CONFESSION (Heb. yādhâh, Gr. homologeō, and their derivatives). Both the Hebrew and Greek words are capable of the same twofold meaning as the English. To confess is openly to acknowledge the truth in anything, as in the existence and authority of God or the sins of which one has been guilty. Occasionally it also means to concede or allow (
In the NT, the noun homologia can be related in the sense of “confession” to the Gospel or the Faith; the verb homologeom already has as object both faith and sin. Under the impact of Roman persecution, patristic needs created the “confessor.” While the oldest examples of the Apostles' Creed, still in interrogative form, had “confessional” usage at baptisms in the second century, the insertion of a declarative creed into the liturgy seems first to have occurred in 473 when Peter the Fuller* brought in the Creed of Nicea to confound the requirements of the . Confession in this declarative sense includes also the orthodox Protestant formulations, of which that of Augsburg (1530) is the first example (see ).
The verb exomologeom came to be adapted to signify the confession of sins to the congregation (cf. Didache 4.14: 1 Clement 51.3). By the late fourth century Chrysostom indicated the need for confession before baptism or Communion, and others specified it regularly, though the form still seems to be communal rather than private. Confession of sin, especially in the sense ad auriculam (“into the ear” of the priest), was a medieval development which also came to play a role in worship. After the passing of frequent lay communion, and under the transformed character of penance, at the Fourth Lateran Council* in 1215 confession was made minimally an annual obligation, as was receipt of the host for which it was prerequisite. As aid to the accomplishment of this requirement, the confessional stall dates from the sixteenth century. Litanies of ancient usage also serve as vehicles for communal or private confession in the several senses.
CONFESSION. Confession, Biblically, possesses a richness of meaning which goes far beyond its secular usage. To promise, admit, concede, declare, attest, or witness are all Eng. equivalents of Biblical confession, with varying shades of signification. Biblical confession, however, involves one or more of three elements: God is praised, or sin is acknowledged, or faith is declared. To understand this multi-dimensional concept scripturally one must view it from a number of perspectives.
Confession may also be viewed doxologically, as a testimony to God’s goodness and mercy, an expression of thanksgiving for His deliverance or help, a celebration of unmerited faithfulness. For instance, the word tr. as “praise” in
Confession, still further, can be viewed pneumatologically. It is the Spirit who reveals
Confession can also be viewed eschatologically, from the perspective of the future, the standpoint of eternity and its unending issues. On the one hand, the Savior promised to confess believing confessors, and, on the other hand, warned that disobedient deniers will be denied (
But confession, Biblically, is not merely intellectual assent to and verbal affirmation of doctrine. It is that, of course (
Finally, confession can also be viewed therapeutically. Healing is a fruit of verbalizing our sins to fellow-believers (
G. W. Bowman III, The Dynamics of Confession (1969); E. Jabay, The God-Players (1969).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
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
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
(2) To one’s neighbor, when he has been wronged (
(3) To a spiritual adviser or minister of the word, such as the c. of David to Nathan (
(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
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., 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 and Indulgences in the Latin Church (3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1896).