What Does Confess Mean?

Proclaim to a group

In my last post I posed the question of what does the word for “confess” mean in 1 John 1:9 and mentioned the only meaning I’d long thought it had: “to speak the same thing, agree with, name, cite.”

But it turns out there are other meanings for homologeo as well, each of these taken from well-known Greek dictionaries and lexicons:

“to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” [Vine]*

“to make an emphatic declaration, often public, and at times in response to pressure or an accusation – ‘to declare, to assert.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person – ‘to profess, to confess, confession.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to acknowledge a fact publicly, often in reference to previous bad behavior – ‘to admit, to confess.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to make a statement” or “bear witness” in a legal sense. [Kittel]***

“to make solemn statements of faith,” “to confess something in faith.” [Kittel]***

“to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public”  [BDAG]****

The first time Pastor Farley laid all that out I was pretty surprised. In fact, he claimed that all the other usages of the word “confess” in the New Testament were in the public declaration category.

Well, I found that hard to believe, so I did a word search of my own (I use e-sword which, if you don’t know about it, is free Bible study software you can download HERE.  You do have to pay for the NASV Bible if you want to download that, but most of the other materials are free.)

Anyway, I did a word search.  And, my goodness! Pastor John was right.  “Confess,” when connected with “sin” only shows up twice in the entire New Testament — once in 1 Jn 1:9 and once in James 5:16 where believers are told to “confess your sins to one another.”

“Confess” itself shows up only 8 times altogether; of those, two are the verses mentioned above, one is Rev 3:5 when Jesus will confess the names of overcomers before the Father and His angels and the other five all involve a version of confessing Jesus as Lord before men, in the sense of being saved. (I would now put 1 Jn 1:9 in this latter category, as well)

I was shocked! For an action that supposedly determined something as crucial as the restoration of fellowship of the Spirit, I’d have thought it would have shown up much more.

Following that, I did a phrase search of “filling of the Spirit” or “filled by the Spirit” or just “Holy Spirit”, and found no indication whatsoever that the person involved confessed their sins prior to being filled. Not at Pentecost, nor in all the incidents afterward when the Spirit empowered someone. If they were said to pray at all, it wasn’t to ask to be filled with the Spirit or to confess sins, it was usually that they would speak boldly and communicate the Gospel clearly.

That was as surprising to me as the results of searching for confess and moved me very far along the line of agreeing with Pastor Farley that the Bible really doesn’t tell “Church Age believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that confessing our sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

This is not to say that we don’t sin after salvation (hysterical laughter at the very idea) nor that it’s fine to just sin willfully and do nothing about it… But that’s for another day…


*VineExpository Dictionary of New Testament Words — W.E. Vine

**Louw & Nida –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains   by Eugene A. Nida, Johannes P. Louw  Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon is a modern Greek lexicon using the concept of “semantic domains.” This lexicon differs from other lexicons in that it does not arrange words alphabetically and it does not give one listing of a word with all of that word’s meanings after it. Instead, it breaks words down by their various shades of meaning. It then groups all of those entries together and organizes them by topics and sub-topics.

***KittelTheological Dictionary of the New Testament by Gerhard Kittel : “One of the most widely-used and well-respected theological dictionaries ever created”

****BDAG –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (BDAG)  by Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker.  Described as an “invaluable reference work” (Classical Philology) and “a tool indispensable for the study of early Christian literature” (Religious Studies Review) in its previous edition, this new updated American edition of Walter Bauer’s Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments builds on its predecessor’s staggering deposit of extraordinary erudition relating to Greek literature from all periods. Including entries for many more words, the new edition also lists more than 25,000 additional references to classical, intertestamental, Early Christian, and modern literature

6 Responses to “What Does Confess Mean?”

  1. 1 Glenn July 12, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Hi Karen,

    I have been reading your series on “rebound” with a lot of interest. I am going to post some comments that I hope you find worthwhile and good food for thought.

    First I suppose that I should let you know my family started listening to Colonel Thieme when I was eight years old and I listened regularly to his teaching for fifteen years. I don’t listen to Colonel Thieme’s teaching any more but the pastor-teacher I do listen to is dispensational, was a taper, and teaches much the same as Colonel in regards to the spiritual life. We have a lot in common.

    In the last five years I have come to the conclusion the New Testament cannot be interpreted in isolation from the Old Testament. Jesus and the Apostles grew up under the Mosaic Law and the Levitical sacrificial system. It is my personal belief that even though the New Testament was written in Koine Greek we need to look to the Old Testament Hebrew to learn how words are defined in the New Testament.

    In 1 John 1:9 we are indeed told to confess our sins so that we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. It is also true that the word translated “confess” is used only twice in the New Testament. However the word “confess” is used many times in the Old Testament and I believe that John’s definition of confess in His Gospel and Epistles is consistent with that usage.

    The Hebrew words usually translated “confess” in the Old Testament are yadah (Strong’s H3034) and yada` (Strong’s H3045). While these words have a range of meanings (I believe this is called the semantic range) they at times do mean confess in the way that Colonel Thieme always taught. For example these two passages:

    22 And Hezekiah speaketh unto the heart of all the Levites, those giving good understanding concerning Jehovah, and they eat the appointed thing seven days; sacrificing sacrifices of peace-offerings, and making confession (yadah) to Jehovah, God of their fathers.
    2 Chronicles 30:22

    5 My sin I cause Thee to know, And mine iniquity I have not covered. I have said, `I confess (yada`) concerning My transgressions to Jehovah,’ And Thou — Thou hast taken away, The iniquity of my sin. Selah.
    Psalm 32:5

    I would also like to quickly point out that in the 1 John 1:9 passage that the Apostle John uses the word “cleanse” which I also believe to be a theologically loaded word from the Old Testament (chata’ Strong’s H2398). The concept of cleansing was part and parcel of the Levitical system. A person had to be ceremonially clean in order to make a sacrifice. Being cleansed was not a one-time occurrence and had to happen before a Jew went before God at the altar. Even though blood sacrifice is no longer required it seems reasonable to me that cleansing is still required by God before approaching Him. For the Church Age believer to need to be cleansed via “rebound” seems quite reasonable to me. The form may have changed but the concept is the same.

    I hope this makes good sense. Thank you!


    • 2 karenhancock July 12, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Hi Glenn. Thanks for your measured and thoughtful response to what I’ve said so far in regards to rebound. Though I had already intended to address much of what you’ve said here in future posts, you have indeed provided me food for thought.

      In general, I agree that we can use the OT to help us understand elements about Jesus, His person and work, about how God deals with His people in grace, about sin and failure, etc. And we can compare the way various words were used in Hebrew and in Greek to gain a better insight into what the Greek might mean in a particular passage. On the other hand, everything in the OT occurred before Christ handled the sin problem. Now that He has, everything has changed. Furthermore, the Church is a mystery, unrevealed to any Old Testament saints, so consulting the OT will only go so far in trying to figure out how the Church is to operate. Where the OT spiritual life was physical, visible and external, the spiritual life of the Body of Christ is none of those. “The old things have passed away, behold, new things have come.”

      I have far more to say about all this, but as I said, I want to reserve it for future posts. Thanks, again for sharing these thoughts.

      • 3 Rebecca LuElla Miller July 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm

        Hi, Karen,

        I’ve done a little catching up today of your blog posts, and I find this discussion fascinating. I’m afraid I’m one of the seven not familiar with “rebound” before. However, I think I’ve believed a form of the concept–still do, I guess. At any rate, I guess I’d say my disagreement with it, as I understand it, is in degree, not in kind.

        My thinking isn’t connected to 1 John 1:9, however. I’ve understood that to be addressed to unbelievers. But there are so many other passages that connect our relationship with God to our heart attitude. I don’t for a second think we are to do a rote kind of confession–a work, if you will–to achieve fellowship with God.

        But because I am part of His family, because He is my God, I want to live up to my standing, I want to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1b, 3). Paul says something similar in Col. 1:10. Peter talks about being holy because God is holy.

        What I’m thinking here is NOT a formula. Do this, and God will do that. Rather, it’s the idea that the more I know someone I love, the more I want to do the things I know they like. So with God. I want to please Him, and when I don’t, I need to say I’m sorry, that I want to go His way, not my own, that I need His help to do so.

        James refers to drawing near to God with the result that He then draws near to us. He also admonishes believers to submit to God, resist the devil, to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts, and finally to humble ourselves in God’s presence.

        Is any of that “confessing our sins”? or is all of it?

        I’ll also admit that I’m of Glenn’s mindset regarding the OT. I believe all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. So I believe there is something in Isaiah 59:1-2 for me to learn:

        Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short
        That it cannot save;
        Nor is His ear so dull
        That it cannot hear.
        But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
        And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

        Yes, Christ died for my sins. But does my continuing sin have an affect on our relationship?

        I believe so. I believe by choosing my own way, not God’s, I am quenching the Holy Spirit, which we are commanded not to do. It is that, not 1 John, that makes me think I need to keep short accounts with God. When I offend someone else, I want to make it right as soon as I acknowledge what I’ve done and how it’s hurt them. Why wouldn’t I want to do the same thing with God?

        But I think that’s very different from doing a kind of check list confession. But maybe I’m not understanding “rebound” very well.

        Looking forward to your next posts on the subject.


        • 4 karenhancock July 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm

          Thanks for the comment, Becky. I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, and I’m fascinated that you’ve believed 1 Jn 1:9 was addressed to unbelievers all along — i now agree; in fact based on the studies I’ve been doing I think it’s obvious.

          As for the parts of your comment I disagree with, they are, as you say, more in degree than in kind, the main element being the “keeping short accounts with God” part. That was something Col Thieme used to say, and I used to strive for, and something Pastor John has recently begun teaching — and I agree with him — is no longer necessary because our “account” has already been squared. All my sins past, present and future were judged on the cross and He sees me as perfectly righteous and acceptable, regardless of what I do from here.

          Yes, actions in violation of His commands will grieve or quench the Spirit, but it won’t change the fact He’s already declared me acceptable. That’s what reconciliation is… God’s at peace with me, and I need to live in that way more than I have. The thing we’re told to do instead of saying wer’re sorry is to Stop it! 🙂 Stop living in the old way, and start living in the new, put off the old, put on the new…

          But again, this is a subject for future posts,

          • 5 Rebecca LuElla Miller July 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm

            I probably fell into a cliche by saying “keep short accounts” instead of spelling out what I mean. I agree with you, Karen, that Christ nailed our certificate of debt on the cross. I don’t OWE anything.

            But when God makes me aware of sin in my life, then I do want to have as short a time as possible between the realization of it and my renouncing of it. That’s the “short” part I was going for. The truth is, out of my stubbornness and pride, there are still Rom. 7 battles I fight. But if I resist the Spirit for however long, I think it is that much harder to come to Him in submission.

            I think the more I quench Him, the more I quench Him. After all, it’s the Spirit who convicts of sin. So it would seem to follow that by quenching Him, I will grow callous to sin and unresponsive to His voice.

            He never leaves me or forsakes me, but I think we can grow distant, like any friend who I don’t talk to for a length of time–especially one I’ve offended and ignored.


          • 6 karenhancock July 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm

            I agree with everything you said here, Becky.

            The one caveat I’d offer to that is that I no longer think of God as hurt or offended by my foolish and arrogant ways, but rather like the father of the prodigal son after the latter “came to his senses” and returned home. The moment he saw him, the father ran to meet him with joy and delight and no mention of sin or hurt or anything. He didn’t even let the prodigal give the “Oh how I’ve wronged you, please make me one of your servants” speech that he’d rehearsed on the way. For the Father it was pure joy and “Lets put the ring on his finger and slay the fatted calf and have a party! My son’s come home!”

            That changes things for me somehow, seeing Him that way…

            Though you’re right about the quenching and the longer that you do it, the more hardened (deaf? blind?) you become. But that only means He has to resort to more vigorous methods of getting our attention, like being deserted by all your friends, and losing all your money and living with the pigs and starving…

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