Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 16 No. 3 March 2014
Page 2


John 20:23

Louis RushmoreWe have been asked to ‘shed some light’ on John 20:23, which reads, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23 NKJV). This was spoken exclusively or only to the eleven surviving apostles following the resurrection of Jesus Christ and prior to His Ascension. There are at least three ways that we can go about interpreting the meaning of what Jesus said to His apostles on that occasion: (1) Examine the literal meaning of the words in the original language of Greek, including and especially the verb tenses, (2) Turn to parallel or similar declarations of our Lord to His apostles, and (3) Analyze the way in which the apostles did what they were instructed to do in John 20:23 or similar passages.

(1) Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible gives us a hint of the verb tenses, which materially affect one’s understanding of the verse. “If of any ye may loose the sins, they are loosed to them; if of any ye may retain, they have been retained” (John 20:23 YLT emphasis added). Even more clearly, Wuest’s The New Testament: An Expanded Translation indicates, correctly so, that the apostles were authorized to do on earth what had already been determined in heaven. “If the sins of any certain individuals you retain in not forgiving them, they have been previously retained and thus have not been forgiven, with the present result that they are retained and in a state of not being forgiven” (John 20:23 Wuest, emphasis added). After all, it was not heaven and the Godhead taking orders from the apostles, but rather, the apostles followed the divinely given instructions through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrases “they are forgiven” and “they are retained” are both perfect passive verbs, meaning, “they have been forgiven” [already] and they have been retained” [already].

(2) Two other passages in particular where Jesus Christ addressed only His apostles contain essentially the same instruction. To the apostle Peter, Jesus said, “and I will give to thee the keys of the reign of the heavens, and whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose upon the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” (Matthew 16:19 YLT emphasis added). “Verily I say to you, Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” (Matthew 18:18 YLT emphasis added). Clearly, our Lord authorized His apostles to conduct themselves in His service in a prescribed way, rather than subjecting Himself, the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit to the apostles.

(3) Regarding the matter of remitting or of not remitting sins, the way in which the apostles of Christ went about that was through the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ with its scheme of redemption or salvation. After the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), they preached the Gospel. The apostle Peter’s sermon was recorded in Acts 2. In verse 38, he told the believers present who had inquired about salvation (Acts 2:37), “…Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” That mirrored the words of Jesus Christ to the apostles immediately before His Ascension. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Throughout the New Testament, the inspired writers repeatedly taught that sins were remitted or forgiven at the point of baptism (i.e., preceded by acquaintance with the Gospel, Romans 10:17; believing Jesus to be the Christ, Messiah or Savior, John 8:24; repentance, Luke 13:3; professing Jesus to be the Christ, Acts 8:37). “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). This one baptism that remains valid today (Ephesians 4:5) is water baptism (1 Peter 3:20), which is immersion in imitation of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Being “baptized into His [Jesus Christ’s] death” is where the saved contacts the saving blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5).

“‎What he commits to the disciples and to us is the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God by correctly announcing the terms of forgiveness” (Robertson’s). “Here, then, they, directed by the Holy Spirit, “remit” and “retain” sins by declaring the terms on which Christ will pardon” (Johnson).

In the absolute sense only deity can actually forgive or retain sins; but, inasmuch as the gospel is God’s power to save [Romans 1:16] and the act of preaching it makes it available to others; and since the response of sinners to it, either by accepting it or rejecting it, determines whether the sins of those who thus do are remitted or retained, proclaimers of the gospel in this sense do “remit” and “retain” sins. (Woods)

From examination of original language verb tenses, parallel or similar passages and apostolic application of John 20:23, it is apparent that “the apostles doctrine” (Acts 2:42) was heaven sent, and that remission of sins was and is according to divine mandate. No means or manner of salvation or redemption is available aside from obeying Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:8-9) or performing the will of God (Matthew 7:21-23) for anyone living in the Christian Age (Romans 7:6-7; Hebrews 8:13; 12:24).

Works Cited

Johnson, B.W. The People’s New Testament. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.

New King James Bible (NKJV). CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1982.

Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.

Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the Gospel According to John. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2005.

Wuest, Kenneth S. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961.

oung, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (YLT). CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.


What Is Worship?

Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor

Rodney NulphWorship is certainly the highlight of the week for faithful, devoted children of God. It is a blessed privilege and honor to bow before “the Great I Am.” Jesus made worship a high priority (Luke 4:16). Sadly, far too often, worship has been reduced to merely a ritual, social gathering or empty routine (Matthew 15:7-8). God is the audience in worship, and as such, He not only deserves, but demands our full attention and devotion. Can you imagine a highly respected person delivering a speech, only to have some of the assembly yawning in boredom, texting, playing with children or daydreaming? Sadly, when the King of kings is “on center stage,” that is exactly what those in the assembly sometimes do. In talking with the woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus declared, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). What a lesson on worship!

Firstly, we learn the aimGod. Sadly, the misdirection in worship is often driven by innovations that please the people. However, biblically, we must understand that it is God who is the aim, and thus our ultimate concern should be to please God. Worship is not about man (although mankind gets a huge blessing and benefit from it), it is about God! God told Israel, “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). When John fell at the angel’s feet to worship him, the instructions were clear, do not worship me but rather “…worship God…” (Revelation 19:10; cf. 22:9). God is the aim of worship!

Secondly, we learn the actionworship. Worship is hard work! True worship requires thought, energy, effort, concentration and focus. The word Jesus used for worship (which is the most commonly used word for worship in the New Testament) denotes bowing and prostrating oneself. We sometimes get the idea that our padded pews are places where we sit down, get comfortable and let the participants entertain us. However, nothing is further from the true concept of worship. Each worshipper is a participant! As such, each one needs to expend effort to make certain that the aim of worship (God) is pleased, honored and impressed! If we walk out of the assembly after a period of worship and are not spiritually energized and physically exhausted, we may need to reconsider our idea of worship.

Thirdly, we learn the absolutemust. For the faithful Christian, worship is not optional! Worship is a matter of spiritual life and death. Some think that worshipping God is a weekly option. However, for those connected to Calvary, worship ranks #1 on the priority list. Faith is a “must” (Hebrews 11:6); baptism is a “must” (John 3:7); the judgment is a “must” (2 Corinthians 5:10) and worship is a “must”!

Fourthly, we learn the attitudespirit. Worship is not an empty ritual or thoughtless series of acts. The mind and the intellect must be engaged! Paul declared, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Attitude is so important that Jesus said if your brother and you are not in agreement, worship cannot be offered until things are made right (Matthew 5:23-24; 11:25).

Lastly, we learn the authoritytruth. Far too many believe that anything offered in the name of worship is pleasing to God. However, we must remember that since God is the aim of worship, it is by His authority that true worship is defined! God has clearly outlined what He authorizes in worship (singing, Ephesians 5:19; praying, 1 Timothy 2:8; preaching, Acts 2:42; giving, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 and communing, Acts 20:7). Anything added to or subtracted from these specified acts is done by some other authority and is vain worship (Matthew 15:9)!

Worship is certainly a blessed privilege. We are treading on “holy ground” when we come before the Creator and offer our adoration. Therefore, we must be serious, sincere and Scriptural when we worship Almighty God. Following the death of two men who failed to take worship seriously, God affirmed, “…I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified…” (Leviticus 10:3b). May we ever glorify our God!

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