This is a transcript of a conversation Trent Horn and Patrick Coffin had with a caller, Christina, during their radio show.
Christina: Thank you for taking my call! The reason that I am Protestant is because Jesus Christ is my only mediator, and I don’t feel comfortable, or I don’t believe that I need to go to a fellow human being who is sinful. It says in the Word that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so I don’t feel comfortable going to another human being to forgive my sins. And also in the scripture it says, “You only have one Father, which is in heaven,” and to not call someone else your Father.
Patrick Coffin: Okay, Christina, can I get you to press pause on the calling priest Father, because that’s a really different question. Both are excellent, and we’re not trying to dodge them. Obviously, Trent, Christina’s talking about going to a priest for confession. Priests are sinners, last time I checked.
Trent Horn: Yes. Every human priest is a sinner. All human beings, human persons, are sinners, of course. But I don’t think that it follows from that that we wouldn’t confess our sins if that’s what Christ wanted us to do.
Trent: So, Christina, I guess I have a few questions. You say Christ is your one mediator. It sounds like you’re referring to 1 Timothy 2:5 where St. Paul says, “There’s one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Is that what you might be alluding to?
Trent: Okay. But I agree that the church teaches the Christ is our only mediator of redemption. It is, as Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation only comes through the name of Jesus Christ.” Only the death of Jesus is able to atone for the sins of the world. No doubt there.
Trent: However, that doesn’t preclude that the forgiveness of sins, the ability to forgive sins, that ministry was never entrusted to anyone else. So, I guess one question I have here, does the Bible ever tell … Where in the New Testament does it tell us, or give us, a description of how we should seek forgiveness of sins, or to whom we should confess sins to? Is that described anywhere in the New Testament?
Christina: I’m sure it is. I don’t have a Bible. Well, I do have a Bible here in my car, but I would have to do some research.
Christina: The way I have … When I read the Word of God, when they talk about … It does say, “We should confess our sins to one another,” but as far as-
Patrick Coffin: Yes.
Trent: Yeah, that’s in James 5:16.
Christina: Right. But as far as forgiveness, my understanding is only God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, only the Godhead, the Trinity, can actually forgive anyone of their sins. I mean, my mother can’t … I mean, they can … And I mean that in as a redemption, salvation aspect. Of course, I can forgive someone who has wronged me, because He says-
Trent: You can’t forgive sins.
Christina: Right. He says, “If you don’t forgive your fellow man, how will I be able to forgive you?” So, I get that part, but…
Patrick Coffin: Well, it’s right there. It’s in the Our Father, isn’t it?
Trent: Yeah. No, another question I have is, what would you make then when Jesus appeared to the apostles after his resurrection, when he appeared to them in the locked room. In John chapter 20, it says that Jesus breathed on them, which would be the second time in scripture God breathed on someone. In Genesis, God gave Adam natural life when He breathed on him, and we could assume that Jesus has given the apostles a kind of supernatural life. He’s breathing on them and then giving them these instructions.
Trent: In John 20:23, Jesus tells the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And so what I would say is what a Catholic would say, and I’m interested to see your thought on that. It is true, only God forgives sins, just as only God can save us, but God also is saying … Paul says, in his letter to the Corinthians, “We are God’s coworkers. God can work with us to achieve salvation.” So, you know, humans baptize one another, but only God is the one who actually saves. It seems here that Jesus is telling the apostles, he’s giving them the ability to forgive sins on his behalf.
Trent: So, what would you make of that passage in John 20:23? He tells the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain sins, they are retained.” What would you make of that?
Christina: Well, when you explain it like that, it makes perfect sense, because you’re right. He gave us, he gave ministers, those who are in the body of Christ the ability to … you just said it, baptize on his behalf.
Trent: Yes. But of course, it’s not the person who pours the water who saves you.
Trent: It’s the Holy Spirit within the water.
Christina: That is right. I get it.
Trent: So, it would make sense, then. That’s what we would believe then about the priesthood, that the priest, as a man, as a man, it’s not him and his fancy collar and his theology degree that forgives sins. It is the fact that he has received faculties from a descendant of the apostles. Because we believe that Jesus started a church, and said, “Here on Peter, I’ll build my church,” and that the church wouldn’t cease to exist after the death of the last apostle. They would anoint successors, the other bishops, and a priest comes from that line. He receives that ability from his own bishop. And so, we would just follow it there.
Trent: Another resource you may find interesting. In Catholic Answers magazine, I wrote an entire article on one verse, 1 John 1:9. That verse says, “If we confess our sins, He,” or God, “is faithful and will forgive our sins.” But the Greek word for confess in this passage in 1 John 1:9 is almost always used to mean to make a confession of faith, or to tell something out loud to another human being.
Trent: In fact, in the early church, the very first Christians, when they practiced confession, they would confess their sins publicly before the whole community. Later, the practice was revised and private confession came about. But it was the understanding that the ministry of forgiving sins, or the ministry of reconciliation St. Paul refers to, was entrusted to the successors of the apostles, who were priests. Then that’s the Catholic answer we would give to that issue.
Christina: Well, you know, it makes a lot of sense when you explain it that way, and I appreciate you giving the scripture, because I’ve always wanted to know the scripture to support it, so I really appreciate it. It makes a lot of sense. Thank you so, so much.
Trent: Excellent. Sure, no problem.
Patrick Coffin: Thank you, Christina. And our website, by the way, is Catholic.com. If you go there, you’ll find out a ton more about the biblical foundations of the Catholic faith. Just to clarify, in case people were still wondering, Trent, we do not believe there’s more than one mediator between God and man, do we?
Trent: No, not in the sense of a primary mediator, or a mediator of redemption. St. Thomas Aquinas does teach that we can be secondary mediators. We can participate in Christ’s mediating, and that happens all the time, even Protestants would admit this, when we ask one another to pray for us. Because if we say, “Well, I’m not going to go to a priest to confess my sins. I can confess my sins directly to Jesus.” It would also follow from that, I’m not going to go to my friend if I have a problem. I’m just going to go directly to Jesus. Why do I have to go this roundabout way and ask him to pray for me, when I can just go straight to Jesus and say, “Hey, I have this problem.” Because the scriptures teach us that we are one body.
Trent: Not every part is equal, but every part is necessary, and different parts serve in different ways. And the priesthood serves the body by administering the sacraments, especially the sacraments of healing, to heal the injured and sick parts of the body of Christ. That would come in the form of confession, and the anointing of the sick.
Patrick Coffin: How’s that, Christina?
Christina: It works. It works. I really appreciate you taking time and explaining that. Thank you so very much.
Patrick Coffin: All right. And please keep Trent in your prayers.
Christina: I sure will. And please keep me in your prayers.
Patrick Coffin: Yeah, and me. All right. Just to make it official.
Trent: Always good.
Patrick Coffin: Thanks a lot, Christina.
Christina: All right.
Patrick Coffin: All right. That was a great call.
For more from Trent Horn, check out his documentary film, The Protestant Revolution.