I was doing a study with a friend who raised the issue that since Jesus told his disciples in John 20:18-25 that they have the power to forgive to forgive the sins of anyone who sins, we as disciples of Jesus also have this power to forgive sins. How do you deal with this?
I can see why, if we only use the passage John 20:23 as a proof-text we could appear to have "proved" that the apostles ( and perhaps even a plain old disciple) had the ability to forgive sins in the name of God. However, I believe this is not a correct interpretation of the passage. It is a "rule" of biblical interpretation that when we come to a "difficult" passage, such as John 20:23 we should interpret it in light of other, more obvious and plain passages. I believe that it can be shown by dozens–probably hundreds–of scriptures that only God can forgive sins. Matthew 9:4-8 has Jesus claiming deity when he also claims to be able to forgive sins.
I believe that in John 20:23 Jesus is giving special authority of the apostles over the affairs of the church. He is talking about fogiving sins "on earth." In other words, the passage is not support for a Roman Catholic doctrine of pennance and forgiveness of sins in heaven being given to some sort of apostolic priesthood. This is a rather blatant contradiction of way too many passages to be a reasonable interpretation. No human being has the ability to take God’s place as judge and forgiver or sins in heaven. In this passage, in the context, Jesus is giving the apostles authority over the affairs of the church in his absence after his ascension.