John 20:22-23 KJVS

And when he had said this, he breathed on them , and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Who is the subject carrying the action of forgiving sins and in which context is the Holy Spirit coming in the picture?


5 Answers 5


A scripture of remarkable interest! First of all, it is important to recognize that Jesus in not actually accomplishing the act of giving them the Holy Ghost. Instead, this seems to be John's account of the same declaration found by Luke where Christ commanded His disciples to "tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Jesus breathes upon them, mirroring the first initial dynamic found on the Day of Pentecost where the realization of being filled with the Spirit occurred. "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind..." (Acts 2:2). The subsequent activity that follows the "wind" is that they were "all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them the utterance" (vs.4).

As to the forgiving of sins, the key is the perfect tense Greek of what is written as "are" in English. That is the fundamental key...sins that "are" remitted and sins that "are" retained. In other words, as was the case with the leading class of Jewish scribes and Pharisee's, who operated under the authority to "loose" and "bind" (though the exact parallel doesn't operate within the same dynamic as they), Jesus was declaring his disciples, upon receiving the Holy Ghost, would have the authority to declare whose sins have been forgiven and whose sins have not been forgiven. There is within this a modicum of "judging righteous judgment." God indeed gave the church, specifically in this case, His disciples the ability to operate within that authoritative paradigm. Hope this helped...


The difficulty here is that Jesus seems to be giving the Holy Spirit in John 20:22, long before the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4. Craig S. Keener (Acts: An Exegetical Commentary : Volume 1) says some scholars think that Luke and John view the same event but with different theological emphases. This leads Keener to ask whether Luke had invented his version of Pentecost or whether John altered the setting so as to include the Pentecost before his Gospel finishes. An alternative position is that John and Acts simply come from two different traditions and each was written without knowledge of the other.

J. Carl L. Laney (John- Moody Gospel Commentary) says those who take John 20:22 as a promise of the Spirit's coming fail to appreciate the full significance of the symbolic gesture associated with Jesus' words. He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." He did not say, "You will receive the Holy Spirit." In Laney's view (and that of Plumer), this plainly implies that something was bestowed there and then, very likely a provisional provision for the disciples during the fifty days until Pentecost. We are not told why a provisional provision would be necessary, and it could be a difficulty for Trinitarianism if Jesus was unable to bestow a full provision of the Holy Spirit.

On the face of it, in giving the disciples the Holy Spirit, Jesus is giving the ten apostles (Thomas being absent) the power to forgive sins:

John 20:23: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

However, Laney goes on to say that the use of the perfect tense means that the sins must already have been forgiven prior to the offering of forgiveness by the disciples. If so, this means that Jesus did not give the disciples personal authority to forgive sins but only to inform the sinners that God had forgiven them. This is theologically sound but, in my view, an equally strong case can be made for reading the text as saying that Jesus did give the disciples personal authority to forgive sins. I base this on Jesus' words that "whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." If Jesus was giving the disciples the authority to choose whom not to forgive, he must also have been giving them the authority to choose whose sins are to be forgiven.


I’m a lay Christian.

Seems ridiculous and prideful to even entertain the idea that Jesus would delegate the responsibility to forgive sins to any men, especially “new Christians” like the disciples.

Simple interpretation is that Jesus is speaking with the Holy Spirit (HS) and is using audible words as a teaching moment for his disciples.

HS entered the disciples in v22, Jesus is stating a fact that he sends the HS and those who receive the HS with repentance are forgiven. Only HS can judge the hearts of men.

Same event at Pentecost, just larger scale.

Same event in the life of every Christian ever since.

  • I don't see how this answers the question of 'Whosoever sins ye remit'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 9:58
  • @Nigel, I believe Jesus is addressing the Holy Spirit who just entered the disciples. “Ye” in this sentence is the Holy Spirit. Power to forgive/cancel out debt is God’s alone.
    – Arpster
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 14:55
  • I do not see how you have proved that, hermeneutically. You have just expressed an unsubstantiated opinion which is not shared by competent commentators.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 18:45

Who in the Torah & Gospels is granted authority to forgive sins in Heaven versus on Earth?

#1. Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֖ים) has the ultimate Authority - in Heaven - to Forgive sins. - declared by Yoseph son of Yaqov in Genesis 50:17-19.

#2. Our God YHVH (יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ) gives the Kohenim from the tribe of Levi the ability - on the Earth - to offer atonement for Yisrael's sins in Leviticus 5.

#3. Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth from the tribe of Yehudah states the 'Ben-Adam' or 'Son (Υἱὸς) of Man (ἀνθρώπου)' has authority to forgive sins - On the Earth - in Mark 2:6-12.

#4. In Luke 5:24, we are reminded that the Son (Υἱὸς) of Man (ἀνθρώπου) has Authority (ἐξουσίαν) - on the Earth (γῆς) - to Forgive (ἀφιέναι) sins (ἁμαρτίας).

#5. The Father (Πατὴρ) has ultimate Authority - in Heaven - to Forgive sins in Matthew 6:14-15.

  • Prior to the Gospel account of John 20:22-23, Matthew 6:14-15 puts emphasis on our God's ultimate Authority in heaven to forgive our sins, if we choose to forgive others on earth.

The subject are the apostles and the Holy Spirit together, in a synergic or co-acting way.

Bear with me as I will now explain this intriguing point:

God-the Father through His co-eternal Logos/Son, to whom pertains the same divine glory and honour as to the Father (John 5:23) gave to humans an authority to become sons of God, co-heirs of Christ Jesus - the Incarnate God (John 1:12). The "authority" means a capacity, a power and possibility, not an automatic possession. That is to say, if I am given a tomahawk to repel a grizzly bear attacking me and I do not use it out of fear or some other pusillanimous feature within me, then bear will have me for a dinner to be sure. Similarly, God gave humans through His Incarnate Logos His Power for overcoming the power of sin; yet, man is free to use this Power to defeat the power of sin or to remain in slavery of sin and be eventually be fully defeated and "devoured" by it, accepting the "second death" (Revelation 2:11). Yes, even after Christ offered all humanity to be set free from sin through Him, still humans are left an unrestrained ability (called "freedom of choice") of not using this authority given by Christ and, thus freely choosing unfreedom - i.e. the slavery to sins, the end of which is the death (cf. Romans 6:23).

However, what about them who use the Authority to smash the teeth of sin through It and become the sons of God by adoption through the natural only-begotten Son of God - the Lord and the God Jesus Christ? Now, in them there is a presence of the Father and the Son (John 14:23), and of the Holy Spirit of whom they become living temples (1 Cor. 6:19).

What are they able to do with this Uni-Threefold presence? Oh, a stupid question! Rather one should ask: What are they not able to do with this Presence of the Trinity in their hearts? And if somebody hears that this is a rhetorical question, he will not be mistaken, for indeed: everything in is possible for a believer, for a God-possessing person (cf. Mark 9:23)! For example, can they love each other as God-the Father loved them through showing this love by the sacrifice of His Son for them, or can they love each other as God-the Son loved them by undergoing the death on the Cross for them? Yes, they can and they are commanded to do so (John 15:12)! But not by themselves only, but by God working in their hearts, and they co-working with God, for such things are impossible without Christ (John 15:5). Yet, neither God is a hypnotiser who works without our consent, He cannot love instead of us, but awaits us to participate in His love as fully as possible, striving to "His-ly" (i.e. that pertains to Him) perfection that He does in no way grudge from them but rather asks them to embrace (Matthew 5:48).

If so, now a further question that pertains to the gist of the present matter: what is more, what is greater, love or forgiveness? A stupid question, as a matter of fact! Both are divine qualities and the second is impossible without the first, for one can forgive only by loving, and vice-versa: loving necessarily will lead to, eventually, forgiving. Now, if in God the two are together, in humans those two features appear to be in a dynamic cause-effect and processual way, as love developing to forgiveness. However, even among humans, still both love and forgiveness somehow contain and imply each other necessarily. If a husband continues to love his wife even after having known about her cheating on him, then he will necessarily also forgive her, for continuation of love necessarily implies the continuation of the readiness to forgive also. Therefore, if God gives His disciples the authority to love each other (and even all humans including enemies) in His-ly way, then necessarily God gives them also authority to forgive as well in His-ly way. Yet, as this love humans have synergically with Him, so also the forgiving humans have synergically with Him, and thus the subject of the passage are both apostles and God - the Father, the Son and the Spirit, present in the hearts of the apostles and working with the latter freely co-acting with the Trinity.

Yes, horrible is the divine authority granted by Christ to His disciples; angels will not be given the authority to be Judges, but to the apostles and all the Christians this authority was given (Matthew 19:28), even to extent of the authority of judging the angels (1 Cor. 6:3) (of course, the fallen angels are implied, for why to judge the good angels, unless one is out of ones wits?); thus, Christians become co-gods with God by adoption, and they love and judge as does God, through Him, in co-action with Him.

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