "Thy money perish with thee;" Acts 13:10-11, where Paul condemns Elymas, as in ch. John 18:6 the Jews of Corinth. He who has to do with office held in the Holy Ghost, is cut off from all appeal. Strictly speaking, it is Christ who "hath the key of David; who openeth, and no man shutteth; who shutteth, and no man openeth," Revelation 3:7. But Christ has given this key to the ministry in His Church, and placed in their hands the decision of salvation and perdition. But the foundation of this high authority is the Holy Ghost. The office in the Church holds it only so far as it possesses the Holy Ghost. When not led by the Holy Spirit, its remission and its retention are of no moment. Thus the high prerogative assigned to its representatives cannot lead to self-exaltation, but rather to fear and trembling. That which is here conferred on the whole apostolical circle, and in it to the ministerial office of all times, had been already prospectively conferred on Peter, Matthew 16:19, as the centre of the apostolical circle. The remitting here explains the loosing in Matthew; the retaining here, the binding there. In Matthew, both had their comment in the preceding, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Accordingly, it is only admission into the kingdom of God, and exclusion from it, that is meant; and if this be so, the binding can only be the retaining of sins that exclude from the kingdom of God; the loosing only the forgiveness of the same, and the consequent admission into the kingdom of God.


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Bibliography
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 20:23". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/john-20.html.

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