Sunday, April 14, 2013

Where two or three are gathered.....what Matthew 18 does not mean

One of the most miss-quoted verse in the Bible, after Jeremiah 29:11, is Matthew 18:20 which says:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
This verse has been butchered by every small group gathered to study the bible to mega churches to even solid expository preaching churches.  I have witnessed countless times someone stand up before the service at church or pray before a bible study in a home and quote this verse.  They say that because at least 2 or 3 Christians are in the same place then Jesus is with them.  Others twist the Scripture just a little and say that when a group of more then 2 people is gathered, Jesus is with them in a special way.

Even a well known writer tells a story in his book on prayer that he put out an extra empty chair for Jesus in the prayer meeting because Jesus promised to be with a group of two or more people.
This, of course, brings up a questions.  What if there is only one person?  Is Jesus not with one person?  Does their have to be at least 2 people present for Jesus to be present?  Does Jesus somehow lose His attribute of being omnipresent when there is only one person?  Is Jesus not really omnipresent at all times, which would mean that He is not omnipresent? 
The problem with this interpretation is that the text has absolutely nothing to do with Christians gathering as a church, in a bible study or in fellowship. 
Let's look at the context: 
15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
If we read the whole context of the passage we will see that this passage specifically refers to church discipline. It is a promise for guidance for the two or three who confront, and a promise for the church to claim wisdom and restoration for the erring brother.

The MacArthur study Bible commentary is helpful:
18:20 two or three. Jewish tradition requires at least 10 men (a minyan) to constitute a synagogue or even hold public prayer. Here, Christ promised to be present in the midst of an even smaller flock—”two or three witnesses” gathered in His name for the purpose of discipline. 
The New King James Bible commentary explains the context very clear:
Thus in the context of verse 20, Jesus is presenting the process for dealing with sin and maintaining unity in the church (verse 17), which was yet to be established. It starts with private confronting in verse 15 (one on one), moves to group adjudication in verse 16 (two or three), and is finalized by the church in verse 17, the highest court of appeal on earth for spiritual accountability. In verses 18 and 19, Jesus strongly reinforces the legitimacy of this process of discipline in the family of believers by stating that, when it is done properly, they will be accomplishing on earth that which has already been determined as the will of God in heaven.
Thus in verse 20, Jesus summarizes this whole process of discipline by affirming that when it is carried out according to His directives, it has the power and authority of His almighty presence.
Please feel free to quote this verse but quote it correctly.  Don't use it in the context of church worship, bible studies or fellowship.  You are using the Bible wrongly.  Use this verse correctly in the context of church discipline.


Timothy Kerttula (TJ) said...

Thank you brother for writing this. I am finding more and more passages that are misquoted or taken out of context. I am in the middle of writing an article about one of them. People need to start looking at scripture more closely to make sure preachers are not taking the verse out of context.

Scott Doherty said...

I agree brother. I'm sure we have all miss-quoted Scripture at some time so I believe we should be always checking ourselves with the Sciptures instead of assuming we are using the verse correctly

Anonymous said...

Very good article, Brother! I wonder what text we should use to support prayer meetings...

Anonymous said...

Very good article, Brother! I wonder what text we should use to support prayer meetings...