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receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

What is the correct interpretation of John 20:23?

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receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • Introduction

CHAPTER 20 *

The Empty Tomb. * 1 On the first day of the week, a Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, * and saw the stone removed from the tomb. b 2 So she ran * and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” 3 * So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; 5 he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. 6 c When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths * there, 7 and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. d 8 Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. 9 * e For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned home.

The Appearance to Mary of Magdala. * 11 But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. f And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. g 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” h She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” * which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, * for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” i 18 Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

Appearance to the Disciples. * 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, j when the doors were locked, where the disciples * were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. * The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. k 21 * [Jesus] said to them again, l “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 * And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, m “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 * n Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas. 24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” o 26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” p 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 * q Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 * Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Conclusion. * 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. s 31 But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. t

* [ 20:1 – 31 ] The risen Jesus reveals his glory and confers the Spirit. This story fulfills the basic need for testimony to the resurrection. What we have here is not a record but a series of single stories.

* [ 20:1 – 10 ] The story of the empty tomb is found in both the Matthean and the Lucan traditions; John’s version seems to be a fusion of the two.

* [ 20:1 ] Still dark : according to Mark the sun had risen, Matthew describes it as “dawning,” and Luke refers to early dawn. Mary sees the stone removed, not the empty tomb.

* [ 20:2 ] Mary runs away, not directed by an angel/young man as in the synoptic accounts. The plural “we” in the second part of her statement might reflect a tradition of more women going to the tomb.

* [ 20:3 – 10 ] The basic narrative is told of Peter alone in Lk 24:12 , a verse missing in important manuscripts and which may be borrowed from tradition similar to John. Cf. also Lk 24:24 .

* [ 20:6 – 8 ] Some special feature about the state of the burial cloths caused the beloved disciple to believe. Perhaps the details emphasized that the grave had not been robbed.

* [ 20:9 ] Probably a general reference to the scriptures is intended, as in Lk 24:26 and 1 Cor 15:4 . Some individual Old Testament passages suggested are Ps 16:10 ; Hos 6:2 ; Jon 2:1 , 2 , 10 .

* [ 20:11 – 18 ] This appearance to Mary is found only in John, but cf. Mt 28:8 – 10 and Mk 16:9 – 11 .

* [ 20:16 ] Rabbouni : Hebrew or Aramaic for “my master.”

* [ 20:17 ] Stop holding on to me : see Mt 28:9 , where the women take hold of his feet. I have not yet ascended : for John and many of the New Testament writers, the ascension in the theological sense of going to the Father to be glorified took place with the resurrection as one action. This scene in John dramatizes such an understanding, for by Easter night Jesus is glorified and can give the Spirit. Therefore his ascension takes place immediately after he has talked to Mary. In such a view, the ascension after forty days described in Acts 1:1 – 11 would be simply a termination of earthly appearances or, perhaps better, an introduction to the conferral of the Spirit upon the early church, modeled on Elisha’s being able to have a (double) share in the spirit of Elijah if he saw him being taken up (same verb as ascending) into heaven ( 2 Kgs 2:9 – 12 ). To my Father and your Father, to my God and your God : this echoes Ru 1:16 : “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The Father of Jesus will now become the Father of the disciples because, once ascended, Jesus can give them the Spirit that comes from the Father and they can be reborn as God’s children ( Jn 3:5 ). That is why he calls them my brothers .

* [ 20:19 – 29 ] The appearances to the disciples, without or with Thomas (cf. Jn 11:16 ; 14:5 ), have rough parallels in the other gospels only for Jn 20:19 – 23 ; cf. Lk 24:36 – 39 ; Mk 16:14 – 18 .

* [ 20:19 ] The disciples : by implication from Jn 20:24 this means ten of the Twelve, presumably in Jerusalem. Peace be with you : although this could be an ordinary greeting, John intends here to echo Jn 14:27 . The theme of rejoicing in Jn 20:20 echoes Jn 16:22 .

* [ 20:20 ] Hands and…side : Lk 24:39 – 40 mentions “hands and feet,” based on Ps 22:17 .

* [ 20:21 ] By means of this sending, the Eleven were made apostles, that is, “those sent” (cf. Jn 17:18 ), though John does not use the noun in reference to them (see note on Jn 13:16 ). A solemn mission or “sending” is also the subject of the post-resurrection appearances to the Eleven in Mt 28:19 ; Lk 24:47 ; Mk 16:15 .

* [ 20:22 ] This action recalls Gn 2:7 , where God breathed on the first man and gave him life; just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. Cf. also the revivification of the dry bones in Ez 37 . This is the author’s version of Pentecost. Cf. also the note on Jn 19:30 .

* [ 20:23 ] The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the sacrament of penance. See Mt 16:19 ; Mt 18:18 .

* [ 20:28 ] My Lord and my God : this forms a literary inclusion with the first verse of the gospel: “and the Word was God.”

* [ 20:29 ] This verse is a beatitude on future generations; faith, not sight, matters.

* [ 20:30 – 31 ] These verses are clearly a conclusion to the gospel and express its purpose. While many manuscripts read come to believe , possibly implying a missionary purpose for John’s gospel, a small number of quite early ones read “continue to believe,” suggesting that the audience consists of Christians whose faith is to be deepened by the book; cf. Jn 19:35 .

a. [ 20:1 – 10 ] Mt 28:1 – 10 ; Mk 16:1 – 11 ; Lk 24:1 – 12 .

b. [ 20:1 ] 19:25 .

c. [ 20:6 ] Lk 24:12 .

d. [ 20:7 ] 11:44 ; 19:40 .

e. [ 20:9 ] Acts 2:26 – 27 ; 1 Cor 15:4 .

f. [ 20:11 – 18 ] Mk 16:9 – 11 .

g. [ 20:14 ] 21:4 ; Mk 16:12 ; Lk 24:16 ; 1 Cor 15:43 – 44 .

h. [ 20:15 – 17 ] Mt 28:9 – 10 .

i. [ 20:17 ] Acts 1:9 .

j. [ 20:19 – 23 ] Mt 28:16 – 20 ; Mk 16:14 – 18 ; Lk 24:36 – 44 .

k. [ 20:20 ] 14:27 .

l. [ 20:21 ] 17:18 ; Mt 28:19 ; Mk 16:15 ; Lk 24:47 – 48 .

m. [ 20:22 ] Gn 2:7 ; Ez 37:9 ; 1 Cor 15:45 .

n. [ 20:23 ] Mt 16:19 ; 18:18 .

o. [ 20:25 ] 1 Jn 1:1 .

p. [ 20:26 ] 21:14 .

q. [ 20:28 ] 1:1 .

r. [ 20:29 ] 4:48 ; Lk 1:45 ; 1 Pt 1:8 .

s. [ 20:30 ] 21:25 .

t. [ 20:31 ] 3:14 , 15 ; 1 Jn 5:13 .

IV. Epilogue: The Resurrection Appearance in Galilee

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Bible Issues

John 20:21-23 – whose sins you forgive are forgiven

book-of-john

This is one of the most difficult Biblical passages to interpret, and one that can easily be used to propagate false doctrines if not done properly, as has been the case.

I will attempt to interpret this passage in the given context to determine the meaning that was understood by the initial hearers and the meaning intended by the speaker. I will use this principle of interpretation to argue that John 20:22 , 23 refers to the authority Jesus gave to his disciples to exercise discipline in the church.

Main Points

  • Three issues – 1) Who was Jesus’ audience. 2) What did he mean “receive the Spirit”? 3) What did He mean by forgiving and retaining sins?
  • The apostles were given authority to receive people into fellowship and excommunicate people from fellowship. 
  • Jesus gave them authority to exercise church discipline.

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John 20: 21  So Jesus said to them again,  “Peace to you!   As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22  And when He had said this, He breathed on  them,  and said to them,  “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the  sins  of any, they are retained.”

Some Preliminary Questions

There are several questions that must be answered to properly understand this passage.

  • To whom precisely was Jesus speaking?
  • What did He mean in this context when He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”?
  • What did He mean that the recipients would be able to forgive and retain sin?

Before I give my understanding of the passage, let us consider some common interpretations offered to answer these questions.

Some common interpretations

Jesus’ intended audience.

The audience could have been

  • the 11 apostles
  • Peter alone
  • all disciples present
  • all believers of all time.

There is nothing in the text to suggest that the promise was given to Peter only or the 11 apostles alone. It is argued that John 20:23 resembles Matthew 16:18 , 19 where it may appear that Jesus was specifically addressing Peter.

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 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.

However the same promise (binding and loosing) in Matt 16:19 is repeated in Matthew 18:18 , where Jesus’ audience seems to be all church leaders.

It is also unlikely, in John 20, that Jesus was referring to all believers of all time since this was a unique experience distinct from Pentecost where physical Jesus physically breathed on the group present. The empowering and inner transforming aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry that took place at Pentecost are available for all time ( Acts 2:38 , 39 ), but the reception of the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 is distinct. It most likely was referring to all present and as I will argue later to all church leaders in subsequent generations.

The Meaning of “Receive the Holy Spirit”

One view is that Jesus was simply promising the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come at a later time, which turned out to be the Day of Pentecost. This view hardly does justice to the text. It seems to me that the act of breathing on them suggests that they received something right there and then. Surely the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit did not move in slow motion.

Another view is that it was a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles prior to Pentecost. Again this has to be rejected since both Jesus and the disciples referred to the full outpouring as yet future even after this event ( Luke 24:49 ; Acts 1:4 , 5 , 8 ).

A third view is that the giving of the Holy Spirit was an act of recreation. Just as God breathed physical life into Adam, Jesus breathed spiritual life into His disciples, which for others occur at conversion. This view seems to be popular among commentators. However this interpretation implies that there would have been a transformation in the lives of those who received this impartation.

But is this the case? Peter’s question in John 21:21 , “What about this man [John]?”, suggests that he still saw John as a rival as he did before Jesus breathed on them. The real transformation took place after Pentecost not before. Furthermore Biblical evidence militates against this view since the Holy Spirit could not come to reside in believers before Jesus was glorified ( John 7:38 , 39 ; 14:17 ; 16:7 ). He was with them all along and had certain inputs in their lives but could not reside in them at this point. Thus this interpretation, in my view, is not correct.

The Meaning of Forgiving and Retaining Sin

Some believe that the apostles were given power to forgive sins in a direct and absolute sense. Firstly this view is inconsistent with Luke 5:21 which states that only God can forgive sin. If this interpretation is correct then the Bible has unexplainable discrepancies. The question to ask concerning this view is “did the disciples understand Jesus’ pronouncement in this manner?”

The answer is a resounding no. At no point in the Bible is there even a hint that the disciples went around forgiving and retaining people’s sins in that sense. Evidence is lacking that the original hearers understood it in this manner, and neither should we. Catholics further stretch the unimaginable by claiming that Jesus was not just speaking to all present, but to Peter in particular ( not in the least hinted by the text ), Peter was later to become the first Pope in Rome ( historically very debatable ), and the promise of forgiving and retaining sins was passed on to all subsequent popes ( absolutely ridiculous!). This is what you call a strawman argument – building speculation upon speculation with very little foundation of truth.

Announcing the conditions of forgiveness?

Others see it as authority to announce the terms of conditions for having one’s sins forgiven (i.e. preaching the gospel) or the right to declare whether or not someone’s sins are forgiven based on their response to the gospel. This view is very popular and it fits well with evangelical theology, not violating any other doctrines. Personally, I would hesitate to enter into debate with a Catholic scholar using this interpretation.

In my view it is weak. It would be considered nothing short of a desperate attempt to avoid the literal implication of the text so as to preserve one’s predetermined theology. It does match well with verse 21 where the context is the evangelistic thrust of the church. Yet I find it difficult to understand why exactly the Holy Spirit is needed simply to declare the terms of forgiveness, or to declare that God has forgiven a repentant person’s sins. Jesus did not physically breathe on me, does that mean I cannot declare the terms of forgiveness of sins to the unsaved?

Why also was it needed at this point in time? Why could it not wait until Pentecost? This experience is clearly distinct from Pentecost and must have a distinct purpose. The outpouring at Pentecost was needed for inner transforming and empowerment. If there is nothing distinct about this particular “outpouring”, then it was redundant.

My Interpretation

The expression “receive the Holy Spirit” and its equivalents have various meanings in scripture. In the book of Acts, this expression refers to the reception of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion for the purpose of empowerment. In Romans 8:15 , we receive the Holy Spirit at conversion for the purpose of adoption. It has been previously argued that the reception of the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 refers to neither empowerment nor transformation. It is something distinct.

What the disciples received, in my view, was a particular ministry of the Holy Spirit for the reason given in verse 23 – to “forgive” and “retain” “sins”. This particular reception is unrelated to the results of Pentecost. This context cannot be ignored and in my view, the other views fail to properly address the link between “receiving the Holy Spirit” and “forgiving and retaining sins”.

Any unusual events?

To understand verse 23, we must ask, “What unusual activity took place in the disciples ministries that was not a result of Pentecost? In particular, did anything unusual happen between the reception of the Holy Spirit in verse 22 and the Day of Pentecost 50 days later?” If not, then the experience of verse 22 was meaningless. They could just have easily received the full works at Pentecost. Why now?

A perusal of scripture reveals one such incident that took place during this time period. It was the selection of the 12 th apostle after Judas’ death. Where could the disciples have ever received authority to appoint an apostle? By definition an apostle must be personally hand picked by God. I suggest that this was what the disciples received when Jesus breathed on them. This is the aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry they received prior to Pentecost.

Similar scriptures

The expression in verse 23 is similar to Matthew 16:19 where the “keys of the kingdom” refer to authority associated with building the church, and Matthew 18:18 where “binding and loosing” refers to church discipline. The broader context of Matthew 18 speaks of handling offences , which includes as subcategories forgiveness , reconciliation , and church discipline . There is a relation between these last three terms.

Forgiveness can refer to three different things.

  • releasing personal debts (18:21-35),
  • reconciling broken relationships (18:15,16), or
  • receiving persons back into fellowship (18:17-20 cf. 2 Corinthians 2:7 , 10 ). Note the striking similarity between 2 Corinthians 2:10 and John 20:23 .

Church discipline and governance

2 Cor 2:10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it , for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; John 20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

The context of the 2 Corinthians passage is clearly church discipline. This is the case of the fornicator who was first excommunicated and now is being received back into fellowship. I believe that the expression in John 20:23 refers to various roles of church discipline where the leaders had God’s backing in choosing and refusing others to fellowship and ministry.

The selection of Matthias as the 12 th apostle is an example of choosing someone to ministry. This aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry began before Pentecost and continued afterward, as seen in the release for ministry of Saul and Barnabas by the leaders in Acts 13:1-3 .

Examples of welcoming and disbanding members from fellowship are seen in the case of the fornicator at Corinth who was first excommunicated ( 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 ) and later received back after repenting ( 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 ). Alexander the coppersmith and Hymenaeus were both “delivered unto Satan” by Paul ( 1 Timothy 1:20 ). The reception of gentiles into fellowship ( Acts 11:1-18 ) and the case of Ananias and Saphira ( Acts 5:1-11 ) may also be sited.

This authority of the Holy Spirit exists for the apostles and to an extent, pastoral leaders. This is how the disciples “forgave” and “retained” sins, and most likely this was what Jesus had in mind.

Healing of a paralytic

Matthew 9:1-8 gives the account of Jesus healing a paralytic. The crowd became uneasy when Jesus told the man “Thy sins be forgiven thee”. Later on they rejoiced because “God gave such authority unto men” (v 8). Verse 8 seems to suggest that men have the same authority on earth to forgive sin.

But in what way did Jesus forgive this man’s sins? Was he forgiven in the sense that he was now saved, sanctified and as sure for heaven as if he were already there? Hardly likely! Salvation is distinct from physical healing. What Jesus (as a man) forgave, and hence what men can forgive, is certain consequences of sin. Only God can forgive acts of sin and motives for sin. The examples above show exactly what consequences of sin the disciples forgave and retained. It was about church fellowship.

Now how does this interpretation fit into the overall context of John 20:22 , 23 as suggested in verse 21 i.e. the evangelistic thrust of the church? Church discipline is one aspect of the overall mission of the church. Although not considered to be on the same level as preaching the gospel and healing the sick, who can question that the presence of the fornicator in Corinth did not hinder evangelism ( 1 Corinthians 5:7 , 8 ), or that the release of Paul and Barnabas into ministry was not for evangelistic purposes, or that the welcoming of gentiles into the church was not part of the overall evangelistic mission of the church?

Jesus gave a special authority to the apostles and disciples present, which is available to pastoral leaders of all ages. This authority is distinct from the empowering and transforming works of Holy Spirit. With this authority, church discipline could be maintained whether positive or negative. With it, the disciples could forgive certain consequences of sin.

This interpretation explains

  • the receiving of the Holy Spirit,
  • the nature of the disciples’ ability to forgive and retain sins,
  • the link between the two;
  • it fits into the evangelistic context of the passage,
  • is consistent with historical events, and
  • does not contradict any other portion of scripture.

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John 20:23 Meaning of If You Forgive Anyone Their Sins

John 20:23 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Explanation and Commentary of John 20:23

After telling the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, which would happen more fully at Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus sends the disciples to continue his ministry and to preach the Gospel. Those that hear of Jesus through them, directly or indirectly, will have the opportunity to repent of their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. The disciples themselves have no power to forgive sins apart from that given them by the message of the death of Christ for their redemption.

Forgiveness is a key aspect of the Christian faith. While different sects and denominations tend to have their pet doctrines, forgiveness is one of the universal and primary doctrines that to disbelieve would preclude one’s Christianity. First, that it is in order to have a relationship with God, one must receive Jesus’ free gift of life by way of his blood shed on the cross. Second, one must forgive others as we have been forgiven by God. To fail to forgive others is to prove that one has not been forgiven. Often it is stated more seriously: if you do not forgive others, then you will not be forgiven by your Father in heaven (Mt 6:15).

Breaking Down the Key Parts of John 20:23

#1 “If you forgive anyone’s sins,” For certain, the disciples, as Christians, needed to forgive those who sinned against them. But Jesus seems to mean more than that here. He seems to mean that by preaching the Gospel of forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be “forgiv[ing] others.”

#2 “their sins are forgiven;” Jesus is conferring great responsibility to preach. This should not be used as proof that there needs to be in the church a priestly class of Christian who are the only ones who can hear confession and pronounce forgiveness. All members of Jesus’ Church are a part of a holy priesthood (1 Pt 2:9).

#3 “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The meaning of this is that if the followers of Jesus do not go out and preach the Gospel, no one will know about Jesus and the way to salvation. If they do not know they cannot repent, and they cannot be saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6).

Bible Study on John 20:23

Expert Overview of John Ch. 13-21

Biblical Translations of John 20:23

NIV “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

NLT “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

ESV “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

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

NKJV “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:23 Meaning and Commentary

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, “Receive Ye the Spirit”?

“What does the following passage mean? ‘And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).

The surrounding context in John’s Gospel record reads as follows:

“Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Elsewhere 1 we have discussed the matter of the apostles declaring the “forgiveness of sins.” In this article, therefore, we will address only the Lord’s urging, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

This incident cannot be isolated from other complimentary information regarding the reception of the Holy Spirit by Christ’s disciples. Here are some important things to consider.

First, there is the matter as to whom the term “disciples” embraces. Does the word include more than the “apostles”? Or, in this context, is “disciples” restricted to them?

While many respected scholars hold that a broader range of people than the apostles were involved in this promise, it must be admitted that in numerous passages “disciples” becomes a more technical term that is the equivalent of “apostles” (cf. Matthew 10:1-2; 11:1; John 2:2; 3:22, etc.). It is especially significant that the expression involving Christ being “sent” by the Father, and thus he would “send” the apostles (see John 17:18), is employed in this context. It is perhaps worthy of mention that the expression, “apostles,” is never used of the Twelve in John’s Gospel.

J.H. Bernard (1860-1927), the brilliant scholar of Trinity College in Dublin, has argued that while other disciples may have been present on this occasion, this particular entitlement was made to none but the apostles, who had been chosen specifically, and were to be “sent forth.”Bernard cites considerable testimony from the earliest patristic “fathers” (e.g., Justin, Origen, Cyprian, etc.) in favor of this view, and says he knows of no dissenting voice among the ancient writers who discussed this text 2 .

While some scholars argue that this “breathing” upon the disciples referred to a reception of the Holy Spirit at that moment in time, this view does not seem to comport with the full range of New Testament evidence 3 .

There is a case to be made for the view that this “breathing” of the Lord was but a symbolic, visual suggestion of the power that would be bequeathed to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Here are some points worthy of reflection.

Prophetic grammar

At the conclusion of verse 21, the Lord declared: “as the Father sent me, even so I am sending you.” The present tense here appears to be employed here prophetically, in view of the certainty of their mission that would begin formally on Pentecost.

This seems clear inasmuch as the “sending forth” did not commence until after Pentecost, because they were charged not to depart from Jerusalem until the Spirit descended upon them. Note that the same type of prophetic present is used by Luke to depict that event. “And behold, I am sending [present tense] the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The Holy Spirit connected with forgiveness of sins

The presence of the Holy Spirit is here connected with the apostolic declaration relative to the “forgiveness of sins” (v. 23). But this commission of redemptive deliverance was not announced and implemented in its fullness, based upon the death and resurrection of Christ, until several weeks following this incident; not until the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).

It thus would appear to be the case that the episode in John 20:22 did not involve the actual reception of a supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit on that immediate occasion. Rather, that circumstance was only a foreshadowing of the promise that would be fulfilled almost fifty days later. I believe W.E. Vine captured the sense of the text quite well.

“Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (R.V. margin) referred not merely to His own breath, it was symbolic of the Holy Spirit as about to be sent at Pentecost. It was connected with their being sent out into the world, and with the effect of their ministry of the Gospel in the forgiveness of sins by the Spirit’s power, or the retention of sins by the rejection of the message (vv. 23,24). It was a prophetic act as well as symbolic 4 .

In his commentary on John, Frank Pack wrote:

[T]here is no indication here that the apostles at this time received the Holy Spirit. Jesus symbolically was assuring them on resurrection Sunday that what he had promised them would occur. But Luke puts the ‘beginning’ of the church on Pentecost (Acts 11:15) and Peter finds the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of ‘the last days’ beginning on Pentecost (Acts 2:17). Here Jesus connected the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness and retention of sins, looking forward to the apostles’ preaching of ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 24:47) 5

For a more thorough discussion setting forth this view, see: D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John , Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991, pp. 651-655).

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John 20:21–23

21  Jesus said to them again, “ Peace be with you . As the Father has sent me , so I send you .” 22  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive the sins of any , they are forgiven them ; if you retain the sins of any , they are retained .”

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John 20:21–23 — The New International Version (NIV)

21  Again Jesus said, “ Peace be with you ! As the Father has sent me , I am sending you .” 22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins , their sins are forgiven ; if you do not forgive them , they are not forgiven .”

John 20:21–23 — English Standard Version (ESV)

21  Jesus said to them again, “ Peace be with you . As the Father has sent me , even so I am sending you .” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive the sins of any , they are forgiven them ; if you withhold forgiveness from any , it is withheld .”

John 20:21–23 — King James Version (KJV 1900)

21  Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you : as my Father hath sent me , even so send I you . 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them , and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost : 23  Whose soever sins ye remit , they are remitted unto them ; and whose soever sins ye retain , they are retained .

John 20:21–23 — New Living Translation (NLT)

21  Again he said, “ Peace be with you . As the Father has sent me , so I am sending you .” 22  Then he breathed on them and said, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins , they are forgiven . If you do not forgive them , they are not forgiven .”

John 20:21–23 — The New King James Version (NKJV)

21  So Jesus said to them again, “ Peace to you ! As the Father has sent Me , I also send you .” 22  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive the sins of any , they are forgiven them ; if you retain the sins of any , they are retained .”

John 20:21–23 — New Century Version (NCV)

21  Then Jesus said again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, I now send you.” 22  After he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you don’t forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:21–23 — American Standard Version (ASV)

21  Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you : as the Father hath sent me , even so send I you . 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit : 23  whose soever sins ye forgive , they are forgiven unto them ; whose soever sins ye retain , they are retained .

John 20:21–23 — 1890 Darby Bible (DARBY)

21  Jesus said therefore again to them, Peace be to you : as the Father sent me forth , I also send you . 22  And having said this, he breathed into them , and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit : 23  whose soever sins ye remit , they are remitted to them ; whose soever sins ye retain , they are retained .

John 20:21–23 — GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22  After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  Whenever you forgive sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you don’t forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 

John 20:21–23 — The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

21  Jesus said to them again, “ Peace to you ! As the Father has sent Me , I also send you .” 22  After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “ Receive the Holy Spirit . 23  If you forgive the sins of any , they are forgiven them ; if you retain the sins of any , they are retained .”

John 20:21–23 — The Lexham English Bible (LEB)

21  So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:21–23 — New International Reader’s Version (1998) (NIrV)

21  Again Jesus said, “May peace be with you! The Father has sent me. So now I am sending you.” 22  He then breathed on them. He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:21–23 — New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (NASB95)

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 .”

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What Is Meant by the “Retaining” of Sins?

receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

After Our Lord breathed on his apostles, he said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22).

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receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

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Forgive and Forget

receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

We confess because of what Jesus said.

SUSIE LLOYD

You know you’re a Catholic geek when you not only have a favorite sacrament, but you also pick the one that most people in their right mind never would: Confession. Its official name is either Penance or Penance and Reconciliation, but nobody says “I need to go to Penance” or “I hope there’s no line at Penance and Reconciliation.” Confession is its street name — and for good reason.

Everybody focuses on the process. You go somewhere private, lower your voice, and tell your sins to a priest. He could be someone you had over for dinner last month, or he could be someone you have never met. Either way, you are about to do something you WOULD NEVER DO under any other circumstance. That is why a lot of Catholics avoid confession. Meanwhile, non-Catholics simply don’t get it. Why not just tell your sins to God? He can hear you, and it would be way easier.

Good question. In the first place, we confess our sins because of what Jesus said:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. … Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:21, 23)

How would the Apostles know whose sins to forgive and whose to retain (i.e., not to forgive because they are not sorry)? Not by guessing. Not by spying on people. By people telling them, of course.

Jesus authorized the Apostles to act as his agents, to absolve sinners in his name. What about the generations of sinners who would live and die after the Apostles lived and died? What then? The Apostles passed the same mission and power on to others, and then those men did to others, and on and on, in an unbroken line, down to the priests of today. Jesus made sure that no one would get left out.

Could he have done it a different way? Sure. But he did it this way on purpose. So, let’s ask: Why did he do it this way?

He wants us to humble ourselves and admit our sins to a fellow human being. God knows what our sins are, but often we do not. Everyone else knows what’s wrong with us, but we’re in denial. Isn’t the first step in fixing things in our lives admitting we have a problem?

But confession is more than just taking steps to admit our faults. It’s God meeting us there and giving us grace. Remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32). The dad waited for his son every day, and when he saw him in the distance, he ran out to meet him. God is like that. You show up sorry, and he’ll do the rest. Picture his mighty fingers beaming shafts of grace straight at your hard heart, blasting away the layers of stone, making your heart soft and supple and fleshy again. “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

And if having your sins forgiven isn’t awesome enough, get this: God forgets them.

Yes, God who knows all and sees all forgets your sins on purpose. He does not hold your sins against you. He does not throw them back in your face. Forgive and forget. We say it, but he actually does it. Who couldn’t love the sacrament of Penance?

Susie Lloyd has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.

Permission is granted to copy for use with your classes and families.

PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN, Detail of THE PRODIGAL SON circa 1669, Rembrandt Van Rijn

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72 Bible Verses about The Holy Spirit Forgives Sin

Acts 2:38 esv / 4 helpful votes helpful not helpful.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

1 John 2:12 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.

1 John 2:1 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 1:9 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Hebrews 8:12 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Colossians 3:13 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Ephesians 4:32 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 1:7 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Romans 8:1 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:23 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Acts 13:38 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,

Acts 10:43 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 3:19 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,

John 3:16 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Luke 24:47 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 23:34 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Luke 6:37 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Luke 3:3 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 11:25 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Matthew 26:28 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 6:15 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,

Matthew 6:12 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Isaiah 55:7 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord , that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 43:25 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isaiah 1:18 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord : though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Psalm 130:4 ESV / 3 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

1 John 2:2 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:7 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 Peter 3:9 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

James 5:16 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Hebrews 10:17 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Hebrews 8:2 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

A minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.

Colossians 2:1-23 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. ...

Colossians 1:14 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13-14 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:1-29 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, ...

Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4:2 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

Romans 8:26 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 6:2 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 4:7-8 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Romans 3:23 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Acts 26:18 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Acts 2:1 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.

Acts 2:1-47 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. ...

John 14:26 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 3:16-17 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Luke 23:33-34 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Luke 17:4 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 17:3 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,

Luke 12:10 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Luke 7:47-48 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 12:31 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:4 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

So that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 5:23-24 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:7 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Daniel 9:9 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him

Isaiah 43:3 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

Isaiah 1:3 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Proverbs 28:13 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Proverbs 17:9 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

Psalm 130:2 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

Psalm 103:12 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 32:5 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord ,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles , a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Contact me: openbibleinfo (at) gmail.com.

John 20:22

Behold, the lamb of God

REFLECTIONS TODAY

Gird your loins

As Jesus comes to John the Baptist, John points him out as “the Lamb of God,” thereby setting the tone of Jesus’ mission to be like the lamb of the Passover (Ex 12:3), or the sacrificial lamb offered for the expiation of the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Nm 29:7-8). When John sees the Spirit coming on Jesus, he knows that Jesus in turn will “baptize” people, not simply with water but also with the Holy Spirit. In time, Jesus will reveal to the Samaritan woman a spring of water welling up to eternal life when speaking of the Spirit he will give (Jn 4:14). He will “hand over the spirit” on the cross (Jn 19:30) and in the evening of his resurrection, he will breathe on the disciples, empowering them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). The sacrifice of Jesus as the Lamb of God is made through the power of the Holy Spirit; it is reenacted upon the altar through the ages by the action of the same Spirit.

FIRST READING • 1 Jn 2:29—3:6 

If you consider that God is righteous, you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by him. 

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. 

Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM • Ps 98 

“All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”   

GOSPEL • Jn 1:29-34 

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Source: “365 Days with the Lord 2023,” St. Paul’s, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; E-mail: [email protected].

Fully Catholic Radio

Receive The Holy Spirit. Those Whose Sins You Forgive, They Are Forgiven…

Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven

Fr Dexter Brereton

After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said , “ Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, They are forgiven; For those whose sins you retain, They are retained. “

Today, I want to celebrate my friend Cuthbert, who is ill now. Cuthbert, or Cutty as he is known told me once about his upbringing. He grew up in East Dry River. His mother had seven children with his father. When he was fourteen, his father left the family home and he grew up without a stable man in his life. He did not have the language to tell me, in so many words that it was a hard and bitter experience for him. As a young man growing into adulthood, he vowed that he would be a better man than his father was.

The years passed, and Cuthbert, grew up and met a wonderful relaxed woman named Molly who he would marry and with whom he would have a son and three daughters. As fate would have it, his father, many years later, made contact with him and with some hesitation, he managed to fashion some kind of relationship with his estranged father. The old man died. The Home for the Aged where his father stayed, called him and said that no one came to collect the old man’s body. Would he care to do so? With his wife’s permission and loving support, he dutifully buried his father, giving him a grand send-off.

The story became strange at this point since, his mother, still alive, was ANGRY with her son for burying his good-for-nothing father who left him years ago. ‘He deseve a pauper’s funeral!’ said she. And she stopped speaking to him a good little while.

I was filled with admiration for my friend as he related this story. Yes, he was abandoned as a lad, but he was really and truly free. By the time he met his father as an adult, he was no longer held captive by his past. It became possible for him to grant forgiveness to the Old Man, his father who was not there for him. In the measure that he poured out forgiveness on his own father, he experienced the grace of forgiveness in his own life. His mother’s story was a bit of the opposite. She was in some sense still captive to the past. Using the language of today’s gospel reading she ‘retained’ his sins, and his sins remained…but they also remained within her own mind and heart. Cuthbert and his mom remind me of Jesus’ saying to the disciples as he sent them out:

After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said: “ Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, They are forgiven; For those whose sins you retain, They are retained.

We have within our hands the ability to keep other people in chains, or the ability to set them free. Jesus’ words remind me that in setting other people free, in the act of forgiveness, I also set myself free. Amen.

Jesus, you said to your apostles, those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, those whose sins you retain they are retained, we pray for people and nations and entire cultures which have been badly treated for a long time by others. Lord, we know that the temptation is to ‘retain’ the sins of our aggressors, to judge them as ‘forever guilty.’ Pour out your grace on those situations so that victims and aggressors may make a step toward each other and that the victims of aggression discover the truth that ‘those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. ’

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Penticost - The power of the Holy SPirit at work in us

Penticost, The Power Of The Holy Spirit At Work In Us

receive the holy spirit whose sins you forgive

The Holy Spirit Breaks Down Barriers Of Division

The Holy Spirit At Pentecost

Pentecost Bible Readings – 2011

Penticost Vigil - Where The Spirit Of God Is, There Is Unity.

Penticost Vigil – Where The Spirit Of God Is, There Is Unity.

Penticost, The Outpouring Of The Holy Spirit To Unite The World

John 20:19-31 New American Bible (Revised Edition)

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, ( A ) when the doors were locked, where the disciples [ a ] were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. [ b ] The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. ( B ) 21  [ c ] [Jesus] said to them again, ( C ) “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  [ d ] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ( D ) “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  [ e ] ( E ) Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas. 24  Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25  So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” ( F ) 26  Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” ( G ) 27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28  [ f ] ( H ) Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29  [ g ] Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? ( I ) Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Conclusion. [ h ] 30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. ( J ) 31  But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. ( K )

  • 20:19 The disciples : by implication from Jn 20:24 this means ten of the Twelve, presumably in Jerusalem. Peace be with you : although this could be an ordinary greeting, John intends here to echo Jn 14:27 . The theme of rejoicing in Jn 20:20 echoes Jn 16:22 .
  • 20:20 Hands and…side : Lk 24:39–40 mentions “hands and feet,” based on Ps 22:17 .
  • 20:21 By means of this sending, the Eleven were made apostles, that is, “those sent” (cf. Jn 17:18 ), though John does not use the noun in reference to them (see note on Jn 13:16 ). A solemn mission or “sending” is also the subject of the post-resurrection appearances to the Eleven in Mt 28:19 ; Lk 24:47 ; Mk 16:15 .
  • 20:22 This action recalls Gn 2:7 , where God breathed on the first man and gave him life; just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. Cf. also the revivification of the dry bones in Ez 37 . This is the author’s version of Pentecost. Cf. also the note on Jn 19:30 .
  • 20:23 The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the sacrament of penance. See Mt 16:19 ; 18:18 .
  • 20:28 My Lord and my God : this forms a literary inclusion with the first verse of the gospel: “and the Word was God.”
  • 20:29 This verse is a beatitude on future generations; faith, not sight, matters.
  • 20:30–31 These verses are clearly a conclusion to the gospel and express its purpose. While many manuscripts read come to believe , possibly implying a missionary purpose for John’s gospel, a small number of quite early ones read “continue to believe,” suggesting that the audience consists of Christians whose faith is to be deepened by the book; cf. Jn 19:35 .

Cross references

  • 20:19–23 : Mt 28:16–20; Mk 16:14–18; Lk 24:36–44.
  • 20:20 : 14:27.
  • 20:21 : 17:18; Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:47–48.
  • 20:22 : Gn 2:7; Ez 37:9; 1 Cor 15:45.
  • 20:23 : Mt 16:19; 18:18.
  • 20:25 : 1 Jn 1:1.
  • 20:26 : 21:14.
  • 20:28 : 1:1.
  • 20:29 : 4:48; Lk 1:45; 1 Pt 1:8.
  • 20:30 : 21:25.
  • 20:31 : 3:14, 15; 1 Jn 5:13.

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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  1. Pentecost! Receive the Holy Spirit

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  2. 7 Sacraments

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  3. Day 4: Bishop Boyea & The Seven Sacraments: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” (John 20:23)

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  4. Story

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  5. Pentecost Sunday

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  6. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them

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  6. Title: Jesus's Disciples Receive Holy Spirit ( Part 2) || Teacher: Bishop Dr. Emmanuel Aftab

COMMENTS

  1. John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you

    Berean Standard Bible If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." Berean Literal Bible If you might forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you might retain any, they are retained." King James Bible

  2. What is the correct interpretation of John 20:23?

    Colossians 2:13-14 says Jesus forgave all our sins. All these passages confirm that Jesus is the one who forgives sin, and He forgives all of our sins. If we have had genuine faith in Him, someone else cannot later decide we are not forgiven one sin or another. So, what exactly did Jesus mean in John 20:23?

  3. John 20:22-24 NIV

    22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." Jesus Appears to Thomas 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[ a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. Read full chapter Footnotes

  4. John, CHAPTER 20

    As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 * And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, m "Receive the holy Spirit. 23 * n Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Thomas. 24 Thomas, called Didymus, ...

  5. John 20:23

    If you forgive any men's sins, they are forgiven, and if you hold them unforgiven, they are unforgiven.". Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said.

  6. John 20:22

    As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you." 22 When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."…. Berean Standard Bible · Download.

  7. John 20:23

    The disciples' power to forgive sins is linked to the gift of the Spirit in John 20:22, and not in human power. [3] The verbs for forgiving and retaining are in the passive form, indicating that God is the one in action. [3]

  8. John 20:22

    22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 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.". 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!"

  9. John 20:21-23

    As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Some Preliminary Questions

  10. John 20:23 Meaning of If You Forgive Anyone Their Sins

    John 20:23 "If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." Explanation and Commentary of John 20:23 After telling the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, which would happen more fully at Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus sends the disciples to continue his ministry and to preach the Gospel.

  11. What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, "Receive Ye the Spirit"?

    And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:21-23). Elsewhere 1 we have discussed the matter of the apostles declaring the "forgiveness of sins."

  12. John 20:21-23 NRSV

    John 20:21-23 — The New King James Version (NKJV) 21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are ...

  13. What Is Meant by the "Retaining" of Sins?

    After Our Lord breathed on his apostles, he said to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:22). "Retained" here means refused to forgive: for those whose sins you refuse to forgive, they are not forgiven.

  14. What Does the Bible Say About The Spirit Of Forgiveness?

    And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." ... Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, ...

  15. Forgive and Forget

    In the first place, we confess our sins because of what Jesus said: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. …. Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:21, 23) How would the Apostles know whose sins to forgive and whose to retain (i.e., not ...

  16. "And Those Whose Sins Ye Shall Retain.

    In John's Gospel (20:23), the disciples receive the Holy Spirit. Then, they are told: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, are retained ." We hear a good deal about the first part of this sentence but little of the last part, this "whose sins you shall retain. "

  17. Receive the Holy Spirit Whose sins you forgive are forgiven ...

    Pentecost Sunday John: 20:19-23 "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (Jn 15: 26). These are the words that the Evangelist John received from Christ's lips in the Upper Room, during the Last Supper on the eve of his Passion.

  18. What Does the Bible Say About The Holy Spirit Forgives Sin?

    Luke 23:33-34 ESV / 2 helpful votesHelpfulNot Helpful. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.". And they cast lots to divide his garments.

  19. John 20:21 Again Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you. As the Father

    Verses 21-23. - (4) Peace, spiration of the Holy Spirit, and conference of power to remit or retain sin. Verse 21. - Therefore [Jesus] said unto them again, Peace be unto you. With added emphasis, and in obvious reference to his valedictory discourse, he gave to them the essence of his own sublime repose, the blending of an infinite joy with a measureless sorrow; the equilibrium that springs ...

  20. John 20:23 Context: Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven them

    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.". 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the ...

  21. Behold, the lamb of God

    Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23). The sacrifice of Jesus as the Lamb of God is made through the power of the Holy Spirit; it is reenacted upon the altar through the ages by the action of the same Spirit. FIRST READING • 1 Jn 2:29—3:6

  22. Receive The Holy Spirit. Those Whose Sins You Forgive, They Are Forgiven

    "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, They are forgiven; For those whose sins you retain, They are retained. We have within our hands the ability to keep other people in chains, or the ability to set them free. Jesus' words remind me that in setting other people free, in the act of forgiveness, I also set myself free ...

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    LIVE: Mass on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God at the Manila Cathedral presided by Fr. Vicente Gabriel S.J. Bautista, Vice...

  24. Worship January 7, 2024

    The special thing about baptism is that it reminds us that our sins are washed away and we have a new life and a new beginning. Baptism uses water in a baptist church Lots of water. But water isn't what does the the job. The Holy Spirit does that. Baptism is much more than just taking a bath.

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    Sunday Morning Livestream

  26. John 20:19-31

    As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 [ d]And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. 23 [ e]Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."