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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
When man is said to confess or make confession, the contents of the confession are variously distinguished. All, however, may be grouped under two heads, confession of faith and confession of sin. Confessions of faith are public acknowledgments of fidelity to God, and to the truth through which God is revealed, as 1 Kings 8:33 . They are declarations of unqualified confidence in Christ, and of surrender to His service; Matthew 10:32 : "Every one ... who shall confess me before men." In Philippians 2:11 , however, confession includes, alongside of willing, also unwilling, acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Jesus. The word confession stands also for everything contained in the Christian religion - "the faith" used in the objective and widest sense, in Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:14 . In both these passages, the allusion is to the New Testament. The "High Priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1 ) is the High Priest, of whom we learn and with whom we deal in that new revelation, which in that epistle is contrasted with the old.
Confessions of sins are also of various classes: (1) To God alone. Wherever there is true repentance for sin, the penitent freely confesses his guilt to Him, against whom he has sinned. This is described in Psalm 32:3-6; compare 1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13 . Such confession may be made either silently, or, as in Daniel 9:19 , orally; it may be general, as in Ps 51, or particular, as when some special sin is recognized; it may even extend to what has not been discovered, but which is believed to exist because of recognized inner depravity (Psalm 19:12 ), and Thus include the state as well as the acts of sin (Romans 7:18 ). (2) To one's neighbor, when he has been wronged (Luke 17:4 ): "If he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." It is to this form of c. that James refers (James 5:16 ): "Confess ... your sins one to another"; compare Matthew 5:23 f. (3) To a spiritual adviser or minister of the word, such as the c. of David to Nathan ( 2 Samuel 12:13 ), of the multitudes to John in the wilderness (Matthew 3:6 ), of the Ephesians to Paul (Acts 19:18 ). This c. is a general acknowledgment of sinfulness, and enters into an enumeration of details only when the conscience is particularly burdened. (4) To the entire church, where some crime has created public scandal. As "secret sins are to be rebuked secretly, and public sins publicly," in the apostolic age, where there was genuine penitence for a notorious offense, the acknowledgment was as public as the deed itself. An illustration of this is found in the well-known case at Corinth (compare 1 Corinthians 5:3 with 2 Corinthians 2:6 f).
For auricular confession in the sense of the medieval and Roman church, there is no authority in Holy Scripture. It is traceable to the practice of examining those who were about to make a public confession of some notorious offense, and of giving advice concerning how far the circumstances of the sin were to be announced; an expedient that was found advisable, since as much injury could be wrought by injudicious publishing of details in the confession as by the sin itself. The practice once introduced for particular cases was in time extended to all cases; and the private confession of sin was demanded by the church as a condition of the absolution, and made an element of penitence, which was analyzed into contrition, confession and satisfaction. See the Examen Concilii Tridentini (lst edition, 1565) of Dr. Martin Chemnitz, superintendent of Brunswick, for a thorough exegetical and historical discussion of this entire subject. On the historical side, see also Henry Charles Lea, History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church (3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1896).
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Confession'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/c/confession.html. 1915.
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