- kon-fesh'-un (yadhah; homologeo, and their derivatives): The radical meaning is "acknowledgment," "avowal," with the implication of a change of conviction or of course of conduct on the part of the subject. In English "profession" (the King James Version 1 Tim 6:12
; Heb 3:1
), besides absence of the thought just suggested, emphasizes the publicity of the act. Confession, like its Greek equivalent, connotes, as its etymology shows (Latin, con; Greek, homou), that the act places one in harmony with others. It is the uniting in a statement that has previously been made by someone else. Of the two Greek words from the same root in the New Testament, the compound with the Greek preposition ek found, among other places, in Mt 3:6
; Acts 19:18
; Rom 14:11
; Phil 2:11
, implies that it has come from an inner impulse, i.e. it is the expression of a conviction of the heart. It is referred anthropopathically to God in Job 40:14
, where Yahweh says to the patriarch sarcastically: "Then will I also confess of (unto) thee"; and in Rev 3:5
, where it means "to recognize" or "acknowledge."
When man is said to confess or make confession, the contents of the confession are variously distinguished. All, however, may be grouped under two heads, confession of faith and confession of sin. Confessions of faith are public acknowledgments of fidelity to God, and to the truth through which God is revealed, as 1 Ki 8:33. They are declarations of unqualified confidence in Christ, and of surrender to His service; Mt 10:32: "Every one .... who shall confess me before men." In Phil 2:11, however, confession includes, alongside of willing, also unwilling, acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Jesus. The word confession stands also for everything contained in the Christian religion--"the faith" used in the objective and widest sense, in Heb 3:1; 4:14. In both these passages, the allusion is to the New Testament. The "High Priest of our confession" (Heb 3:1) is the High Priest, of whom we learn and with whom we deal in that new revelation, which in that epistle is contrasted with the old.
Confessions of sins are also of various classes: (1) To God alone. Wherever there is true repentance for sin, the penitent freely confesses his guilt to Him, against whom he has sinned. This is described in Ps 32:3-6; compare 1 Jn 1:9; Prov 28:13. Such confession may be made either silently, or, as in Dan 9:19, orally; it may be general, as in Ps 51, or particular, as when some special sin is recognized; it may even extend to what has not been discovered, but which is believed to exist because of recognized inner depravity (Ps 19:12), and thus include the state as well as the acts of sin (Rom 7:18). (2) To one's neighbor, when he has been wronged (Lk 17:4): "If he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." It is to this form of c. that James refers (5:16): "Confess .... your sins one to another"; compare Mt 5:23 f. (3) To a spiritual adviser or minister of the word, such as the c. of David to Nathan (2 Sam 12:13), of the multitudes to John in the wilderness (Mt 3:6), of the Ephesians to Paul (Acts 19:18). This c. is a general acknowledgment of sinfulness, and enters into an enumeration of details only when the conscience is particularly burdened. (4) To the entire church, where some crime has created public scandal. As "secret sins are to be rebuked secretly, and public sins publicly," in the apostolic age, where there was genuine penitence for a notorious offense, the acknowledgment was as public as the deed itself. An illustration of this is found in the well-known case at Corinth (compare 1 Cor 5:3 ff with 2 Cor 2:6 f).
For auricular confession in the sense of the medieval and Roman church, there is no authority in Holy Scripture. It is traceable to the practice of examining those who were about to make a public confession of some notorious offense, and of giving advice concerning how far the circumstances of the sin were to be announced; an expedient that was found advisable, since as much injury could be wrought by injudicious publishing of details in the confession as by the sin itself. The practice once introduced for particular cases was in time extended to all cases; and the private confession of sin was demanded by the church as a condition of the absolution, and made an element of penitence, which was analyzed into contrition, confession and satisfaction. See the Examen Concilii Tridentini (lst edition, 1565) of Dr. Martin Chemnitz, superintendent of Brunswick, for a thorough exegetical and historical discussion of this entire subject. On the historical side, see also Henry Charles Lea, History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church (3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1896).
H. E. Jacobs