Today we are going to address a question that many of our readers are asking: “Who can forgive sins according to the Bible?” The question looks straightforward; however, it’s also a point of contention among some Christians. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
What The Bible Says?
Throughout the bible, the scripture states multiple times that God has the power to forgive sins. Even the God of the Old Testament, most commonly associated with plagues and strict laws, is also a loving and forgiving God.
Here’s Psalm 103:12.
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
And in Psalm 130:7-8.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
But the message of love and forgiveness is especially central to Jesus’ ministry on Earth. And because He is God, he also has the power to forgive sins.
As he went around towns preaching the Gospel, he healed the sick and forgave sins. One of the best known instances is narrated in Mark chapter 2.
A big crowd had gathered in a house in Capernaum to listen to Jesus. Four men carrying a paralytic had to lower him from a hole in the roof to reach Jesus. And the first thing Jesus says to the paralytic is, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees and teachers of the law accused Jesus of blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. Here is where Jesus establishes his authority to forgive sins. Here’s Mark 2:10-11.
But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
So, according to the bible, Jesus, who is also God, can forgive sins.
Can a Catholic Priest Forgive Sins?
You may note that we’ve not said that ONLY God can forgive sins. That’s because, according to the Bible, the apostles (and thus the priests who came after them), also received the authority to forgive sins.
This is sometimes a major point of contention, especially between Catholic and Protestant faiths. Read for yourself and decide. Here’s what Jesus said when he appeared to his disciples after resurrecting (John 20:21-23).
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Interpreting this verse, Jesus gave his disciples express authority to forgive sins.
Here are some of the words a priest says during the sacrament of confession.
…May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
That said, it’s important to note that priests do not forgive sins based on their own power. They do it in the name of the Holy Trinity. They are essentially conveying God’s forgiveness to you.
Can We Forgive Each Other’s Sins?
Another reason we didn’t say that ONLY God can forgive sins is that we can also forgive sins. In fact, we are commanded to forgive each other.
Here’s Matthew 6:14-15.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
We can only forgive each other for sins that someone commits against us. That doesn’t mean that person has made things right with God. They still need to seek God’s forgiveness, for they sinned against God as well.
Are There Unforgivable Sins?
God is merciful and will forgive us of just about any sin, no matter how heinous. If you are truly contrite, God will forgive you.
But the bible mentions one sin that’s unforgivable. Jesus calls it blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Here’s Matthew 12:31.
And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
The Bible does not make clear what exactly blasphemy against the Spirit is. But Bible scholars interpret this as the act of rejecting the Holy Spirit or salvation.
Willfully rejecting the word of God is an unforgivable sin, punishable by eternal damnation.
Can You Confess Directly to God?
The sacrament of confession is important and all Catholics must take part in it. That said, certain circumstances can make it impossible to see a priest such as during the Covid 19 lockdown.
In that case, it’s alright to confess directly to God. This was confirmed by Pope Francis in 2020 when most Catholics couldn’t seek penance directly from a priest.
But if you are able to, you should confess to a priest.