Re: John 20:21-22, Receive the Holy Spirit
It is really better to look at the whole text.
Originally posted by Lost
John 20:21-23 "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"
Jesus began by telling the disciples, "Peace to you!" Oh, how they needed to hear those words. Their Messiah has died, and although He has now come back to them, nothing seems to be going the way they expected. They have lots of questions, lots of doubts, lots of confusion and hurt. They need peace. Peace in their souls, peace with God, and Jesus gives it to them with these simple words. All their sins are forgiven and their relationship with God has been restored.
Then Jesus says, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." It is important to keep in mind who is hearing these words. A few verses earlier it says that the "eleven" were in the room. It used to be the "twelve" but Judas has betrayed them and is now dead, so there are just eleven. These are the first shepherds of the Church. Actually, Thomas is not with them, which shows that the term "the eleven" was simply used for "the hand-picked disciples."
An aspect of this sentence that gets lost in translation is that even though Jesus starts with the word, "as" meaning a similarity between his being sent by the Father and the disciples being sent by him, He then goes on to use entirely different words for sending. The first is the word "apostoleo" which puts the emphasis upon the authority of the one being sent. The word implies that Jesus, in being sent, had the authority of the Father given to him. It was now also his authority. However, Jesus sends (pempo) the disciples using a word that emphasizes the authority of the one doing the sending. The disciples do not have any authority handed to them, they only have the authority as long as they are doing what Jesus sent them to do. Theirs is a derived authority, it is not theirs, but is always given to them by Christ.
Finally Jesus does in fact give them the authority to forgive and retain sins. This is the background for the Roman Catholic doctrine, but it does not mean that mean that forgiveness of sins is not only through Jesus. In fact, the paragraph above shows that this is not the case. They can only forgive and retain sins by the authority of Jesus Christ which He exercises through them. By-the-way, the Roman Catholic church does not say that forgiveness of sins is not only through Jesus. The priest does not give forgiveness of sins, he gives works of penance that help to repay the temporal punishment of sins. The eternal punishment of sins is completely forgiven in Christ. The problem with their doctrine is the belief that anyone can remove the temporal punishment of sins. They see the temporal punishment as a part of God's justice that can be in some way appeased. However, the temporal punishment of sins is nothing more than the natural consequences of sins, and it does not extend beyond this life, as death is the final consequence of sins, and nothing can prevent it.
Jesus was giving a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that they could exercise his authority for forgiveness on earth in his physical absence. As ministers of the Church, they were given the special power to announce the forgiveness of sins to repentant sinners, and to announce the wrath of God to unrepentant sinners. This is the same forgiveness that was won for all mankind on the cross, but no one believes it until someone tells them that their sins are in fact forgiven. This should only be said to those who realize that they are sinners who need forgiveness.
This passage does give some support to the rcc practice of the confessional. James and Paul make it fairly clear that the church, through her shepherds, was to hear people confess their sins and to announce the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to them. From early on this was done as part of the public worship service in front of all believers. As the church grew, and an increasing number of unregenerate began to fill pews, the need to take this rather private matter of bearing one's soul to God behind closed doors became necessary, and so the private confessional was born. The original intent was simply that when a member of the church became burdened with sins of which they were not sure God would forgive them, they could go to an elder (pastor) and confess that sin. Then the elder would announce God's forgiveness as obtained for them by Jesus Christ. Having God's own man announcing God's forgiveness verbally, and especially with a specific command and promise of Jesus standing behind this forgiveness, that if the pastor forgives sins, God forgives them as well, was a great comfort to the saints. It is there not to create an aristocratic priesthood, but to comfort the priesthood of all believers in Christ Jesus and to strengthen their faith. It's a really good practice if done properly. Of course, no one would go to the pastor if they thought he would hold those sins against them or gossip about them, so the Church set up rules forbidding such actions by threatening such gossips and overlords with being defrocked. Only a few churches today maintain this practice.
Why does Jesus give the Holy Spirit to the disciples twice? This dispensation was only for the ministers of the Church, and is therefore only given to the "eleven". Thomas got it later, and it was also handed on to Mattias and Paul. When other ministers were chosen to serve the growing church, the Apostles laid hands on them, giving them this dispensation of the Spirit, much like Elijah laying his robe on the shoulders of Elisha in the OT. When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, all the believers were there. We do not know how many, but we know that it was many more than just the "twelve". The Marys were all there, and a great many more. The Holy Spirit came on them all as a gift to the priesthood of all believers. However, after this giving of the Holy Spirit, only the Twelve got up to preach. This was because of the extra dispensation of the Spirit which had been given to them earlier by Jesus himself.
This is also what stands behind the Apostolic Succession, but those churches who brag much about having such succession have added many rules to this. They claim that there is a hierarchy among ordained "priests" (not a good word for the ministry office), and that only Bishops can pass on the apostolic succession. The Bible makes almost no distinction between Presbyters (elders or bishops) and deacons (ministers), except that the elder had to be able to teach. Therefore, those churches which broke away from the RCC during the reformation and brought their pastors with them, and have continued the practice of ordaining new pastors also have the apostolic succession. While the words are never used in Scripture, Paul makes it quite clear to both Timothy and Titus that the reason they have authority over the churches under their care is because of the gift of the Spirit that was given to them by the laying on of hands.
I know that this understanding of all this is very unpopular with modern evangelicals, but that does not mean that it is not true. It only means that they are terrified of anything that looks remotely Roman and so they rewrite the Bible to suit their prejudices. This is not a good way of doing interpretation.
"Good God! what wretchedness I beheld! The people have no knowledge whatever of Christian teaching and unfortunately many pastors are quite incompetent and unfit for teaching. Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments, the live as though they were irrational beasts, and now that the Gospel has been restored they have mastered the fine art of abusing liberty." --1528 Martin Luther
Doesn't look like much has changed since then.