John 20:23 Meaning of If You Forgive Anyone Their Sins

John 20:23
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Explanation and Commentary of John 20:23

After telling the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, which would happen more fully at Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus sends the disciples to continue his ministry and to preach the Gospel. Those that hear of Jesus through them, directly or indirectly, will have the opportunity to repent of their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. The disciples themselves have no power to forgive sins apart from that given them by the message of the death of Christ for their redemption.

Forgiveness is a key aspect of the Christian faith. While different sects and denominations tend to have their pet doctrines, forgiveness is one of the universal and primary doctrines that to disbelieve would preclude one’s Christianity. First, that it is in order to have a relationship with God, one must receive Jesus’ free gift of life by way of his blood shed on the cross. Second, one must forgive others as we have been forgiven by God. To fail to forgive others is to prove that one has not been forgiven. Often it is stated more seriously: if you do not forgive others, then you will not be forgiven by your Father in heaven (Mt 6:15).

Breaking Down the Key Parts of John 20:23

#1 “If you forgive anyone’s sins,”
For certain, the disciples, as Christians, needed to forgive those who sinned against them. But Jesus seems to mean more than that here. He seems to mean that by preaching the Gospel of forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be “forgiv[ing] others.”

#2 “their sins are forgiven;”
Jesus is conferring great responsibility to preach. This should not be used as proof that there needs to be in the church a priestly class of Christian who are the only ones who can hear confession and pronounce forgiveness. All members of Jesus’ Church are a part of a holy priesthood (1 Pt 2:9).

#3 “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The meaning of this is that if the followers of Jesus do not go out and preach the Gospel, no one will know about Jesus and the way to salvation. If they do not know they cannot repent, and they cannot be saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6).

Bible Study on John 20:23

Expert Overview of John Ch. 13-21

Biblical Translations of John 20:23

NIV
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

NLT
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

ESV
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

KJV
“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

NKJV
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:23 Meaning and Commentary

Author Bio
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.