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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Confession (of Christ)

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CONFESSION (of Christ).—The words ‘confess’ and ‘confession’ are employed in common usage to express not only an acknowledgment of sin, but an acknowledgment or profession of faith. The Authorized Version affords many illustrations of this use, and the examples are still more numerous in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, which in several passages has quite consistently substituted ‘confess’ and ‘confession’ for ‘profess’ and ‘profession’ of the Authorized Version in the rendering of ὁμολογέω, ὁμολογία (2 Corinthians 9:13, 1 Timothy 6:12, Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 10:23). A corresponding twofold use of terms meets us in the original, the verbs ὁμολογέω and ἐξομολογέω being used to denote both confession of sin and confession of faith (e.g. for ὁμολογέω, Matthew 10:32 and 1 John 1:9; for ἐξομολογέω, Matthew 3:6 and James 5:16). The noun ὁμολογία, however, in NT Greek is employed only with reference to the confession of faith.

In the OT it is Jehovah who is the personal object of the confessions of faith which we find on the lips of psalmists and prophets (e.g. Psalms 7:1; Psalms 48:14, Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 61:10 and passim); but in the NT it is Jesus Christ whom men are constantly challenged to confess, and it is around His person that the confession of faith invariably gathers. This lies in the very nature of the case, since personal faith in Jesus Christ constitutes the essence of Christianity, and confession is the necessary utterance of faith (Romans 10:10, cf. Matthew 12:34 b).

i. What is meant by the confession of Christ.—In the earlier period of the ministry of Jesus the faith of His followers did not rise above the belief that He was the long-expected Messiah; and it was this conviction which was expressed in their confessions. Typical at this stage are the words of Andrew, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (John 1:41). It is true that even in this earlier period Jesus is sometimes addressed or spoken of as the ‘Son of God’ (John 1:34; John 1:50, Matthew 8:29 || Matthew 14:33); but it is not probable that in these cases we are to understand the expression otherwise than as a recognized Messianic term (cf. Psalms 2:7), so that it does not amount to more than a recognition that Jesus is the Christ. And yet even this was a great thing—to see in the man of Nazareth the Messiah of prophecy and hope. It marked the dividing line between those who believed in Jesus and those who believed Him not. St. John tells us that the Jews had agreed that if any man should confess Jesus to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22); that they actually cast out, for making such a confession, the blind man whom Jesus had cured (John 9:34); and that through fear of excommunication many of the chief rulers who believed in His Messiahship refrained from the confession of their faith (John 12:42). It was no small thing to confess that Jesus was the Christ, crude and unspiritual in most cases as the notions of His Messiahship might still be.

But in the minds of the Apostles, though crude ideas were far from vanishing altogether (cf. Matthew 20:20 f., Mark 10:28, Luke 22:24), there had gradually grown up a larger and deeper conception of their Master’s person and dignity; and St. Peter’s grand utterance at Caesarea Philippi, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16 ||; cf. John 6:69), shows a great extension of spiritual content in the confession of Christ, as our Lord’s language on the occasion plainly implies. The Apostle’s language seems to enfold, in germ at least, the doctrine of Christ’s divinity; and it formed the high-water mark of Apostolic faith and profession in the pre-Resurrection days.

After the Resurrection had taken place, faith in that transcendent fact, and readiness to bear witness to it, were henceforth implied in the confession of Christ (John 20:28-29, Romans 10:9). But while any profession of faith would have as its implicate the acceptance of the great facts of the historical tradition, all that was actually demanded of converts at first may have been the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3; cf. Philippians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:6): a confession of which an echo perhaps meets us in their being baptized ‘into (or in) the name of the Lord’ (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, Acts 8:16; Acts 19:6; ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου, Acts 10:48). At a later time the growth of heretical opinions rendered it necessary to formulate the beliefs of the Church more exactly, and to demand a fuller and more precise confession on the part of those who professed to be Christ’s disciples. In the Johannine Epistles a confession 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), is represented as essential to the evidence of a true and saving Christian faith. With this developed Johannine type of confession may be compared the later gloss that has been attached to the narrative of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37, see (Revised Version margin)), which is not improbably the reproduction of a formula of question and answer which had come to be employed as a baptismal confession in the early Church.

It may be noticed here that it was out of the confession of personal faith which was demanded of the candidate for baptism that the formulated ‘Confessions’ of the Church appear to have sprung. There can be little doubt that the so-called Apostles’ Creed was originally a baptismal confession. And Hort, Harnack, and others have shown that what is known as the Nicene Creed is in reality not the original creed of the bishops of Nicaea, but a creed which gradually grew up in the East out of the struggles of the Church with varying shapes of heresy, and the nucleus of which is probably to be sought in the baptismal formula of the Jerusalem Church (Hort, two Dissertations, ii.; Harnack, History of Dogma, iii. 209; Herzog-Hauck, Realencykl., art. ‘Konstantinopolitanisches Symbol’).

ii. The importance attached to the confession of Christ.—We see this (1) in the teaching of Christ Himself. He showed the value He set upon it not only by the deep solemnity of His affirmations upon the subject, but by expressing the truth in a double form, both positively and negatively, declaring that the highest conceivable honour awaits every one who confesses Him before men, and the doom of unspeakable shame all those who are guilty of denying Him (Matthew 10:32-33, Luke 12:8-9; cf. Mark 8:38). We see it in the pathos of the warning He gave St. Peter of the approaching denial (Matthew 26:34; cf. Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38), in the look He cast upon him when the crowing of the cock recalled that warning to his mind (Luke 22:61), in the Apostle’s bitter tears as he remembered and thought upon the word of the Lord (Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:72, Luke 22:61-62), and in the thrice-repeated ‘Lovest thou me?’ (John 21:15-17) recalling the threefold transgression. But, above all, we see it in the words addressed at Caesarea Philippi to this same Apostle, who, though afterwards he fell so far in an hour of weakness, rose nevertheless on this occasion to the height of a glorious confession (Matthew 16:17-19). The evident emotion of Jesus at St. Peter’s language, the thrill of glad surprise which seems to have shot through Him and which quivers through the benediction into which He burst, the great benediction itself,—these things show the supreme worth He attached to this confession of His strong Apostle. But especially we see the significance of St. Peter’s utterance in the everlasting promise which Christ then gave not to him merely, but to all who should hereafter believe on His name and confess Him after a like fashion: ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). Whether the ‘rock’ is St. Peter’s confession or St. Peter himself is a matter of little moment; for if the latter is meant, it is undoubtedly as a type of believing confession that the Apostle receives the splendid promise, and it is on the firm foundation of such confession as his that Jesus declares that His Church shall be built.

The view of a certain class of critical scholars (e.g. Holtzmann, Zeitschr. f. wiss. Theol. xxi. p. 202; Harnack, History of Dogma, i. p. 79 n. [Note: note.] 2; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, ii. p. 351 n. [Note: note.] ) that Matthew 16:18 f. are not authentic utterances of Jesus, but a subsequent addition intended to canonize the dogmatic and constitutional situation of a later age, is not one that commends itself to those who do not accept the views as to the composition of the First Gospel which are represented by these writers and by Holtzmann in particular. There is no textual ground for objecting to the authenticity of the words, while there are very strong psychological grounds for accepting such words as true. See the admirable remarks of Prof. Bruce, Expos. Gr. Test., in loc.

(2) If Jesus laid great stress upon the confession of Himself, the importance of such confession is not less prominent in the teaching of the Apostles. Even if baptism ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’ did not imply an explicit confession of Jesus as Lord (though this seems by no means improbable), at all events the Christian baptism which meets us constantly from the earliest days of the Church (Acts, passim) clearly involved, in the relations of Christianity whether to the Jewish or the Gentile world, a confessing of Christ before men. St. Paul makes very plain his conviction that, in order to salvation, believing with the heart must be accompanied by confession with the mouth (Romans 10:9-10), though he also enlarges our conception of the forms which confession may take when he finds a confession of the Christian gospel not only in words spoken but in liberal gifts cheerfully bestowed for the service of the Church (2 Corinthians 9:13). In 1 Timothy he commends the young minister of the Church in Ephesus because be had ‘confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses’ (1 Timothy 6:12), and finds in this matter the perfect example for Christian imitation in the ‘good confession’ which Christ Jesus Himself witnessed before Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13); while in 2 Timothy we have an evident re-echo of the Lord’s own language in the warning, ‘If we shall deny him, he also will deny us’ (2 Timothy 2:12).

In the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is described as ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our confession’ (Hebrews 3:1), and that confession the author exhorts his readers to hold fast (Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 10:23). In the Johannine Epistles, as we have seen, confession begins to assume a more theological form than heretofore, but the writer is not less emphatic than those who have preceded him in insisting upon its spiritual value. In one place it is said to be the proof of the presence of the Spirit of God (1 John 4:2), and in another it becomes not the proof merely, but the very condition of the abiding of man in God and God in man (1 John 4:15).

iii. The reason for the importance attached to confession.—When we ask why such supreme value is set upon confession by Christ and His Apostles and all through the NT, there are various considerations which suggest themselves. (1) Confession is nothing else than the obverse side of faith. The two necessarily go together, for they are really one and the same spiritual magnitude in its inward and outward aspects. The word of faith, as St. Paul says, is at once in the mouth and in the heart (Romans 10:8), and whatever value belongs to faith as a vital and saving power necessarily belongs to confession also. (2) It is the evidence of faith. Like all living things, faith must give evidence of itself, and confession is one of its most certain and convincing signs. According to St. Paul, it belongs to the very spirit of faith to believe and therefore to speak (2 Corinthians 4:13); and if the readiness to confess Christ begins to fail, we may take it as a sure evidence that faith itself is failing. How significant here are the words of Jesus to St. Peter just before He warned him of the sifting trial which was near at hand, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee that thy faith fail not’ (Luke 22:31-32). (3) It is a test of courage and devotion. A hard test it often is; witness St. Peter’s fall. But it is by hard trials that the soldier of Christ learns to endure hardness, and gains the unflinching strength which enables him to confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12), and not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord (2 Timothy 1:8). (4) It has a wonderful power to quicken faith. It both begets faith and quickens faith in others, as we shall see presently; but what we are speaking of now is its reactive influence upon the believer himself. It is a matter of common experience that nothing transforms pale belief into strong full-blooded conviction like the confession of belief in the presence of others. Something is due to the shaping power of speech upon thought, but even more to the definite committal of oneself before one’s fellows, and the kindling influences which come from the contact of soul with soul. And it is not till men have publicly confessed their belief in Christ that faith rises to its highest power, so that ‘belief unto righteousness’ becomes ‘confession unto salvation’ (Romans 10:10). It is to the psychological experiences that were naturally attendant on the public confession of Christ that we must attribute much of the language used in the NT with regard to the effect of baptism upon the soul (Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3 ff., Galatians 3:27, 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Peter 3:21). And it is worth noting how the author of Hebrews connects in the same sentence holding fast ‘the confession of our hope’ and drawing near to God in ‘fulness’ or ‘full assurance’ of faith (Hebrews 10:22-23; cf. Hebrews 4:14; cf. Hebrews 4:16).

(5) But, above all, the value attached to confession in the NT seems to lie in the fact that it is the great Church-building power. The grand typical case of confession of Christ is that of St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:15-16); and this was the occasion on which Jesus for the first time spoke of His Church, and declared that on the rock of Christian confession that Church was to be built (Matthew 16:18). So it proved to be in after days. It was by St. Peter’s powerful testimony to Jesus as the risen Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-36) that 3000 souls on the day of Pentecost were led gladly to receive the word, and in baptism to confess Christ for themselves (Acts 2:37-41). St. Paul knew the mighty power that inheres in confession, and both in his preaching and writing made much of the story of his own conversion (Acts 22:6 ff; Acts 26:12 ff., Galatians 1:15 ff.), thereby confessing Jesus afresh as his Saviour and Lord. It was above all else by the personal confessions of humble individuals—a testimony often sealed with blood (Revelation 2:13; Revelation 12:11)—that the pagan empire of Rome was cast down and the Church of Christ built upon its ruins. And it is still by personal confession, in one form or another, that the word of the Lord grows and multiplies, and His Church prevails against the gates of Hades. It is by testifying to Jesus Christ as Lord that men become the ambassadors of Christ to the souls of other men. The secret of the influence exerted by such confession lies not only in the appealing grace of the Lord whom we confess, but in the subtle and mysterious power of a believing and confessing heart over its fellow. ‘Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another! Not calculable by algebra, not deducible by logic, but mysterious, effectual, mighty as the hidden process by which the tiny seed is quickened, and bursts forth into tall stem and broad leaf, and glowing tasselled flower’ (George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, p. 287).

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Confession (of Christ)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/c/confession-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.

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