Since we know that all of Scripture is profitable for teaching (2 Tim 3:16), how about we have a look at what the Old Testament has to say on the subject of forgiveness of sins.
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. (Lev 5:5-6, KJV)
We see that the sinner would confess his sin to the priest and offer a sin offering, what we would now call a penance. So one would confess sin, offer a sin offering (penance) and the priest makes atonement for him. This fits extremely well with the Catholic practice of the Sacrament of Penance.
But beyond the Old Testament, has this practice stopped? Let’s see what the New Testament has to say.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity. (1 John 1:9, DRB)
Confess our sins to whom? God? Yes, but could it be through men?
Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much. (James 5:16)
It only makes sense that James would ask us to confess our sins to each if there are individuals who could do something about them. Some who could forgive us our sins. So now we know that we must confess our sins to others but can some men forgive sins? Those individuals who agree with the Scribe that said: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” should take heed in remembering that to be on the side of the Scribes is usually not a group you want to be associated with. In fact, in the same incident as told by Matthew we have a little more details given to us.
“And he got into a boat and went across and came to his town. And they took to him a man stretched on a bed who had no power of moving; and Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man who was ill, Son, take heart; you have forgiveness for your sins. And some of the scribes said among themselves, This man has no respect for God. And Jesus, having knowledge of what was in their minds, said, Why are your thoughts evil? For which is the simpler, to say, You have forgiveness for your sins; or to say, Get up and go? But so that you may see that on earth the Son of man has authority for the forgiveness of sins, then said he to the man who was ill, Get up, and take up your bed, and go to your house. And he got up and went away to his house. But when the people saw it they were full of fear, and gave glory to God who had given such authority to men.” (Matt 9:1-8)
Scripture tells us that MEN (plural) were given the authority on earth to forgive sins (Mat 9:8). But which men is Matthew speaking of? Look no further than John 20.
“Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23, DRB)
The Father sent Jesus with the power on earth to forgive sins (Mat 9:6) and Jesus sends His Apostles in the same way as He was sent…with the power on earth to forgive sins. Context tells us that Jesus is speaking to the Apostles only. Please notice also that these apostles were sent in the same way as Jesus was sent (John 20:21) therefore these Apostles also have the authority to confer this same authority to others as Jesus did to them. Our Bishops were sent by others who were sent in the same way as Jesus was sent.
Paul commented in his letter to the Romans that for one to preach, one has to be sent (Rom 10:14-15 “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” Well, our bishops were sent by other, previous bishops who they temselves were sent by previous bishops all the way back in history beginning with Jesus sending out the Apostles and the Apostles sending out their successors which we call bishops.
Today’s bishops are sent by the successors of Jesus and the Apostles. If anyone tries to convince you that they know the true teachings of Jesus, just ask them who sent them? Who sent their pastor?