Absolution

There is no discussion of this subject as such in the Bible, and the word never occurs there. But the sinner's need of forgiveness, of which absolution speaks, is entirely scriptural. So is the truth that forgiveness of sin is the gracious work of God in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25; cf. 1 John 1:9). He alone has the authority to absolve (Luke 7:47f.; cf. Col. 1:13f.).

In the early church, when postbaptismal sin became a problem, the power to announce forgiveness to the penitent (stemming from the word of Jesus in Matt. 16:19; 18:18; cf. John 20:23, “if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven”) was associated with the clergy. At first this declaration was public; but later, and with the development of sacramental theory during the scholastic period, absolution was mostly given after auricular confession in private, by means of the formula “I absolve you,” or (especially in the East) in the course of a prayer. The former tended to obscure the real source of absolution.

Since the Reformation and the decline of private confession, absolution in the technical sense has tended, in the Protestant but not in the Roman Catholic Church, to be confined to public worship. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, for example, returns to a biblical emphasis by following the general confession with an announcement of God's forgiveness in Christ.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Not a Biblical, but an ecclesiastical term, used to designate the official act described in Mt 16:19: "Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven," and Mt 18:18: "What things soever ye shall loose," etc., and interpreted by Joh 20:23: "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them" (see Power of the Keys). The Roman church regards this as the act of a properly ordained priest, by which, in the sacrament of Penance, he frees from sin one who has confessed and made promise of satisfaction. Protestants regard the promise as given not to any order within the church, but to the congregation of believers, exercising its prerogative through the Christian ministry, as its ordinary executive. They differ as to whether the act be only declarative or collative. Luther regarded it as both declarative and collative, since the Word always brings that which it offers. The absolution differs from the general promise of the gospel by individualizing the promise. What the gospel, as read and preached, declares in general, the absolution applies personally. See also FORGIVENESS.

H. E. Jacobs