19 ¶ Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
Later, the disciples were hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, and Jesus appeared in their midst. He greeted them with, “Peace be unto you,” and showed his pierced hands and side to them. The disciples were glad to see Him. He repeated His blessing to them and declared His authorizing of them to be sent by giving them life, in a way, as He had given Adam life in Genesis 2:7. Christ gave the eleven remaining Apostles the Holy Ghost.
These Apostles were given the authority to remit sins. It is reported elsewhere that Jesus said;
Matthew 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Modern definitions of remission include, “the cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty,” or, “a temporary recovery from a disease or the pain associated with it,” and, “forgiveness of sins.”
In the era the King James Bible was translated there was a thesaurus called Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae. This was compiled by Thomas Cooper in 1584. In it, remit, meant, “to acquit one of his debt; to forgive…”, and, “to pardon and remit the punishment one has deserved.”
In 1587 Thomas Thomas’ Dictionarium Linguae Latinae et Anglicanae had, “to remit, or forgive, to pardon.” Remission in those early dictionaries and thesaurus in Early Modern English is listed as synonymous with forgiveness or pardon. (40)
What does the Bible say? Clearly, in the verse in Matthew we know that Christ’s shed blood is required for the forgiveness of our sins.
Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
Colossians 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance to the Jews as a nation for the remission of sins.
Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
And when Peter faced the proselyte Jews after the Resurrection he told them that they must receive this baptism of repentance to receive the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
But, what about the Christian? Does remission mean forgiveness and was this a special authority given to the Apostles only or was it for all Christians?
Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
The use of the word remission has to do with a debt that is cancelled. Many would say that remission and forgiveness are distinct and that if sins are remitted they not completely removed. But it is clear that remission and forgiveness are synonyms.
The Apostles were given the authority to forgive sins, but clearly, like speaking in tongues or foreign languages without learning them, and healings administered by individuals this was used to spread Christianity in its early days. Here is another authority given to the physical Apostles that we do not have;
Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Jesus Christ gave the Apostles the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost came again in a very public way on the Apostles, in Acts, chapter 2;
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Acts 2:1 ¶ And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Clearly, since these are two events and the Holy Ghost is involved in both they have two distinct purposes. One, the first, is in granting authority to the Apostles to forgive sins, and, two, the second one is giving the spiritual power to accomplish the supernatural task Jesus set for them.
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Thomas doubts the Apostles’ account; the evidence of Christ’s pierced side and hands. He wants to see what they have seen and if he does not see it he will not believe.
The conclusions drawn here from this passage are that Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Apostles in two stages; one with authority and power to forgive sins and the other with the ability to carry out their mission. Another conclusion is that the Apostles had power that we do not have in this age of the Church. The third thing is that remission and forgiveness are synonyms.
(40) Lexicons of Early Modern English, http://leme.library.utoronto.ca/search/results.cfm