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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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CONFESSION . In Eng. the words ‘confess,’ ‘confession’ denote either a profession of faith or an acknowledgment of sin; and they are used in EV [Note: English Version.] in both of these meanings.

1. Confession of faith . (1) In the OT the word ‘confess’ is found in this sense only in 1 Kings 8:33; 1 Kings 8:35 = 2Ch 6:24; 2 Chronicles 6:26 . But the acknowledgment of God as God and the proclamation of personal trust in Him meet us continually in the lives or on the lips of patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists. The Book of Psalms in particular is a storehouse of confessional utterances in prayer and song (see Psalms 7:1 , Psalms 48:14 etc.).

(2) Coming to the NT, we find that ‘confess’ is of frequent occurrence in the sense we are considering, and that confession now gathers expressly round the Person and the Name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the idea of confession has been elaborated, its immediate relation to faith and vital importance for salvation being clearly brought out.

( a ) The meaning of confession . In the earlier period of our Lord’s ministry, confession meant no more than the expression of belief that Jesus was the expected Messiah ( John 1:41 ). Even the title ‘Son of God’ ( Matthew 8:29 ||, cf. John 1:34; John 1:49 ) at this stage can be used only in its recognized Messianic sense ( Psalms 2:7 ). A great advance in faith and insight is marked by St. Peter’s confession at Cæsarea Philippi, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ ( Matthew 16:16 ||). This was the highest point reached by Apostolic belief and profession during the Lord’s earthly ministry, and it anticipated those later views of Christ’s true nature which found embodiment in the Creeds of the Church. After the Resurrection, confession of Christ carried with it readiness to bear witness to that supreme fact ( John 20:28-29 , Romans 10:9 ); and this of course implied an acceptance of the historical tradition as to His marvellous life and character which made it impossible for death to hold Him (cf. Acts 2:24 ). All that was at first demanded of converts, however, may have been the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:3; cf. Philippians 2:11 , 2 Timothy 1:8 ); a view that is confirmed by the fact of their being baptized ‘into ( or in) the name of the Lord’ ( Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5 ). At a later period the growth of heresy made a more precise confession necessary. In the Johannine Epistles it is essential to confess, on the one hand, that ‘Jesus Christ is come in the flesh’ ( 1 John 4:2-3 , 2 John 1:7 ), and, on the other, that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ ( 1 John 4:15 ). With this developed type of confession may be compared the gloss that has been attached to the narrative of the Ethiopian eunuch’s baptism ( Acts 8:37 , see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ), probably representing a formula that had come to be employed as a baptismal confession. It was out of baptismal formulas like this that there gradually grew those formal ‘Confessions’ of the early Church which are known as the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds.

( b ) The value of confession . Upon this Jesus Himself lays great stress. If we confess Him before men, He will confess us before His Father in heaven; if we deny Him, He will also deny us ( Matthew 10:32 f. ||, cf. Mark 8:38 ). The glorious blessing He gave to St. Peter at Cæsarea Philippi was the reward of the Apostle’s splendid profession of faith; and it contained the assurance that against the Church built on the rock of believing confession the gates of Hades should not prevail ( Matthew 16:17-19 ). In the Epp. the value of confession is emphasized not less strongly. According to St. Paul, the spirit of faith must speak ( 2 Corinthians 4:13 ), and confession is necessary to salvation ( Romans 10:8-10 ). And St. John regards a true confession of Christ as a sign of the presence of the Divine Spirit ( 1 John 4:2 ), a proof of the mutual indwelling of God in man and man in God ( 1 John 4:15 ).

2. Confession of sin . (1) This holds a prominent place in the OT. The Mosaic ritual makes provision for the confession of both individual ( Leviticus 5:1 ff; Leviticus 26:40 ) and national ( Leviticus 16:21 ) transgressions; and many examples may be found of humble acknowledgment of both classes of sin, for instance in the Penitential Psalms and in such prayers as those of Ezra ( Ezra 10:1 ), Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 1:6-7 ), and Daniel ( Daniel 9:4 ff., Daniel 9:20 ). It is fully recognized in the OT that confession is not only the natural expression of penitent feeling, but the condition of the Divine pardon ( Leviticus 5:1-19; Leviticus 6:1-30 , Psalms 32:5 , Proverbs 28:13 ).

(2) In the NT ‘confess’ occurs but seldom to express acknowledgment of sin (Matthew 3:6 = Mark 1:5 , James 5:16 , 1 John 1:9 ). But the duty of confessing sin both to God and to man is constantly referred to, and the indispensableness of confession in order to forgiveness is made very plain ( Luke 18:10 f., 1 John 1:9 ).

( a ) Confession to God . This meets us at many points in our Lord’s teaching in His calls to repentance, in which confession is involved ( Matthew 4:17 = Mark 1:15 , Luke 11:29; Luke 11:32; Luke 24:47 ), in the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer ( Matthew 6:12 , Luke 11:4 ), in the parables of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:17-18; Luke 15:21 ) and the Pharisee and the Publican ( Luke 18:10 f.). It is very noteworthy that while He recognizes confession as a universal human need ( Luke 11:4 ||), He never confesses sin on His own account or shares in the confessions of others.

( b ) Confession to man . Besides confession to God, Christ enjoins confession to the brother we have wronged ( Matthew 5:23-24 ), and He makes it plain that human as well as Divine forgiveness must depend upon readiness to confess ( Luke 17:4 ). In James 5:16 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) we are told to confess our sins one to another. The sins here spoken of are undoubtedly sins against God as well as sins against man. But the confession referred to is plainly not to any official of the Church, much less to an official with the power of granting absolution, but a mutual unburdening of Christian hearts with a view to prayer ‘one for another.’

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Confession'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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