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The Office of the Keys (Sacrament of Absolution) in Scripture

John 20:19-23  (Pastor’s Translation)

19So when it was evening that day, the first day of the Sabbaths,
       and with the doors having been closed where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,
               Jesus came and stood in their midst and He says to them: “Peace to you.”
20And after He said this He showed His hands and His side to them.
       So the disciples were filled with joy because they saw the Lord.

21So Jesus said to them again:
“Peace to you; just like has sent Me the Father, I also am sending you.”

22After He said this, He breathed upon[1] and said to them:
“Receive the Holy Spirit; 23if the sins of anyone you may remit,
       they have already been remitted
[3] from them;
if the sins of anyone you may retain, they have already been retained.

Matthew 18:15-20  (Pastor’s Translation)

15“But if your brother sinned against you,
       you must go away and you must reprove him between you and him alone.
16If he might heed you, you have gained your brother;
       but if he might not heed you, take along with you one or two more, in order that
       ‘based upon the mouth of two witnesses or three, every matter might be confirmed.’

17But if he might fail to obey them, you must speak to the congregation;[5]
and if he even might fail to listen to the congregation,
       he must exist toward you just like a pagan Gentile and a tax collector.

18“Truly I say to you: as much as you may bind upon the earth
               will have already been bound in Heaven,
       and as much as you may free upon the earth will have already been freed in Heaven.

19“Again I say to you,
       if two among you may agree upon the earth about any kind of matter for which you might ask,
              it will be done for you from My Father in Heaven.
20For where there are two or three who have been gathered together in My Name,
       there I am in the midst of them.”

Ephesians 4:7-15 (Pastor’s Translation)

7 But to each one of you was given the Free Gift, according to the degree of the gift of Christ.
8 Because of this He says:

“The One Who went up into the Height of Heaven,
       He led captive the captivity of Hell, He gave gifts for human beings.”

9 But the One “Who ascended,”
       Who is this if not He that also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
10 This One Who descended,
       He is Himself also the One “Who ascended” far above the highest heavens,
              in order that He would fill all things.

11 And this same One did give, on the one hand, the Apostles,
       but also the prophets and the missionaries and the pastors who are also
[6] teachers;
12 He gave these men[7] to fully unite the holy people;[8]
He gave them for the Work of the Gospel Ministry;[9]
He gave them for building up the Body of Christ;

13 He gave them until all we saints come to the unity of the Faith
and He gave them for your arrival at the knowledge of the Son of God,
       until we become a perfect Man,
       until we come to the degree of the full maturity of Christ;

14 He gave them in order that we would no longer be little babies,
       babies who are tossed about and are carried around by every wind of doctrine,
       babies who are taught like a game of chance for human souls,

taught in craftiness, taught with every tricky method of deceit;

15 instead He gave these men in order that, by speaking the truth in love,
       we saints would produce growth in all ways for the sake of Him Who is the Head, Christ, …

Acts 20:28-30  (Pastor’s Translation)

28 You must take care for yourselves and for all the flock
       among whom the Holy Spirit placed you as inspectors
to keep tending the flock, the congregation of God,
       which He purchased for Himself by means of His own blood.
29 I myself know that fierce wolves will be coming into you-all after my departure,
       who will not be sparing the flock;
30 and even from among you pastors yourselves,
       males will rise up who are uttering things which have been perverted
               in order to be drawing away the disciples after them.

Romans 10:6-10, 14-15

6 But the righteousness based on faith says,

“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)
          7 or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

8 But what does it say?

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”
       (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
       and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. …

14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
       “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
       who bring glad tidings of good things!”

I Timothy 3:1-7

1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded,
       of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside,
       lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

I Timothy 4:12-16

12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers
       in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy
       with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
15 Meditate on these things;
       give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.
16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.
Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.  (NKJV)

II Timothy 4:1-5

1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ,
       who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.
Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine,
       but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears,
               they will heap up for themselves teachers;
               4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions,
       do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.                     (NKJV)

II Corinthians 5:18-21

18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ,
       and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,
       not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us:
       we implore you on Christ’s behalf,
remain[11] reconciled to God.
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us,
       that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NKJV)

I Peter 5:1-4

1 The elders who are among you I exhort,
       I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ,
       and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers,
       not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
       3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears,
       you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (NKJV)

I Corinthians 14:33b-38, NIV[12]

As in all the congregations of the saints,  34 women should remain silent in the churches.
They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  
If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home;
       for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?  
If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted,
       let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.  
If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

I Timothy 2:8, 11-15

8 Therefore I want the males in every place to pray,
       lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. …
11 Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.
12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
14 And it was not Adam who was deceived,
       but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.
15 But women shall be preserved through the bearing of
the Child[13]
       if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (NASB, with corrections)

I Corinthians 4:1-2

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries[14] of God.
2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. (NKJV)

The Small Catechism on Confession & Absolution

What is confession?

            Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess?

            Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

The Augsburg Confession on the Pastoral Ministry

Article II: Of Original Sin.

1] Also our churches teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. …

Article III: Of the Son of God.

1] Also our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in 2] the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably enjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and 3] buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men. …

Article IV: Of Justification.

1] Also our churches teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Article V: Of the Ministry.

1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

Article XI: Of Confession.

1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19, 12.

Article XIV: Of Ecclesiastical Order.

Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.

Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV: Of the Mass.

… 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God.


Some Titles for Pastors in the New Testament

martus, martyr or witness: Acts 26:16; Luke 1:2 (also of Mark)

episkopos, overseer, bishop: 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28-30.

poimen, shepherd; poimaino, rule as a shepherd, tend flock: Matthew 2:6, verb (Micah 5:1); Matthew 25:31-33 & 26:31, noun (Zech 13:7); Luke 17:7-10 (pastor as Christ’s slave), verb John 10:1-16, noun; John 21:16, verb (Peter to shepherd others); Acts 20:28, noun;
1 Cor. 9:1-19, verb; Eph. 4:11-12 (Every modern English translation corrupts the Greek text’s meaning, robbing the Pastoral Ministry of its main duty: to do the work of the Ministry!); 1 Peter 5:2, verb (above); Rev. 2:24-29, 7:17, 12:5, 19:15, verb.

apostolos, one who is sent on a specific mission: John 20:21-23, Romans 14-17.

diakonos, servant; [plus, diakonia, service or ‘ministry’]: Matthew 20:25-28, 22:1-13; 2 Cor 5:18-20; plus many others. At times the word refers to assistant pastors, the deacons, who themselves were often training to be pastors: 1 Timothy 3:8-13

sunergos, co-workers with God & Apostles: 1 Corinthians 3:5-15; 1 Thessalonians 3:2

oikonomos, steward of the mysteries [Latin: sacramenta] of God: 1 Cor. 4:1-2

presbeue, acts as ambassador for God: 2 Cor. 5:20 [many modern theologians & believers who want to teach too quickly, misuse this passage! Paul makes a distinction between the ambassadors who proclaim the message, that is, the Pastors, and the people who receive the message, the hearers of the Word. The last phrase of the verse means “remain reconciled to God,” and is no ‘decision theology’ pitch to reconcile yourself to God, since Paul had just stated that God had already reconciled us to Himself in Christ]; Eph. 6:20 (Paul).

presbuteros, “elder.” This term for a Pastor comes from the fact that only mature, experienced believers, well-acquainted with God’s Word, held the office. Though it was used of Jewish ‘elders’ in the Gospels and part of Acts in the O.T. sense, in much of Acts and all the Epistles ‘elders’ means a ‘Pastor’ as we now use the term. On this meaning, see Acts 14:23; 15:1-6, 15:22‑23; 20:17-31; 1 Timothy 5:17-19; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 2 John 1; and Revelation 5:5; 7:13.

One final note on all these terms for Pastors: Christ uses all these terms to speak of Himself! Pastors are not Christ, but they do His work, and stand in His stead at His command to forgive sins, tend His flock, and feed them the gifts of eternal life, to serve them as Christ serves every believer.


[1] The same verb the Greek Old Testament uses in Genesis 2:7. God “breathed” into the lifeless clay the “breath of life” so Adam became a living being. Through Absolution {from Latin absolvo, meaning “send away,” or “remit,” so also the Greek verb}, the Lord Jesus gives you His Holy Spirit, sending away your sins, making you a new creature in Christ.

[2] “To send away”. In the O.T., God promised to send away sins “as far as the east is from the west,” and to remember them no more.

[3] What the Church “frees” on earth ALREADY has been freed in heaven, so you need not doubt the ability of the pastor to forgive your sins. The Church, through her Pastors, passes on what God has Himself done. See Matthew 18:18, below.

[4] The Greek verb means “to keep in the power” of sin. If you were in sin’s power, you would be damned already in this lifetime. The Greek verb’s tense shows that being in sin’s power doesn’t last long. Yet the tense of the Greek verb “if you may remit” shows a completed, perpetual action: God’s mercy continues always.

[5] Greek: ekklesia; here, it means the local congregation of saints; in other contexts, it also means the whole Body of Christ in Heaven & Earth, or just of the saints now physically living on the earth. A “saint” means any human whom God declares righteous for the sake of Christ.

[6] The Greek word for “Teacher” here does not have the definite article, but the word “Pastors” does, so “the pastors and teachers” are one group of men who do two jobs: shepherd & teach. This verse is often misapplied to create two separate and distinct groups: the Office of Pastor, and the ‘ministry’ of Teachers (parochial day school, Sunday School, etc.) & other ‘ministries.’ Yet Paul means that the Preaching Office consists of shepherding (comforting, praying for, and being with Christians) and teaching them the Word (preaching, leading Divine Service, teaching Bible classes & Bible studies).

[7]He gave these men”: from verse 12 on, Greek grammar demands the repeating of the main verb of verse 11. Since verses 11-16 are one sentence in the Greek, these clauses cannot be divorced from their main verb. Thus, Christ gave these four classes of people in order for them to accomplish the work of verses 12 following. To translate this passage with NIV / NASB, etc., “to fully unite the holy people to do the work of the ministry,” distorts Paul’s message. {KJV has the right punctuation!} So, the Holy Spirit here says that Christ’s gifts (the pastor / teachers, etc.) “do the work of the GOSPEL Ministry.” He does NOT say that the saints / holy people must do the work of ministry!

[8] Deeds of the Law, even love, does NOT unite the Church! Christ’s gifts unite the Church: Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, the Office of the Gospel Ministry (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors–Teachers). Law ‘ministries’,
which every believer must perform in accord with the Ten Commandments, nor invented human offices / works,
do not unite the Church. The Law kills.
The Gospel creates, unites, and maintains the Church.

[9] Greek: diakonia. In this context, Paul means the Gospel Ministry of Reconciliation, the Office which publicly proclaims that God in Christ reconciled the world unto Himself, washing away our sins. Attempts to make “ministry” here mean “works of the Law” distort the meaning of the Holy Spirit. The NASB and NIV are the worst examples of this distortion, though NKJV is nearly as bad. Only KJV faithfully translates the text. The Gospel work of Christ, not the Law works of men, is Paul’s topic here.

[10] Or, “overseers,” “guardians,” “bishops.”

[11] Despite verse 18 above, NKJV insists on translating, “be reconciled,” which I’ve corrected.

[12] The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) 1984. NIV places the second half of Verse 33 into this paragraph and leaves the first half in the previous paragraph: this IS in harmony with the Greek grammar & text!! Pastor Gross rarely recommends NIV because of many fundamentalist quirks. But they’ve done well here, so let us give credit where credit is due.

[13] NASB reads “the bearing of children,” as do others. Paul literally says, “she shall be preserved through the bearing of the Child,” that is, Eve’s daughter Mary giving birth to the Christ! Thus, every woman’s role in the public preaching of Christ’s Gospel is through Mary bearing the Messiah into the World. The men have to do the rest of the work!

[14] Latin: sacramenta


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