Q.- Did the disciples really have power to forgive sins?
A. The text; John 20:22- 23, is one of those ticklish passages of scripture:
First, it is contrary to scripture to accept this passage with the notion that Jesus was giving his disciples the the ability to forgive sins in the same way He alone did and still does today.
For them to do this, it would, of necessity, elevate them to the position of being equal with God (as some seem to preach), Jesus himself admitted that GOD ALONE can forgive sins.
In Mark 2 10 Jesus affirmed that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,
Secondly, we find NO examples in the life of the apostles, of their forgiving sins in the sense in which some religions practise it today. The is no scriptural precedent.
More accurately, what I believe he is saying here, is that they were able to ask for forgiveness or call judgment upon those who sinned; not in an arbitrary sense, but as directed by the Spirit of God.
Some excellent examples:
1) Stephen, the first martyr, in Acts 7:60 - When he was being stoned, he forgave those who were actually killing him. "And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, Do not lay this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." It is only in eternity we will understand the effect of that action. Perhaps it is this that played a role in the ultimate conversion of Saul, for he was there having a prominent part in the death of Stephen
2) In acts Chapter 8:24, it is clear that Philip did pronounce judgment upon Simon for his sins. In verse 24 we read: Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the LORD for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me
3) In Acts 13:8-11, the story of Elymas the sorcerer is another example where Paul, the Apostle, did not grant forgiveness for Elymas´sins, but promptly decreed God´s judgment upon him, because of his sins : Verse 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
4) Ananias and Saphira are examples of where God meted out judgment through the disciples. (I accept the view that Peter was very much surprised when Ananias fell dead), but he knew what would happen to the wife, based on the earlier incident.
Forgiving others has always been the mark of Christian life. This is not merely words uttered, but meant to be consistent with our lifestyle; and as lead by the spirit of God, as we clearly recognize that God is not limited in what he can chose to do through His children at any time and in any age.
* * *We remind you to search the Scriptures like those noble Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 - " to see if these things be so. "
Dean Stephen FICB
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