It would seem that God’s truth on this subject is not as well known as it should be.  Very little is written about it and a search for guidance is likely to be fruitless. When one studies and meditates on it, the reason for this becomes evident. 

Except for a few verses which we will examine closely, the scriptures are largely silent on confession as relates to personal sins. There are several words in the Hebrew and Greek text that are translated as forms of “confess”.  In the KJV and ASV, the total number of references containing the word is 46. 

For those of you who want to study this out on your own, it is certainly encouraged. These O.T. and N.T. citations can be grouped as follows:

Confess the Name of God.  I Kings 8:33; I Kings 8:35; II Chronicles 6:24 and II Chronicles 6:26

Confessions of Sins unto God.  Job 40:14; Psalms 32:5; Leviticus 26:40; Numbers 5:7; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 1:6; II Chronicles 30:22; Daniel 9:4; Joshua 7:19; and Ezra 10:11

Confession unto God by a Prophet on Behalf of Israel.  Nehemiah 9:2; Nehemiah 9:3 and Daniel 9:20

Miscellaneous Confessions.  Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy”; Leviticus 5:5, confession that one has sinned (apparently to the priests) in making a trespass offering; Leviticus 16:21, the “scapegoat” confession by the high priest for the people.

A Statement of Truth not related to Transgression.  John 1:20; John 9:22; Acts 23:8; Acts 24:14; I Timothy 6:13 and Hebrews 11:13

In Connection with John’s Baptism.  Matthew 3:6 and Mark 1:5

Confession of Faith.  Matthew 10:32 (twice); Luke 12:8 (twice); John 12:42Romans 10:9 and 10; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:11; I John 4:2 and 3; I John 4:15 and Revelation 3:5

This leaves only
three references (all in the New Testament) which are germane to our subject – Christian confession of sin.  Repeat: only three.

Acts 19:18 “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.” The context is the response to Paul’s preaching at Ephesus, and included their repentance. This seems to be an initial act of obedience and more of a confession of faith than of remission of sins, which is our focus.

1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
The context of this passage is denial of sin or hypocrisy. The interaction is between man and God, not between man and man. The principles taught are very important, but it is not about confession of sins to one another.

James 5:16 “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

This scripture seems to be more about prayer than confession as the rest of the context shows, but it does clearly call for us to confess our “faults”. The ASV reads “confess therefore your sins” and the NASB also reads “sins”. “Faults” seems to be less specific and more general and carries a slightly different idea.

A synopsis of the teaching about confession of sins as revealed in the Bible can be stated as follows:

We should not deny that we are sinful. That is hypocrisy and God doesn’t like hypocrisy.

On the contrary, we should readily acknowledge that we are sinners.  Several “acknowledge” scriptures support this such as Psalms 51:3; Jeremiah 3:13 and Jeremiah 14:20

We should confess and acknowledge our sins to God. We should not try to “cover” or hide them but forsake and seek mercy.

We should confess our faults/sins to one another, coupled with prayer.  It is good for us to do so and seemingly for our brethren also.

Beyond this, we cannot safely go.  We should not make rules about which sins, when, how, or to whom we should confess.  Unless we can find scriptural authority for it, we had better be silent about these aspects of it.

This same adjuration applies to the issue of public confession. The church generally, if not universally, had made and/or fostered expectations and requirements concerning public confession that cannot be supported by the scriptures.

 

A freewill public confession before the congregation of a penitent sinner with the effectual fervent prayer of many can be a great blessing and is to be encouraged and is in harmony with James 5:16.  But so is a private one if it answers the need.