“All people” in Joel 2:28

Interesting discussion in Bible class this morning about the end times (more specifically, “in the last days”). I directed the class to Acts 2:16ff for the New Testament perspective on that phrase, relating to Joel’s prophecy.

But I went back this afternoon and was studying the Joel passage checking to see how the NET translated the passage. What struck me was the translation of 2:28 “After all of this
I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people” rather than the more traditional “on all people”. The footnote reflects a Calvinist thought, so now I am looking at other translations to see how they handle it.


Book Review: Pastoral Care Under the Cross

Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering
Richard C. Eyer,
Concordia Publishing House, 1994

Twenty-five years ago pastoral care seemed indistinguishable from counseling in seminary training and in much practice. I felt inadequate in the counseling role; I wish there had been this kind of resource during my seminary years. In fact, all Lutheran congregations and pastors could have greatly benefited from this book by Richard Eye. At the time of writing Eyer had served as chaplain for 20 years, and the book reveals both his theological understanding of pastoral care and his practical application of that understanding. By doing so, he avoids writing that has that “dated” feeling, which permeates most “practical” books. Thus, the application of the book is not confined to a decade of experiences, but spans the experience of the Church, regardless of era. His writing style is fresh and simple, but never simplistic.

The structure of the book is both useful and theologically significant. The first part has four chapters that focus on the context of pastoral care, the second part has seven chapters in which he applies the truths of the first part to specific pastoral situations. He begins each chapter with a poem that he has written at various times during his chaplaincy, poems that are specific to the content of that particular chapter. I have never been a big fan of poetry, but a few of his poems struck me in the heart, not the brain, which I believe is what he intended. His typical pattern is to provide a key insight for the chapter, then mix practical examples and theology into a interlocking pattern for advancing his theme – he is very effective in doing so.

Eyer presents the over-arching theme of “the theology of the cross,” not in the sense of a dogmatic treatise, but rather as the foundation which informs and guides both parts of the presentation. Under this umbrella of the theology of the cross, Eyer offers insightful statements that set apart his book from most “pastor as counselor” writings.

Pastoral care has been understood traditionally to be the uninvited spiritual nurturing of those suffering some kind of helplessness and loss of control over life. It is modeled after God’s care of us following Eden… But this Biblical notion of the cure of souls and the spiritual care of others is a far cry from popular ideas of what today can only be called secular spiritual care (page 13).

In this introductory paragraph, Eyer sets forth that which is right and true of pastoral care and the dangers which intrude upon the pastor in fulfilling his responsibilities. In distinguishing pastoral care from psychology, Eyer writes: “Pastoral care is unique. It does not derive its substance from the culture nor its legitimacy from the medical profession” (page 23). In the Epilog, he reaches back to his original definition of pastoral care and amplifies it: “The uninvited aspect emphasizes the pastor’s initiative rather than the sufferer’s in addressing suffering. The pastor has an invitation from God, if not from the patient” (page 148). He could not have stated more clearly the distinctive calling that the pastor has in the midst of suffering.

Eyer declares that the cross is the paradigm for pastoral care. “The premise … is that pastoral care consists not in removing someone’s suffering but in helping the sufferer learn to interpret his or her sufferings in the light of the cross” (p. 24). Not only is that a crucial insight for his thesis, but it relieves a burden for the pastor, a burden that is sometimes placed by congregational expectations or even by conscience. This also helps the pastor move away from being “just another care giver” like the doctor, nurse, or psychiatrist. By doing so, Eyer shifts the focus of pastoral care to the theology of the cross rather than the theology of glory. The tremendous societal pressure to “heal the disease” causes even Christians to succumb to the temptation to get healing wherever – if not from the doctor or psychiatrist or pills, then at least from the pastor. Eyer writes, “If pastoral care consists not in doing something to remove suffering but in interpreting suffering in the light of the cross, then we must begin with what God chooses to reveal, not with what people want God to reveal.” If not reconsidered this way, many end up with this amusing, yet tragic state in which they do not justify themselves but demand that God justify himself concerning this suffering. As he shows, the question has to shift from “Why is God doing this?” to “Where is God in my suffering?” This provides the link between the suffering of this one, to the suffering The One, namely Christ.

Eyer then moves to a critical, often neglected or ignored topic, the pastor who gives pastoral care. That is, the spiritual state of the pastoral care giver is critical and must be addressed honestly in light of the theology of the cross. This is not a matter of baring our pastoral souls, which is really self-centered, but a matter of self awareness of our own needs, dependencies, vulnerabilities, and blind spots. The sense of helplessness that we as pastors experience in our pastoral is not something to be avoided, but recognized, even though “feeling helpless never feels good” (p. 36). Note the contrast in theologies: “To take charge is to succumb to the temptation to espouse the theology of glory, whereas a willingness to feel helpless in the face of suffering may be called faithful” (p. 36). Eyer urges Christians to examine their psychological makeup. But he warns, “Christians look inwardly, with the aim of repentance over what they may find there; whereas pop psychology invites us to look inwardly only to indulge and accept whatever is found there” (p. 37). The key according to Eyer is for us to understand where we are weak and what motivates us. Then as the theology of the cross applies to us in our weaknesses, we can model for our parishioners how to care for themselves spiritually, characterized by grace and faithfulness. That can seem monumental, but only if we are looking to ourselves for the answers, strength, and encouragement. And finally pastors are challenged to set the priorities of life: wife first, children next, and then parishioners. An emergency can rightly alter the priority, but we need to return to the above priorities as soon as possible. Behind all this looms the concern for the pastor’s spiritual growth. How often have pastors fallen into the “professional” trap of reading the Bible for a sermon, a Bible study, a visitation rather than for personal growth? Truly 2 Peter 3:17-18 applies to all Christians, including or especially pastors.

On the basis of this personal, pastoral evaluation and assessment, Eyer explores the reality of suffering and sickness in light of the cross. He makes two critical distinctions. First, for understanding pastoral care, pain and suffering are not the same thing. “Pain can be defined as a greater or lesser degree of physical comfort…. Suffering can be defined as the existential anxiety, fear, worry, or hopelessness that may or may not accompany pain. Suffering is a reaction to pain” (p. 44). In an age that is dominated by the need to control pain, we also live in a world that cannot seem to deal with suffering. Eyer notes, “opportunity to provide spiritual care to those who are suffering is greater than ever, and for pastors it can be an important aspect of pastoral care” (p. 44). For contemporary Christians the shift is evident in the question asked in the midst of pain; today the question is “Why am I suffering?” whereas in ages past the question was “What shall my response be to God in the midst of it?” Because the world encourages a fragmented view of the physical and spiritual, leading to life without meaning or coherence, the key for pastoral care consists in reuniting the physical and spiritual, not by forcing this upon the person, but allowing the person discover this unity for himself or herself.

Second, theodicy and theology of the cross are distinct. “Theodicy is the attempt to justify the ways of God to a suffering world” (p. 46). This theme exploited by Harold Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People) obscures the real need, namely for the suffering person to be justified before God, by God. Kushner’s view influenced Christian theodicy, which reasons:

* “God is just testing you to see if you will remain faithful.”

* “God is punishing you for what you have done.”

* “God is trying to teach you something.”

* “God has a plan for you, and this is part of it.”

Pastoral care does not follow the path of theodicy, for “who can know the mind of God?” (1 Cor. 2:16). The pastor can be most effective when realizing that “interpretation of suffering is better made by the sufferer than by another person, and retrospectively rather than prospectively” (p. 47). I think this approach challenges the pastor to focus on faithfulness during suffering. Can we do that? According to the theology of the cross, we can, and must, follow this course.

In light of the popularity of the “health, wealth Gospel” movements of today Eyer provides a Biblical response showing the connection between faith, healing, and the cross. Faith does not deny nor ignore the need for medicine and doctors. At the same time faith cannot not be a “last resort, since everything else has failed,” nor “it can’t hurt” kind of approach. Nor is faith twisting God’s arm to conform to our desires. Such statements ignore the connection between the physical and the spiritual, and the connections that God had established. And yet, as we can all attest, not everyone is healed when we pray for such healing. Not even in Jesus’ earthly ministry were all healed. As Eyer sets the perspective in eschatological context: “God sprinkles gracious ‘drops of healing’ from the heavens that fall on the just and unjust alike. Some are touched and healed, others are not; but all who experience or witness the healing of one’s many ills are given a hint of things to come in Christ” (p. 55). Sickness is related to sin and forgiveness of sins, but not as many think. “The connection between sickness, sin, and the need for forgiveness of sins is ultimately deeper than particular sins” (p.57). Finally Eyer connects faith, healing and the cross, “Faith is always an open receptacle, not the power line to control a heavenly computer” (p. 59).

In part 2 of the book, Eyer then applies the key understandings of the first four chapters to specific ministry opportunities. Each of these present the pastor with unique challenges to not shirk from the requirements of pastoral care, despite what the world or even the “organized church” proclaims. These circumstances reflect the “valley of the shadow of death,” and become the tempering fire in which to apply the theology of the cross.

* The Elderly

Mental Illness
Medical Ethics

Particularly helpful are his insights into the role of the pastor in ethical decision-making. The pastor serves as advocate, clarifier, communicator, and truth-sayer; this allows the pastor to function as pastor and to be a spokesman for God in the midst of circumstances and ethics that are shaped by a God-less world. Thus, the pastor is not just another member of the healing team but a vital voice for the patient, the family, and the team.

In light of this book, I was taken back, surprised, illuminated, and challenged by what Eyer wrote. At times pastoral care is given short shrift in pastoral training and continuing education, often being transformed into a cheap form of counseling. Many of the hard knocks I learned about pastoral care could have been avoided, had I had access to a resource such as this book. Eyer clearly and coherently summarizes the key point of this book:

What makes the theology of the cross absolutely essential in pastoral care is the danger each person faces who attempts to take matters of suffering and helplessness into his own hands and out of the hands of God…. Pastoral care… focuses not on the removal of suffering but on bearing one another’s burdens and pointing the sufferer to the cross (p. 149)

Book Review by Rev. R. Shields, August 2007

Convention Results

The AALC had its National Convention in June. I was privileged to be the Bible teacher for the convention. I explored the topic of making known God’s love and the implications of that for us as Christians.

  • Luke 15:1-10 Knowing the Father’s Heart
  • Luke 15:11-32 Demonstrating the Father’s Heart
  • Luke 7:36-50 Knowing Those in Need
  • Luke 24:44-49 Revealing the Father’s Heart

The Convention brought two very positive results:

  1. Election of the Rev. Frank Hays as Presiding Pastor, a retired Navy chaplain.
  2. Approved resolution for altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS.

Both signal a bright future to the AALC, endorsing our commitment to confessing the Christian faith as Lutherans and committing ourselves to missions focus in all congregations.

The “Day” and time

How easily time slips by! In the two months since my last post time and energy demands have increased greatly. There seems to be a break in the demands, so I hope to get back to the series on technical terms in original language texts and correspondingly in translations. However, given the time demands, I may shorten the studies considerably.

I remember as a young child that a day was a long time, and a year? That was beyond imagination for how long that was. Now, a day disappears before I can turn around, or so it seems. In reality, as a six year old, a year was 1/6 of my life. But now, a year is… well, about 1/60 of my life.

In light of the eschatological focus of the “Day of the Lord” (previous post) I have begun to observe the truth of how “soon” Jesus’ return will be. This has personal application as well. According to the Psalmist our time on earth is “fleeting”. Thus, I come face-to-face with my legacy as a person of God. How will I spend my “time”? Will it be meeting deadlines that others impose? Will it be ordered by my God? Will I have time to do all I want… or better, need to do?

So, I am taking time to sort out time and my use of, or waste, of time. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but that shouldn’t be surprising since I am still a sinner. At the same time, I am beginning to see God’s use of my time, and what happens when I dedicate my time, all of my time, to him. It is okay to say “no” to demands on my time, if the time really belongs to the Lord.

So, I am having the “time of my life”, as I wait for the “day of my life” in Jesus.

Technical Terms – 2 (Day of the LORD – DOL)

Several studies have examined the DOL, each with their own particular contribution. In his seminal work, Ladislav Cerny observed that the DOL study must eventually encompass both the origin and content of the DOL [Ladislav Cerny, The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems (Prague: Nakladem Filosoficke Fakulty University Karlovy, 1948), vii.]. Since 1948 the major focus of scholarly endeavors has been on the origin of the DOL. While Mowinckel dominated the scene with his contention that the DOL grew out of the cultic festival celebration, Gerhard von Rad broke new ground with his claim that the DOL emerged from the holy war tradition [Gerhard von Rad, “The Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh,” Journal of Semitic Studies 4 (April 1959), 97–108]. A. Joseph Everson summarized the main proposals for the origin of the concept in his article in 1974. In addition to these, he noted F. Charles Fensham’s theory that the covenant tradition (treaty-curses) formed the basis of the DOL. Meir Weiss advocated the theophany motif. Despite the value of these studies, they fell short, as evidenced by Everson’s critique. “All of these origin studies of the tradition are confronted, however, by the problematic fact that specific locution of the Day of Yahweh are found only in the writings of the classical prophets and in the book of Lamentations [A. Joseph Everson, “The Days of Yahweh,” Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (September 1974), 330].

Conscious of Everson’s critique, most scholars since then have concentrated their studies on the prophetic writings, most often limiting themselves to those passages that specifically contain the exact phrase, DOL (16 total). Those passages are: Isaiah 13:6; 13:9; Ezekiel 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 3:4; 4:14; Amos 5:18 (2 x); 5:20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7; 1:14 (2x); and Malachi 3:23 [Chapter and verse citations are according to the Hebrew text, BHS]. Yet as Cerny, Everson, and Yair Hoffmann concede that there are many other phrases which are very close in form and must be included [Yair Hoffmann, “The Day of the Lord as a Concept and Term in the Prophetic Literature,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93 (1981), 37–9].

Appropriately, then, expressions such as “the day of Yahweh’s wrath,” “the day of Midian,” and “the day of battle” fit within this study. The most frequent phrase, “in that day” (בַיּוֹמ ההוּא), which occurs ~200 times in the prophets alone, expands the field of study dramatically. I disagree with those who follow P. A. Munch, [The Expression Bajjom Hahu: Is It a Terminus Technicus? (Oslo, 1936)] who claimed that it was essentially a connective. The plural of the phrase, “in those/these days.” also falls within the scope of such an investigation. Even terms such as “time” (עֵת) and “year” (שָׁנָה) apply toward the development of the DOL concept. Everson, followed by Hoffmann and others, claims that “it is methodologically more difficult and dangerous to include such references in the basic field of evidence” [Everson, 331. Hoffmann, 39]. While I agree that it is more difficult to expand the field, I contend that it is methodologically dangerous to not include these other references.

Thus, if the DOL is both a technical term and a broad concept, a prophet may develop his understanding of the concept by using related expressions, especially “in that day.” Another prophet may express the concept, describing events associated with the DOL without specifically mentioning the DOL (i.e. Micah). In both cases the prophets would be concerned with the DOL. This approach seems more consonant with the DOL origin and would more accurately reflect the prophetic understanding of the DOL. Critical for further study (another major paper) is the study of DOL must take into account the given time period. For instance, Hosea and Micah, normally forgotten in DOL studies, offer additional textual territory for study and development. The combined study of these eighth century prophets should then be the basis on which to study later prophets, particularly Zephaniah and Joel.

Translations of Yom Yahweh in the Later Prophets

Isaiah 13:6
Isaiah 13:9
Ezekiel 13:5
Joel 1:15
Joel 2:1
Joel 2:11
Joel 3:4 (2:31 Eng)
Joel 4:14 (3:14 Eng)
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:20
Obadiah 15
Zephaniah 1:7
Zephaniah 1:14
Zephaniah 1:14
Malachi 3:23 (4:5 Eng)

The following translations consistently used “day of the LORD” as the translation for Yom Yahweh in all 16 passages:

NKJV, NAS95, ESV, NRSV, HCSB, TNK, NIV, TNIV, GW, so also REB and NLT2 except these omit any translation at Zeph. 1:14 [2nd])

Interestingly, HCSB used “day of the LORD” in Isa. 13:6, 9, and Ezek. 13:5, and in all other occurrences used the capital letter D to highlight it: “Day of the LORD”. This suggests that the translators wanted to insure that the readers understood the phrase as a technical term (of some type).

NET varied its translation of Yom Yahweh, by using the possessive form “the LORD’s day” occasionally (Isa. 13:6, 9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:14 [both].

CEV showed the greatest variation, and no seeming consistency. Thus, “day of the LORD” is used only at Joel 2:1, Joel 4:14, and Zeph. 1:14 [2nd]. Otherwise, it translated the phrase as:

“day” – Isa. 13:6, Joel 2:11, Joel 3:4, Amos 5:18 [1st], 5:20, Obad 15, Zeph. 1:14 [2nd], and Mal. 3:23
“time” – Isa. 13:9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], and Zeph. 1:7
“soon” – Joel 1:15
untranslated – Isa. 13:9


Such a survey suggests that Yom Yahweh had indeed become a technical term in the prophetic literature in the original languages. The evidence above also shows that English translations consider it a technical term by not varying its formula “day of the LORD”, except for CEV.

Technical Terms in the Bible – 1

I have been re-reading Biblical Words and Their Meaning (2nd ed) by Moises Silva. In the chapter on “Semantic Change in the New Testament” he notes how some words in Greek narrow the range of meanings and hence become technical terms. He writes,

Second, and much more frequently, we notice reduction in the meaning of words… Of the numerous examples to be found in the New Testament, we may note ευαγγελιον, ‘good news,’ specialized to ‘the good news,’ that is, the gospel. We must understand that once the semantic range of a term has been narrowed, we are less dependent on the context when we wish to grasp the meaning of the word. that is, the word becomes more precise: a more or less definite referent (what the word stands for) is automatically associated with the word itself. These are the terms that become technically charged at times, so that they serve as “shorthand” for considerable theological reflection. (p. 77)

Then he continues to examine Changes due to Semantic Conservatism, producing a list of technical terms (pp. 79ff.).

Because the nature of the study is so vast, I will focus on three very narrow aspects of technical terms:

  • identify some original language terms that became technical terms,
  • examine how these terms are translated (specifically into English)
  • determine, if possible, whether the translated terms also serve as technical terms in English.
  • The latter aspect is pertinent today because we have many translations that seem to avoid English technical terms in the Bible. Some translators question whether English should resort to technical terms at all. This raises another issue: if translators do not use English technical terms when the original language text does, then how well do the choices of other English words reflect the original language technical term?

    Obviously this is a major undertaking and will not be a “10 minute research.” For the sake of limiting the scope of this examination, I will concentrate on 6-7 words in the Hebrew and 6-7 words in the Greek.

    Here is my Hebrew list to examine

  • יומ יהוה Yom YHWH (Day of the LORD)
  • ברית Berith (covenant/testament)
  • חסד Hesed (lovingkindness, covenant love)
  • צדכך Zedek (righteousness)
  • םשפת Mishpat (justice)
  • תרה Torah (“law”, “principle”, etc.)
  • In the NT, I think the following merit examination

  • δικαιοσυνη dikaiosune (righteousness, justify)
  • χαρις charis (grace)
  • νομος nomos (law)
  • Silva further cautions,

    We should note that these theological examples usually involve, not a factual change in the referent, but a subjective change in the speaker’s understanding: for example, once a Greek speaker identified true wisdom with the Old Testament conception, his use of σωφια must have changed.

    So, this begins an interesting and, hopefully, a thought-provoking exercise. If anyone has suggestions for either Hebrew or Greek words that could be part of this, let me know.

    Further Thoughts on ESV

    No translation is perfect. However, ESV does an admirable job of presenting the intent of the underlying (original) languages (Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek). For the most part I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage people to use it. From a liturgical perspective, ESV has much to commend itself.

    Having said that, though, there are some problem areas, some in English as the following illustrate, and some in changing the meaning (John 20:23).

    Overall, NAS tends to be choppy, although not unreadable. But in these specific passages (and others I have found), the ESV is not only choppy, it presents awkward English.

    Isaiah 22:17
    ESV “… He will seize firm hold on you”
    NAS95 “And He is about to grasp you firmly”

    The NAS correctly uses the adverb. I realize that the ESV is following the KJV/RSV tradition and so continues that use in this verse. But the adverb is expected according to current English usage.

    Isaiah 63:10
    ESV “therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them”
    NAS95 “Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.”

    It seems that the ESV is missing the word “he” before “himself” (read it aloud to catch the incongruence).

    Jeremiah 10:25
    ESV “Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name.”
    NAS95 “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You and on the families that do not call Your name.”

    The ESV is inconsistent in placing the negative. In this case, it is awkward, yet in other places the negative is placed with the helping verb (“do”) as in the NAS.

    Jeremiah 12:6
    ESV “… they are in full cry after you”
    NAS95 “…even they have cried aloud after you.”

    One has to ask what does “full cry” mean to the average speaker/reader of English in this sentence? I think of a hunting dog spotting the prey. Again, the ESV is following the KJV/RSV tradition and so continues that use in this verse, but the phrase does not reflect current English usage.

    Jeremiah 12:11
    ESV “… but no man lays it to heart.”
    NAS95 “… because no man lays it to heart”
    NKJV “… because no one takes it to heart”

    I would say that both ESV and NAS95 present unnatural English; NKJV does better.

    Jeremiah 31:8
    ESV “Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and her who is in labor, together…”

    NAS95 “Behold, I am bringing them from the north country and I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together…”

    NKJV “Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the ends of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and the one who labors with child, together…”

    The ESV misses on two counts: The use of “her” is awkward and yields very unnatural English. Also, the other elements in parallel all have the definite article in English, which would suggest that the NKJV has rendered the parallelism best.

    Isaiah 10:7 ESV
    But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
    but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;

    Try to read it orally and see whether it is clear, natural English?


    The following is a passage in which the ESV translators abandon their guidelines and present an inaccurate translation.

    John 20:23
    ESV: If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.
    NKJV: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

    In the Greek the word κρατῆτε has the sense of “hold fast, or retain” (BAGD, 448). The ESV misuses the word “withhold” in this context. Notice that it appears as if the ESV is claiming that disciples are controlling the forgiveness – “they are lording it over someone by withholding forgiveness.”

    However, in the Greek, it is clear that what the disciples retain or hold against the person are the sins (plural), not forgiveness.

    ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς

    if ever of whom you forgive the sins, they are forgiven to/for them

    ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται

    if ever of whom …. you retain, they have been (and are still) retained …

    Note, the parallel construction of the sentence. The direct object in the first part is “the sins” (τὰς ἁμαρτίας); the indirect object is “to them” (αὐτοῖς) . In the Greek of the second part of the sentence, the direct object and the indirect object are not supplied. But normal Greek structure means that the direct object and indirect object previously mentioned would carry over. Thus, the second line would translate:

    if ever of whom [the sins] you retain, they are retained [to them]

    Note that ESV changes this, so that it takes the verb of the first part of the sentence and makes it into a noun to be used as the direct object in the second phrase. I don’t know of any other case in which such a practice is followed, especially by a translation that favors an “essentially literal” approach.

    Some have noted that the Greek word κρατῆτε also means “to restrain” or “to hold back”. So the question arises: Can this mean that they to retain the sin or the forgiveness of sin?

    The answer is: neither. That is, the direct object in the sentence is τὰς ἁμαρτίας (“sins”) – plural. Note, that “forgiveness” is not in the noun form in the sentence, rather it is the verb parallel to “retain”. Thus, the parallel of the verbs is: “forgive” / “retain”. Now the question is what is forgiven and what is retained? In the first phrase, the direct object of “forgive” is τὰς ἁμαρτίας (“sins”) – plural. So they are to “forgive sins”. In the second part of the sentence there is no direct object associated with “retain”, and so the normal Greek sequence is to repeat the direct object of the earlier verb: “retain the sins”? The question then arises whether “retains” is appropriate translation in this context.

    If a person claims that the direct object of “retain” is “forgiveness”, then the only way to get that is to ignore the first direct object, change the the first verb into a noun and make it the direct object of the second verb (none of which the Greek does).

    So, no matter how you slice it, in this text, the ESV is inaccurate, and reflects a poor choice.