By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Does the confession mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 10:32, 33 refer to confessing or denying Him in one’s life, or does it mean with the lips?
Reply: Jesus said, “Every one therefore who shall confess me before me, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32, 33).
Some time ago I received by mail a bulletin in which the following comment is made on the above passage: “Note that the confessing or denying is, in this context, in life, and by one’s life. ” It is difficult to understand how the author of this statement arrives at this conclusion. We believe that this comment is erroneous for the following reasons:
(1) The context of the passage is seen in the background, where Jesus is encouraging His apostles to not be afraid when they would be persecuted. The confession or denial in Matthew 10:32,33 refers primarily to times when they would be brought before tribunals. The word “therefore” in this passage indicates that what follows is in regard to what has preceded. What had preceded? Jesus had said in verse 28, “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Lord is encouraging His disciples not to fear men. After assuring them of their Father’s care (vv 29,30), He says, “Fear not therefore. . . ” (v. 3 1). Then Jesus follows with the statement under consideration, “Every one therefore who shall confess me before men. . . . ” The context should be obvious, not only from the preceding verses, but also by those which follow. Note that Jesus states in verse 34, “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth.” Jesus is telling His followers that He does not preach peace at any price. They are not to compromise the truth, even at the cost of their own families (v. 37). The passage then closes with the Lord’s admonition to each of them to take his cross and follow Him (v. 38). Finally, “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (v. 39). It is in this setting (vv. 28-39) that our text is found. To “take his cross” would sometimes necessitate an oral acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To confess Him publicly could mean persecution (Acts 4:19-21; 5:33-42) and in some instances it was death (Acts 12:1, 2).
(2) The definition of the Greek word homologeo, translated “confess” in Matthew 10:32,33, refers primarily to an oral confession. The expression “confess me” is an Aramaic idiom and is literally, “make his confession in and for me” (see A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the N. T., Vol. 1, p. 83). The confession to be made implies identification or union with Christ.
W.E. Vine defines the word: “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts, Matt. 7:23; 10:32 (twice) and Luke 12:8” (Expository Dictionary of N. T. Words, Vol. 1, p. 224).
J.H. Thayer defines the word: “to declare openly, speak out freely, confess” (Greek English Lexicon, p. 446).
Edward Robinson defines it: “to confess publicly, to acknowledge openly, to profess.” Also, “to confess in behalf of any one, i.e. to profess or acknowledge him, Matt. 10: 32; Lk. 12:8” (Greek and English Lexicon, p. 507).
R.C.H. Lenski comments on the word: “The verb really means ‘to say the same thing’ as another, to voice agreement with him, and thus to acknowledge and to confess him” (The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, p. 421).
William Hendricksen, commenting on the word says: “To profess or ‘confess’ – Christ means to acknowledge him as Lord of one’s life and to do so openly (‘before men’), even in the hearing of those who were opposing him” (Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 473). He also observes that the passage (Matt. 10:32, 33) is an example of antithetic parallelism (verses 32b, 33b; Ibid., p. 473). In view of this, if the context of Matthew 10:32, 33 is “in life, and by one’s life,” then it would follow that the confession of Jesus before His Father in heaven would also be “in life, and by His life.” This would be absurd. Who can believe it? No, Jesus is primarily referring to a lip confession in our passage, as the context shows, and the confession of Jesus before the Father in heaven will also be oral.
(3) The Greek word translated “confess” also means an oral confession in other passages in the New Testament. In Matthew 7:23, the same Greek word is translated “profess.” Jesus said, “then will I profess unto them.” This refers to the day of judgment, and that this profession will be oral, we cannot deny. Paul, in Romans 10:9, wrote: “because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord . . .” It is obvious that this is an oral confession. The gospel of John states (Jn. 12:42), “Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it.” They failed to acknowledge orally what they believed to be true. Writing to young Timothy, Paul mentions that the young evangelist “didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Wc do not know for sure when that confession was made, but probably when he was on trial for his life (see Heb. 13:23). It was an oral confession in face of danger or even death. We read in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins . . .” It is apparent that this confession is oral, not by our life. Likewise, the same word is found in 1 John 4:2: “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus is come. . . . ” No one can deny that this is an oral confession. Then in 2 John 7, “For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh.” So, in the foregoing passages, the Greek word that is translated “confess” or “profess” is homologeo and in every instance it is to be understood as oral.
We have seen that the context of our passage indicates an oral confession, the Greek word showing the confession to be primarily oral; and other passages where the same word is used plainly illustrate that it is oral. It is true that we confess Jesus by the lives that we live, in addition to our lip profession; but the conclusion that the context of Matthew 10:32, 33 is “in life, and by our life” is a mere assertion and contrary to the teaching of Jesus. We are always to continue confessing Jesus orally as well as by our lives (our profession). We must confess Him in word and deed.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 2, pp. 37, 50
January 16, 1986