Drinking Deeply

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 at 5:37 PM

Rethinking Memory Verses: Matthew 18:19-20

Matthew 18:19-20 reads

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."

Typically this verse is used to encourage people to gather together to pray with the mentality that "hey, there is Scripture that says we should gather together so that God will give things to us."

Of course, no one really says this, though this verse is often quoted approvingly in that context.

But what does Scripture say? Matthew 6

6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Clearly we aren't only called to congregation prayer (nor are we only called to prayer in secret). So what does the verse mean? A simple examination of the context gives us the answer:

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[f] 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."
The context is instead church discipline! If a brother sins against you, tell him his fault in private. If he listens, great, if he doesn't, take one or two witnesses. If he doesn't listen take it to the church. If he doesn't listen to the church, treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector. Treat him as an unbeliever.

Why are we able to do this? To physically cast someone out of the church?

Because Christ is right alongside us when we are gathered. He exacts discipline along with us. The "bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" is an echo of Matthew 16:18-19
18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Here, Christ is clearly talking about the establishment of the church (we will leave aside the topic of the abuses of this verse by both Protestant and Catholics). On this rock I will build my church. Along with the church are the keys and the power of binding and loosing. This is church discipline clear and simple. When we are gathered, we have the power to cast out and to bind.

I actually don't quite fully understand the power of the binding and loosing, because the verse does seem to imply that all members of the body of believers, when they are gathered (2 or more), have the authority of binding and loosing, while it would seem like that authority is given only to the elders in my conception of it, though then again, I can't think of a place where the authority of casting out is given to just the elders. We do have the epistles that tell them to cast the unholy one from among you, which is written to the general populace.

Interesting thought.

So in short: Don't use that passage to support prayer meetings, it's about church discipline.

**edit**

As a side note, I think after thinking it through I agree with the comment that wyu left that this verse is still applicable for prayer meetings. Christ's presence is with us always (even when we are alone), and so it is with us in two or three. The issue I was addressing was that this verse is commonly used to support (and encourage) prayer meetings, when the context of the verse is about church discipline (I really don't understand the other comment at all, if it's trying to rebuke me, to correct me, or to encourage me...) rather than prayer. I still stand by the "don't use this verse to support" in the sense that the encouragement for prayer meetings isn't in this verse, rather it is in all those verses that actually are about prayer.

Though I must say I never saw the "two or three witnesses" in terms of preventing hypocrisy (seeing as it seems that Matt. 7 is supposed to be our guard against hypocrisy, and it precedes the first confrontation), rather I see it more as "on the testimony of two or three witnesses a matter is established" in the OT law.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm...interesting reflection. as a cautionary note, there are also equally strong warnings not to judge, to examine oneself first.

however, when other Christians are in accord with the one who is wronged, then there is less likely a chance for hypocrisy, judgementalism, etc.

i'd argue that vs. 19 & 20 are not narrowly constrained to church discipline, but rather a broader idea that gathered together, believers represent the body of Christ, and one role of the body of Christ is to discipline.

and so we can use vs. 19-20 in prayer meetings, it's about how Christ dwells in us and works through us.

~wyu  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please look to the Greek language and the Hebrew culture to understand this Scripture.

First, the word 'church' does not exist in Scripture. The Greek is ekklesia which means 'the assembly of the called out ones.' This is the same word used in the Septuagint over 80 times in translation of 'kahal' - wihch is the 'assembly of the caled out ones.' This is a reference to the Hebrew community gathering at kahal which is errantly translated via a Greek transliteration to be synagogue.

At the assembly or at the gates of a city, a body of 3 elders, oft times rabbis, called the bet din were charged with two things: 1) making civil judgments based on Torah (criminal judgments were reserved to the Sanhedrin) and 2) applying Torah to establish community standards of conduct that were codified in the halachah (the way to walk). The bet din, in their judgments, would bind (forbid, judge against) or loose (allow, judge for) actions of the one brought before them. Binding and loosing are terms of 'discipline' from the bet din to the assembly.

Note also that the word translated 'whatever' in verse 18 is the Greek word hosos - a relative pronoun. (See Strong's 3745). The word is properly translated 'whoever.' Now read verses 15 - 20 using whoever and the basic understanding of the bet din and halachah -- you'll be surprised what you see.

BTW, at the time of Matthew, the only gathering allowed under Roman law was kahal (call it synagogue for simplictiy's sake). There was no such thing as a 'Christian' or a 'Christian' gathering/church -- only Jews that had accepted Messiah meeting in the 'synagogue' with Jews that had not accepted Messiah.

Remember, Y'shua (aka Jesus) was a perfect Jew upholding and affirming Torah in everything He said and did.  

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Blogger mxu said...

I must say I have no idea what you're talking about. Drop me an email! You say a lot of interesting things, and I'd like to hear more. (whoa, I feel like the Athenians =p )  

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