Did The Power To Forgive Sin Die With The Apostles?

Or Did Christ Confer Power To His Apostles Down Through The Ages.

Father Robert Altier-Throughout history, people have denied that the Church can forgive sin, that is, they have rejected and denied the reality of this sacrament. The reformers said that sin is forgiven only through baptism. The Montanists and the Donatists said that the Church could forgive venial sin but could not forgive mortal sin. Interestingly, the Church teaches us that the only sins which absolutely must be confessed are the mortal sins. You have some people saying that the Church does not have the authority to forgive serious sin. The spiritual backing for this comes from a couple of different places. We can look, for instance, at Matthew 16 where Jesus says, You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church; whatever you hold bound on earth will be held bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then in Matthew 18, Jesus also extends the ability to forgive sin to all of the apostles, not just to Peter with the binding and loosing, but all the apostles. Most clearly, in John 20 after the Resurrection, Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you hold bound are held bound. There is the authority for both, to forgive or to refuse forgiveness. We see that God Himself is the One telling us that whatever you hold bound or forgive on earth will be held bound or forgiven in heaven. Therefore, we see that Our Lord Himself invested the apostles with the authority to forgive sins, but again it can also be used to refuse forgiveness. We will address why that would happen further on.

We see that this conferral of power to forgive sins is not a personal gift to the apostles, but rather we believe it was transferred through them to the Church as a permanent institution. All you have to do is think about it and say, “If Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sin but that authority died with the apostles, the rest of us are up a creek because it means there is no forgiveness of sin.” Unless sin ended with the death of the last apostle, there would be no more need to forgive anybody; and we know that is not the case, because we know that we live in the most sinful society the world has ever known. God also said, Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. So we know that His will to forgive and the grace of forgiveness is available to us, but it is a matter of availing ourselves of that grace. The power, then, was transmitted by the apostles to their successors in the same way that the power to say Mass and to preach was passed on to their successors. And it is obvious why. Sin is going to continue for all time; therefore, the forgiveness of sin is necessary for all time.

One of the tricks of the devil, and it works very well, is that he tries to shame you with it. He brings things up in front of you and says, “Look at what you did. You rotten thing, you, look at this sin! Can you believe you are such a disgusting creature as to do something like this?” Then we start falling into the self-pity and all the other stuff. Do not play his game. The thing to do is very simple; just say, “I have already confessed it and God has forgiven me.” If it has not been confessed, then say, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will confess it next time I go to confession.” Either way, you pull the rug out from underneath him. In the first one, you are acknowledging that you did it. What he wants is for you to either say, “I never did it,” or to say, “God hasn’t forgiven me.” So you are acknowledging both: “I have already confessed it and God has forgiven me.” I always like to add: “You lose, Satan.” You do not have to do that if you do not want to, but it is the truth. With the other one, it pulls the rug out from under him. He is trying to shame you with something, so if you stick it right back in his face and say, “Thank you. I will confess that as soon as I can,” what is he going to do? His attempt to shame you has failed because you took it and made it into something positive instead of the negative thing that he wanted to do with it. That is the way to handle it.

Do not play his game. The more we play around with the devil, the worse trouble we get ourselves into. So recognize how he works and tell him to get lost. Since his name is Lucifer, I like to call him “Loser-fer” because he is the ultimate loser. He has chosen against God and he is spending eternity in hell. That is what a loser is all about. As Mother Teresa said, the only ones who are a success in this life are the ones who succeed in getting to heaven, and the only ones who are a failure in this life are the ones who fail to get to heaven. It does not matter if you die with ten billion dollars. If you go to hell, what difference does it make? What profit is there for a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? What good does it do? The only thing that matters is getting to heaven, so do not play footsie with the devil. It does not do us any good at all.

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21 comments to Did The Power To Forgive Sin Die With The Apostles?

  • […] of the Spirit during this time. But this leads to the second point: Christians did not, as one priest puts it, suddenly stop sinning after the death of the last apostle. Where were those who had […]

  • Brian Cleary

    The apostles don’t have the power to forgive sins in themselves alone, but by virtue of their standing in for Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, see Mark 2, with the power of the Holy Spirit, given to them in John 20.

  • Igor

    Nowhere in the bible does it state explicitly that any power or authority is transferred beyond the original eleven Apostles. Jesus gave authority to the Apostles because the Kingdom of God had not yet arrived. It was believed at that time that the Kongdom of God was imminent so there was no need to have any authority passed to anyone after the Apostles because the KoG would arrive before that.

    • Acts 1:
      20 ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,

      “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”;
      and “Let another take his position of overseer.”
      21 So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place[g] in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

    • Igor

      The only authority explicitly given to the Apostles (and which has biblical reference) is to drive out demons (Mk 3:15). Jesus also (1) sent the Apostles out to preach (Mk 3:15, Lk 24:47) and (2) told them to forgive people’s sins (Jn 20:23). The Apostles did not have explicit authority to appoint the twelfth Apostle after the demise of Judas. The (unknown) author of Luke/Acts takes Psalms passages out of context and pre-supposes that they are relevant to the situation of the eleven Apostles. If it is claimed that the election of Matthias came about by some sort of divine intervention, that is just pre-supposition or assertion.

      If the Apostles believed that they had authority to elect Matthias, it was self-proclaimed. Inferring or pre-supposing that the Apostles had this authority does not establish that they actually did have such authority. Likewise any claim that the Apostles had authority to appoint successors and pass their authority to them has no (explicit) biblical basis.

      • Vivat Cor Jesu

        “The (unknown) author of Luke/Acts takes Psalms passages out of context and pre-supposes that they are relevant to the situation of the eleven Apostles.” I’ll rely on the Holy Spirits direction to St. Luke for his gospel and Acts not your own personal opinion, thank you very much. This is one of the great problems with protestantism. If you are “worthy” to interpret scripture your own way then everyone else is “worthy” to interpret scripture opposite from you.

        As for what the bible says, you know I’m sure that the bible is a Catholic book and the one true faith, Catholicism, relies on scripture and tradition. May God bless you and bring His light of truth into your life.

  • Mr Anthony Cotton

    Read John about forgiven sins John 20:19-23 No man today has the power to forgive sins. Jesus breathed on the apostles to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit to carry out this act. Example- Mark and John enter a village,and a man calls them all sorts of names against God. The Apostles just take no notice therefore the mans sins are not forgiven.
    Example- A woman comes up to the apostles,and says forgive me for i have sinned that i am an adulterer the apostles say God has forgiven you,remember the Holy Spirit is with them. They have seen that the woman wants to be forgiven,and is sincere. They then can say God has forgiven you.
    Jesus never gave the apostles the power to forgive sins. This is where the Catholic Church falls down. A priest cannot forgive sins,because the Holy Spirit has not came into him,which is given by God. Who has gave this priest the power to forgive sins. He was given instruction to be a priest,and then he was ordained a Priest,but he wasn`t given any powers whatsoever by God, only to follow Gods will.

    • Walt

      To state that the “this is where the Catholic Church falls down” is not only incredibly arrogant and inane but completely false. That comment should have been left unmade particularly for the good of your soul. Additionally, your analysis of the Holy Spirit not entering into a priest and, therefore, does not have any God given “powers” of authority is equally obnoxious and probably heretical. I suspect you are not a practicing Catholic or even a fallen away one. You have settled for a Protestant sect, of some sort, choose your flavor, and you are comfortable with it. Again, for the good of your soul, please move along continue your trolling efforts on some sort of non-Catholic website and continue your weak attempts to pursue relevancy.

  • theresa

    Jesus Christ was tortured and crucified on the cross for all our sins past present and future; HE IS THE LORD, OUR GOD who

  • michael

    A Catholic is chosen to be Saint, a Saint is therefore a person of humility and peity, confession is a Sacrament of mercy, begging God for forgiveness, as we are finite,God is infinite, the only throught humbling our pride could we truly be forgiven, as in the early centuries Church, Sacrament of Reconciliation were much more humiliating and penance were hard, a sinner may be denial from received Holy Eucharist for years. As today Catholic, we thanked the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Irish for the Confessional, thus today it is much more easy to receive the Sacrament of Mercy, many today want the easy out however, they want to follow the protestant way, don’t forget, they don’t have the Sacrament, only St.Peter was given the KEY, KEY? off course KEY TO FORGIVE, not Martin Luther by the way!!! he is burning in hell, Bob you could follow St. Peter on the narrow road to heaven or Martin Luther on the smooth road to destruction!!! again you are given free will from GOD.

    I urge you to read up on St. Leonard of Port Maurice sermon on Little number of those who are saved, then find a quite spot and meditate upon where you want to go, if you are a Catholic, Bob, which I think you are, have Our Divine Lord Word to heart,
    ” MANY ARE CALLED, BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN” in the number of chosen by Our Divine Lord, HE had Judas, so do not be he who was to be doom, be a Saint, because it would be an insult to THE DIVINE LORD for a chosen person to want an easy out to follow luther the prophet of doom!!!

  • Patty

    Thank you Father and all the other priests writing for this website. I can always find great subjects to think and learn more about. I believe one can have perfect contrition for sins and tell “all” to an unseen God – if it’s truly the Real One God….and the process of sanctification begins, but alone it is a very long road where one can get lost. With reconciliation to Jesus through confession by an ordained Catholic priest, the actions sin created in one’s interior immediately stops; if one has real contrition. Jesus grants an obvious Grace that heals and helps the sinner’s soul thus in reality restoring a soul to God who is All Good…This particular Grace is not handed over to other non-Catholic Churches although forgiveness of sins happens outside the Catholic Church. As Patriarch Isaac could not give his Inheritance Blessing more than once, I don’t think Jesus did either. But Esau was also rich and fruitful, but Jacob had the Living Blessing. I believe Jesus followed the same “Law” in the priestly apostolic succession as Patriarch Abraham did to Isaac who handed the Most Holy Promise onto Jacob and so on … To Jesus God added the Most Supernatural Blessing of the Mystical Mysterious Melchizidek and we can pretty much understand why Jesus wanted to keep priests proper, ordained, pure and strong in order to maintain His Church and be powerful sanctifiers for their brethren.

  • From the Pews, Tucson, AZ

    Thank you to all the courageous priest! God bless you. You are sooooo appreciated.
    We almost never hear the word sin mentioned in a homily out in the pews let alone reconciliation/confession. Recently our pastor read a letter from a famous (not Catholic) minister’s book regarding an alcoholic’s letter to God looking for God’s forgiveness. It would have been a great opportunity to mention Catholic confession but alas it was only meant as a story illustrating that God knows what’s in our heart. I wanted to ask the pastor after mass if the rules on Catholic confession had changed and where should we send our letters seeking forgiveness but didn’t think I could do it with a straight face. Forgiveness is a great start but the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation is perfect. Why not shout it from the roof tops? It sadden’s me that so many important issues are left un-spoken sermon after sermon.

    Keep up the good work. Some of us in the pews really hunger for unabashedly Catholic sermons.

  • Thank you for the article, Father. I was away from the church for 25 years. How I love and appreciate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Occasionally, a sin of the past comes into my mind, and I can’t remember if I confessed it when I returned to the church (one year ago). This continues to happen, but I know I made a good general confession then, and when I tried to mention one of these sins in confession, the priest told me not to look back. So I move forward–to seek greater union with God, trusting that all of that is truly behind me.

  • Tom

    Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus

    When I thanked Father Altier, I did not mean to imply that I doubted the power of Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was simply stating my weakness which I know that Our Lord will help overcome in time. For those who subscribe to the notion of sola fide and sola scriptura, the idea of personal forgiveness is convenientl. However, I would ask all of us to read the comments of Jeff Gares for he is telling the Truth. Only the Apostles and their successors were given the power to forgive sin. Remember when Our Lord said to them: ‘To you I give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, whose sins you shall forgive, are forgiven them and those who are held bound are held bound in Heaven’. Certainly Jesus did not intend that this Grace would only exist for the apostles and their disciples but rather would be passed down throughout all generations. The sacrament of Reconciliation is a guarantee of forgiveness of serious sin. While it is true that an individual can make an act of perfect contrition, one has no assurance (before God) that such contrition will or will not be perfect.


    May God Bless and Keep us in HIs Loving Arms

  • Hi Bob,
    Perfect contrition is required for God to forgive our serious sins outside the sacrament of penance. Perfect contrition means we must be truly sorry for our sins because our love for God is perfect and we are truly sorry that we offended Him. Being sorry for our sins because we fear going to hell is imperfect contrition and imperfect contrition is not adequate for serious sins to be forgiven outside the sacrament of penance. However, within the sacrament, we have the assurance that our sins are forgiven regardless of whether or not we have perfect contrition for them. I for one am not going to assume that I love God perfectly, so I will continue to use the sacrament.

  • Peter


    Most Christians, (even Catholics!) understand that we can ask God for forgiveness directly. But we must always remember to reinforce the fact that Reconciliation is a sacrament. The sacraments confer graces that we need to help us avoid temptation and sin in the future. We should avail ourselves of sacramental graces as often as we are able.

    Also, it is my understanding that although there were many disciples, it was the remaining 11 apostles that were recognized as the leaders of the Church that Christ founded. It is fairly easy to infer through their actions that they must have believed they alone (and later others specifically appointed by them) were charged with the power to act “in persona Christi” to forgive or hold bound.

    Of course, this does not prevent any of us from forgiving others who have offended or harmed us personally regardless of whether they ask or seek forgiveness…… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

    Hope this helps.

    God Bless

  • Bob

    Please also address the contention that a priest is not necessary, believers can confess their sins and receive foregiveness directly from God. Thank you and God bless you.

  • Bob

    I don’t encounter people who contest that Jesus conferred the power to forgive sins, but that the gift wad not restricted to only the apostles, but to all of Jesus’ disciples to this day and for all time. What is the basis for saying that only the apostles were given this gift? Weren’t there other disciples present in John 20? Why did Jesus tell s to forgive others if we don’t have the ability to forgive sins, or were his directives in this regard intended only for the disciples? I accept the teachings of the Church, but would like to be able to answer these questions when asked. Thank you.

  • MBA

    Excellent article, thank you, very helpful.

  • Deborah

    GOD BLESS Fr Altier and all the other Courageous Priests and Bishops and Cardinals and our Holy Father!!!!!!

  • Tom

    Dear Father Robert

    Thank you so much for your article! I will try and remember what you have said since I am often tempted to believe that I am not forgiven (even following Confession). In a sense it’s difficult to think that Our Beloved would be so generous and compassionate. How could I forget His Generosity as He hangs on the Cross for my sins. Still I do. Nonetheless as you say, your sins are forgiven and in a way the ‘evil one’ can be helpful in reminding me of my ‘forgotten’ sins. The game is up. Now I simply need the grace of complete trust in the God’s Mercy w/o reserve.

    May God Bless and Keep us in His Loving Arms

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