One of the cool things about my having decided to publicly blog about my questioning of the doctrine of rebound, is that readers raise questions and point me toward other people’s writings on the subject.
One of those writings was an article in the CTS Journal vol 5 #4 (Dec 1999) on Confession by Clifford Rapp, Jr. [Rapp earned a Th.M. degree in Old Testament Literature and Exegesis from Dallas Theological Seminary and is an adjunct professor at Chafer Theological Seminary. He pastors a Free Methodist church in California] I found his article to be fascinating, not so much from the standpoint of what the Old Testament has to say about confessing sins as from some of the statements he makes in his article that I believe inadvertently shoot down the premise from which he’s operating.
The piece beings thus:
“The New Testament promises that If we confess our sins [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1Jn 1:0). This essay addresses the nature of confession.”
And then it immediately points out that “The paucity of New Testament material on confession” makes it difficult to fulfill the essay’s objective.
My first thought upon reading that was to wonder, could that paucity perhaps be due to the fact that confession of sins to gain God’s forgiveness is not a major doctrine for the Church Age believer after all? Usually when the Holy Spirit wants us to know a major doctrine He does a lot of repeating. (Think of how many times we’re told to love one another, or know the word, or only believe in Christ for salvation.) As I’ve noted in previous posts, I have not found this to be the case when it comes to the believer’s confessing of sins for forgiveness. So far, 1 John 1:9 is it.
Of the three confessions which Pastor Rapp lists as being found in the NT, two are in Luke (the prodigal son in Ch 15 and the tax collector in Ch 18), and one in Acts 8 (Simon the magician). Rapp also notes “Paul’s public testimonies in which he acknowledged his sin,” for which he gives no references.
My first thought was that both the prodigal son and the tax collector appear in one of the Gospels, and were parables taught by Jesus Himself before His death on the cross. Both were taught to the Jews who were still part of the age of Israel and thus under the Law. Both were told to illuminate other matters than confession of sins, though they do include “confessions” of a sort.
I say “of a sort,” because the prodigal, upon “coming to his senses” and deciding to return to his father, was hardly allowed to even deliver his confession. Though he had prepared it (“I will get up and go to my father and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”) when he arrived and was still far off, “his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”
Clearly the father had already forgiven him before the son said a word.
And even though he started out on his prepared confessional, it seems to have been ignored. In fact, he was cut off right after the ‘no longer worthy’ part as his father begins giving orders to his slaves to
“Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it and let us eat and be merry; for this son of mine (not slave, as the son wanted to suggest but had no opportunity) was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ and they began to be merry.”
Nothing in this story indicates the father was waiting for a confession before he would forgive. The moment he saw the son returning he raced to him in joy, embraced him, kissed him, gave him no chance to even speak. Nor did he say to his slaves that “this son of mine was bad, but now that he has confessed his wrong doing to me, I’ve forgiven him.”
The second reference to confession, Luke 18, is the familiar parable of the arrogant Pharisee in the temple “praying to himself”(!) about how great he is, and not like that horrible tax-gatherer over there. The one who was beating his breast saying, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”
This is in keeping with the commandments of the Law, which was in force when Jesus was preaching and teaching. And even here the point of the story (delivered to “certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt”) doesn’t seem to hinge on who was confessing their sins correctly and being forgiven, but about the difference between arrogance and humility. One man thought he was god, and the other knew he was wretched. In fact, the tax collector is not portrayed as “naming sins” before God, he merely asks for mercy for himself as a sinner.
Finally, the event with Simon the former magician in Acts 8 occurred in the transitional time period between the ending of the age of Israel and before the Church age really got going. The Apostle Paul, the one who was given the bulk of revelation about how Church Age believers were to operate, wasn’t even saved at this point, and was in fact said to be ravaging the church at the end of Acts 7.
In Acts 8, Philip had been in Samaria teaching the people there about Jesus Christ and baptizing them in His name presumably just after the events of Pentecost. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard about them, they sent down Peter and John to lay hands on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit too.
Simon was supposedly one of Philip’s converts, a person who’d believed but hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. But was he really saved? He’s said to have believed the good news about the kingdom of God and been baptized in water. But he’s clearly out of it when he offers the apostles money to give him the authority to lay his hands on others and impart to them the Holy Spirit, like Peter and John were doing.
Peter did not mince words:
“May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this teaching, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
And then in direct disobedience to Peter’s instruction to pray himself, Simon says,
“Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Which I consider to be a very weird response. He’s not even asking them, he’s telling them to pray for him. It certainly doesn’t sound like a confession. Nor is there any indication he was forgiven.
And what does Peter mean by “pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you?” Did Simon merely say he believed in Christ and really didn’t? What does “bondage of iniquity” mean? Temporary personal sinning in his bitterness and desire for approbation? Or worse than that, not even saved?
I don’t know. But there is nothing that says he received the Spirit himself, and he is never mentioned again after having made his weird remark. Nor is anyone said to have prayed for him.
I suppose one could surmise from Peter’s response that when you sin really badly, blasphemously, then you must pray for forgiveness… But you could also surmise from “pray…that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you…” that Simon wasn’t really saved, and only made a pretense of it. Why else would any sin of his not be forgiven?
In any case, Pastor Rapp concludes that, there being so few verses to support the interpretation of 1 John 1:9 as referring to believers confessing for forgiveness, we must turn to “the abundance of Old Testament confessional material” to define this confessing (I was going to write “command” but 1 Jn 1:9 is not, in fact, a command. It’s an if-then.)
Logical perhaps, unless you consider the fact that the spiritual life of the church age is profoundly different from anything the Old Testament saints had ever known or even dreamed of. In fact, it had been held as a mystery from them until such time as the Apostle Paul was led to reveal it. (Ro 16:25; 1 Co 2:7; Eph 3:3,9; Col 1:26,27)
Why then, should we go back to the Old Testament for guidance on living in an age they knew nothing about, an age where all has become new and the old has passed away? Why not stop and ask yourself… if there’s such a paucity of information and examples of confession in the New Testament, might it be that your initial assumption of what 1 John is actually teaching is faulty?
Well, that was my conclusion anyway, and the more I investigate it, the more confident in it I’m becoming.