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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

TBT: Forgiving in the Person of Christ


From the Gottesblog archives, March, 2007

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.  (2 Corinthians 2:10)

Here we have a beautiful and concise description of St. Paul’s exercise of the Office of the Keys.  His offer of forgiveness is apostolic, which means that, as our catechism puts it so well, it is “as valid and certain in heaven also as if our dear Lord had dealt with us Himself.”  But here it is even clearer than that, for St. Paul’s offer of absolution is “in the person of Christ.”  What a marvelous declaration of the Office: he is bold to say that his exercise of it is not merely in the stead of Christ, but in His person (Greek: prosopon).  Wow, that’s going a bit far!  Imagine if such a thing were found in a new hymn or document sent to an LCMS doctrinal reviewer!  It would never pass!

No wonder the Calvinists who translated the New International Version could not stomach such a bold assertion.  So they had to change this just enough to make it acceptable to their sensitivities.  The NIV has therefore re-rendered it thus:

If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.

Leave it to the Calvinists (and some pretty blind Lutherans who follow their lead) to misunderstand the Office of the Holy Ministry.  (By the way, all you Lutherans who like to get misty-eyed about how great the English Standard Version is, here’s how the ESV has followed suit: “What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.”)

One could argue that prosopon also can be translated as “face” or “mask” (as used by Homer and in the ancient Greek theater), but that might even be better. For the pastor is indeed the mask of Christ, which is the very sense of person that we are dealing with here, namely, a rich and clear concept of what it means to be in his stead: “as valid and certain in heaven also as if our dear Lord had dealt with us Himself.”

But this? In the sight of Christ?  In the presence of Christ? Not!  It’s a simple Greek noun.  It means person.  Deal with it.  And quit messing with the Sacred Scriptures.

(Thanks, and a tip of the hat to Rev. Chad Kendall.)

Burnell EckardtComment