Monday, December 3, 2012

How to let go of sin, you all

The Greek word ἀφῆτε occurs twice in the Gospel of John.  In both occurrences, Jesus is speaking to the disciples.  In John 16:32 he tells them that they will ἀφῆτε him, and in John 20:23 Jesus tells the disciples that they can ἀφῆτε sins.

In the case of John 20:23, ἀφῆτε is contrasted with κρατῆτε (note the similar endings thus creating a rhythm that strengthens the correlation of these two terms); the disciples can either ἀφῆτε or κρατῆτε sins.  Jesus is speaking to them as a group--  “You all” collectively, can send away or hold on to the sins of others.

Wesley rejected the notion that the disciples (and those who carry on their ministry) have the power to release others from sin.  In his Note for this verse he repeated his teaching that individual must personally repent and have faith in order to be forgiven. 

The power that the resurrected Christ imparts to his disciples when he breathes the Holy Spirit into them is two-fold, according to Wesley.  They now have the authority to declare the Christian terms of forgiveness, as well as the authority to expel and readmit church members in accordance with those terms.

Wesley limited his interpretation of ἀφῆτε to forgiveness; however, such a Greek to English translation overlooks the earlier use of the word in chapter 16.  Before leaving for Gethsemane, Jesus tells the disciples that they will soon abandon him and return to their homes.  He is not predicting that the disciples will forgive him.

Instead of translating ἀφῆτε as forgive, try reading John 20:23 in light of John 16:32.  In doing so, I think the later verse reads more like a comment on relations within the group of believers.  If we abandon, send away, leave alone, release our collective grip, then the faults, misdeeds, and sins of others are scattered from them (and by extension from the group of believers).  If we tighten our grip on those mistakes, transgressions, and errors, then that sin is retained within the group.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to free our church from the baggage of old grievances.  Or we can use the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to punish ourselves for past church conflicts.  (When trying to discern which way to use this gift of the Holy Spirit, please keep in mind that the choice your group makes may very well determine whether or not a new person will want to join your church.)


Anonymous said...

What are those Greek words he is using? Or more correctly, what is the English translation of those Greeks words that are the subject of article. Perhaps if I knew that, I would get the meaning that the author is trying to convey.

Laura Felleman said...

Thanks for your comment. is the website I use for Greek to English translations. The short definitions given on that site are--
ἀφῆτε (from apó, "away from" and hiēmi, "send"; send away, release, remit, forgive, permit)
κρατῆτε (lay hold of, obtain)