Confession, an admission, declaration, or acknowledgment, is a significant element in the worship of God in both Old and New Testaments. The majority of the occurrences of the term can be divided into two primary responses to God: the confession of sin and the confession of faith.
Confession of Sin Numerous Old Testament passages stress the importance of the confession of sin within the experience of worship. Leviticus speaks of ritual acts involving such admission of sin: the sin (or guilt) offering (Leviticus 5:5-6:7) and the scapegoat that represents the removal of sin (Leviticus 16:20-22). Furthermore, confession can be the act of an individual in behalf of the people as a whole (Nehemiah 1:6;
Daniel 9:20) or the collective response of the worshiping congregation (Ezra 10:1;
Nehemiah 9:2-3). Frequently, it is presented as the individual acknowledgment of sin by the penitent sinner (Psalms 32:5;
Proverbs 28:13; see also
Psalms 40:1 and
Psalms 51:1 which are individual confessions although the word “confession” is not used).
Likewise, in the New Testament confession of sin is an aspect of both individual and corporate worship. At the Jordan, John's followers were baptized, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:6;
Mark 1:6). Similar confessions were made by Paul's converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:18). Christians are reminded that God faithfully forgives the sins of those who confess them (1 John 1:9). James admonished his readers not only to pray for one another but also to confess their sins to one another (James 5:16), probably within the context of congregational worship. By the end of the first century, routine worship included confession as the prelude to the observance of the Lord's Supper as seen in Didache 14:1. See Apostolic Fathers.
Confession of FaithClosely related to the confession of sin in the Old Testament is the confession of faith, that is, the acknowledgment of and commitment to God. In
1 Kings 8:33,1 Kings 8:35 (as well as
2 Chronicles 6:24,2 Chronicles 6:26) acknowledgment of the name of God results in forgiveness of sins. Such acknowledgment came to be standardized in the confessional formula known as the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Such declaration of commitment to God, or particularly to Christ, is also found in the New Testament. One's public acknowledgment of Jesus is the basis for Jesus' own acknowledgment of that believer to God (Matthew 10:32;
Luke 12:8; compare
Revelation 3:5). Furthermore, as Paul described the process by which one is saved, he explicitly drew a parallel between what one believes in the heart and what one confesses with the lips (Romans 10:9-10). Belief and confession are two sides of the same coin! Probably the earliest confession of faith was the simple acknowledgment of the lordship of Christ (Romans 10:9;
1 Corinthians 12:3;
Philippians 2:11), but the rise of heresy seems to have caused the addition of specific data about Christ to the confession—for example, that He is Son of God (1 John 4:3,1 John 4:15) or that He has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2). A firmly set outline of Christian beliefs then appears to be what is meant by confession in later New Testament writings (Hebrews 5:14). See Faith; Scapegoat; Sin; Repentance.