“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
King James Version (KJV)
20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit - (According to the tenor of the Gospel, that is, supposing them to repent and believe) they are remitted, and whose soever sins ye retain (supposing them to remain impenitent) they are retained. So far is plain. But here arises a difficulty. Are not the sins of one who truly repents, and unfeignedly believes in Christ, remitted, without sacerdotal absolution? And are not the sins of one who does not repent or believe, retained even with it? What then does this commission imply? Can it imply any more than, A power of declaring with authority the Christian terms of pardon; whose sins are remitted and whose retained? As in our daily form of absolution; and A power of inflicting and remitting ecclesiastical censures? That is, of excluding from, and re - admitting into, a Christian congregation.
Joh 20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, etc. It will be seen at once, by a comparison with Mt 16:19, that the keys they promised to Peter are now given to all the apostles, and all have similar power to open and shut, to remit sin, and to bind. The meaning is plain when we consider, first, the charge that the Savior was making, and, secondly, look forward and see how that charge was carried out; or, in other words, observe the apostles "remitting sins" and retaining them. It is the Great Commission to preach the gospel that the Savior gives for the first time in Joh 20:21. It is with reference to carrying out that Commission that he speaks in Joh 20:23. It was in order that they might present the terms of that Commission infallibly to the world that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was imparted, of which there is a foreshadowing in Joh 20:22. The great end of that Commission was to declare to men "repentance and remission of sins" (Lu 24:47) in the name of Christ. The following facts are manifest: (1) The Savior gave to his apostles his Commission that they might make known his will. (2) He bade them preach "remission of sins" (Lu 24:47). (3) He gave them a measure of the Holy Spirit, and bade them wait until "endued with power from on high" (Lu 24:49). (4) When the Holy Spirit fell, they spoke as it "gave them utterance" (Ac 2:4). (5) They then declared, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the terms on which "sins could be remitted". To anxious sinners they answer, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, 'for the remission of sins'" (Ac 2:38). Here, then, they, directed by the Holy Spirit, "remit" and "retain" sins by declaring the terms on which Christ will pardon. Thus, also, they do in their preaching recorded through the Acts of the Apostles the very thing that the Savior gave them power to do. This power was not imparted to a hierarchy, nor to any ecclesiastical body, but to the apostles, and was fulfilled by them in declaring to the world the conditions of pardon and condemnation under the Commission of our Lord.